County native gets statue

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By Cindy Simpson

Now in his 90s, former Harriman resident Walter Douglas Smith helmed Francis Marion University from its first days as a state college.


Recently, the Florence, S.C., school honored him with the unveiling of a statue on its campus.

Smith was president from when the school opened with little more than 900 enrollees in 1970, until he retired in 1983.

“I’m very pleased to have been a part, particularly to be there when the doors first opened in 1970. Today it is a very good campus,” Smith said.

“I had previously been a professor and a dean and had become quite familiar with the practices of colleges and universities. I always thought it would be a great experience to start from scratch and build a new one,” he added.

Smith said it was perhaps this reason most of all that led him to South Carolina when he learned they were talking of starting a new four-year institute to “putting into practice the ideas I had accumulated over the years.”

Smith said the school served a region where about a quarter of the students were not being served.

“So it was very rewarding for me to see the increase in the number of high school graduates going to college. After we opened the doors and started building buildings, students started to come in larger and larger numbers, and our programs expanded,” Smith said.

He said today it is probably one of the stronger state colleges in the South Carolina.

When he retired from Francis Marion, Smith went to Coker College, where he worked with others to form what he called a “special school for the top-rated high school juniors and seniors.”

It’s the origins of the Governor’s School, according to Smith.

He also was instrumental in starting a retirement center in the area.

Smith, who attended Harriman schools with his seven siblings, was born in Harriman Nov. 17, 1918.

His sister, Jean Roberts of Rockwood, couldn’t be more proud. She’s got numerous clippings of stories about her brother and was disappointed she was unable to go to the unveiling of his statue with other family members, including two nephews from Harriman.

“Through the years when he did stuff I would cut it out and stick it in the piano bench,” Roberts said.

She credits Harriman schools, in part, for his success.

“Harriman High School was a good school then, and I think he just had a natural inclination to learn more. He’s real outgoing, and he’s got a lot of good friends,” Roberts said.

Smith graduated from Harriman High School in 1937 and attended Lincoln Memorial University. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

He later did graduate work at University of Michigan and earning his doctorate. He became a professor of psychology at Florida State University and was academic dean and vice president at Winthrop College in South Carolina nine years and president of Salisbury State University in Maryland two years before returning to South Carolina to helm Francis Marion.

Smith is still active at 94. When called for comment, he was breathless from working hard in his sizable yard.