Bob Smith was a lot of things.
A kind person. A loving father. An amazing athlete. The consummate communications professional.
Bob Smith is an athletic communications legend we all need to know.
The story of this amazing man did not begin in a hotel ballroom in St. Louis in 1984 when a vote of his peers confirmed Robert Eugene “Bob” Smith as the Third Vice President of CoSIDA, making him just the fourth Black person to serve on the Board of Directors and putting him on course to become the first Black person serve as the organization’s President in 1987-88.
It began for Smith in Jersey Shore, Pa., as the youngest of eight children. Sports became a part of his life at an early age and especially as he grew into a man of an impressive stature (over six feet tall) with tremendous athletic abilities. He wasn’t just a good athlete; he was a world-class athlete.
Smith earned 12 letters in football, men’s basketball, and baseball and was on the Dean’s List all four years at Lincoln (Pa.) University from 1948-53. He earned all-conference honors in all three sports and received the school’s Legend Award. He was the first men’s basketball student-athlete at Lincoln to record back-to-back 50-point games. For his exploits as a Lion, in 2012 Smith was inducted among the inaugural class of the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
After earning his bachelor of arts degree from Lincoln in 1953, Smith received interest from the Brooklyn Dodgers in baseball and Philadelphia Eagles in football. While he did not go on to be a professional athlete, he went on to have a journey in sports that very few could duplicate.
People may not know that Smith’s collegiate athletics career did not begin as a sports information director but as a coach, teacher, and athletics director. He served as men’s basketball head coach, track & field coach, assistant football coach, and instructor in the physical education department at Lincoln from 1956-65 before going on to serve as the Director of Athletics at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore from 1965-68.
Even with all of his responsibilities, Smith still had time to earn a master of arts degree in American Literature from the University of Pennsylvania in 1962.
It was 1969 when Smith arrived at Rutgers as Sports Information Director and where he embarked on a chapter of his life that made an indelible mark on the athletics communications profession. Smith had a lifelong impact on nearly everyone he touched, an impact that is hard to put in just a few words.
“He so enjoyed meeting people,” said Lesley Smith, the second of his three children. “He really enjoyed his job. He really loved everything about sports.”
Smith made sure his children had plenty of opportunities to experience sports as well, especially during his time at Rutgers. Lesley Smith recounted the times her dad would drive two hours each way to Atlantic City to bring her and her siblings, Robin and Mark, to football and basketball games at Rutgers, many times on a Friday before weekend contests. Smith then would make the same round-trip drive on Sunday before returning to campus.
“He was a great father,” said Lesley. “He was everything to us. He was always in our lives. He made it a point to be in our lives. He made sure of that. I’m so much of a ‘sporty’ now because of my dad.”
Smith balanced life as a dad and a husband while thriving in his role at Rutgers. Kevin MacConnell, now Chief of Staff for the football program at Rutgers, got to know Smith in the late 1970s when MacConnell was an undergraduate working at the student radio station (WRSU) and at The Daily Targum newspaper on the Piscataway, N.J., campus. Later, starting in 1986, MacConnell came back to his alma mater as Director of Sports Media Relations to work alongside Smith.
“I thought he was cool,” noted MacConnell. “There was something about him that I thought was cool as an 18, 19-year-old kid working at the campus station. He treated us like contemporary of his or on the same level as him, when we really weren’t.
“As I got older, I realized this guy went from being cool to realizing that he epitomized class. He was just a class act in the way he carried himself, and with his demeanor. I never saw Bob lose his cool. Never, ever. He had a way about him that was even-keeled at nine in the morning and nine at night. Nothing bothered Bob.”
Smith’s calm nature truly came into play going back to that hotel ballroom in 1984 because, while he was being put in a position to be a trailblazer and make history, he was balancing work, life and dealing with the fact that his wife at the time, Kathryn, was battling cancer.
“Bob was one of us. He was a SID. He wasn’t a Black SID; he was a SID. And that’s why he was so powerful to me,” said CoSIDA Hall of Famer Bill Little, who was one year behind Smith in the CoSIDA officer rotation and followed Smith in the presidential role in 1988-89. “The respect I had for Bob rose immensely with what he was battling with facing his wife’s illness. He not only had to serve as a SID and a CoSIDA officer, but he was dealing with the eventual death of his wife during that time.”
Despite dealing with the loss of his loved one, Smith served seven years on the CoSIDA Board of Directors (1984-85 to 1990-91) and term as President in 1987-88 with grace, professionalism, and an unflappable personality that was his calling card.
“He still kept marching,” Little added. “He still kept doing his job. I have a lot of respect for him.”
CoSIDA Hall of Famer Pete Kowalski, who worked with Smith at Rutgers from 1988-94, shares the same admiration for the man he got to work with so closely.
“I’m so glad I was able to spend some time with Bob,” said Kowalski. “He was just so laid back. He would quietly go get done anything you asked of him. He never got flustered. He was just the nicest guy. I just appreciated being able to work with someone who was never going to look for the limelight and always produced what needed to be produced. You could count on him.”
So many people counted on Smith across his 25 years at Rutgers, which came to a close in 1994. Smith remained in the New Brunswick area until he passed away on April 19, 2018.
“In that special part of his life, Bob was able to treat people the same. He was a gentle soul who was a really, really nice man,” recalled Little.
Lesley Smith remembers her dad the way only a daughter should.
“He was personable. Everybody loved him. He was just an all-around great guy. He was the best daddy I could have ever had.”
Truly, Bob Smith was a lot of things. He was a gentleman and a gentleman. And now, this towering titan in our profession takes his rightful place in the CoSIDA Hall of Fame.
Langston Rogers, a CoSIDA Hall of Famer himself who leads the veteran’s committee work as a part of the Special Awards Committee, summed it up.
“He gave everything he could for CoSIDA,” noted Rogers, “and he definitely deserves to be in our Hall of Fame.”