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Epilogue | Dr. William Francis Smith Sr.

Dr. William "Doc" Smith broke color barriers, challenged students

ST. PETERSBURG — William F. "Doc" Smith savored all he could from an accomplished life.

The longtime psychology professor at Gibbs Junior College, who stayed on after the school merged in 1965 with St. Petersburg Junior College (now St. Petersburg College), taught students that hard work would yield success. If not now, then soon.

It was a message his parents taught him, one that propelled him to a Ph.D and a teaching position at Harvard University.

Dr. Smith, who is believed to be St. Petersburg's first black psychologist, died Sept. 21, of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was 87.

"He was a trailblazer in our community," said City Council member Wengay Newton.

Dr. Smith did not just study self-esteem, he drummed it into his children and students.

"One of the things we were taught by our parents," said Joshua Smith, his brother and a former president of two junior colleges, "is that things might be difficult now, but they will probably get better. And one of the things you have to do is be prepared for when they get better."

Dr. Smith was born in Boston and served in the military during World War II in New Guinea and the Philippines. He earned degrees at Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts before getting a Ph.D at Michigan State University.

In 1948 he married Barbara Smith, a psychiatric nurse.

Dr. Smith taught at Harvard, the University of Massachusetts and Florida A&M University, where he participated in civil rights demonstrations.

He joined the faculty at Gibbs in 1962 while it was still a segregated junior college. He aimed to give his students an upper-level university experience.

In his spare time, he volunteered with a Kiwanis organization, the St. Petersburg International Folk Fair Society and as a Boy Scout leader.

He smoked a pipe for a time, as he told stories that he may have repeated but never grew old.

"He kept his Bostonian accent and spoke like a professor," said Ashley Smith, 26, his granddaughter. "When he talked, he was easy to listen to."

On family car trips up and down the East Coast, Dr, Smith stopped at state capitol buildings and marched to the governor's office with his children.

"He'd say, 'This is my daughter, she wants to see the governor,' " said daughter Lorina Padgett, 54.

Sometimes, a governor came out to greet them.

Dr. Smith retired from St. Petersburg College in 1989. He remained active in the American Psychological Association, which gave him a national award for advocacy. In recent years he looked after Barbara, whose mobility is limited. Then his own cancer advanced.

Dr. Smith's death comes while the community is still mourning the recent deaths of prominent black educators Lawrence Pope and Emanuel Stewart.

"Dr. Smith's death, on the heels of Emanuel Stewart and Lawrence Pope, reminds me of a generation of men who not only raised a family, but gave to others in the community," said state Rep. Darryl Rouson, a former Boy Scout in Dr. Smith's troop. "As kids, we looked up to those guys."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

. Biography

Dr. William Francis Smith Sr.

Born: March 10, 1924

Died: Sept. 21, 2011

Survivors: wife, Barbara; sons William Smith Jr. and Keith Smith; daughter, Lorina Padgett; brother, Joshua Smith; two grandchildren.

Dr. William "Doc" Smith broke color barriers, challenged students 09/30/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 30, 2011 9:06pm]
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