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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.

The 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 System.


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.

An 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.

James 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.

"Southern 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.


Ruth 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 industrial arts.

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 years.

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.

After 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 development.

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 time.

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 Johnson.

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 advancement.

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.