Larry L. Smith, a popular college professor, accomplished athlete and lifetime social activist passed away August 9, 2017, at home, surrounded by family. He was 77. Smith is best known for his years at College of the Mainland (COM) as a history professor and founding member of the college employee organization, COMUnity. He also served on the Galveston County AFL-CIO Central Labor Council and was its secretary-treasurer for many years.
Larry grew up in the East Texas farming community of Cooper where he excelled in sports lettering in football, baseball and was all-state in basketball. He was also voted “most likely to succeed” by his class. At Sam Houston State University (SHSU) where he earned both his bachelor’s and masters in history, Smith played first base on the Bearkat’s 1963 national championship team and was named to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics World Series all-star teams in both 1962 and 1963, winning All-American honors in 1962. In 1963, he signed with the Baltimore Orioles, playing two seasons in their minor league system. But Larry’s love of history and his desire to teach was a stronger calling, so he moved from the baseball field to the classroom. After completing his masters, he taught in Dickinson for two years before joining College of the Mainland in 1967 as a charter employee.
At COM, he served 13 years as associate dean of continuing education and community service where he and his team developed a successful and nationally recognized program. He taught American history at COM until his retirement in 2010. Larry especially admired Dr. Herbert Stallworth, the college’s founding president, who mentored the new employees in the democratic educational philosophy of John Dewey that guided COM for many years. Larry also appreciated President Larry Stanley, COM’s longest serving president, and trustees Jim Simpson and Roy Engelke.
During his tenure at COM, Larry worked with various administrations and employees to adopt reasonable compensation contracts, equitable hiring practices and fair grievance procedures. His time at COM was not without controversy. Though popular with students—he was nominated multiple times for Teacher of the Year, winning the prestigious honor in 1988—he clashed with several administrations over hiring and firing policies and garnered his share of negative ink from one newspaper whose editor tried to have him fired. He worked to bring national speakers to campus to broaden the debates of the day. Such speakers as the late Madalyn Murray O’Hair, former U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, Cesar Chavez, Julian Bond, Ralph Nader, peace activist David Dellinger and historian Howard Zinn (Larry’s favorite historian) stirred up as much controversy in the community as they did on campus.
Smith believed that a more informed public led to a stronger democracy.
“I teach because I believe it is important for people’s thinking to be disturbed, their conscience awakened, their values challenged, their minds stretched, their lives enlightened and enlivened,” Smith has written. “I believe people have the capacity to grow and develop into compassionate and nurturing beings who can take control of their social, economic and political lives.”
Outside of the classroom, Smith treasured relationships with his adult children, Chad Smith (Andrea), chair of the sociology department at Texas State University; and Autumn Bockart (Scott) a teacher in Friendswood ISD. Larry was also a loving grandfather to Summer and Hudson Bockart and Langston and Ellison Smith. He attended their sporting events and extra curricular activities and was proud of their accomplishments in school and beyond. Larry also said he had a special appreciation for his ex-wife Pepper Smith, a Friendswood teacher; and his former companion Alice Watford, a retired teacher. “These two women were supportive and tolerated me for 20 years, each.” While he felt he had failed these relationships, he never stopped caring for all those who were an important part of his life. Larry had fond memories of many COM colleagues, especially economics professor Bob Young and retired Political Science professor Jim Finley , as well as many community members and students. He would bump into former students around town—many of his first and second-generation students from the same family—and always had kind words of reminiscence. In recent years, Larry often joined friends for lively conversations about politics, culture or history. He took many fun road trips, coffees and lunches with a group of “men of a certain age”—Bill Spillar, Bob Shinn, Larry Stanley and Jim Higgins—who dragged him (kicking and screaming occasionally) on outings to baseball games, music venues and museums. And he always set aside Fridays for lunch with local attorney and longtime friend Larry Edrozo.
Never one to value worldly goods, in life Smith donated time and money to various social causes and individuals. He requested that in lieu of flowers or other expressions of sympathy that friends consider a donation to the Larry Smith Memorial Scholarship at College of the Mainland Foundation. Donations can be made online at www.com.edu/give, by phone at 409-933-8613 or mailed to COM Foundation, 1200 Amburn Rd., Texas City, TX 77591. A Memorial Service to honor Larry will be held at College of the Mainland in the Learning Resource Center, room 131, on September 2, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. with a reception to follow at the Downtown Café located at 513 6th St N, Texas City, Texas.
Although Larry was often melancholy, he believed that after all was said and done, as Kris Kristofferson wrote: “Knowing is a blessing rather than a curse and that the going up is worth the coming down.”