The day was a bit brighter on October 8, 1943, with the birth of Philip Leonidas Smith, born in Atlanta, Georgia to E. Leonidas Smith and Elizabeth Jane (Huddleston) Smith. The middle name Leonidas was a nod to Leonidas Polk, a Confederate general in the Civil War and the Episcopal Bishop of Tennessee.
Phil grew up in Chattanooga, graduating from Chattanooga City High School class of 1961, followed by graduation from University of Chattanooga, and then in 1968, graduation from the University of Georgia with the degree Master of Social Work, which provided him an excellent educational foundation upon which his professional life would take various paths. He also became a lifelong Georgia Bulldogs fan.
He accomplished much in his professional life, including early work with the Tennessee Department of Public Welfare, where he directed Neighborhood Services, directly supervising units of Child Welfare, Homemaker Services and Public Assistance programs.
In 1970, he was recruited by the Director for Academic Planning for the Florida Board of Regents to move to Tallahassee, Florida to work with Florida agencies that employed social services personnel to effect better matches between work and education with both entities benefiting.
In 1975, he was recruited once again to make a career move to Tampa, Florida to develop a social work program at the University of South Florida. He put together a great cadre of faculty to create the Department of Social Work, and over the next several years developed the BSW and MSW programs, and served as chair of the Department of Social Work for 13 years. He taught courses in both programs and continued to be involved in research and grant writing. He was elected twice by university faculty to represent them as speaker of the faculty senate. He was a tenured associate professor, and award winning teacher at the university.
While at the university he was sought out to take a position in central administration, as Assistant Provost in the Office of the Provost, the academic leader of the institution. In this capacity he guided the administration and the faculty in matters of collective bargaining, faculty development programs, and faculty recruitment, salary equity, and faculty retention. Both faculty members and administrators knew Phil would speak candidly and truthfully when seeking his counsel. At the time of his retirement in 2005 he held position of Associate Provost.
The preceding paragraphs offer a snapshot of Phil's education and the professional life it engendered. What follows is a snapshot of the man. In all aspects of his life, whether personal or professional, Phil was a vanguard for social justice, civil rights and equality. He spoke the truth. In high school he took on a teacher who used her class time to denounce a city official who supported desegregation. In the late 1960s during the Civil Rights movement he and some friends started the first Chattanooga Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, for which Phil was referred to by a local radio personality as a "godless communist." He was a man of unimpeachable integrity, humor both subtle and outrageous, and a great storyteller. He made life-long friends as a young man growing up in Chattanooga, some of whom remain close after 60 years. They were the Bad Boys of Brainerd and they in later years marveled that they survived to be elderly citizens.
Phil loved a good morality play in the genre of the western. His favorite western movie was The Searchers, which he had seen probably 15 times. He watched Gunsmoke and Lonesome Dove at nearly every showing on television.
He was a man of contradictions. He was a liberal Democrat who staunchly supported the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but who was also a vehement opponent of the National Rifle Association. He was pro-choice, and supported marriage and racial equality. He was a well-informed lifelong student of the Civil War. His father's family claimed the South; his mother's, the North. When he traced his lineage directly to a Confederate officer, he became a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a very non-liberal organization.
He was a news junkie who reveled, sometimes boisterously, in political discourse with friends. He was a fan of the political humor of the late George Carlin, Lewis Black, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher. Phil's laughter could shake the rafters. It was a joy to be heard.
And the man loved cars. He counted the number of vehicles he had purchased over his lifetime to be 47. He left one afternoon to go food shopping in Tampa and came home hours later with a new car, but no food. His 1995 Buick Roadmaster was his favorite by far.
He was a great conversationalist on nearly any subject but pop culture! And he was a very good listener. You knew you were heard, even in disagreements. He was a man of great compassion as anyone who knew him would attest.
Phil was all about family; loving and loyal and dutiful. He adored his wife, Sharon, and never failed to tell her every day of his love and express his gratitude for the years they shared. And he was a loving father to his son, Rob, born of a previous marriage and very proud of the fine man he is, and that he, too, married the love of his life, Tracy. Phil and Debbie and Greg were very close at heart, although not in years, and always shared an "I love you" at end of phone call or visit. Phil also thought he had the best in-laws possible and the feeling was reciprocated by them.
He loved animals and he and Sharon adopted many during their nearly 45 years marriage. At the time of his death two of his favorite cats, Chester and Doc, sat vigil on his bed.
Just as the universe shone brighter on October 8, 1943, it turned darker on May 14, 2020.
Phil was preceded in death by his parents. He is survived by his wife Sharon Lewis Smith; his son and daughter-in-law Rob and Tracy Wolfe Smith; his sister and her husband, Debbie and Mike West; his brother, Greg. He leaves behind many loving friends and colleagues.
The family wishes to thank Dr. Matthew Hitchcock, Dr. Steven Monroe, Dr. Brant Holt, and Hospice of Chattanooga for their care and compassion. Phil was cremated and no services were held. When we can once again gather without masks, we will celebrate his life together.
It was a privilege and a pleasure to share my life with this man. Even knowing the later challenges to come, I would do it again if given the opportunity. Rest well, babe. You are loved. Sharon
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Arrangements are by Hamilton Funeral Home & Cremation Services, 4506 Hixson Pike. (423) 531-3975