Foothill founder commemorated2 min read

Lydia Tuan, The Beat editor

The founder of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District was remembered at a commemoration April 19, in the Smithwick theater at Foothill College.

Robert Smithwick died March 22. He was 92.

Guests included family, FHDA faculty and staff, former students and people who knew Smithwick both professionally and personally.

“He saw community service as a natural part of life,” said Linda Thor, chancellor of the district, at the start of the memorial.

“He understood the importance of fostering opportunity. Tasks that seemed daunting to others, he embraced as adventures.”

Thor described Smithwick’s childhood in a small village in southern India where his parents established a mission state for the Seventh Day Adventist Church, built a medical dispensary and taught reading and writing to the Indian community.

Smithwick raised the community college standard for education by offering the “junior college equivalent of Stanford or UC Berkeley,” as well as emphasizing the importance of vocational programs at community college, Thor said.

“Bob accomplished more in his life than more people could in several lifetimes,” said Celebrity Forum founder Dick Henning. “His life reminds me of (the) George Bernard Shaw quote, ‘I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no brief candle for me; it’s a splendid torch, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible,’” Henning said.

Many guests shared humorous anecdotes on their experiences with Smithwick as they reminisced on how “Footsy,” the Foothill mascot was found, how Foothill got its unique address, and how Smithwick seemingly knew every bit of history about FHDA.

Many of Smithwick’s colleagues recalled having received Smithwick’s notes of encouragement or thanks at moments throughout their careers.

“I was 43 when I met Bob,” said former district chancellor and current U.S. Undersecretary of Education Martha J. Kanter.

“He came over with lots of advice, and then I, too, started getting little brown notes, and to this day, I will always remember his life and all that he stood for.”

“His quest for quality and wanting Foothill and then De Anza to be what I call now across the country … excellence that have to be replicated,” she said.

Other guests provided closing remarks, and two representatives from the U.S. Navy honored Smithwick’s service with the traditional Navy flag folding ceremony.

He is survived by his children, Cathye and Michael Smithwick.

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