Celebrating Robert H. Smith

April 27th, 2010 by under Uncategorized. 16 Comments.

Students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends, we invite you to share your memories of Robert H. Smith and thoughts about the impact you have felt from his involvement with the University of Maryland community. Please post a comment on this blog and we will collect them and share them with the Smith family.



Dean Anand, Robert H. Smith School of Businesss  on April 27th, 2010

Our great benefactor Robert H. Smith passed away on Tuesday, December 29, 2009, following a stroke. His passing is such a loss to us – not just because of his tireless advocacy on our behalf or his incredibly generous financial support. More than all those things, I will miss the way Bob Smith challenged us to pursue ever greater, higher and better dreams.

I had the privilege of getting to know him over the past years, and I have not met a more impressive yet humble and caring man. He is not just our school’s namesake, but also a guiding force. He will be forever remembered and celebrated at the University of Maryland and undoubtedly by the countless other institutions that benefited from his kindness.

We owe a profound debt of gratitude to Bob for his unmatched support and generosity. It is because of his philanthropy and leadership that we have achieved such success over the past decade, and his legacy will be felt by our students, alumni, faculty and staff for generations to come. Bob Smith changed the course of our school’s future.

The greatest of the gifts he gave us was his unwavering commitment to excellence. Bob was never content with the status quo; he was never satisfied with ‘good enough.’ Whenever new rankings were published, he would call me – eager to discuss our current standings and the standards by which we were judged.

We invite you to share your memories of Mr. Smith here in this blog.

With sincerest sadness and sympathy,

Dean Anand

Stephen Carroll, Professor Emeritus  on April 28th, 2010

I have had brief conversations with Bob Smith quite a number of times over the years in the Smith School and also at the Smith Performing Arts Center. We discussed many issues about business education, the performing arts, and the fine arts during these times. I found him to be extremely sophisticated about all of these topics. In addition he certainly was a very noble man with a high degree of morality and ethics in addition to his high intelligence. Actually I cannot think of a person that I have met in my long lifetime that so impressed me overall as Bob Smith.

Roland Rust, Distinguished University Professor & David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing  on April 29th, 2010

I am one of the people who would not be at the University of Maryland without the generosity of Robert H. Smith. I hold the David Bruce Smith Chair at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, and have since been named Distinguished University Professor as well.

What really made Bob Smith unique was that he was not just a donor and benefactor. He also was a continuing source of inspiration and leadership to the faculty and students. His brilliant mind and unwavering principles were things that all of us could learn from. Given what a high-quality man he was, it is not surprising that the many institutions that he has touched with his generosity and leadership have been equally successful. The Robert H. Smith School of Business, in particular, would not be a top 20 business school in many rankings today without his influence. He was proud of our success, but we are even prouder to have his name on our school.

Alissa Arford-Leyl  on May 13th, 2010

As an employee in the Office of Marketing Communications at the Smith School, I had the opportuninity to hear Mr. Smith speak on many occasions and always came away feeling motivated to do good. He was the ultimate philanthropist and his stories were so inspirational that I would just listen in amazement as he recounted his life experiences, which to me sounded extraordinary. The way he told his stories with such conviction, he made me believe that I could make a difference too.

One of my fondest personal memories of Mr. Smith occured on a day that I remember well, because it also happened to be my birthday, in 2008. A few of us from the Smith School went to his office in Crystal City to videotape a special message for the farewell tribute to former Smith School Dean Howard Frank. As I worked with the video crew to get Mr. Smith ready to go, I was pretty nervous because I was told that he would deliver prepared remarks direct-to-camera, but instead we set up interview style. Basically, I asked a couple questions and he got going and talked for about 20 minutes on his involvement in the Smith School and its rise to excellence. But the amazing part for me was not actually the video – which was incredible – it was afterwards… He called us into his beautiful conference room overlooking the city and we talked for an hour about all sorts of things from the Smith School to how he became involved with the National Gallery of Art. Mr. Smith liked to make a big impact with his philanthropy. He wanted to help people do things that were out of reach – what would you do if you could do ‘anything’ he asked us. It was definitely one of the most amazing conversations I’ve ever had.

The one word that comes to mind when I think of Mr. Smith is ”tree.” Mature trees, especially. We have him to thank for the beautiful trees and landscaping surrounding Van Munching Hall. A couple of the funniest calls I’ve received in my decade of service at the Smith School were from frantic colleagues saying that Mr. Smith was unexpectedly in VMH or on the grounds inspecting construction – closely examining the trees: “Alissa, bring the camera, let’s get some pictures of him!” Many times I would run around the building trying to track him down, only to have just missed him getting into his car.

