Wil Smith ’00: An Extraordinary Life Celebrated

Wil Smith '00

Wil Smith ’00

Though it was a downright dreary day outside, complete with cloudy skies and pouring rain, the atrium in Druckenmiller Hall remained bright Sunday, filled with the laughter and tears that come with the kind of meaningful memories people have of Wil Smith ’00, the former associate dean who died in February at the age of 46 following a long battle with cancer. The memorial service program read, “Wil Smith ’00: An Extraordinary Life Celebrated,” and indeed it was.

One by one, Smith’s friends, and colleagues who couldn’t help but become friends, came forward to share anecdotes of their time with a man roundly praised as a wonderful father, thoughtful mentor and inspiring coach.

“I think of his friendly nature, I think of his warm smile, I think of how much he cared about people. I think of how much he loved kids — and how well kids responded to him,” said Men’s Basketball Coach Tim Gilbride. “He was like a pied piper.”

And Gilbride wasn’t immune; he was the one who, having seen something special in this Gulf War veteran, encouraged Smith to apply to Bowdoin, where he would make lasting impressions.

Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster recalled that 19 years ago, on his first day as dean of first year students, the first student with whom he met was non-traditional in every sense. Rather than a gap year, this one had seven pre-Bowdoin years of military experience.

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Former Associate Dean Wil Smith ’00 and his daughter, Olivia, in Morrell Gym, June 2014.

“Oh, yeah,” Foster recalls Smith adding, “and I have a daughter. She’s one.”

After carrying young Olivia up the Museum steps to receive his diploma (the dean called both of their names), Smith became a member of the student affairs team — and Foster’s friend.

“I’m especially going to miss watching him coach and teach all of us,” said Foster. “I know I’m a better person and a better dean because of this man, and I’m going to carry him with me forever.”

The Rev. H. Roy Partridge, visiting assistant professor of sociology, officiated the service, thoughtfully weaving remarks from those wanting to offer them with musical interludes performed by Ahmad Hassan Muhammad ’10 and Stephen Saxon ’99.

Tim Wilson, who recruited Wil Smith to work at the Seeds of Peace camp, spoke during the memorial service May 31, 2015.

Tim Wilson, who recruited Wil Smith to work at the Seeds of Peace camp, spoke during the memorial service May 31, 2015.

Teammates spoke, a fellow Naval officer spoke, and then, Lauren Flinn ’04 — a Wil Smith success story — came to the podium. Describing her first-year self as a “stubborn, urban kid who did not need a mentor,” Flinn admitted that she had, at first, a rocky relationship with the man to whom she was assigned.

Smith persisted. He disarmed her. He was there for her during challenging times. The result: she became her own version of Smith — going on to work in education, supporting first-generation, low-income college students. “His light is here,” Flinn said. “It’s shining everywhere.”

Olivia Smith sat in that light in the front row, laughing and crying with those who had loved her father, getting up occasionally to embrace those who had spoken, but always knowing, better than anyone, what the world was now missing.

In addition to the Wil Smith Scholarship Fund that has been established (contact Emily Moser at emoser@bowdoin.edu or 207-798-7184), a trust fund has been set up to help support Olivia Smith. Donations can be made to Lynn Sherman, Trustee of the Olivia Smith Trust, and mailed to James Erwin, Pierce Atwood, 254 Commercial St., Portland, ME 04101.

Comments

  1. Julia Buck says:

    I never knew this man, but the fact that Bowdoin embraced him into their community and gave him room to thrive brings me immense joy in knowing my child will also join this special Bowdoin community. Rest in peace.

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