An icon of Georgia Southern University and a pillar of the Statesboro and Bulloch County community, William Robert (Bobby) Smith, Sr. died Sunday.
Smith’s funeral service is set for 11 a.m. Thursday, March 16 at the Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church with Elder Randy Waters officiating following a private burial. A reception will follow in the church Fellowship Hall.
Lindsay Walker, owner of Walker Pharmacy, first met Smith when he was a student at Georgia Southern College in 1977 and Smith was an economics professor.
“I thought very highly of him being in that class, not knowing I would later become a good friend,” Walker said. “He was a blessing in my life. He was a quiet servant, who only spoke when he thought it was necessary. But he spoke with authority and preferred to work behind the scenes to get things done. I will miss him and so will our community.”
Smith graduated from Georgia Teachers College in 1949 with a major in history and a minor in math, but his connection to the university began long before that: his mother attended when it was called Georgia Normal School.
Following graduation he joined the family business, Smith Hardware. Longtime Bulloch County residents will remember that the business began as E.A. Smith Grain, founded in 1920 on East Vine Street. The company sold hardware and a wide variety of building supplies, grain, fertilizer and other needs of a growing agricultural community.
After working in the business for a number of years, he returned to the college — now named Georgia Southern College — to earn a master’s degree. As a master’s graduate, he was invited to teach one class, then two, then a full schedule. He discovered that he loved teaching, and he continued to teach in the Department of Finance and Economics both full-time and part-time at Georgia Southern from 1972 to 1995.
“I loved teaching, but I came to it by accident,” said Smith. “I loved it so much, I told them, ‘I’ll teach home ec if you’ll just let me teach!’”
Apparently Smith’s students had a mutual feeling about him and his teaching, because he received the college’s Excellence in Teaching Award the second year it was presented.
Carl Gooding was dean of the business school for 15 years when Smith was a professor.
"Bobby was an outstanding professor," Gooding said. "He cared so much about his students.
"When he won the best teacher on campus award, Bobby's presentation was called 'When the Roll was Called I Wonder.' In that speech he talked about what a great honor it was for him to be teaching students about economics. What he wondered about was when his name was called, did he serve his students to the best of his ability. He cared so much about his students."
In addition to his teaching career, he was president and co-owner of E.A. Smith Grain Company and Smith Supply Company.
Smith served as member and chair of the Bulloch County Board of Education and served on the boards of First Federal Savings and Loan, the Sea Island Bank, and Farmers & Merchants Bank. Working alongside his wife, the Jaeckel Hotel was accepted into the National Register of Historic places.
A 'true gentleman'
Local attorney Gerald Edenfield worked with Smith on the Board of Directors for Farmers & Merchants Bank and Smith was on the board when Edenfield was chair of the Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce.
“He was always a person who would weigh an issue and make an appropriate decision,” Edenfield said. “He wasn’t loud or boisterous, but he was not afraid to come up to you either before or after a meeting if he knew a controversial subject was coming up and get your ideas on what could happen. His advice was always sound and well thought out. He was somebody you could always trust would put you on the right path of whatever issue you were looking at.
“He was a true gentleman that would tip his hat to ladies and offer a firm handshake. He will be sorely missed in this community.”
For many years, Smith served as Deacon and Sunday School teacher in the Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church. He also served on the church’s Boy Scout Council.
Walker said he formed a deep friendship with Smith when his family became members of Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church
“Bobby was on the Board of Deacons and I was blessed to get on the Board with him in 1993,” “I tell people that for the first five or six years, I didn’t say a word. I just sat there and absorbed the wisdom of Bobby and the rest of the Board. It was an honor and a privilege to serve with him and the Board as I learned.
“That’s how I would describe my relationship with Bobby. I learned from the time I met him until his passing.”
Smith was a past president of the Statesboro Rotary Club where he hosted international exchange students and was voted "Citizen of the Year” in 2008. He received a Deen Day Smith Service to Mankind Award in 1989 and was honored with a Deen Day Smith Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.
After he was named Citizen of the Year, Smith said:
"It means so much to me coming from this community. I'm so proud of the things they do, the things they're involved in and the help they give to people. Just to be a part of it and be part of this organization - it's been great."
Smith was a founder and supporter of Ogeechee Area Hospice, served on the board of the Statesboro Housing Authority, and served as member and chair of the board of directors of Bethany Nursing Centers. He was a local liaison to Camp Rising Sun, an international scholarship camp for young men.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to The Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church, 4 S Zetterower Ave, Statesboro, GA 30458; to the Ogeechee Area Hospice, PO Box 531, Statesboro, GA 30459; or to Georgia Southern University, PO Box 1107, Statesboro, GA 30459.