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David Smith Dies; Helped Develop BC's Counseling Services

David Smith

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Dec. 9, 2013

A memorial Mass will be celebrated on Monday, Dec. 16, at 11 a.m. in St. Ignatius Church for David John Smith MA ’67, PhD ’71, a mainstay of Boston College’s Counseling Services for four decades, who died on Nov. 28. He was 73.

Dr. Smith’s arrival at BC — he came in 1965 to pursue his master’s degree in psychology, and during 1967-68 was a teaching fellow at the School of Education — coincided with a period that saw growing demand for a broader array of counseling to serve college students’ psychological and emotional needs, as well as their academic and vocational development.

In 1968, Dr. Smith joined the newly created Office of Counseling Services as assistant director; he would go on to serve as the office’s associate director and, most recently, as senior staff psychologist. His work involved individual and group therapy, crisis intervention and evaluation, in addition to academic and career planning-related counseling. Dr. Smith created, chaired and served on numerous committees that dealt with a range of issues, from student orientation to learning disabilities to staff hiring.

Colleagues and friends also described Dr. Smith as a deeply spiritual person who participated in many prayer groups, scriptural reading groups and discussions, co-coordinated the Saturday afternoon liturgy at St. Ignatius, and acted on his beliefs through generosity of spirit, volunteerism and support of humanitarian organizations. Through his professional and faith activities, they said, Dr. Smith helped shape the lives of numerous BC students as well as faculty, administrators and staff.

“David began his career at BC at a time when the focus of university counseling was more about academic adjustment and removing obstacles to learning and achievement,” said Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and University Counseling Services Director Thomas McGuinness.

“Over the years, university counseling has become more clinical. David's career paralleled that of the profession as a whole. While he was an accomplished clinician he maintained his firm belief that counseling was about learning and the development of the whole person. He remained both a dedicated educator and a therapist who was extraordinarily committed to the students with whom he worked. He loved his students, the department and Boston College. He was a true ‘University Citizen.’"

“David loved working at the University and being a part of the Boston College community,” said Director of Employee Development Bernard O’Kane. “He embraced Ignatian spirituality as a guide through his own personal life journey. His spiritual life was always connected with his work. David conveyed an openness and care for others that radiated in conversations.  His intelligence, insight and ability to choose the right words for the moment were legion.”

Dr. Smith was a strong advocate for students with disabilities, serving as inaugural chair of the Committee on Learning Disabilities and supporting the creation of the Academic Development Center, now known as the Connors Learning Center, noted Lynch School of Education Professor Emeritus Jean Mooney. To help students with distinctive genetic disorders, she said, “he organized seminars to promote awareness and a communication network to facilitate collaboration among academic and student life agencies.” 

One such student who benefited from Dr. Smith’s presence was Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy ’77, JD’80, who struggled with learning and physical disabilities as a child. Interviewed by the Chronicle after taking office in 2011, Malloy cited Dr. Smith as among the most influential people he had known at BC: “David was a close friend and confidante, always helpful to me in developing my skills.”

Discussing Dr. Smith’s many friendships throughout the University, Mooney recalled the trips he arranged to concerts or art exhibitions. “David’s interest in the arts prompted him to gather together a group of like-minded people whom he dubbed ‘cultured Colleagues.’ Excursions to the Museum of Fine Arts were managed with military precision, and the convoy to Tanglewood was amazing.

“In those moments he had time to ‘smell the flowers’ — he could recharge his energy reserves and meet a new semester at full strength.  His heart never needed recharging.  He always had more than a full measure for his clients and colleagues.”

Perhaps the best tribute to Dr. Smith, noted Counseling Services Associate Director Erin Curtiss, came in the form of requests from alumni who had known him during their undergraduate days — and now wanted him to be the counselor for their son or daughter attending BC. 

“David’s work as a clinician was most certainly a vocation,” she said. “He was a powerful agent of healing for the decades of students that he counseled.”

A native of Pittsburgh, Dr. Smith earned a bachelor’s degree from Wheeling College in 1962 and attended Georgetown University School of Medicine. His other professional experience included working as an industrial psychologist’s assistant at Westinghouse Electric Corp. and an assistant data analyst for a juvenile delinquency program at the Youth Service Board of Massachusetts.

Dr. Smith is survived by his sister-in-law Carol Smith, and his nieces and nephews Diane Holiday, Matthew Smith, Michael Smith and Julie Ellis.

Donations may be made in Dr. Smith’s memory to Heifer Project International, Box 8058, Little Rock, AR 2203-8058. Expressions of sympathy may be sent to Diane Holiday, 605 Franklin Court, Forked River, NJ 08731.