Alfred J. Smith, the founding president of Howard Community College. died Oct. 10.
Alfred J. Smith, the founding president of Howard Community College. died Oct. 10. (HANDOUT)

Alfred J. Smith, a career educator who was the founding president of Howard Community College, died Oct. 10 of cancer at Discovery Village in Bradenton, Fla.

The former Columbia resident was 91.

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"As the founding president of HCC, Dr. Smith set the tone for excellence in all that we do, from our academic programs to services for students," Kathleen Hetherington, the fourth president of the college, said in a statement.

"His work on outcomes assessment for our courses was groundbreaking and well positioned the college for its accreditation," according to her statement.

"Traditional collegial education was not something he wanted. He wanted something new," said Martha A. Matlick, who taught and later worked in curriculum development at the college from 1971 to 2001.

"He had goals and ideas about what education should be and set up those systems. He supported the faculty and wanted to get those programs aimed the way he thought they should be," she said.

Born in Barberton, Ohio, Alfred John Smith Jr. was the son of Alfred J. Smith Sr., a New York Central Railroad tower operator, and Clara Smith, a homemaker.

At an early age, he moved with his family to Buffalo, N.Y., where he graduated in 1944 from Hutchinson High School.

After high school, he was drafted into the Navy and served as a seaman aboard the light cruiser USS Amsterdam and the destroyer USS Healy in the Pacific.

Discharged in 1946, he enrolled at the University of Buffalo, now the State University of New York, Buffalo, where he earned a bachelor's degree in business.

Dr. Smith later earned a master's degree in business from Columbia University and a doctorate in education from Indiana University.

He began his teaching career in 1955 at West Seneca High School and then joined the faculty of Elmira College, "which was the first college for women with a course of study equal in rigor to the best men's colleges," said his wife of 42 years, the former Bernadene Hallinan, a retired educator. "There he developed and taught several business courses."

Dr. Smith was appointed professor of business administration and chairman of the business administration department in 1963 at Corning (N.Y.) Community College, a position he held until leaving the college in 1967.

In 1969, Dr. Smith moved to Columbia when he was named founding president of Howard Community College, which was on 120 acres of a former farm, where herds of cattle were not unusual sights.

The college on Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia opened in October 1970. It was housed in one building that had administrative offices, a library and a cafeteria, which is now the Clark Library Building.

It opened with 611 students, who were taught by 10 full-time faculty members and 30 adjunct professors and support staff. Tuition was $150 per semester for Howard County residents.

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Significant milestones during Dr. Smith's tenure were the building of the Nursing Education Building, Athletics Center and athletic fields, and McCuan Hall (including the Smith Theatre, which is named for Dr. Smith), and the establishment in 1978 of the Howard Community College Educational Foundation Inc.

Dr. Smith's wife was the founder of HCC's nursing program.

"Under his leadership, full accreditation was awarded to the college by the then-Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1975. He also made sure that HCC was a vital partner in the Howard County community," according to Dr. Hetherington's statement.

"AT HCC, Dr. Smith left an indelible imprint, and his commitment to quality education for all remained steadfast throughout his retirement," she said in her statement.

"He was outgoing and respected and was always helpful," said Ms. Matlick, who lives in Frederick. "If the faculty needed something, he made sure we got it."

Art the time of his resignation in 1981, HCC had a student body of nearly, 13,000. Today, the college serves nearly 30,000 credit and noncredit students.

Dr. Smith, who enjoyed reading classical literature, often expressed the view that "Books are the key to all knowledge."

A resident of Bradenton, Fla., since 2004, he was a world traveler, and his children referred to him as a "walking National Geographic."

He enjoyed reciting poetry, especially Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," and "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam."

Dr. Smith's philosophy of life was that "the only limits you have are the ones you place on yourself," family members said.

He taught himself foreign languages, carpentry, electrical work and cooking, and was known for his homemade breads and pies.

He also enjoyed gardening, bird watching and mastering bird calls, and excursions to Alaska.

Plans for a service at the college in November celebrating Dr. Smith's life are incomplete.

In addition to his wife of 42 years, Dr. Smith is survived by three sons, Jonathan Smith of Ellicott City, Timothy Smith of Santa Rosa, Calif., and Randall Smith of Suffolk, Va.; a daughter, Stephanie Shahid of Mount Pleasant, S.C.; two stepdaughters, Patricia Reynolds of Columbia and Karen Jacobson of Reading, Pa.; three sisters, Marjorie Daigler of New Port Richey, Fla., and Lillian Schultz and Gloria Warren, both of Buffalo; 13 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.An earlier marriage ended in divorce.

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