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Foothill fondly remembers supporter Smithwick

Photo By: Bill Frankeberger/ Special to the Town Crier
Photo Bill Frankeberger/ Special To The Town Crier

Richard Henning, former Foothill dean, praises the late Dr. Robert Smithwick at Friday’s service.

Friends, family and longtime educators painted an inspiring portrait of Dr. Robert Smithwick during his memorial service Friday at the Foothill College theater named in his honor. Dr. Smithwick, who played a major role in the creation of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, died March 22 in his sleep. He was 92.

The Los Altos Hills resident, a strong advocate for higher education since the 1950s, opened the door to thousands of students who otherwise might not have attended college.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that Dr. Smithwick is the father of the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District,” said FHDA 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.”

Dr. Smithwick nurtured the community college district to its nationally recognized success. The district is currently one of the largest in the U.S., providing credit classes for approximately 43,000 students each quarter.

By trade a dentist, Dr. Smithwick dedicated himself to ensuring greater access to higher education, said Richard Henning, former longtime Foothill dean and professor. His push for college opportunities for all came during a time when approximately 10 percent of high school graduates went on to college, Henning added.

Dr. Smithwick in July 1957 became chairman of the first elected board of trustees of what was then named the Foothill Junior College District. He continued his service on the board with distinction for more than three decades.

Beyond his accomplishments, Dr. Smithwick was known as a man who cared deeply about students and faculty members. Among those recalling his passion was Martha J. Kanter, former Foothill-De Anza chancellor and current U.S. Undersecretary of Education.

“Maybe it was his vision that everyone had the potential to succeed,” Kanter said. “Maybe it was his insistence that we could always do better. Maybe it was the gentle, soft-spoken way he asked those questions. And just maybe it was the transmission of the love of students and the love of learning – science, math, vocational programs and the arts – that inspired all of us to be the best we could be, to get our students to earn their certificates and degrees, to bring pride to their families and our Foothill-De Anza family. He went far beyond all of us here.”

Quiet by nature, Dr. Smithwick communicated often via the written word – especially when it came to doling out compliments.

“He wrote a lot of thank-you notes,” Henning said at the service. “If you did anything halfway decent or was recognized in the newspaper, you would get a complimentary note from him and often a clipping from the newspaper.”

Added Henning: “We can continue Bob’s presence on this earth into perpetuity by modeling ourselves after those virtures of commitment to the arts, to education and to ethical values. Day in day out, he lived these ideals.”

Dr. Smithwick was married for 60 years to his wife, Aileen, who died in 2002. He is survived by his children, Cathye and Michael Smithwick.

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