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Spelman College's In Memoriam Tributes

Spelman College Salutes Jane E. Smith, C'68

A Joyous Celebration for A True Blue Champion

Spelman Celebrates the Life and Legacy of Jane SmithFrom Dr. Jane Smith's Sons Clinton and Chad Browning

It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of our dear mother, Dr. Jane E. Smith. She was called home on Saturday, December 12, 2020, after a brief battle with cancer.

Please keep our family in your prayers during this time of loss.

In lieu of flowers, we ask that you consider a donation in our mother's name to establish an endowed scholarship at Spelman College in her honor or giving of your time, talent or money to the Atlanta public school named (in part) after her great aunt, Usher-Collier Elementary School. Please use the following link to make your gift online  Please make your gift here, at Spelman College in memory of Dr. Jane E. Smith, C’68.

Always Undaunted by the Fight: Spelman Remembers Dr. Jane Smith

A Letter From President Campbell

I bring very sad news this Sunday. Last night, we lost our Spelman Sister, Dr. Jane E. Smith.

Spelman College ran like a river through the life of Dr. Smith. She was a life-long member of Friendship Baptist Church, whose founding pastor, Father Quarles, in 1881, provided the basement of Friendship to the Atlanta Baptist Seminary, which would become Spelman College.

Read the Full Letter  Read Past Presidents' Tributes Community Love Notes

Her First Steps Were Toward Spelman

"I was raised in a race-conscious family,” says Dr. Smith, an Atlanta native whose grandfather, the Rev. Harvey Smith, was a Baptist minister and an associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. “My parents put me in the Spelman College Nursery School because they knew it would mean a foundation for upward mobility as a person who belonged to the Black race.”

Dr. Smith returned to Spelman as a sociology major in 1964, immediately after the sit-in era of the Civil Rights Movement. “Eight of us started a group called Sisters in Blackness as the next step to the sit-ins, and our class was there to witness Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s body lay in rest in the [Sisters] Chapel.” It was these experiences that provided Dr. Smith with the racial-equity lens that would shape her work throughout her career.

A Smile That Lit up the Room and A Laugh That Resounds in Heaven

Jane Smith at SpelmanDr. Jane E. Smith, an esteemed educator, nonprofit executive and speaker, served as the executive director of LEADS beginning in 2004. In August 2015, she was appointed vice president for College Relations and remained in that role until her retirement in 2019.

Prior to joining Spelman, Dr. Smith served as president and chief executive of the National Council of Negro Women and chief executive of Business and Professional Women/USA.

Dr. Smith also held leadership positions at The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and The Carter Center, and was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the National Women’s Business Council. Her career at Spelman was characterized by her stalwart commitment to create a 21st century culture that celebrated the excellence and contemporary achievements of students, faculty, alumnae and staff.

In December 2019, Dr. Smith retired from her position as vice president for College Relations at Spelman after serving four Spelman presidents. However, her Spelman journey began long before her presidential service. “The adventure started in nursery school, and I walked out in December [2019] saying, ‘Job well done!’”

Engaging and Empowering Women

Spelman Celebrates Jane Smith

Kimberly Davis, C’81, first encountered Dr. Smith in 1977 during her first year at Spelman. She quickly became an admirer. “Jane has this amazing way of engaging and empowering women,” says Davis, who currently works as the executive vice president responsible for social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs with the National Hockey League.

“I had never met a young woman who had gotten her doctorate from Harvard, and she was this sassy, beautiful, young and vibrant woman who was [assistant to then-President Donald Stewart, Ph.D.].”

After working as the director of freshman studies under President Albert E. Manley, Smith was promoted to assistant to President Stewart in 1976. The position placed an alumna in the president’s office, a compromise made with students who had demanded the Spelman College Board of Trustees appoint a Black woman as president. She assisted Dr. Stewart in navigating the city and managing Title III funds and alumnae relations.

More importantly, Dr. Smith emerged as a leader who inspired students. “She has always been an inspirational leader, and I think the women just gravitated toward her leadership style,” says Davis. “She was an empowering force for those years and for the years she ran [Spelman’s] Leadership Center.”

In Her Own Words . . .


Dr. Smith left Spelman to serve in senior leadership positions at several national nonprofits in the ’80s and ’90s. She was president and chief executive of the National Council of Negro Women and chief executive of Business and Professional Women/USA. She also held leadership positions at INROADS and The Carter Center, and was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the National Women’s Business Council. In 2004, Dr. Smith returned to Spelman as executive director of the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement at the request of President Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.

Davis, who worked with Dr. Tatum as an executive on loan from JPMorgan Chase to establish the Leadership Center, felt Dr. Smith was the perfect leader to inherit the program she’d begun. “Jane’s passion has always been around the leadership and the empowerment of Black women,” Davis says. “She was the perfect one to take the helm of LEADS because she could shepherd it and integrate it with the pedagogy of the school so it would be sustainable.”

LEADS was a safe space for women of color to gather annually to discuss the unique challenges of their work experiences, and it empowered students with the leadership skills needed to navigate their future workplaces. It was under Dr. Smith’s leadership that the Spelman College Women of Color Conference became the preeminent leadership conference for professional women of color in the Southeastern region. Hundreds of Black, Asian, Latina, Native and White women congregated annually in Atlanta to discuss leadership strategies that fostered innovation and advancement through workshops, speeches and testimonies.


A Maker of Innovative Leaders: Spelpreneur and Beyond

In addition to directing WOCC, Dr. Smith also established Spelpreneurs and advanced the Women of Excellence Leadership Series, two programs that helped students develop skills needed to become national and global leaders. It was Dr. Smith’s commitment to leadership and the College that led current President Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.,  to appoint her vice president for College Relations in 2015.

 Video Highlights: Reflections and Triumphs

Always full of life and happiness, Dr. Smith became DJ Jane at Homecoming 2018

Celebrated for Leadership Excellence and Community Empowerment

Recognized by Two United States Presidents as an Accomplished Educator, Advocate for Women's Affairs and Speaker

Gone but Never Forgotten: We Will Forever Sing Dr. Smith's Praises
and Our Beloved Spelman Hymn in Her Honor

. . .We‟ll ever faithful be
Throughout eternity.
May peace with thee abide
And God forever guide
Thy heights supreme and true.
Blessings to you.

Through years of toil and pain
May thy dear walls remain
Beacons of heavenly light,
Undaunted by the fight;
And when life‟s race is won,
Thy noble work is done,
Oh God, forever bind
Our hearts to thine.

Spelman Salutes Dr. Jane E. Smith

Tribute Submission for Dr. Jane Smith

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