In Memoriam: Mary Levi Smith, 1936-2020

Mary L. Smith, the first woman to serve as president of historically Black Kentucky State University, died at her home in Frankfort on November 28. She was 84 years old.

Dr. Smith served as the eleventh president of the university from 1991 to 1998. Before becoming president, she was special assistant to the president and professor of education at Kentucky State.

Current Kentucky State University President Dr. M. Christopher Brown II stated that “Mary was more than just a pioneer — she was an incredible person. She was admired and known to many as a thoughtful, thorough, and well-organized administrator and educator. Mary devoted her life to the pursuit of knowledge and public service.”

Dr. Smith joined the faculty at the university in 1974 as an assistant professor of education. In 1981 she became acting chairperson of the Division of Education, Human Resources and Technology. In 1983, Dr. Smith became dean of the College of Applied Sciences and professor of education. Dr. Smith also served as interim president and vice president for academic affairs.

The Mary L. Smith Clock Tower was recently constructed in her honor on the campus of Kentucky State University.

Dr. Smith was a 1957 graduate of Jackson State University in Mississippi. She earned master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Kentucky.

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