In 1946, World War II had just ended when Tommy Charles Smith decided to start his career in the telephone business. He purchased the Leslie-DeSoto Telephone Company, an independent company with approximately ninety-nine telephone stations. Tommy was the only outside plant employee of the Company, as well as the owner and manager. After building up broken-down pole lines and approximately 150 stations, he converted the exchange to dial operation in March 1951. That same year he purchased the Plains Telephone Company in Plains, Georgia, a tiny little unknown town in Southwest Georgia which would become in later years one of the most famous towns in history.
Tommy Smith incorporated and became Citizens Telephone Company, Inc., in 1957. Also that same year, a new telephone exchange was under development at Lake Blackshear. In 1959 the new telephone system was completed and switched on to approximately 100 Lake Blackshear residents and businesses. Many subscribers were on eight party service. By now, Citizens Telephone Company employed ten people.
In 1959, Tommy purchased the Vienna Telephone Company in Vienna, Georgia, the largest of the four exchanges. Citizens Telephone Company now had a total of four rural exchanges and approximately 2,000 phones. All phones in all exchanges were dial service
Immediately an aggressive program was started to convert Citizens to all underground cable. As one of the first rural companies to convert to buried cable, Citizens Telephone Company became a pioneer in buried plant construction and operation. One of 1959's goals was to serve as many one, two and fourparty subscribers with this new buried cable as rapidly as possible.
In 1959 Citizens and Southern Bell began providing countywide Extended Area Service (EAS) for all of Sumter County. In 1971 county-wide EAS service was begun in all Dooly County exchanges: Vienna, Pinehurst, Unadilla and Byromville. Three independent companies, General Telephone Company, Plant Telephone Company, and Citizens Telephone Company, joined forces for the successful completion of this EAS project.
During the time between the Convention and the election, Tommy made meeting the communications needs in Plains his number one priority. A building addition was begun on the Plains office to house new lines, trunks and transmission equipment necessary to meet these needs. Multiplex carrier facilities were added to increase the number of long distance circuits and to provide for special services of the Secret Service and the news media.
Election Day goes on record as the busiest day in the history of Citizens Telephone Company.
The day after the election was another flurry of activity. The man from Plain was no longer a candidate; he was now President-elect.
Communications facilities for the Secret Service multiplied overnight. Tommy enlisted the aid of other independent telephone companies and within hours had procured a "POTUS" board from General Telephone of Florida. POTUS, (President of the US), was a specially-designed 120 position switchboard for presidential usage. Citizens Telephone installed and maintained the POTUS board and WHCA provided the operators. This board linked the President and his staff to Washington and to various locations in the Plains area, as well as intermediate sites such as Robins Air Force Base where Air Force One landed. Tommy elected to preserve this switchboard for historical purposes and it is now on display in the Georgia Rural Telephone Museum.
On October 5, 1995, Tommy Smith realized a dream come true when he officially opened the Georgia Rural Telephone Museum in Leslie, Georgia. In his opening address to over 800 dignitaries and local telephone subscribers attending the ceremonies, Tommy Smith dedicated the museum by saying “The Georgia Rural Telephone Museum is dedicated to those who struggled so hard and so long that we might inherit the greatest telecommunications network in the entire world." The museum is open to the public six days a week and is for the enjoyment of all who wish to look back into the history of the telephone industry. Tommy especially enjoys seeing young school children touring the museum and their amazement while learning how some of the first telephones and equipment worked.
Tommy Smith continues to work and improve the museum. At this time, he is constructing an addition to the original building which will expand the museum to over 16,000 square feet of space. The Georgia Rural Telephone Museum now houses the largest collection of rare and antique telephones and telephone memorabilia in the world.
In these many years in the independent industry, Tommy has observed many unusual changes. Citizens Telephone Company witnessed the breakup of AT&T and the Bell System and saw an even stronger independent industry emerge. He watched carefully as the FCC redefined the relationship with subscribers' equipment and inside wiring. Citizens Telephone acted rapidly to new switching technologies and ensured that all central offices were converted to digital.
None of the changes that have occurred over these years has caused Tommy to doubt what he considers the most important aspect of the telephone business:
ALWAYS PROVIDE TOP QUALITY SERVICE.
As he frequently reminds his employees, we can give the subscriber something others cannot: Hometown Service.
Presently, Citizens Telephone Company serves approximately 5000 access lines with all digital central offices. The company's first optical fiber cables were laid in 1983. Now, all four central offices are interconnected with fiber facilities. Citizens Telephone Company was first in the area to offer touch-tone service.
Citizens Telephone Company's recognized ability to provide outstanding service no doubt helped open the door for the most rewarding, most memorable, and most challenging experience of Tommy Charles Smith’s career. The year was 1975. Citizens had sought and received REA and regulatory approval to make dramatic expansions to its outside plant, toll, and central office facilities. Engineering plans were complete and the project was set to begin in Vienna.
This same year the telephone company received a call from the United States Secret Service informing us that they were providing protection for Jimmy Carter, and Citizens Telephone would be involved in providing telecommunications for the candidate.
Jimmy Carter had been a Citizens Telephone subscriber for years: as a resident, as a businessman, as a member of the local school board, as a state senator, and as governor of Georgia. There was no way to predict his chances for election and there was surely no way to predict what impact a victory for Jimmy Carter could have on the local phone company.
At the August Democratic Convention, Jimmy Carter received the endorsement of his party as the Democratic Nominee in the November election. Secret Service protection was expanded to the candidate's entire family.
The news media, particularly the television networks, were relentless in their demands for service at the most difficult locations, with little advance notice. This high expectation for rapid and reliable service continued throughout Jimmy's term in office. CBS, ABC, NBC, Associated Press, UPI, Voice of America, Mutual Radio, and a host of foreign correspondents, including BBC, were Citizens Telephone Company's customers.