To permanently honor outstanding and notable alumni of the University of Florida Levin College of Law and their contributions to the state and University, the Law Center Association Board of Trustees established the Heritage of Leadership Recognition Society. The Selection Committee determined the initial classes of inductees, barring exceptional circumstances, would be honored posthumously.
W. Reece Smith Jr. (1925-2013)
Class of 1949. The first American to serve as president of his local and state bar, the American Bar Association (1980-81) and the International Bar Association. UF Law Valedictorian and Rhodes scholar. American Bar Association Gold Medal recipient. Played key role in establishing nonprofit legal service organizations nationwide. Partner, Carlton Fields Jorden Burt.
Reece Smith Biography:
A life of service and excellence
W. Reece Smith was born Sept. 19, 1925, in Athens, Tenn., and at age 3 his parents relocated to Florida, where he grew up among the rich agricultural fields and tight-knit community of Plant City. Smith worked as a bag boy at the A&P grocery for 12 cents an hour and delivered copies of the Tampa Bay Times on his bike. Later, he played quarterback for Plant City High School’s football team.
During his senior year, Smith and his male classmates were required to fill out yellow or white cards to offer their services for World War II. The recruiter had run out of yellow Army cards by the time he got to Smith, so he filled out a white card for the Navy – a coincidence he credits with saving his life as a young man.
His Army-enrolled classmates were sent almost directly into combat. But the Navy sent Smith to enroll at the University of South Carolina, where he completed Navy ROTC, earned a bachelor’s in Naval Science and lettered as the Gamecock’s starting quarterback.
He served a stint overseas, was honorably discharged and enrolled at UF Law. Following service as editor-in-chief of the Florida Law Review, Smith received his degree with high honors in 1949. Valedictorian of his class, Smith was selected for membership in Phi Kappa Phi, the prestigious Florida Blue Key fraternity and the University Hall of Fame. In his 3L year, he was selected as a Rhodes Scholar. So after law school graduation and a few months in private practice, Smith moved to Oxford University to complete post-graduate work. He didn’t only excel academically: He received varsity letters on Oxford’s lacrosse and basketball teams.
Upon returning from Oxford, Smith taught at UF Law for two years. He left for the firm where he would work for the next six decades, Mabry, Reaves, Carlton, Fields & Ward. Smith rose to partner of the firm now known as Carlton Fields Jorden Burt.
Smith would go on to argue cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and he rose to leadership at every level of his profession. He is the first American to serve as president of the bars of his county (Hillsborough County Bar Association), state (The Florida Bar), nation (The American Bar Association) and world (the International Bar Association).
A socially conscious lawyer, Smith strived to help the less fortunate. During his term as ABA president, he led opposition to a proposal to eliminate the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal services to the poor across the country. He was an influential advocate of pro bono work, establishing the ABA Pro Bono Center, which helped increase voluntary projects from 50 to 1,000 over a 10-year period. He played a key role in establishing Florida Legal Services, Inc. – a non-profit that provides civil legal assistance to those who would not otherwise be able to afford legal representation.
Shortly before his death, he was honored with the Florida Supreme Court’s Lifetime Achievement Award. A biography of his life and career was published in 2010’s A Consummate Lawyer by Michael Swygert, emeritus professor at Stetson University College of Law.
Besides his family, Smith is survived by millions of people in this country and across the world who have benefitted from the pro bono services they received as a result of his efforts.