SMITH BUSINESS Magazine
Volume 11 No. 1 SPRING 2010

Robert H. Smith Memorial

Remembering Robert H. Smith
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Robert H. Smith walked through the corridors of Van Munching Hall more often than most students realized. Trim and silver-haired, the man who named the Smith School was unassuming, genial, and genuinely interested in everyone he met. His enormous natural talents took him to the top of his profession. His passionate beliefs in the goodness of our country, the potential of every person and the importance of investing in excellence made him one of the most influential philanthropists the Washington, D.C., region has ever known.

The Washington Post described him as a “visionary builder-developer” who “transformed more than just the local landscape.” Mr. Smith gave away hundreds of millions of dollars to support education, healthcare and the arts; beautify and preserve important historic sites; and assure the continuity of Judaism.

He is also the University of Maryland’s single greatest benefactor. “Bob Smith is the greatest philanthropic supporter of public education in the history of the state of Maryland," University of Maryland President C.D. Mote Jr. has said.

Mr. Smith is survived by Clarice, his wife of 52 years; two children, Michelle and David; four grandchildren, and sister Arlene.

Celebrating Robert H. Smith - Memorial Blog
Students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends, we invite you to share your memories of Robert H. Smith and thoughts about the impact you have felt from his involvement with the University of Maryland community. Please post a comment on this blog and we will collect them and share them with the Smith family.

Meet Bob Smith

Robert Hilton Smith was born July 21, 1928, in Brooklyn, New York. His family moved to Washington in 1942, and he graduated from Anacostia High School in 1946, the same year his father formed the Charles E. Smith Construction Co. He joined the firm after graduating from the University of Maryland in 1950.

As the child of hardworking Russian immigrants, Mr. Smith grew up with big dreams. Mr. Smith took over his father's business, Charles E. Smith Construction Inc., in 1967 and ran the company for more than three decades with his brother-in-law, Robert P. Kogod. They transformed the family-owned construction firm into a multifaceted real estate empire, building office complexes, apartment houses and eventually becoming Washington's largest commercial real estate landlords.

Among his successful ventures as a builder-developer is the vast and sprawling Crystal City complex in Arlington, Va. When Mr. Smith first surveyed the area in 1961, it was a dilapidated, somewhat desolate neighborhood far removed from the District's corridors of power. But Mr. Smith had the gift: he could see great potential where others saw only a bare piece of ground. It was a gift that would serve him well in both his career and his philanthropic pursuits.

Memorable Words from
Robert H. Smith

Bob Smith loved wise words and proverbs of every kind, and he loved to pass them on. Here are a few of his favorites—ones we heard him quote often.

“One of the greatest mistakes you can make in life, is to be continually afraid you will make one.”

“You may be disappointed if you try something and it doesn’t succeed. But you are doomed if you don’t try.”

“You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.”

“Success isn’t permanent, and failure isn’t fatal.”

“The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it’s the same problem you had last year.”

“The tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.”

“High expectations are the key to everything.”

“Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.”

“When you cease to dream, you cease to live.”

“God give us the gift of life. Our gift to God is how we live it. ”

Setting a Course for the Future

He also had a knack for making smart choices. By the time he was 15 or 16 years old, Mr. Mr. Smith knew he wanted to be a builder-developer. So he enrolled in the university’s School of Engineering, thinking that would be the best preparation for his future career. A mechanical drawing course soon proved that his gifts and talents lay elsewhere. He did have an aptitude for accounting and finance, though, so he transferred to the business school. “I figured a background in business would serve me well, and I could always hire engineers,” he said.

Mr. Smith’s stratospheric success gave him the wherewithal to hire many engineers. That success also allowed him to make significant investments in art and music, education, healthcare, Jewish cultural organizations and important monuments of our nation’s history. Mr. Smith took his philanthropy seriously, concentrating on giving the transformational gift—the one that would enable the recipient organization to move to the next level, achieve the next big goal, create the next big idea. He was a founding partner of the Newseum in Washington, D.C. At Lincoln’s Cottage he funded an award-winning and fantastically innovative interactive exhibit. At the National Gallery of Art, he

And at the Smith School, his naming gift in 1997—and his continued influence and involvement—helped set our course for years to come. Mr. Smith invested in the school in ways that helped build our capacity to deliver excellent programs, and he always challenged us to consider how those programs supported the school’s mission and aspirations. He served as a springboard for new projects and helped inspire his fellow alumni and friends to draw alongside him in support of the school’s mission.

When Mr. Smith committed to a project he was keenly interested in every detail—particularly ones that would enhance the student experience. He wanted to know about the finishes for the interiors, the kinds of trees in the landscape, the particulars of the coursework. Nothing but the best would do. He wanted everything he was involved in to be the highest quality possible—as excellent as it was possible to be.

This wasn’t a self-centered or self-aggrandizing interest. Mr. Smith was convinced that his funds, invested wisely, could make the world a better place. He wanted to invest in ways that would challenge and inspire the institutions he partnered with the best they could be.

“I am a firm believer that life is a two-way street,” he told Smith Business magazine in 2004. “Giving back to institutions you believe in is part of that philosophy. You don't have to give millions of dollars. The important point is to participate at the level you are comfortable with. Financial success is not a destination; it is only part of the journey, enabling you to reach your ultimate fulfillment, and that is to give something back to help make a difference.”

Pursuing the Dream

“It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. When you cease to dream, you cease to live.”

That was one of Mr. Smith’s favorite quotes; anyone who spent time with him heard it. If Bob Smith died with a dream unfulfilled, it might have been this one: to see the school that bore his name, the school in which he had invested so much hope for the future, achieve global recognition in the highest ranks of business schools.

The Smith School has enjoyed enormous momentum over the past few years. Mr. Smith’s support of faculty appointments allowed us to bring in the some of the best scholars in the world in every academic area. His support of scholarships allowed us to attract and keep high-potential students regardless of their financial situation. His support for our facilities allows us to provide our students with the most beautiful, up-to-date learning environment on campus. His support of our programs allows us to challenge students with a rigorous, relevant education.

There is still much to do in our pursuit of excellence, and we are committed to the task of sustaining his vision and becoming one of the best business schools in the world. We are honored to be part of his legacy—a legacy that is reflected in each and every student. He had an unwavering belief in the potential of Smith School students to do what he himself had done: pursue their careers with integrity; succeed beyond their wildest dreams; and go on to give back in ways that would make the world a better place forever.

You may have never met Bob Smith, but he also had a dream and a charge for you, his fellow alumni. In his commencement address to the graduating class of 2008, Mr. Smith said, “It is everyone’s duty to be useful and fulfilled. It is your privilege as a human being to identify with causes beyond yourself, to contribute to your community, and make a difference to the world around you. The world today is very different from the day I graduated from this school, and it is changing almost too swiftly to comprehend. It is vital that you become involved, that you take an active part in shaping the world which you are going to inherit from my generation.”

“I’ve taken the opportunity to be involved with this school because it is my dream that each student who graduates from it will be an ambitious dreamer, a courageous risk-taker, and a principled, ethical leader, who will work to make this world a better place,” Mr. Smith said to the graduates of 2008. “It is a great honor and a privilege for me to have my name associated with yours, as you go out into the world to pursue your dreams.”

It is a great honor for us, the Smith School, to carry his name into the future.

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