John J. Smith Kr. ’63, ’67 M.Ed is a familiar face around the Rhode Island College campus- often attending Rhode Island Foundation meetings, attending events or speaking with staff members in Roberts Hall.
A longtime member and past president of the Rhode Island College Foundation, Smith is also a generous supporter of the college. His recent $100,000 donation to help fund the Keefe Transportation Center is just the latest example of his commitment to RIC. In recognition of his generosity, the center was named after his mother, the late Anna Veronica Keefe Smith ’33, ’67 M.Ed.
Smith began attending RIC in 1959, following in the footsteps of his mother. “RIC game me a great opportunity to fulfill my dream, which was first to become a teacher and then to become a principal,” he said.
“When I graduated from Rhode Island College in 1963, I was accepted in the graduate program and went on to receive my master’s degree,” he said. Ironically his mother decided to return to RIC to get her master’s degree at the same time. They received their degrees together, in the same ceremony in 1967.
Smith’s teaching career began in Cumberland in 1963, where he started as a fourth grade teacher. “As a student, I had loved the fourth grade, so I wanted to teach fourth grade,” he said. “I wanted to teach history and social studies and teach about the Northmen, the Norsemen and the Vikings, which happened to be the first unit in grade-four studies at that time. It was perfect.”
During his 35 years as a teacher and principal in the Cumberland school system- 30 of them as a principal- he served several schools, including the B.F. Norton School, Community School and the Cumberland Hill School, from which he retired in 1998. During his teaching career, he also taught in the adult education program in Cumberland for 20 years. After retirement, he continued as a substitute teacher and principal in the school system, and he helped to start the school department’s centralized preschool program in 2001.
In addition, Smith supervised student teachers for 10 years at Providence College and taught at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He also served as a substitute principal in the Coventry school system, especially at the Blackrock School, He has also been and usher at the Providence Performing Arts Center for more than 20 years, and he serves on the staff of the Keefe Funeral Home in Lincoln.
Smith said the two most important things he’s learned over the years are that it’s important “to enjoy what you are doing’ and to always “give back.” Given that he has found personal fulfillment in his career in education and has continually supported the educational community in general, it seems he has lived what he learned.
“I still have a great love of education, and I think that the future is now,” he said. “You have to give children as good a start in life as possible, through proper education and nurturing and showing them that there are people who really care. And that, to me, is very important!”
Appointed to the Council on Postsecondary Education: June 2014
Term Expires: 1/31/16