Selden Smith

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  • "I am so sorry to learn of the passing of my cousin Selden. ..."
    - Chris Kennedy
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    - Becky Tenny
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  • "Dorothy, I am so saddened to learn of your husband's death...."
    - Ellen Watson James
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Selden Kennedy Smith COLUMBIA - Selden Kennedy Smith, 88, of Columbia, South Carolina, died at home on February 12, 2018. Born in York, South Carolina in 1930, he was a United States Navy veteran of the Korean War and was Professor of History at Columbia College for 37 years. He was the son of the Reverend Nat Erskine and Jean Kennedy Smith of York. After the Rev. Smith died in 1937, Selden and his siblingsNat Erskine, Jr., Jennie Anderson Leath, and Julia Kennedy Reid (all deceased)were raised by their mother in York. The third of these four children, Selden graduated from York High School in 1947. After completing Erskine College in 1951 and following Officer Candidate School, he was commissioned as Ensign in the US Navy. He served aboard the USS Missouri during the Korean War and remained in the Naval Reserve thereafter, retiring in 1979 as Captain. After active duty, he enrolled in graduate school at the University of South Carolina. Graduate school provided him a formal education but was also formative of lifelong commitments and friendships with "the Henderson Street gang" and others. School officials tried and failed to teach him to avoid history by staying away from the civil rights movement; however, they succeeded in teaching history and historiography. He was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy in history. At Columbia College, he taught in the Department of History and Political Science and was Department Chair for several years. He was a faculty leader on campus in formal and informal ways. Faculty meetings were enlivened by his sage and witty comments and advice. He was a strong and persistent advocate of academic freedom and faculty participation in the governance of the college. Through it all, he held the respect of the administration, faculty, and students. To the students he was teacher, mentor, and friend. In the late 1970s, one of his students asked him to teach about the Holocaust, and he realized he did not know enough. He studied the Holocaust, which provided him both a scholarly focus and a social and educational mission from the late 1970s until his death. Beginning in 1994, each summer he organized and team-taught a workshop for South Carolina's public and private school teachers on how to teach young students about the Holocaust. He served on the South Carolina Council on the Holocaust from its foundation in 1989 and was named Chair Emeritus when he no longer served officially. Until the weekend of his death, his effort to assure remembrance continued and he had made plans already to light a candle on Yom Hashoah this Spring, April 12, 2018. Dr. Smith was committed to justice and tolerance at global and local levels. He served throughout his life in a wide range of capacities to improve his communities and the lives of individuals, from his children's PTAs or booster clubs across Richland School District 1, to the Columbia Community Relations Council and the Columbia Luncheon Club. He served for several years in the 1970s as Director of the Eau Claire Community Project, a joint program of Columbia College and the federal government. He enjoyed his neighbors and sought to make the place better, whatever that place was. Selden was always interested and involved in politics. He was a lifelong and faithful member of the Democratic Party and was a strong supporter and contributor to candidates' campaigns. And he was involved in nonpartisan efforts to make politics and government more honest, open, and responsible to the people. He served for several years on the Board of Common Cause/South Carolina, an organization dedicated to those goals. He received recognition from a range of groups and citizens. Named to the Order of the Palmetto (1997), he was also recipient of the Columbia College Medallion and a variety of other awards for his contributions to community, education, ecumenical engagement, and justice. The SC Council on the Holocaust's Foundation for Holocaust Education, which he helped to create, was named for him to honor his dedication to its mission. And in 2014, he was honored with the foundation of a scholarship at Columbia College, the Selden K. Smith Endowed Scholarship for Student Global Experience. It offers students the chance to learn through travel and study abroad. He is survived by Dorothy Gasque Smith, with whom he would have celebrated 56 years of marriage in June. They have four children, Jean Margaret Card (Skip) of New York, NY, Julia Smith McLeod (Phil) of Columbia, SC, Selden Kennedy Smith, Jr. (Ann) of Carrboro, North Carolina, and Thomas Gasque Smith (Ellie) of Charleston, SC. Selden Smith loved expansively and broadly but was particularly devoted to 9 grandchildren: Joseph Selden, Russell Thomas, Kennedy Louise, and Laura Rampey McLeod; Julia Loyd Card; Patrick Pfiester and Gibson Kennedy Smith; and Perry Elton and William Thomas (Whit) Smith. The surviving sibling of four, Smith enjoyed and developed deep affections with his nieces and nephews as well as their children. He and Dorothy have hosted an expanding Thanksgiving gathering for three decades. The roster of attendees grew beyond 50, giving him great satisfaction and joy. As his mobility decreased, the attendees seemed to rotate turns in the seat beside him. His deep interest in others was inexhaustible. His cherished friendships crossed what others experience as family, political, religious, ethnic, racial and social divides. These friends and family know Selden or Mister or Doctor Smith as a prolific writer of letters. Via the US Postal Service, his strong, consistent hand lectured, loved, reminisced, advised, scolded, explained, struggled for understanding, and filled the margins of others' wedding or funeral programs. By mail and in person, he was an unstoppable gift giver. He remained mentally astute and engaged in various causes until the day he died. However, his ability to navigate physical space was set back by Multiple Myeloma, with which he was diagnosed in 2005. He was grateful to the staff of SC Oncology Associates for their care across many years since then. He continued to teach (or at least to lecture) and love the devoted caregivers of First Light Home Care who made his life and his family's lives easier. The service for Mr. Smith will be held at 11 o'clock on Friday, February 16th, at College Place United Methodist Church, 4801 Colonial Drive, Columbia, with The Rev. Mary Johnson and Rev. Carl Evans officiating. A private family service will be held at Fort Jackson National Cemetery at a later date. The family will receive friends from 5 until 7 o'clock, Thursday, February 15th at Shives Funeral Home, Trenholm Road Chapel, 7600 Trenholm Road Ext., Columbia. Memorials may be made to The Selden K. Smith Foundation for Holocaust Education, PO Box 25740, Columbia, SC 29224, or to a . Memories and condolences may be shared at ShivesFuneralHome.com.
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Shives Funeral Home, Inc. - Trenholm Road Chapel
7600 Trenholm Road
Columbia, SC 29223
(803) 754-6290
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Published in The State on Feb. 15, 2018
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