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. 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.
Dr. R. Eugene Smith
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 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 .