Mr. Smith was a humble man and he touched many people. I doubt we will ever truly know the full extent of his influence – personally and through philanthropic contributions to society. I will miss his contagious smile and his inspriational stories: Thank you, Mr. Smith!

Bob Krapfel, Associate Dean of MBA and MS Programs  on May 13th, 2010

Mr. Smith lifted us up in so many ways it is difficult to know where to start. Generosity is the most obvious and readily visible aspect of his leadership. Our name, our trees (!), our many distinguished faculty – none of that would have been possible were it not for his generosity. But what impressed me even more was his ongoing investment in us as an organization. Like any good long-term investor he stayed engaged, for years, and challenged us to aim higher, to achieve more, to be better tomorrow than we are today. He kept our feet to the fire in a very constructive way. When you made a pitch to Mr. Smith at a lunch or elsewhere you knew that you had better have done your homework!

At a personal level what I found most striking was the twinkle in the eye. The undiminished excitement and enthusiasm he always displayed were not an act. He loved life and loved the opportunity to make a difference. Bob Smith wrote the book on inspirational leadership.

Rebecca Winner  on May 13th, 2010

When the news of Mr. Smith’s death was announced to the campus community I was shocked and saddened. What a loss to the Smith School and to the entire Washington, D.C. region.

I first met Mr. Smith in 2004, when I was asked to write a profile of him for the Smith School’s alumni magazine. I wasn’t intimidated at the prospect of meeting the man whose name I walked under every time I entered my workplace; in a previous job I dealt with Hollywood celebrities, so I felt like I could handle myself in even the most illustrious company. But if I wasn’t particularly nervous, neither did I expect to be impressed.

But I was. I found Mr. Smith to be unassuming, good-humored, quick-witted, shrewd and funny; passionate about his interests and committed to making the world a better, smarter and more beautiful place to be. His was a cheerful and invigorating presence. He told fabulous stories about his early days as a developer, his experiments with horse-breeding, his delight in his involvement with the National Gallery of Art.

He also told stories about his days at Maryland. By his own admission he was a dreamer with drive, a nose-to-the-grindstone kid, a commuter who spent most of his time on campus worrying about where he was going to park. He wanted to get into class, get his work done, and get out of the building and on with his life. Mr. Smith had a vision for the future and for how he was going to build it. Once he told me about the turning point in his academic career, a drafting class that he could never quite get a handle on. That drafting class convinced him that that he was not destined to be an engineer. He came to the business school instead. “I figured I could always hire engineers,” Mr. Smith told me. It was a good decision and he had a remarkable career, but I sensed that nonetheless the incident still niggled at him 50 years later, just a little. He really wanted to beat that drafting class.

Mr. Smith was exacting—wanted things to be just so—because he believed that “excellence is everything and mediocrity is nothing.” (Oh, if I had a dollar for every time he said that to me!) He spent not just money but a great deal of his time with the organizations he invested in; we saw him here at the Smith School three or four times a year. And every time he wanted to see us moving forward, a little bit better and a little bit smarter than we were before.

Over the years I had other opportunities to write about or for Mr. Smith, and the more we met, the more impressed I was. But in reading the newspaper reports after his passing I was astonished at the range and breadth of his work in the community. I never knew how much of my life was impacted by his philanthropy. I work in a school that bears his name, but I also get my eyes cared for in a clinic he supported, the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. My children have spent many happy hours roaming the grounds of Mount Vernon and the halls of the National Gallery of Art, both recipients of his marvelous generosity. Now that I’m looking for it, I see his name in so many places. What a wonderful way to be remembered.

Mr. Smith gave of himself with intelligence and energy, and in doing so reshaped not just the physical landscape around campus but also our hopes and dreams for the future. I admired and respected him very much. My deepest sympathies to his family, and my deepest gratitude for sharing him with us.

Martin P. Loeb, Accounting & Information Assurance Department Chair, Professor and Deloitte & Touche LLP Faculty Fellow  on May 13th, 2010

I greatly admired Robert H. Smith, not for what he gave or did, but for his contagious passion for excellence, his commitment to making the world a better place, and his devotion to family. I had some short conversations with Mr. Smith over a number of years. However, I particularly remember hearing him speak to audiences at lunches with the faculty, the kick-off of the Great Expectations campaign, and at the Smith School Commencement. At each event, I was amazed at how impressive and inspiring he was. He connected with the audience at an emotional level, because you could sense that he was not giving a speech, but talking from the heart. He exuded qualities of a sharp analytical mind combined with worldliness, dignity, and sense of high moral purpose. Mr. Smith did this while conveying a subtle and self –depreciating sense of humor. To my mind, his best speech was given at the Great Expectations event. Perhaps that is because he had such great expectations for himself and for others.

