The Lawrence community is deeply saddened by the death of former Lawrence University president Thomas Smith, following a battle with cancer. Smith died on May 12, at his home in Pine Lake, Wisconsin, with his family by his side. He was 83. His passing is a great loss for the college and for his many friends and colleagues. He also will be fondly remembered by the many alumni who attended Lawrence during his ten years of service.Born on February 8, 1921, as one of 10 children of a Hubbard, Ohio steelworker and his wife, five of whom survived infancy, Tom Smith cherished education and the opportunities and personal enrichment it provides. He attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, on a full tuition scholarship and graduated magna cum laude in 1947 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in physics. He went on to graduate study in physics at Ohio State University, where he earned the Ph.D. in 1952.
His career in higher education was one of distinction and commitment to the highest ideals of liberal education. He briefly taught physics at Kenyon and served as an instructor in the U.S. Army Air Force Pre-Meteorology Program before joining Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, as an assistant professor of physics in 1952. In 1961, he was appointed professor of physics and assistant to the president of Ohio University, a position that led him to assume increasing administrative responsibilities. From 1962 to 1967, he served as vice president for academic affairs, and he became provost of Ohio University in 1967.
As a teacher, he was recognized by being the recipient of the Class of 1957 Excellence in Teaching award. As a scholar, he was the author of several articles in scientific journals such as the Physical Review and Journal of Physical Chemistry and presented papers before the American Physical Society on superconductivity and nuclear magnetic resonance. He was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Physical Society, American Association of Physics Teachers, and the Ohio Academy of Science as well as Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honorary society.
During his time at Ohio University, he was active in developing research programs for higher education in cooperation with the federal government and served as chair of the Council for Academic Affairs of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.
Smith assumed the Lawrence president on July 1, 1969, and presided over the college until his retirement from office on August 31, 1979.
Among the milestones of his tenure as president were the completion of a major capital campaign; the opening of Seeley G. Mudd Library in 1975; the strengthening of the university endowment; an extensive administrative reorganization involving academic affairs, admissions, development, and student life; improvements in the curriculum; and the renovations of Sage and Ormsby Halls.
He led the college during one of the more difficult periods in its recent history. Student unrest over Vietnam and civil rights activism, as well as pressure from the student body for more of a voice in matters of academic and student life required delicate but decisive leadership. When President Smith arrived on campus in 1969, his first faculty meeting was disrupted by students protesting U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. During the 1970s, the college, along with American higher education in general, faced an extended period of fiscal austerity, necessitating difficult decisions and the retrenchment of faculty, staff, and administration.
In 1973, Gov. Patrick E. Lucey appointed Smith chairman of the newly created State Ethics Board, a position he still held when he resigned the Lawrence presidency in 1979. He also served on the boards of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and Independent College Funds of America, Inc., and was appointed by President Richard M. Nixon in 1972 to the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science, the selection committee for the prestigious awards for distinguished contributions in physical, biological, mathematics, or engineering sciences.
At the May 1979 Honors Day Convocation, the last such convocation over which he would preside, then vice president for academic affairs Richard Warch surprised Smith by announcing, “President Smith, before you assume the role of bestower of honors, we, the faculty, staff, and students of Lawrence University, invite you to be the recipient of honors.” Warch went on to recognize Smith, stating, “For the past decade, you have served as president of this institution with grace, dignity, and commitment. The years have been ones of challenge and transition, and your stewardship has guided the university through them well. Lawrence’s traditions have been sustained, its excellence reaffirmed, and its future secured. We have valued your collegial leadership, your basic decency, and your unwavering adherence to principle.”
At the college’s 131st Commencement the following year, he was awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Laws for guiding and serving Lawrence, “defending its mission and forwarding its purposes through a varied and troubled decade.” Smith also was the recipient of honorary degrees from his alma mater, Kenyon College (Doctor of Humane Letters, 1970), Ripon College (Doctor of Science, 1971), and Cardinal Stritch University (Doctor of Laws, 1979).
After leaving Lawrence, Smith served as executive director of the Lakeshore Consortium in Support of the Arts, an organization promoting increased awareness of, participation in, and contributions to an enhanced environment for arts activities in the Fox River Valley.
In announcing to the campus Smith’s death, President Richard Warch stated, “Tom was a quiet and unassuming man, yet forceful and straightforward in his dealings and interactions with others. His commitment to liberal education persisted in retirement,” Warch added. “He was an active participant in and guiding light of Winchester Academy, which he encouraged to foster and further its historic focus on the liberal arts and sciences and music.”
He is survived by his wife, Lillyan Beaver Smith, and their three children, Lizbeth, Steven, and David.