Dr. Walter D. “Doug” Smith passes away at 99

Smith poses for a picture during his tenure as FMU’s President.

FLORENCE – Dr. Walter Douglas “Doug” Smith, Francis Marion University’s beloved founding president, has passed away.

Smith, who served the university from its opening in 1970 through 1983, died last weekend in a Columbia, S.C. hospital. He was 99.
Dr. Fred Carter, Francis Marion’s current president, says Smith will be sorely missed by the entire Patriot community.

“The University is in mourning; we’ve lost our father,” says Carter. “Doug Smith was the ideal leader for Francis Marion in the early years of the institution. He began with a pine forest and farmland, hired faculty and staff, constructed buildings, developed a curriculum, and established a very fine college in a relatively short period of time. Doug accomplished all of this with vision, energy and determination.

Smith came to Francis Marion a year before the inaugural school year to oversee preparations for the new college. Smith hired the college’s first faculty and staff, created the campus layout and facilities plan, and put in place the standards that allowed FMU (then FMC) to grow and flourish. That included a commitment to quality education focused on the classroom experience and fiscal prudence that kept tuition low. Both remain FMU hallmarks.

During Smith’s tenure, enrollment grew from 500 to 2,800 and the faculty increased from 20 to more than 130. He presided over the addition of more than a half million square feet of new campus buildings and was part of awarding more than 3,500 degrees.

Smith returned to campus in recent years, seeing the campus that he helped start in all its new growth.

Smith taught at Eastern Michigan University while completing his graduate studies, and began his full-time teaching career in 1950 at Florida State University, advancing to the rank of Full Professor in 1958. Smith also served as a visiting professor at Western Washington College for several summers in the 1950s.

Smith moved to Winthrop College in South Carolina as Dean of College and Professor of Psychology in 1959. He later became Dean of Faculty and Vice President of Academic Affairs. While at Winthrop, Smith served on a several committees for the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, and also traveled on a federal grant to Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong to study public schools and colleges there.

In 1968, Smith was hired as president of Salisbury State University (then Salisbury State College) in Salisbury, Md.. Smith was at Salisbury when he was offered the chance to open Francis Marion. The opportunity to create a college from scratch was irresistible, Smith said in interview in 1994.

Ever a humble and affable man, Smith wrote shortly after beginning his tenure at Francis Marion that sessions on the golf course helped temper potential hubris in the president’s office.

“A middle-aged male’s less than brilliant performance on the golf course prevents him from taking himself too seriously,” wrote Smith. “This lesson is especially desirable for an academic administrator.”

Smith’s tenure at FMU was defined by the natural growth of the college from startup to established institution. But as the university grew under Smith, it, and the region it served, also grew on him.

Smith’s youngest son Walt completed his education in Florence public schools, and his oldest son, Ian, earned his undergraduate degree in Psychology at FMU (and also worked a summer job on campus, helping to plant Smith’s beloved trees on the newly minted campus). Smith and his wife settled quickly into the Florence community and never left. He lived in the city for almost 50 years, from his assumption of the presidency at FMU until his passing.

Smith was predeceased by his wife of 53 years. He is survived by his two sons, Dr. Ian D. Smith (Jeanie) and Walter H. Smith (Mary Ann) of Columbia, S.C., four grandchildren Loren Smith Carlson (Cory), Ian Brewster Smith (Shaina), Miller Smith and Hayden Smith, and most recently a great-grandson, Rhys J. Britton-Smith.

Also surviving him is one sister, Mrs. Glenna Feller (John) of Signal Mountain, TN, and one sister in law, Mrs. Donna Miller of Everett, WA, and four nieces and 11 nephews from that side of the family.

GSSM Remembers Founding President

HARTSVILLE–Dr. Doug Smith was one of the early champions for GSSM’s creation. At GSSM, we recently celebrated his 99th birthday and the vision and determination he brought to our founding. Dr. Carlanna Hendrick was recruited by Dr. Smith as a history teacher in 1988 and they remained close through the years. Her reflections on Dr. Smith’s leadership in GSSM’s founding are a fitting appreciation of the man whose work continues to impact and inspire us:

“The recent death of Dr. Walter Douglas (Doug) Smith, was a particular loss to the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics. As President emeritus of Francis Marion University, Doug met with Dr. Jim Daniels, President of Coker College, Coker board member Dr. James Rogers, Sonoco Products President Mr. Charles Coker, and SC Governor Carroll Campbell to present the idea and plans for the establishment of GSSM. Their proposal met with legislative approval and Doug was named Interim President of the newly created residential high school for academically gifted juniors and seniors. In February of 1988, recruiters went around the state to find adventuresome students to form the charter class of GSSM and Doug began the search for faculty.

It was my great pleasure that Doug invited me to visit Hartsville, hear the plans for the new school, and join the new faculty. I had worked with him at Francis Marion and with trust in his judgment, answered, “yes.”

It was the best decision of my life.

In the summer of 1988, Dr. Leland Cox (an English Professor) was selected as the first presiding President of GSSM, the remainder of the faculty were hired and the new class arrived – only to find that renovations were not yet complete for the science building and the new residence facilities only just finished. It was a time of experimentation and discovery and building and – thirty years later – can be deemed a great success.

At times like this, it is useful to remember the leaders who made it all possible and whose purpose created a school, which has benefited both Hartsville and the entire state with residential and outreach programs of excellence.

Doug’s passing marks the loss of a rare breed of leader with an inspiring vision of what our state can be when we empower our young people with confidence, understanding, and compassion.”

Author: Duane Childers

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