Former ABA president, UF Law grad inducted into Heritage of Leadership Society
W. Reece Smith Jr. (JD 49), who rose to a succession of leadership positions in the legal profession never before or since equaled, was inducted posthumously Friday into the Heritage of Leadership Society during a ceremony in the Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom.
Co-workers, friends and family spoke in Smith’s honor and dedicated a glass etching bearing his image and a list of his most significant accomplishments. The etching is on display on the second floor of Holland Hall on the law school campus as a permanent tribute to his contributions to the nation, the state and the university.
Gwynne Young (JD 74), among two former Florida Bar presidents and a former ABA president who spoke during the ceremony, praised Smith for promoting professional opportunities for blacks, Jews and women despite cultural resistance. Young said Smith believed in equal opportunity for all, shaping a culture of civility and meritocracy at Carlton Fields Jorden Burt where he worked for six decades including as president and chairman.
“He treated people with respect. He treated everyone with respect. He introduced each young law partner as his partner or his lawyer,” Young said.
Smith served as president of the Hillsborough County Bar Association, The Florida Bar, the American Bar Association and the International Bar Association. No other person has reached the top of all levels of professional leadership.
During his term as ABA president, he led opposition to the Regan administration’s drive 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. His work with legal service nonprofits around the country helped him earn the American Bar Association Medal of Honor.
He also led a colorful life. Smith played starting quarterback for the South Carolina Gamecocks in the first Gator Bowl in 1946, and in 1952 he was Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He also served overseas with the Navy and argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Smith joins 34 others in the Heritage of Leadership Recognition Society. Inductees represent illustrious personalities in the history of the University of Florida College of Law since its founding in 1909. They assumed national leadership positions and distinguished themselves in legal, governmental, academic and corporate sectors. They labored to improve the administration of justice and received the highest commendations for contributions to the profession and service to education, civic, charitable and cultural causes.
Members of the Heritage of Leadership Recognition Society are selected by the Heritage of Leadership Committee, which presents the slate for discussion and approval to the full membership of the University of Florida Law Center Association, Inc. Board of Trustees.