Robert Virgil Smith, Harry Emerson Fosdick Professor of philosophy and religion, emeritus, and a United Methodist pastor for more than 45 years, died peacefully at home on February 12, 2015. He was 94 years old.
Smith joined the Colgate faculty in 1952, serving as university chaplain and teaching in the areas of philosophy of religion, introduction to religion, contemporary Christian thought, and business ethics.
He chaired the philosophy and religion department and directed study groups in Great Britain and Zambia, the January special studies period, and the overseas study group program.
Committed to equality and dignity for all, he took a Vietnamese refugee family into his home in 1979; led the University Church Board in urging the Colgate community to end selective living on campus; and was involved with the Colgate Human Rights Group.
He was named to the Fosdick chair, honoring the memory of one of America’s foremost theologians (Class of 1900), in 1980. In 1987, the Colgate Alumni Corporation presented him with its distinguished teaching award in recognition of his teaching, preaching, and introducing students to foreign lands and new cultures. He retired in 1988.
Beyond Colgate, in the 1960s Smith spent two sabbaticals studying at Mansfield College at Oxford University in England. He served as president of the National Association of Biblical Instructors and played a key role in the founding of the American Academy of Religion in 1963. He later directed the planning for a center for Religion and Society of the SUNY Stony Brook and briefly served as chaplain for the Protestant Cooperative Ministry at Cornell University. In the summers, he served for years as minister at the Grindstone Island United Methodist Church in the Thousand Islands.
A native of Iowa, he held degrees from the State University of Iowa, the Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, and Yale University. He began his teaching career at Cornell College (Iowa) and was pastor of Grace Methodist Church in New Haven, Conn.
Smith is survived by his wife, Joyce Irwin (who also taught in Colgate’s religion department); his three children from his first marriage, Deborah Smith MAT’74, Brian Smith (Carol), and Lisa Smith (William Bowen); and five grandchildren: Robert Bikwemu ’10, Jeffrey Smith, Katherine Smith, J.T. Bowensmith, and Kinsey Bowensmith.
A memorial service will be held in Princeton, N.J., at the Plainsboro Presbyterian Church on Saturday, February 28, at 11:00 a.m. Another memorial service will be planned in Hamilton, N.Y. in the spring. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations to Colgate be designated for the Office of the Chaplain, or sent to the Grindstone Island United Methodist Church in Clayton, N.Y., 13624.