Robert R. “Smitty” Smith, Harford County‘s first Black corrections officer, died of symptomatic anemia July 14 at the Senator Bob Hooper Hospice House. The longtime Darlington resident was 86 years old.
“He was a wonderful man,” said Betsy Smith, his wife of 60 years. “I couldn’t have asked for a better husband, a better father, and a better friend to so many people.”
A lifelong Harford resident, Mr. Smith, was born to Ralph T., a carpenter, and Carrie Smith, a homemaker, on June 4, 1936. One of 10 children, he attended segregated schools growing up and graduated from the former Central Consolidated School in 1954. According to the obituary from Harkins Funeral Home, Inc., Mr. Smith served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
He married Mrs. Smith in 1962 in Delta, Pennsylvania, and they settled in Darlington six months later.
Before and after his time with the Army, he worked at cemeteries in Harford and Baltimore counties, including Bel Air Memorial Gardens, according to an article from The Aegis.
After being approached by the sheriff’s department, Mr. Smith became the first African American hired by the Harford County’s Sheriff’s department on June 1, 1964.
He started out working the night shift at the jail as a corrections officer, and later was promoted to corrections sergeant and then a shift supervisor by 1973, when the Rock Spring Road detention center opened, and eventually captain, according to the article.
“Smith said he would get back talk, and even racial remarks from some inmates when they came to the jail, but he was able to get the upper hand, sometimes with the help of other inmates,” according to the article.
In the 2015 article, Mr. Smith remembers telling one rowdy inmate: “I’d say, ‘[If] you keep on, you’re going to have these people sitting around doing nothing, They’re going to lose their TV privileges, their radio privileges, their phone privileges, if you don’t knock it off.’ "
After 30 years, he retired as a captain in 1995.
Former Sheriff Jesse Bane met Smith at a roll call when he started working for the sheriff’s office in 1972, according to the Aegis article.
In the article, he described Mr. Smith as a “very pleasant, quiet, reserved gentleman.”
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“He was very fair,” Bane told the Aegis. “He treated everyone with respect, but he was very firm, and I can’t tell you of a single enemy that he had. He was well-liked by everybody, including the inmates.”
Mrs. Smith said her husband was a dedicated worker and provider. When Mr. Smith first started with the sheriff’s department, he worked nights as a custodian for Harford County Public Schools, she said.
Mrs. Smith said he worked his second job until 2017.
Aside from being an active father and husband, Mr. Smith enjoyed roller skating, bowling and dancing. He enjoyed watching the Baltimore Ravens, Orioles, America’s Funniest Home Videos and old westerns.
Mr. Smith was also a lifelong member of the St. James UAME Church in Darlington.
In addition to Mrs. Smith, he is survived by his twin brother, Roland Smith of Darlington; his daughter Carla Smith of Darlington and son Craig Smith of Jacobus, Pennsylvania; brothers-in-law James Carey of Indian Head and Paul Cervis of Baltimore; and six grandchildren.