Robert “R.V.” Smith, 1920–2015
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 Feb. 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 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.
In 1980, he was named Harry Emerson Fosdick Professor of philosophy and religion, the chair honoring the memory of one of America’s foremost theologians (Class of 1900). The Alumni Corporation presented Smith with its distinguished teaching award in 1987 in recognition of his teaching, preaching, and introducing students to foreign lands and new cultures. He retired the next year.
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 at 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, R.V. (as he was known) held degrees from the State University of Iowa, the Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, and Yale University. He was pastor of Grace Methodist Church in New Haven, Conn., while studying at Yale, and began his teaching career at Cornell College (Iowa). 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, and Lisa Smith; and five grandchildren, including Robert Bikwemu ’10.
A memorial service was held in Memorial Chapel in May. The family requests that donations to Colgate be designated for the Office of the Chaplain, or sent to the Grindstone Island United Methodist Church in Clayton, N.Y.