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Longtime U of M Administrator R. Eugene Smith Dies

Dr. R. Eugene Smith, former Vice President for Business and Finance at the University of Memphis, died July 21 at Baptist Hospital in Memphis.

Dr. R. Eugene Smith
Dr. R. Eugene Smith
Dr. Smith was associated with the University of Memphis from 1963 until his retirement in 2000, serving in the administrations of five presidents.  His accomplishments at the university will last for years to come.  He had a profound influence on the development of the University of Memphis for several decades, beginning with the administration of Dr. Cecil C. Humphreys.  He hired many of the people who have worked, and still work, for the Division of Business and Finance; and until a few months ago, he continued to serve on the board of the Herff Trust for the University.  Dr. Smith’s love for the University of Memphis was legendary.

Gene Smith, as most people knew him, began his life in the Walter Hill community in Rutherford County, Tennessee.  He attended school in Lebanon, Tenn., and earned his bachelor’s degree in business at Middle Tennessee State University in 1957.  After graduation from college, he worked as a state auditor.  In 1963, he joined the administration at Memphis State University.  Within five years, he had been named MSU’s Business Manager.  In 1971, he was promoted to Vice President of Business and Finance and served faithfully and conscientiously in that role until his retirement in 2000.

While working at Memphis, Dr. Smith earned a master’s degree, followed by a doctorate from the University of Mississippi.  He also combined the duties of an administrator with those of a professor, teaching educational administration at the University of Memphis, and he served on numerous committees for the University, the Tennessee Board of Regents, and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

With the creation in 1965 of the Herff Trust for the Herff College of Engineering, Dr. Smith was involved in the management of the Trust and was named to its Board of Directors in 1999.  In 2007, to honor his outstanding service to the Trust, the R. Eugene Smith Engineering Professorships Program was established in his honor.

Outside the academic community, he was a mainstay on committees and advisory boards for a number of organizations in Memphis and Shelby County.  He was also very active in the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), serving as that group’s national president for 1988-89.  In 1994, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to business and financial management education, he was presented NACUBO’s highest honor, the Distinguished Business Officer Award.

In 1997 Dr. Smith was honored by MTSU, which awarded him the Professional Achievement Award.  That same year, his colleagues at the University of Memphis nominated him to be Tennessee’s Educator of the Year.  In support of his nomination, they cited his being an “out of the box” thinker, somebody never happy with the status quo, but constantly challenging his employees – and himself – to try new ideas and new ways to solve problems, all the while, assuring his co-workers that they had his permission to fail, just as long as they at least tried.

Throughout his long career in higher education, there was no doubt that Gene Smith’s primary concern was commitment to students in every facet of the University.  He maintained an “open door” policy for students, faculty, and staff, and they all took advantage of his willingness to talk with them.  Even from off-campus, people came to seek his advice and counsel, and he was a popular speaker at events across the state and throughout the nation.

The University of Memphis may have been the major beneficiary of Gene Smith’s hard work and vision.  Under his fiscal leadership, the university acquired land adjacent to the main campus, Meeman Farms in north Shelby County, and the former Kennedy Army Hospital property at the corner of Park and Getwell.  That area, now known as the University’s Park Avenue Campus, already houses a number of university functions and promises to be an even more important part of the overall University operation in the future. Gene Smith’s tenure at the UofM also witnessed more than 20 major construction projects over a period of 25 years.

After an almost 40-year career at the University of Memphis, when many people would have long since retired from active work, Gene Smith did retire from the University of Memphis, but only to take on the mantle of Interim President at Middle Tennessee State University, a job he held for one year, to help his alma mater make the transition from one full-time leader to another.  He retired from that post in August 2001.

Throughout his adult lifetime, Dr. Smith remained vitally interested in the University of Memphis and in higher education in the State of Tennessee.

Visitation will be held beginning at 4:00 pm on Sunday, July 24, 2011, at the Collierville Funeral Home, 534 W. Poplar Avenue.  Services will be held on Monday, July 25, 2011, beginning at 11:00 am at Covenant Baptist Church, 3170 Houston Levee Road.

Memorial gifts may be made to the R. Eugene Smith Assistantship in Higher and Adult Education.  Checks in honor of Dr. Smith may be payable to the University of Memphis Foundation and mailed to Department 238, U of M Foundation, P.O. Box 1000, Memphis, TN 38148-0001.  Include instructions to designate your gift to the R. Eugene Smith Assistantship in Higher and Adult Education.

We extend our condolences to Dr. Smith’s wife of 50 years, Anne; his children, Daniel Eugene, David Lynn, and Genie Anne Williams; his grandchildren, October Williams, Sedona Williams, and Grace Smith; and his step-granddaughter, Cassidy Teague .

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