Southern University System
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SU receives largest legacy gift in University's history - Friday, February 17, 2012
The Southern University System Foundation has received more than $1 million in a gift from the James and Ruth Smith Trust.
endowment, the largest bequest in the University's history, includes
assets and property from the estate of the late James David Smith and
the late Ruth Johnson Smith of Santa Barbara, California, both of whom
were Southern University graduates.
"We appreciate this generous
gift from the estate of James and Ruth Smith. With this memorial
endowment, we inherit their legacy of commitment to education and
service. Their significant contribution will assist our efforts to
rebuild Southern University, Baton Rouge and ensure the future of the SU
System," said Ronald Mason Jr., president of the Southern University
James David Smith, a Monroe native who was reared in
Bastrop, received a bachelor's degree in art from Southern University.
After moving west, he received a M.F.A. from the University of Southern
California, and a Ph.D. from the University of Oregon.
accomplished artist and educator, James Smith was professor emeritus in
the Department of Art at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Upon his retirement, he returned to teach part-time in the Department of
Black Studies where he had served as its first chair.
Smith's artwork has been exhibited at the Dallas Museum of Fine Art and
at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. He also has had solo exhibitions at
the University of Tulsa, Hogue Art Gallery; Southern University; Central
Missouri State University; and other universities and galleries. His
critically praised exhibitions included "When Malindy Sings," and a
subsequent exhibition entitled, "Deep as Rivers" at Westmont College
Reynolds Gallery. His work has appeared in group exhibitions at Fig Tree
Gallery in Fresno and the City of Los Angeles Williams Grant Still Art
Center, among other venues. He died in 2008.
University, the place where James David met his beloved Ruth, laid the
foundation of what became a life-long partnership of teaching, service,
and love for the arts. The gift to Southern University is a reflection
of their value of education and their devotion to their alma mater,"
said Cretta Johnson, a trustee of the Smith's estate.
Johnson Smith was born in Powhattan, a rural village in north Louisiana.
After graduating from high school in Natchitoches, she left home to
attend Southern University, where she graduated with a degree in
For a while, she taught tailoring in a trade
school in Baton Rouge. She then returned to school and earned a teaching
certificate in elementary education, and began teaching in Plaquemines
Parish. Ruth Johnson Smith later earned a M.Ed. from LSU and began
teaching at the Southern University Preparatory School [Southern
Laboratory School], and also as assistant professor at Southern
University. During her tenure at Southern, she met and married a fellow
young assistant professor, James Smith. The Smith's were married for 44
After moving to California with her husband in 1965, Ruth
Johnson Smith earned a California administrative credential from the
University of Southern California and worked at the Santa Barbara Office
of County Schools for 17 years in several administrative capacities.
She established the first comprehensive countywide child-care program in
the Office of the Superintendent of Schools. Ruth Smith was a
co-founder of the MLK wing at the Eastside Library and also taught
ethnic studies as a visiting professor at Santa Barbara Community
College. She received her Ph.D. degree in educational psychology.
her retirement in the early 1980s, the life-long educator opened the
non-profit Miss Smith's Children Center, aimed at creating opportunities
for all socio-economic levels with the intent of total family
A major accomplishment in her post-teaching years
was her work, along with two partners in PRM, LLC, that led to the
establishment of Coast TV's KPMR--a major breakthrough for minority
women in a highly competitive commercial television environment at the
Ruth Smith passed away in 2006.
"James David and
Ruth enjoyed a full life of many personal and professional achievements.
Giving back was important for them, and this endowment in their name,
is a lasting tribute to their work, passion, and generosity," said
As an unrestricted gift, the Smith's contribution will
be used to support rebuilding efforts at Southern University-Baton
Rouge, the Southern University Museum of Art, an endowed professorship,
and an endowed scholarship.
"We are grateful for this charitable
gift that will enable us to invest resources to sponsor additional
development efforts to raise funds for the University at this critical
time, said Ernie T. Hughes, SU System vice president for institutional
Hughes said the University plans to formally
acknowledge the legacy gift in a ceremony with members of the Smith and
Johnson families later this spring.