Faculty Spotlight ‘Skeletons in the Classroom’

At first glance, UFLaw Professor David “D.T.” Smith’s dead-pan expression and crisp New England accent suggest an “old schooler” similar to straitlaced Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase movie and television show.

That perception is wrong, as sitting through one of his classes demonstrates.

“He’s absolutely hilarious,” said David Chopin (1L). “His personal and historical anecdotes make class really interesting.”

Smith says “humor keeps students’ attention. I can find something funny in almost any current event, and don’t mind poking fun at myself either.”

Students would be surprised to learn Smith once was shy. Only after beginning to teach did he come out of his shell, to the delight of thousands of students through the years.

Among his most memorable classroom attention grabbers is “Trixie the Testatrix,” an old science-class skeleton that has made guest appearances in Smith’s Estates & Trusts classes for more than 10 years. He puts pencils in Trixie’s eye sockets to demonstrate the proper line of vision (exactly straight ahead) for witnessing a will-signing. His students agree — Trixie and the pencils are an effective and riveting method for fixing this point of law firmly in their minds.

Smith earned his BA in history at Yale, and JD cum laude at Boston University. Before coming to UF in 1968, he taught at Indiana, Duquesne and Case Western Reserve universities. He is an authority on probate law and author of the Florida Probate Code Manual. The book he is most proud of is The Family and Inheritance, first published in 1970.

After 35 years behind the podium, Smith will retire in June 2003. “I’ve been here so long I’ve taught some students’ parents,” he said. “Like the Heekin family from Jacksonville. I’ve taught fathers and sons, uncles and nephews during the last 30 years.”

Fellow Professor Jeffrey Harrison notes that, “you will not find a person with greater loyalty to this law school.”

Others share this appreciation for Smith, as evidenced by plaques on his office wall, such as the ones from Florida Law Review and Blue Key naming him an honorary member and from the Institute of Cuban Lawyers recognizing his pioneering efforts in helping exiled lawyers meet Florida Bar qualifications. He served many years on the UF Faculty Senate and chaired several of its most vital committees. He has served UFLaw well on the Admissions Committee, on which he first began work in 1995 and chaired since 1999.

“D.T.’s personality, his concern for students and the school, and his leadership make him an excellent member of this team,” notes Assistant Dean for Admissions Michael Patrick. “He has been instrumental in our historical selection of top quality students, and played a significant role in helping us successfully plan for and implement One Florida as it impacted almost overnight the way state universities look at and select applicants.”

As one of Smith’s current students, Hollie Noblick (1L), expresses it, “D.T. Smith is just plain awesome.”

Though Smith did not attend UF, he soon adopted the Gators and has a particular fondness for football. In addition to his love of Gator sports, he enjoys saltwater fishing and pleasure reading.

Smith’s immediate family has a total of nine degrees from UF. Wife Sandy, whom he met at Yale as an undergraduate and married during his second year of law school, earned her JD from UF. Their three sons also garnered UF degrees — David Jr. is an MD, and Douglas and Daniel are attorneys.

“The chain will be broken when my oldest grandson enters FSU in Fall 2003,” Smith said.

During retirement, Smith plans to continue updating the Florida Probate Code Manual and would like to teach occasional classes. “I’m not yet burned out,” Smith said. “I still love teaching.”

“For more than 34 years, D.T. Smith has been one of the most ebullient and outspoken members of the faculty,” said close friend Professor Joe Little. “Students have cheered while the faculty sometimes cringed.

“But behind this bravado is a teaching giant: a man committed to his subjects, to his students and to the well-being of this institution of which he has been such a prominent feature,” Little continued. “ D.T.’s retirement will punch a huge hole in this faculty in many more ways than one.”