In his estate, the late Robert E. Smith left $3.1 million to the school of nursing and said before passing, "I want to transform healthcare in the Delta."
Along with his $700,000 in donations to the university during his lifetime, Smith's giving puts him at the top with around $4 million.
Smith was a graduate of Cleveland High School and he attended Mississippi State University and graduated with a bachelor of science degree from the school of agriculture.
Smith also had a distinguished military career where he courageously served this country in World War II. At the conclusion of the war, he received the European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze stars, the American Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal and was discharged as a First Lieutenant.
Smith was a lifelong and devoted member of the First Methodist Church of Cleveland.
Smith was actively involved in Delta State University, where he was both a member of the Delta State University Foundation Board of Directors and the local Wesley Foundation’s Board of Directors, which is a student organization sponsored by the United Methodist Church.
"Transformative" was the word of the day at the estate gift presentation on Tuesday.
As Delta State President Bill LaForge, Provost Charles McAdams, and Alumni-Foundation Executive Director Keith Fulcher spoke, the word was heard over and over.
"This will be transformative for our nursing school. It's dollar amount opens up so many opportunities," said LaForge.
"The school is going off the chart in excellence because of this," he added.
With tears in her eyes, Ruth Lopez Luciano, the first Robert E. Smith scholarship recipient explained how Smith helped in her achieving her dream of becoming a nurse, which she has been for 10 years.
"They saw a future in me. Without his help and support I would not be where I am today," Luciano said.
Luciano also added with a chuckle, Smith had only given her two rules for nursing school, "do not get pregnant and do not get married before graduating nursing school."
"He was not only a mentor but he was a great friend. I know he is pleased that this gift is going to be used to better healthcare in the Mississippi Delta," she finished.
"A last will and testament is a speaking instrument. It speaks after your death. Mr. Smith couldn't speak after his death but he wrote an instrument out that said what he wanted to do with his estate. Mr. Smith died in December of 2011 and about two years ago the estate was open. In 20 words, I counted on the will today, in 20 words he left a bequest to the Delta State University Foundation to be used for the benefit of the school of nursing. In those words, Mr. Smith was able to speak it to us. The legacy he created with those 20 words—if we could all just let that register in our minds and in our hearts about what commitments we have here in life and what commitments we want to have here after us, those are words spoken and actions taken for years and years because of 20 words," said William Willard, the attorney that assisted in Smith's estate.
As Fulcher summed up what this donation meant to the foundation and what it meant to be the executive director, tears were in his eyes.
"You get to be more than family here. It's not just a lifestyle it's a calling. We're taking that calling and living it out in the poorest region in the country and we have people that will make our jobs a lot easier and transform not just Delta State, but the entire delta," he said.
"Let me tell you who really deserves the credit, it's W.D. Doc Griffin. This is who deserves the credit of Robert Smith even knowing about Delta State. Doc Griffin was his mentor and whatever Doc Griffin did, a graduate of Delta State, Robert wanted to do. I've got notes from 1999 and he said 'I'd known Doc my whole life. I've gone to the courthouse and got a copy of his will and read what he did to Delta State and it's given me ideas of nursing endowments.' That was January 11, 1999, thank you Doc Griffin," said Fulcher.
Griffin had left half a million dollars in unrestricted scholarships to Delta State when he passed and he also gave Smith investment advice.
"Thank you to everybody who had anything to do with Mr. Smith," he said.
As he wiped tears from his eyes and discussed Smith's dream for the school, Fulcher ended with "God bless Mr. Smith."
To learn more about opportunities at the Robert E. Smith School of Nursing at Delta State, visit www.deltastate.edu/school-of-nursing. To make a gift to support Delta State University, contact the Office of Development at 662-846-4704, email firstname.lastname@example.org or make a gift online at www.deltastategiving.org.