On August 23, more than 200 colleagues, friends and family gathered at the N.C. State University Club to celebrate Dr. W. David Smith’s career with the university’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Smith, CALS associate dean and director of the N.C. Agricultural Research Service, retired September 1 after 31 years of service to the College and the university. The event also served as occasion for the launch of the Smith Initiative for Research Stations and Field Laboratories.
The Smith Initiative will fund needed equipment and services to help ensure that the state’s field research facilities have the 21st-century infrastructure required for emerging agricultural challenges, help farmers utilize technology to meet good agricultural practice standards and deliver new solutions to feed the world. Inviting ongoing support, Dr. Sylvia Blankenship, CALS dean in the interim, announced at the reception that, thanks to more than 40 lead contributors, the initiative had already accrued more than $35,000. Smith himself is among the lead donors to the initiative.
Blankenship, who hosted the event, described Smith as a “practical, down-to-Earth, diplomatic person, and we will surely miss him.”
Also participating were keynote speaker Dr. Johnny Wynne, CALS dean emeritus; Dr. Thomas A. Melton, representing the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service; Roger R. Black of British American Tobacco; and Dr. Nick M. Hamon, chair of the N.C. Agricultural and Life Sciences Research Foundation.
“Congratulations to Dr. William David Smith for an outstanding career and contributions to CALS,” said Wynne.
Wynne told the group that Smith “understands the land-grant mission,” having received his 1978 bachelor’s degree and 1980 master’s degree from the University of Florida and his Ph.D. from N.C. State in 1984, when he was hired by CALS as a crop science assistant professor and Extension specialist. Smith became head of the Department of Crop Science in 2007 and then in 2010 became associate dean and head of NCARS.
“We were really pleased to have him in the leadership position of the NCARS,” said Wynne, noting that during the past year $77 million in research support came in to the CALS faculty.
As an Extension specialist, Smith, whose father, William C. Smith, served 32 years with the University of Florida’s extension service, “believed in training the agents and had a great relationship with them and the farmers,” Wynne said.
Melton called Smith “a really great leader” and presented him a plaque from Cooperative Extension for “enriching the lives of citizens of the state.” Pointing out the many Extension agents in attendance, Melton said, “He was an agents’ specialist. He always put the agents first when he was leader of the tobacco team.”
Black, a member of the N.C. Tobacco Foundation board of directors, said he was representing the tobacco industry but “also representing David’s friends”: He’s known Smith since Black was a master’s student under CALS’ Dr. Bill Collins and Smith was an incoming Ph.D. student. (Black, in fact, introduced Smith to his wife, Mary Lou, at the time a recent Meredith College graduate.)
Black said that during his years working for tobacco companies Brown & Williamson, R.J. Reynolds and BAT, “David has always been my go-to person at the university.”
“He brought to his job the qualities of integrity, commitment, enthusiasm and passion for his work,” said Black, offering among examples that, as an Extension specialist, “David would interact with anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 growers in a year, communicating new techniques and best practices.” Black also mentioned Smith’s invaluable guidance to growers in transitioning to the greenhouse transplant production system, and he, too, emphasized the research dollars that came to the university, “shepherded in by David Smith as NCARS director.”
Hamon of Bayer CropScience, North America, lauded Smith’s role in creating good industry and academic partnerships and open collaborative relationships around intellectual property. “Our industry is involved with N.C. State because of people like David,” said Hamon, who presented Smith a framed image of the university’s Memorial Belltower in commemoration of “exceptional leadership and partnership with industry.”
And to kick off Smith’s retirement wardrobe, Hamon gave him a palm-tree-adorned Tommy Bahama necktie. (It was also a payback: Smith once gave Hamon a Wolfpack tie to replace a light blue one he was wearing at the time).
Making a special presentation from Steve Troxler, state agriculture commissioner, was Dr. Richard C. Reich, assistant commissioner of the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, who certified Smith as an official N.C. Ambassador for Agriculture. Reich especially thanked Smith for the creation of the initiative to support the state’s research facilities.
Then, announcing the $35,000 donated so far to the Smith Initiative, Blankenship said, “We look forward to the continued growth of this fund.”
Said Smith, “I appreciate the generosity to the initiative — it will make a difference. The impact of our university is immeasurable to our state, and it is never more needed and important than now. This initiative will help in meeting those needs for modernizing research stations and field labs and creating leverage for more funding.”
He then introduced his wife, Mary Lou, and his two daughters, Jackie and Rebecca, both of whom are N.C. State graduates. Aso in attendance were Jackie’s husband, Adam Jenkins, and Rebecca’s fiancé, Austin Hoke, both alumni of N.C. State’s College of Engineering.
Finally, he gave a special thanks to his NCARS team and to all in attendance. “There has been much said about me tonight. Whatever I am is because of the way I was raised, both by my family and by my mentors at N.C. State,” Smith said. “I’ve enjoyed my time at N.C. State because of the people I’ve worked with.” – Terri Leith