Original Six Flags employee, longtime industry veteran W. Cleveland Smith dies

By | September 6, 2011

Warner Cleveland Smith, Jr., 70, died peacefully holding hands with his wife, Sherry Shaw Smith in the early morning hours of September 4, 2011. Although fading into the grip of dementia the last three years, he lived a full & happy life.

Smith ran amusement parks for a living and was instrumental in the development of Six Flags Over Texas. He started with Six Flags Over Texas the first day it opened in 1961 as a ride operator, then ride supervisor.

In 1964 he became the New York World’s Fair general manager for rides. During 1966 to 1969 he was the general manager for Six Flags Over Georgia.

In 1969 Smith was promoted to executive vice president and member of the board of directors of Six Flags Inc. In 1971 W. Cleveland Smith & Associates was formed which later became Fun Corporation of America. Cleveland also was the vice president and member of the board of directors with Wynne Enterprises, Inc., owned by Angus G. Wynne Jr., the founder of Six Flags, from 1972 to 1982. Over the decades, one of his best friends and mentors was Luther D. Clark.

Smith also held management roles at Lion Country Safari and Old Chicago.

In 1982 he became the general manager for the Entertainment Area at the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn. From 1984 to 1989, he was the president of the State Fair of Texas Midway games, novelties and concessions.

As vice president of Overseas Development for Wet ‘n Wild, Smith worked closely with George Millay, the founder of Sea World and Wet’n Wild. He traveled extensively for work and pleasure, visiting Brazil, Japan, Alaska, Peru, Ecuador & Australia.

In his earlier years, he worked on oil rigs, and as an assistant purchasing agent for Neiman-Marcus wherein he was bonded to drive to homes to deliver clothes, jewelry, shoes for the buyer’s discretion.

W. Cleveland Smith was born in Jacksboro in 1941 because his father, Warner Cleveland Smith insisted on seeing the birth and no hospital in Dallas at that time would allow that. His mother Emma Jean (Powell) Smith was agreeable to that game plan. Growing up in Dallas, Cleveland finished high school in Dallas and studied business administration at the University of Texas Arlington.

He is survived by his wife, Sherry Shaw Smith of Plano, Texas; daughter, Amber Suriani of Manlius, N.Y.; son, Trey Smith of Charlotte, N.C.; seven grandchildren, two of whom have Cleveland as their middle name in his honor; sister, Beverly Hendrickson of Terrell; and several nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins. Also family to Cleveland were his canine children, Cuervo who died last year, and Tag.

A Celebration of Life Memorial Service honoring Cleveland will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 17 at Ted Dickey West Funeral Home. On Sept. 18 the family will honor Cleveland’s caregivers at Silverado Senior Living of Plano.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Warner Cleveland Smith, Jr. Memorial Bench Fund, through Legacy Texas Bank Plano, 1573 Alma Dr. Plano, Texas 75075. Memorial benches are being created to place near the carousels in the amusement parks that were dear to Cleveland and those innovators of the amusement industry with whom he worked.