Noted Tampa lawyer, educator, public servant, and local, state, national and international bar leader, died at his home on January 11, 2013, after a brief illness. He was 87 years old.
For 60 years he practiced law in Tampa, Florida, with Carlton Fields. He had a general trial practice, arguing cases at every level of the state and federal court systems, including the Supreme Court of the United States. He was a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers as well as the International Academy of Trial Lawyers.
Smith was the only American lawyer to have been president of a local bar, a state bar, the American Bar Association (ABA) and the International Bar Association (IBA). He was the first American elected to be president of the IBA.
Throughout his career, Smith dedicated himself to improving the delivery of legal services to the poor and disadvantaged. As ABA President, Smith put expanding legal services for the poor at the top of his agenda. He is nationally known for organizing successful opposition against efforts to abolish the national Legal Services Corporation, created by President Nixon to provide grants to non-profit organizations that provide legal services to the poor.
Smith received numerous honors for his leadership and service to the legal profession, including the rarely given ABA's Gold Medal - its highest recognition – for "exceptionally distinguished service to the cause of American Jurisprudence." He also received the ABA Pro Bono Publico Award, the Herbert Harley Award of the American Judicature Society. He was the first recipient of "The William Reece Smith, Jr. Special Services to Pro Bono Award," created in his name by the National Association of Pro Bono Coordinators.
Smith served from August 1976 to September 1977 as interim president of the University of South Florida. He was also a Distinguished Professorial Lecturer at Stetson University College of Law where he taught a course on Legal Ethics & Professional Responsibility.
Smith received his B.S. from the University of South Carolina in 1946, where he quarterbacked the varsity football team and played in the first ever Gator Bowl. He served as an Ensign in the Navy during World War II
, and received his J. D. with high honors, from the University of Florida
College of Law in 1949. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in 1952.
A biography of his life and career entitled, "A Consummate Lawyer", by Professor Michael I. Swygert, was published in 2010.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to:
Bay Area Legal Services, for
The William Reece Smith, Jr. Endowment Fund
829 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd., Suite 200
Tampa, FL 33602-3336
The Florida Bar Foundation
250 S. Orange Ave., Suite 600P
Orlando, FL 32801-3362
The ABA Fund for Justice and Education
321 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60654-4714
The Hillsborough County Bar Foundation, for
The Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Building Endowment Fund
1610 North Tampa Street
Tampa, FL 33602