(C. Ray Smith passed away November 3, 2023.  Here are some reflections on his work that I shared with the Darden Community.)

Ray Smith was a faculty colleague, a leader of Darden, a mentor, and a friend. He was easy to approach, always made time to talk, and gave excellent advice. A good coach, he reliably affirmed your work and at the same time raised your attention to higher performance.  Like any good case teacher, Ray didn’t simply say what had to be done–instead, he asked questions in a way that helped you find your own solutions. His counsel was so reliable that even during my decade as Dean of Darden, I made it a point to have lunch with Ray about once a month.

Ray was one of the serious culture carriers among the Darden faculty.

  • In the classroom, he modeled the Socratic method and the deep engagement between instructor and students. As a professor teaching accounting, his field naturally daunted many students: at the end of a bookkeeping exercise, the two sides of a balance sheet had to balance, which made accounting seem like an austere contest between right and wrong.  But he humanized the rigor about mechanics with the reality that much of the practice of accounting depends on judgment and interpretation.  You couldn’t just take the numbers at face value; you had to drill into the footnotes, the trends, and the comparisons.  More broadly, he believed that education is a higher calling, a means to lift people to their highest potential.  This meant that the students and the student experience at Darden was his highest priority.
  • Beyond the classroom, Ray epitomized the servant leader. When asked to assume administrative responsibilities he said “yes.”  Indeed, over his 42 years on the faculty, he held every important administrative position at Darden—including serving as interim Dean three times.  He never lusted after the limelight, but also never shrank from difficult decisions. He listened well, sought common ground among the faculty, and worked to find pragmatic solutions to problems.  He respected the community as a means of serving the individual and of individuals serving the community.  In terms of social issues facing the nation and the world, he was foresightful.  He urged curriculum change to reflect leadership by women, minorities, and international citizens.  I think Ray valued a diverse community.  He accepted change as a fact of life and betterment.  What mattered to Ray was fidelity to a vision of creating principled leaders, in service of which Darden had to invent and experiment relentlessly with teaching approaches.

Ray Smith left a solid legacy of leadership, values, and teaching, all of which strengthened the Darden community and prepared the school for continued advancement.  For his service and many gifts, I am so grateful to Ray.