Walter L. Smith, Sr., seventh president of Florida A&M University, dies at 86

Walter L. Smith, Sr., the passionate seventh president of Florida A&M University, serving in that capacity from 1977 to 1985, died Thursday in Tampa after a long illness.

Smith, 86, was known for his skills as a gifted speaker and as an education leader, proud to have grown from a humble start as a high school dropout to a recognized leader in the field of education and a college and university president, first to the community of Roxbury. College in Boston, Massachusetts, then Florida A&M.

Although his interest in promoting educational opportunities spans the world, he was a committed and staunch supporter of Florida A&M University during and after his presidency.

“I was saddened to learn of the passing of Florida A&M University’s seventh President and President Emeritus, Walter L. Smith,” AFAM President Larry Robinson said in a statement. “Dr. Smith left an indelible mark as a leader of the university from 1977 to 1985, developing new academic programs and leading FAMU in the right direction. We are grateful for his leadership and celebrate his legacy and join in the Smith family, friends and Rattlers around the world to celebrate a life of service and well lived.

FAMU Football Coach Willie Simmons, Sharon Robinson, Barbara Smith and Dr Walter Smith.

Rattlers Champion:Wilson: Dr. Walter L. Smith was a champion in track and field while leading FAMU

Efforts to reach the family for comment were unsuccessful on Friday. Smith’s son Walter L. Smith II confirmed his father’s death Thursday night in a social media post.

The Smith presidency of FAMU was marked by the expansion of academic and research programs, improvement of athletic facilities and international recognition.

During his presidency, FAMU grew from seven to 11 schools and colleges and added a graduate studies and continuing education division, according to the university.

The 1980s also saw the expansion of the Gaither Athletic Center, which included the construction of a new women’s sports complex with a track, Olympic-size swimming pool, men’s and women’s weight rooms, and pitches. softball and baseball. The Bragg Memorial Stadium has been renovated and expanded to accommodate 25,000 spectators, and a modern sports complex has been erected.

Smith led the development of the School of Allied Health Sciences, the School of General Studies, the School of Journalism and Graphic Communications, and the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.

“Dr. Smith, along with his Vice President / Academic Affairs, Dr. Gertrude Simmons, helped me and my faculty establish the FAMU Journalism Program well enough that when we applied for accreditation national, we got it, ”Robert Ruggles, who was dean of the school from 1982 to 2003, wrote on Facebook.“ It was the first at a historically black university to achieve such recognition. It was in the spring of 1982. “

Fifty years ago, FAMU student Brodes Hartley (right) helped students lead the Tallahassee bus boycott.  On Friday, he helped carry the ceremonial torch across campus.  Here he jokes with former FAMU president Walter Smith.

In 1984, the university received approval for its first doctorate in philosophy, the Ph.D. in pharmacology, according to the university. Graduate programs in business, architecture and industrial arts have also been established.

New facilities were built to house schools of paramedical sciences, architecture, business and industry, and nursing. Construction and renovation projects totaled over $ 34 million.

As the university prepared to celebrate its 100th anniversary, the Smith administration launched the Centennial Celebration Fund to establish a university endowment, which reached more than $ 150 million.

“Dr. Smith had many accomplishments, but the launch of FAMU’s first major fundraising campaign, which raised $ 10 million and established the university’s endowment, was probably his crowning achievement. Eddie Jackson, retired vice president of university relations, told Democratic Tallahassee on Friday.

The early years of Walter L. Smith, Sr.

Smith was born in Tampa, but raised in Cairo, Georgia, Tallahassee and Harlem, New York. new York

A high school dropout at the age of 16, Smith spent his early adulthood in Harlem, where he found work as a courier and rack pusher in the New York Garment neighborhood before joining the US military. , according to FAMU.

Former FAMU Presidents, left to right: James Ammons, Frederick Humphries, Larry Robinson, (interim) and Walter Smith, at the Eternal Flame post-summons ceremony.

He served for 30 months during the Korean War. After his release at 23, Smith obtained his GED and enrolled at Gibbs Junior College in St. Petersburg, where he became president of the student government association.

Smith returned to Tallahassee and obtained two degrees from FAMU – the Bachelor of Arts in Biology and Chemistry, and the Master of Education in Administration and Supervision.

In 1965, Smith was recruited by the United States Office of Education where he became a program administrator to facilitate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Elementary Secondary Education Act of 1965, according to FAMU. He worked specifically with school districts in the eight southeastern states to develop desegregation plans and compensatory education programs for students and teachers in the south.

Smith was later recruited into the USOE by the National Education Association (NEA) to help break down racial barriers in teacher organizations in the Southeastern states. He also helped develop collective bargaining concepts for classroom teachers.

Former FAMU presidents Dr Walter Smith, left, and Dr Fred Galnous, center, chat with guests ahead of the Legacy banquet in the school's Grand Ballroom on Thursday.

Smith became the first deputy executive director of the Florida Education Association. He received a full scholarship from the African American Institute for African Studies to study abroad. Throughout the summer of 1971, he studied at universities in Ghana, Togo, Dahomey (Benin) and Nigeria.

Upon completion of his doctoral studies at FSU in 1972, Smith was recruited by Hillsborough Community College (HCC) as an assistant to the president.

He was then promoted to director of colleges, dean and provost of the college.

He received a doctorate in higher education administration from Florida State University in 1974 and in the same year was appointed second president of Roxbury Community College in Boston.

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On August 11, 1977, the Florida Board of Regents appointed him president of FAMU. He was invested president of the FAMU on April 22, 1978.

“The major infrastructure improvements under Dr. Smith’s tenure as FAMU president will remain evident in the future,” Leon County Commission Chairman Bill Proctor said in a statement prepared Friday. Dr. Smith was a superb orator and brilliant storyteller. His haunting mastery of meticulous historical detail made him a traveling encyclopedia. His books and writings, particularly on the Historic Black Community College system in Florida and his work at the abroad in Africa, are timeless contributions that deserve to be considered.

After his tenure at FAMU, Smith traveled to Africa from 1985 to 1986, where he was appointed Senior Fulbright Fellow at the University of Malawi. Smith focused on new higher education initiatives in Africa before returning to the FAMU campus.

In 1993, he was asked to return to South Africa; he later became the founding president of South Africa’s first two-year American-style quorum.

In 2007, FAMU named the School of Architecture and Technology building in his honor. Smith was instrumental in securing the funding to design and construct the school’s original building, the university said.

Rodner Wright, who was appointed dean in 1996, after Smith’s administration, said Smith’s support for the school continued throughout his presidency.

“He always called me ‘his dean’ because he was very proud that SOA was one of the programs he started,” Wright said. “He was also very proud that the renovated building bears his name. Whenever I saw him at college events, in town or out of town, he was sure to recognize me.

Funeral arrangements will be announced later.

Contact community editor Byron Dobson at [email protected] or on Twitter @byrondobson. This report was completed by the FAMU Communications Office.

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