Dr. Robert Smithwick, an early educational visionary who played a major role in the formation of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, died March 22. Dr. Smithwick, who passed away in his sleep, was 92.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that Dr. Smithwick is the father of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District,” said Foothill-De Anza Chancellor Linda M. Thor. “He participated in the first conversations among area school district trustees and superintendents that led to the creation of an independent community college for our local communities.”
In 1957, Dr. Smithwick became chairman of the first elected board of what was then called the Foothill Junior College District. He continued his service on the board for nearly 35 years.
Until the past year or so, Thor said Dr. Smithwick had remained actively engaged in the district, attending tenure receptions, graduations and other events.
Thor said he remained keenly interested in the colleges, and his devotion to and pride in the district was always very much apparent.
“I believe that Dr. Smithwick’s values are deeply embedded in our district,” Thor said, describing him as “passionately committed to the idea of excellence and opportunity for all.”
Since Dr. Smithwick set about establishing the district, approximately 1.2 million students have attended Foothill or De Anza.
“They are the true beneficiaries of his work,” Thor said.
In addition to leading Foothill-De Anza, Dr. Smithwick sat on the board of the Fremont Union High School District, serving the two districts concurrently for several years. As a resident of Sunnyvale, he engaged in a variety of volunteer activities and worked in the Sunnyvale community for many years as a dentist, specializing in children’s dentistry.
In a 1996 interview, Dr. Smithwick recounted how for many years he’d made a habit of walking the campus during the first week of school to watch students register.
“It really gives me a thrill to see what a difference in a lot of people’s lives we’ve made over the years,” he said. “We have made an enormous impact on this community.”
“The Foothill-De Anza district, and the tens of thousands of students who have attended Foothill and De Anza to improve their lives, are powerful testimony to their father’s work, love and dedication,” Thor said. “He will be deeply missed by all who knew him, but his legacy lives on.”
Dr. Smithwick is survived by his children, Cathye and Michael. His family plans a memorial service celebrating his life on a date yet to be determined.