President emeritus of Florida Memorial University, Albert E. Smith, dies at 81

 
 
Albert E. Smith
Albert E. Smith

cteproff@MiamiHerald.com

As the president of Florida Memorial University for more than a decade, Albert E. Smith would ride around campus in a golf cart. Always dapper in a shirt and tie, he often stopped to talk to students along the way.

“He wanted to hear what they had to say,” said his wife of 57 years, Sadie Burris Smith. “That was his style.”

Smith, who served as Florida Memorial’s president from 1993 until his retirement in 2006 and was then named president emeritus, died this week of congestive heart failure at Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines. He was 81.

Before coming to Florida Memorial in 1993, Smith served as president of South Carolina State University.

He was also involved in his church, New Mount Olive Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, and was an active member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

Sadie Smith said her husband was an “idea man” who loved to work with children and young adults.

“It was his passion,” she said.

Born Oct. 24, 1932, in Sioux Falls, S.D., Smith moved with his parents to Iowa before ending up in Chicago. After graduating from high school, he went on to what is now called North Carolina A &T State University in Greensboro, N.C.

While in school he met Sadie Burris at a canteen, where she was hanging out with two friends.

“He said he couldn’t take his eyes off me,” she said.

They dated on and off in the beginning and by 1955 they were “serious.” That summer Smith played as a minor league baseball player with the St. Louis Cardinals. In January 1956, the couple got married, months before they graduated from college.

After graduating in June, the couple moved to Texas where he was a commissioned officer and company commander in the Army Medical Service Corps.

After separating from the army, Smith and his wife and son went back to Chicago where he worked as a Youth Gangs Worker and Program Secretary with the YMCA. of Metropolitan Chicago. The couple also had two daughters.

In 1964, Smith got an offer to be the director of the new student union building at Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tenn.. He took it, but two years later, he was offered a similar job at his alma mater.

“That’s where is heart was,” his widow said.

But Smith, who was always looking for new opportunities, was offered several more positions including a stint in Pittsburgh, where he got his doctorate degree. He also helped start the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, an athletic conference made up of historically black colleges and universities, in 1970.

“He did whatever he could to improve athletics,” said Ken Free, who served as the conference’s first time commissioner beginning in 1978. “He was firm but he was fair.”

In 1986, Smith was offered his first presidency position at South Carolina State University. In 1993, the couple moved South so he could lead Florida Memorial.

Under his tenure the school almost doubled in the number of students, raised millions in grants and began a beautification project.

But beyond his passion for work, his son said his father has served as a mentor to countless young men and women.

“He was a tremendous mentor to young people,” son Clayton Smith said. “He was the type of person people could look up to.”

In addition to his wife and son, Smith is survived by his brother Calvert H. Smith; sister Evelyn Jude; daughters Robyne Wilkerson and Angela Luster; four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

A public viewing for Smith, who died on Sunday, will be held from 9 to 10 a.m. Thursday in the Susie C. Holley Religious Center, 15845 NW 42nd Ave. in Northwest Miami-Dade Services from 10 to 10:30 a.m. will be conducted by the Links and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. A celebration service will follow at 11 a.m.

Instead of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to The Albert E. & Sadie B. Smith Endowment at Florida Memorial University, 15800 NW 42nd Ave., Miami, FL 33054.

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