M.J.J. Smith, Beloved Professor, Dies at 75
Dr. M.J.J. Smith, Reid-Knox Professor Emeritus of History and one of the most beloved professors in Alma history, died Sept. 7. He was 75 years old.
"The Old Warrior" was rewarded many times over for his commitment to teaching and scholarship. He was the first to hold the Reid-Knox endowed chair, one of the first two professors to receive the Barlow Award for Faculty Excellence and the first to be named Outstanding Professor in the Social Sciences Division.
Graduating seniors honored him with the Outstanding Professor Award four more times and he earned the Barlow once more. In 1986 he was selected as one of the top 50 professors in the United States by Change: the Magazine of Higher Learning. The American Association of Higher Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching also honored him for his contributions to scholarship.
Prior to being the Reid-Knox Professor, Dr. Smith was the Charles A. Dana Professor of History from 1984 to 1992. His commitment to research in communication, history, political science and public policy led the College to purchase for the Monteith Library's permanent collection the microfilmed papers of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Alma College alumnus and Trustee.
As the driving force behind Alma's pre-law program, Dr. Smith was a mentor to some of the top lawyers in the country. He developed an accelerated summer program where he would drive to cities around the state to hold class so young scholars could earn a degree in three years. His reach went beyond pre-law and many corporate executives, bank presidents and business owners credit M.J.J. with their success.
An emphasis on academic rigor, intense grilling and an underlying belief in students' success combined with a quick wit earned him the respect and life-long friendships of his students. During his acceptance speech for the endowed chair in 1992, Dr. Smith urged students to become "disciples of outcome," to "learn how to take the torch and illuminate dark places." He advised them to "forget yesterday, ignore tomorrow... take action today."
When Dr. Smith failed to show for class one day in 1992, the Almanian reported students were shocked to learn he was rushed to the hospital with bronchitis, pleurisy, ruptured discs and a strain on his heart. He relinquished the departmental chair and pre-law directorship to Michael Yavenditti, professor of history and never taught full-time again.
No public memorials are planned at this time. Memorial contributions may be made to the M.J.J. Smith Scholarship Fund at Alma College. Cards and condolences may be sent to his wife, Betty, and family Carolyn, Eileen and Scott at 851 Charles Rd., Alma, MI 48801.
Posted: Fri, September 9th, 2005 at 3:16PM