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Where Everyone Knows His Name

George and Mary Smith with President Marc Parlange

If you’re one of the 2,500+ URI alumni living in southwest Florida, there’s a good chance you’ve met George Smith ’66. A true Rhody Ram, Smith has been involved with the southwest Florida alumni network since he and his wife Mary (McNamara) Smith ’68 moved to Florida in 2006, and he has been the network leader since 2010. The network is URI’s most active, holding six to seven events each year from Sarasota to Naples and drawing about 400 guests annually.

The funny thing is Smith’s student experience at URI was rough at best. He entered the engineering program in 1961, “because that’s what everyone was doing then,” he said, but quickly found that he didn’t like engineering at all. “Truth be told, I flunked out a couple of times before I finally graduated.” He ultimately received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1966.

Two factors kept Smith on the path to graduation. First and foremost was his fraternity, Sigma Pi. Smith joined early on and stayed connected after graduation through various local and national volunteer and board positions. He served as board president for over 20 years and remains involved to this day. In fact, he is only the second Brother to ever receive the national Sigma Pi Dedicated Alumnus award for more than 50 years of continuous service, presented at the Sigma Pi National Convention in Las Vegas in 2016.

The other positive factor was his involvement in That Ram Band under the leadership of Donald Burns. Smith played trumpet with the band for five football seasons, and it was Burns who influenced him to finish his degree.

“I didn’t have much direction in my life back then, but between my Sigma Pi connections and the band, their encouragement is what kept me coming back and finally graduating.”

After graduating, Smith took a job as a teacher “because I didn’t have anything else,” and accidentally landed on the career path he should have taken all along. He loved teaching, moving from math teacher to department head to assistant principal in the Warwick, R.I. school system and finally to principal of a school for behaviorally challenged students in the Worcester, Mass. area. He was also on the school committee and personnel board in Seekonk, Mass., where he lived for 34 years before moving to Florida. Along the way he earned a master’s degree and an Ed.D., proving that education really was for him—in more ways than one.

What keeps Smith so involved with URI? “With my fraternity connections, and with Mary also being an alum, our primary circle of friends has always been URI alumni. When we moved to Florida, I realized that several of my fraternity brothers lived nearby, and we got involved with the local URI alumni network.” After nearly 20 years—14 as the network leader—he takes his role seriously. “I’m always looking to grow participation and improve the product. I want to produce the best possible product for URI, one that will help maintain old friendships and ensure that alumni can maintain an active connection in support of the University from 1,500 miles away.”