Archive for September, 2018

On the occasion of a tree to be dedicated to Reginald Joseph Smith

September 16, 2018

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Welcome.

We are here to dedicate this tree to the memory of Professor Reginald Joseph Smith, a man who taught Accounting and Business Law at the College of the Holy Cross for 32 years. His office and most of his classes were held in Alumni Hall so it is fitting we commemorate his dedication to the Crusader family here.

Can I still say “Crusader” family? I grew up with it that way. I am part of that family as are my two brothers. I’m sure my sister would been a part if she had been born with the correct genitalia or at a later date. I would like to especially recognize my brother Peter, class of ‘73.5, for arranging this occasion and being the only one of us to actually graduate from this fine institution.

Professor Smith was our dad. At home there was a picture he kept under the glass on his desk with all of us in Holy Cross jerseys. This is what he would see when he looked away from correcting the stacks of bluebooks. I’m sure in his heart of hearts he considered us all ‘Saders and, remembering all those blue books, dedicating this tree seems the least we could do.

Our father’s connection to Holy Cross was obviously more than academic, it was his life. In 1946, after serving in the Navy during WWII, he proudly took his wife and daughter to Worcester to start his career here. Family lore has it when his immigrant mother heard the news her son was taking a tenure track position at a prestigious college she exclaimed, “We left Ireland to get away from the Catholics and now you’re going to work for them?”

He was a “Mass-seven-days-a-week” Catholic and would attend at Mary Chapel before the start of his freshmen Principles of Economics classes at 8AM. He had a reputation for locking the door at the start of class. Those who were late would then absent – and he only tolerated a few absences. In his mind he wasn’t being mean, he was preparing his students for the real world of work where you were expected to show up on time. If you stuck with your Economics or Accounting major you earned a perk of sleeping in – the sequence of his classes were held progressively later in the day. By senior year you might even meet out at our home in Paxton with hotdogs on the grill, a Black Label in one hand and a badminton racquet in the other – He prepared his students for the working lunch.

He took pride in the entire Holy Cross community. He loved writing recommendations for his seniors, he named two fellow faculty members godparents to his growing family, he invited the Jesuits to party at our house for Christmas and he was the only professor on the maintenance staff’s bowling team. Our dad insisted we all attend the 1964 graduation because the President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson, was coming to Worcester to give the commencement address at his school.

He insisted we do business within the Crusader family. Our appliances came from O’Coin’s, a Worcester business founded by Robert O’Coin, class of ‘41. My oldest brother Jeffrey would go to the Comic Strip, a nightclub downtown, to do all those things an adolescent would do in the 60s, but it was OK because it was owned by Ed Madaus and Paul Tinsley, both class of ‘68. And in keeping with that tradition of doing business within the Crusader family, I was married here by Fr. Joe Labran in 1980.

Many of Holy Cross’ most famous alumni passed through our dad’s classroom, though some just just barely. Names such as Clarence Thomas, Jack “the shot” Foley, and Bob Cousy to name a few. When asked how the Cous’ was as a student, our dad would say he was a great basketball player.

Holy Cross sports played a big part of our growing up. Our dad took us to Worcester Memorial Auditorium to see Crusader basketball long before the Hart Center was a twinkle atop Mt St James. He travelled to Madison Square Garden in ‘47 and ‘54 to see his boys win national titles. I remember his excitement when Lew Alcindor, later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, visited the campus.

He took us to football games, both home and away. I remember my first game. I was about five and really liked the team in the all orange uniforms. My dad explained that Syracuse was the enemy and I should root for the purple and white. I wasn’t that enthusiastic until the gleaming knight in his purple cape rode out on his white steed, then I was all in. My brothers would ask for chin-straps after the games and we prized the old helmet my dad got when the team upgraded. As we grew older and the stands were still packed, our dad arranged with Mr. Quirk in Kimball for us to work the concessions selling hotdogs and stocking the press box with coffee. We earned $15 and could watch the fourth quarter after we cleaned up.

Back then Holy Cross football was so big the new Route 290 was diverted around Fitton Field. In his 32 years Professor Smith saw lots of important changes… It was fifty years ago that I was spending the day making a paper-clip chain so long that it circled his office when the girders for the bridge over Southbridge St collapsed killing three. It was also 50 years ago that the Black Student Union was founded on this campus.

Next year it will be the 50th anniversary of the peace sign being painted on the roof of a storage building, a reaction to the single vote that kept ROTC on campus; and of the hepatitis outbreak that cancelled the 1969 football season and had the College rethinking its relationship with sports. This was also when Holy Cross began rethinking its relationship with gender and became coed 45 years ago. Proudly, our dad was on the committee that recommended that change.

There are too many anniversaries to note at a college founded in 1843. One very personal one for our family is this: 2018 is the 40th anniversary of our dad’s retirement from this institution. 2018 is also the 40th anniversary of his passing. The College of the Holy Cross really was his life. There were so many changes during our dad’s life here and those changes continue. New buildings, new traditions, new students, new alumni – but all rooted in that special something that is the Crusader family.

The tree we are dedicating is a Zelkova Serrata, the Japanese Elm. It is resistant to the disease that has decimated the American Elm. And this is the point where I had hoped to quote some inspiring lines from my favorite poet, Billy Collins, class of ‘63, but it seems he has written little regarding trees, fathers or professors …So I will gone on…

Like this tree, we are both from immigrant stock. This college is full of species and varieties not native to New England, but it’s that mix making this one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. This tree has established itself here and will continue to grow.

As we make this dedication to the memory of Professor Smith I’m imagining what our dad would think. Would he see this as a shady spot to cool off after tossing the ball around? Or maybe a place for some last minute cramming before a business law exam? Our dad had the head of an accountant, but the heart of a romantic, so maybe he would envision couples cramming.

I think he would like the idea that people just lie in his shadow on a warm Autumn day like this and dream.

But mostly he would be happy someone else will be raking up the leaves.

Thank you.

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