Julian Smith III, credited with making the Cooper River Bridge Run one of the largest running races in the country, died Friday after a battle with brain cancer. He was 67.
Smith served as the director of the Cooper River Bridge Run from 1994 to February 2019, when he resigned just three months before the 42nd running of the event.
During Smith’s 24 years overseeing the Bridge Run it grew from 7,400 runners to a peak of 45,663 runners and walkers in 2006. After that, officials decided to limit the Bridge Run to no more than 40,000 participants.
"Julian’s impact on the Charleston community cannot be overstated," said Steve Gergick, chairman of the Cooper River Bridge Run board of directors. "His fingerprints are on every aspect of the Cooper River Bridge Run, which under his leadership for the past 25 years, was developed into one of the premier running events in the country.
"Everything Julian did was first class but he orchestrated it all with such a calmness that he made it look easy. We will all miss working with Julian and seeing his big smile on race day," Gergick said Friday.
A native of Charleston’s Wagener Terrace neighborhood, Smith graduated from Charleston Southern University and then went to work for the Medical University of South Carolina.
He was the wellness director at MUSC in 1994 when he was asked to take over leadership of the Bridge Run, then in its 17th year.
“What Julian did with the Bridge Run is just amazing,” Mike Seekings, vice chairman of the Bridge Run’s board of directors, said in February.
Smith displayed a talent for garnering sponsors, networking with other race directors and adding promotional gimmicks as the Bridge Run grew into an economic force that created at estimated $30 million annual impact in the Lowcountry.
Some of Smith’s most memorable changes to the event include adding a Bridge Run Hall of Fame, implementing a charity program and moving the kids run to a different day to better highlight the main race.
The Bridge Run, which crosses the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge from Mount Pleasant to Charleston, was named the state’s top tourism event this year.
In May 2018, Smith underwent brain surgery to remove a malignant tumor called a glioblastoma and began to work to raise awareness of that and other health issues. He also battled skin cancer and thyroid cancer during his life.
Away from the Bridge Run, Smith enjoyed cultivating flowers and plants, even establishing a eucalyptus farm on John’s Island that supplied Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia with fresh leaves for koalas.
Surviving are his mother Shirley Speed Smith; brother Charlie Smith; sister Susan Fox; girlfriend Maureen Sheakley and sister-in-law Cathy Sineath. He was predeceased by his father Julian E. Smith Jr. and brother Paul A. Smith.
A visitation will be held from 1-4 p.m. Wednesday at James A. McAlister Funeral Home. A Celebration of Life will be held from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at Hibernian Hall on Meeting Street.
Arrangements are being handled by James A. McAlister Funerals & Cremation of Charleston.