Robert H. Smith wanted to make a positive difference, and it is clear that he did so. Beyond the generosity of his financial contributions, the memory of him that lives in our minds continues to make a positive difference by providing us with a great gift of a wonderful role model. I am extremely proud to be associated with a School that bears his name, and am additionally proud that he was a Maryland accounting alumnus.

pscham  on May 14th, 2010

On behalf of the University’s Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies, from Dr. Yoram Peri, Director of the Institute and Kay Professor of Israel Studies; and Professor Paul Scham, Executive Director

The faculty and staff of the Gildenhorn Institute join the University community in mourning the untimely death of our benefactor, Robert Smith. Representing one of the newest units on campus, we credit him as a principal founder of our Institute and one of our most ardent supporters. His passion for Israel, which led him to engage in so many activities and causes related to the country and its people, was very much evident in his interest in and strong support for our work.

In the time we knew him, we saw that his personal warmth and concern was always evident in everything and for everyone he touched. It was tremendously important to him to see Israel flourishing and secure. We saw and appreciated how hard he worked to increase opportunities for study and research on Israel, and to help make Americans, especially young people, aware of its importance to the Jewish community and to the world.

We know that nothing can replace him, but we recognize that his family is as committed as he was to the bond between American people and Israel. We intend our Institute to be a living memorial to his memory.

Paul Tesluk, Tyser Professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management, Department Chair  on May 15th, 2010

Mr. Smith was a remarkable leader. One of the things I was most impressed by were his insights on leadership and the importance of leaders to learn from their experiences. His graduation speech on the importance of learning from failure that he told through the story of Ernest Shackleton, the explorer who led his men ultimately to safety after their ship was destroyed en route to the South Pole, was insightful and offered powerful lessons for students entering the workforce at a difficult time. The way he told the story, it was clear that Bob Smith not only recognized the importance of leaders learning from setbacks and disappoints that come from taking risks, but that this was one of his own leadership principles. I think it was the most insightful and inspirational graduation speeches I ever heard.

I had the opportunity at a lunch to speak briefly with Mr. Smith about his graduation speech and the Shackleton story and I told him that I teach a leadership case based on Shackleton’s expedition and that I re-worked the case based on several of the insights he shared in his speech. It was clear from the short discussion we then had that Mr. Smith drew those insights from his own original read of the Shackleton expedition. It is that quality – to constantly learn , use those learnings to become a better leader and share that with others – that I was always remember about Bob Smith. I believe that is why Mr. Smith was such a strong supporter and champion of the Smith School and his legacy will be so long-lasting. Thank you, Mr. Smith!

Raghu Raghavan  on May 15th, 2010

I joined the business school at the University of Maryland in August 1998, shortly before it was named after Bob Smith. Mr. Smith’s generosity to the business school, and his close interest and benevolent attention to us, coincided with a remarkable ascent in our national rankings and reputation. Mr. Smith generosity played a significant part in this ascent, and for that I am very thankful.

I never had the opportunity to interact one on one with Mr. Smith. I did get the chance to hear him on several occasions at the Smith School when he spoke to the faculty and staff. I was always impressed with his down to earth manner, warm smile, and his own career history in the real estate industry which he spoke to us about. As a benefactor, I felt he was someone who cared deeply about the business school, and was invested in its success. When I read his obituary, I learned a lot more about Mr. Smith (his life and his philanthropy) that I never knew. It just deepened my appreciation for Mr. Smith. I am happy that the business school bears his name and proud to be a faculty member at The Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Mubo Sani  on May 16th, 2010

Mr. Robert H. Smith held ours hands and led us to great heights! The onus is on us to continue in his footsteps. May his soul
rest in eternal peace. Amen.

Martha Randall  on May 16th, 2010

My colleagues and I in the School of Music were shocked and saddened when our Director, Dr. Robert Gibson, informed us of the passing of Robert Smith on December 29, 2009. Mr. Smith spoke at a convocation in the Gildenhorn Recital Hall in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center several years ago and his pithy, humorous, yet wise comments had the faculty roaring with laughter.

We are grateful to him and the entire Smith family every single day as we walk into the School of Music to teach in this magnificent facility. We are accustomed to having singers come to audition for us who feel compelled to look at the hall and tell us that they are awestruck by the space before they even begin to sing. We may be used to that, but we still enjoy the reaction and agree, after ten years in the building.

Being present at the beginning of something wonderful gives the special perspective of knowing what it was like before. I began teaching in the early nineties as an adjunct and a few years later became a full-time lecturer. In Tawes, my studio was a converted storage space and had no window. I would get busy and involved in what I was doing and forget that, but the first thing students said when they came for the first time was “You don’t have a window.” When we moved into the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, the first thing returning students and visitors said when they came to my new studio was “You have a window!”

