This semester there is a noticeable absence in the galleries and classrooms of Brown Hall where faculty and students perfect their techniques in the visual arts. That’s because this is the first semester that Dr. Joseph R. Smith, or “Dr. Joe” as faculty and fellow students called him, isn’t in class sitting behind an easel working on his next masterpiece.
From the spring of 1994 until his death on June 21, 2015, Smith took 36 semesters of art classes in oil painting, using watercolors and drawing. After retiring as an ophthalmologist, he decided to pursue his love of art and received instruction from the distinguished Professor Sidney Larson, demonstrating how a dedication to lifelong learning can be a means to pursuing a passion.
Smith completed scores of paintings while at Columbia College, including a wide range of historically-themed compositions, which he meticulously researched so as to include period-appropriate clothing and other details. One such painting hangs in the Office of Admissions in Missouri Hall.
Naomi Lear, Columbia College art professor who taught Smith, describes him as being quiet and friendly but also deeply respected by his fellow students.
“Dr. Joe enjoyed attending museum tours with the Art Club and traveling with his fellow students all over the country,” says Lear. “He became so knowledgeable of 19th century American paintings that walking through that wing of a museum with him was like having a docent-guided tour.”
Smith was born in 1927 in Marshall, Missouri, and served in the U.S. Army from 1946 to 1948. He completed medical school at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1955. Upon graduation, he completed an internship at Kansas City General Hospital and a residency in ophthalmology at Washington University.
Smith was a longtime member of the Downtown Rotary Club and served on its board of directors. He was an avid sportsman and particularly enjoyed hunting game birds and fly fishing for trout and salmon. He loved bird dogs, especially English and Gordon Setters and Brittanys.
Prior to his death, Smith graciously donated his extensive collection of fine art books to the Columbia College art department, which are now located in Brown Hall and will be extensively utilized.
“In this way, the positive presence Dr. Joe brought to the classroom will continue on for years to come,” Lear says. “He exemplified for students, young and old, a commitment to lifelong learning and the timelessness of the arts. We miss him dearly.”
Smith is survived by a brother, Dr. Richard Lee Smith of Gainesville, Florida; three daughters, Susan Victoria Smith Bell of Shaker Heights, Ohio; Margaret Jo Smith Whitmer of Kansas City, Missouri; and Audrey Norton Smith Feuerbacher of St. Louis, Missouri; as well as several grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Smith’s daughters request that gifts made in his memory be directed to the Columbia College Art Scholarship. To make a contribution to this scholarship, or to support another scholarship, department or program, the college has many ways to give. Visit the Office of Development for more information.