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Smith to retire from ISC

The end of the year will mark the end of an era for the International Storytelling Center.
ISC Founder and President Emeritus Jimmy Neil Smith announced Dec. 3 that he will retire, effective Dec. 31. It will mark the end of his nearly 40 years of leadership with the organization.
“Jimmy Neil began the National Storytelling Festival after hearing the late humorist Jerry Clower tell a story on the radio,” said Jim Reel, chairman of the ISC Board of Governors. “The first festival was performed on the back of an old farm wagon in Courthouse Square with six tellers and 60 listeners.”
That first festival in 1973 was the start of a new, worldwide appreciation for storytelling, Reel said. The event has grown in the past 40 years to include dozens of storytellers and thousands of visitors from all over the world.
In order to perpetuate and grow the art, Smith founded the organization, now known as the ISC, in 1975.
“Jimmy Neil has helped spearhead a movement that has had far-reaching and profound impact on many people’s lives,” Reel said. “It will continue to evolve in innovative, unexpected ways long into the future.”
Smith, a Jonesborough native, has been active in community service for more than four decades, serving as the town’s mayor from 1978-1984.
His announcement follows nearly two years of upheaval within the ISC, with the organization emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June.
During that process, Smith stepped down as the organization’s CEO and President – titles he had held as long as the ISC has been in existence.
“My future and what role I will play with the ISC has been discussed for two years,” Smith said. “We made the decision that I would retire at the end of the year in late September. Since then, we have been determining how that would happen.
“It has been important for me to be helpful to the ISC to get it back on its feet. I feel that the ISC is in a good place now and there are a lot of new opportunities for the organization.”
The ISC Board of Governors will begin its search for a new CEO and president early next year, according to Reel.
Smith says he looks forward to seeing that happen.
“They are going to be looking for a new generation of leadership that can take the organization into the future with effective leadership and management,” Smith said. “This is going to be a fresh new opportunity for the ISC – it has a new lease on life. It will be a great time for the organization to revisit its mission and strategy.”
Susan O’Connor, director of programs, and Sandy Reaves, director of finance, will serve as interim co-directors until someone is hired.
Three members of the Board of Governors will also be leaving, and three new members will join the group.
“That blending of new leadership and leadership from the past will give the ISC a stronger, more effective transition,” Smith said. “I am hoping and expecting the ISC will realize its full potential in this upcoming period of time.”
While a new direction is ahead for the ISC, it is also in the plans for Smith.
“I’m not going to the house and sitting and sleeping in my chair,” he said. “I’ll be working on some projects and on things I am committed to.”
Smith plans to continue to work full-time as an independent consultant and trainer, either at home or in an office in Jonesborough.
He said his future plans include maintaining a website that has information about the storytelling movement as well as launching a community storytelling program for the nation of Comoros.
“I am not retiring from work,” Smith said. “I remain committed to my role in the advancement of storytelling – both in Jonesborough and across the world.”