The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center has given us a window to the world in both the literal and figurative sense. Our students perform in spaces that are state-of-the-art, and we attract students who are worthy of that opportunity by virtue of their gifts and their world-class work ethic. This building is alive with music and student and faculty vitality every waking hour, as if the very walls had a pulse. The legacy of Robert Smith is alive in this space and in the music that flows through it.

Martha Randall
Voice/Opera Division
School of Music

Allie Armitage  on May 17th, 2010

As a former undergraduate student and now staff member of this institution, I can feel the presence of Bob Smith every day I walk into the building. His passions, his commitment and his generousity is a spirit that visibly surrounds you whenever you are here on campus. It can be found in the greenery, the soaring skylights and the incredible foundations of the Robert H. Smith Schoolf of Business.

Bob Smith may no longer be able to walk into the building but he is still here each and every day. Those of us who were touched, and the thousands who will be touched in the years to come, will carry on his legacy.

Marjorie S Venit, Professor of Ancient Mediterranean Art and Archaeology, Acting Chair, Department of Art History and Archaeology  on May 17th, 2010

All of us in the Department of Art History and Archaeology are deeply saddened by the December death of Robert H. Smith. Mr Smith’s interest in art — especially that of the Italian Renaissance — led him recently to our Department, where he become our major benefactor. Despite his insistence that everything occur immediately, the impact of his generosity is just now beginning to bear fruit. His vision for the Department was one of national excellence — a precept to which we unanimously subscribe. His beneficence has energized our Department, permitting us to explore new avenues in this era of transformative education.

Through Mr Smith’s generosity, three graduate fellowships intended to recruit the best and brightest were established: the Arthur K. Wheelock Doctoral Fellowship for specialists in Dutch and Flemish art history, the Franklin Kelly Doctoral Fellowship in American Art (each named for a member of our faculty who is also at the National Gallery, with which Mr Smith had a long association), and the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Doctoral Fellowship in Art History. This Spring marks the inauguration of the Wheelock and the Kelly awards.

Mr Smith’s generosity also permitted the transformation of the ex-“Slide Room,” ex-“Visual Resources Center” into the Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture. The Collaboratory is designed to foster innovation in teaching and research by combining cutting-edge visual technology with an environment that encourages collaboration among faculty, students, and external scholars. This state-of-the-art facility includes several rooms of varying sizes that can be configured to provide the flexibility necessary for a contemporary learning space. The largest room contains the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Library, consisting of 843 volumes on aspects of art history generously donated by the Smith family, and a floor-to-ceiling curved projection surface, a computer, and three projectors able to support the most ambitious visual projects for the foreseeable future.

It is with greatest regret that we acknowledge that Mr Smith did not live to see the fruit of his benevolence, but his gifts to our Department certainly serve as part of his legacy, and they will not die. I assure his family that Mr Smith’s commitment to excellence will be maintained: this too is part of his legacy. We mourn the death of this lively, energetic, and dedicated man, who was taken all too soon. His spirit lives on in our Department, and we celebrate excellence and innovation in his name.

Ted Matherly, Association of Doctoral Students President  on May 19th, 2010

As a doctoral student at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, I owe a great deal to the value that Mr. Smith on producing research as part of his vision for the role of the school within the University and the world. While the contrast between the rigorous detail of academic research and the expansive perspective that Mr. Smith possessed could be quite large, he had the prescience to challenge us, to encourage us to bridge the gap and understand our work in a broader context.

On behalf of the Robert H. Smith School’s Association of Doctoral Students and my fellow doctoral students, we sincerely appreciate Robert Smith’s generosity and vision. We accept the challenge he leaves for us; gratefully utilizing the resources that he has provided to help extend the legacy of his influence through the school’s collective contributions to our respective fields and to the world.

Beth Campbell-Bush, Doctoral Student Robert H. Smith School of Business  on June 14th, 2010

I was honored to have the opportunity to meet Mr. Smith this past Fall at an event for the PhD program. He spoke briefly to a group of us and what struck me most about this encounter was his profound commitment to enriching our country through education. His vision rings true for me, and so many of us who have decided to pursue academic careers. Hearing his mission and learning of related efforts has been an energizing force for those of us aspiring toward this common aim.
The students of the University of Maryland–and especially those of us from the business school–have immeasurably benefited not only from his generosity but, more importantly, to this inspiring vision. His leadership on campus will be greatly missed. However, the lasting impact of his efforts will know no limits. It is our charge to ensure of that. For your support and inspiration, especially efforts to enable creation of knowledge and support of generations of future scholars, thank you, Mr. Smith.

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