Connect with us

In Memoriam: Professor Terry Smith, J.D.

St. Thomas School of Law mourns the loss of visiting STU law professor, Terry Smith, who passed away on Saturday, April 4th at his home in Chicago, Illinois.

Professor Terry Smith, will be remembered as a nationally recognized election law scholar as well as an outspoken and courageous champion of civil rights.

President Armstrong expressed his condolences at hearing the news, “We are very sorry to hear of the loss of our visiting professor Terry Smith. We pray for the repose of his soul and we appreciate the effort he gave for the Law School and our students here at St. Thomas University. Please keep him and his relatives in your prayers this Easter season.”

Dean Lawson, a colleague & friend to Prof. Smith shared the following tribute to the Association of American Law Schools Minority Group, a group in which Prof. Smith was particularly active:

“Terry’s scholarship forged a compelling intersection between election law and critical race theory and is highly regarded in the academy. Terry has published numerous articles in this area as well as two critically acclaimed books: Whitelash; Unmasking White Grievance at the Ballot Box (Cambridge University Press 2020) and Barack Obama, Post Racialism, and the New Politics of Triangulation (Palgrave Macmillan 2012).  

In addition to his scholarly accomplishments, Terry was also an equally passionate advocate for civil rights. Terry’s record as a lawyer exemplifies his personal passion to fight against injustice regardless of the political perception. Terry operated by a moral compass that refused to calibrate to the wind of social opinion or popularity. Terry was actively engaged in the practice of law to make a difference for others having recently been admitted to the Illinois State Bar after which he planned to launch a national practice focused on representing faculty of color in confronting discrimination in the tenure process.  

Terry was also a highly respected and well-regarded classroom teacher and colleague. His students regularly sang his praises and his colleagues at St. Thomas held him in high esteem. Upon hearing about Terry’s untimely death, his students immediately shared their heartfelt condolences with the law school’s administration and expressed the honor they received by participating in his class. Specifically, one student commented that Professor Smith was “gentle and easy to talk to and listened to our point of view without judgement.” Another stated that “Professor Smith was a valuable part of the St. Thomas law family. If you can pass along my condolences to his family, I would greatly appreciate it. They should know that he was a great professor and person to his students.” A third student, succulently wrote “hearing about Professor Smith’s death hurts my heart.” Terry’s colleagues at St. Thomas held an equally glowing impression. St. Thomas was excited to add Terry to its faculty and he was equally enthusiastic about his role at the institution and had already began strategizing with Dean Lawson about how to best leverage his talents. Terry was really on a roll, and he looked forward to developing his last act, and creating a new life with his St. Thomas colleagues and South Florida friends.    

Terry’s role as a mentor in the academy was equally impressive. He was instrumental in establishing the John Mercer Langston Scholars Writing Workshop. A program that centered on creating a safe and encouraging environment to assist black male professors in the legal academy ascend it ranks by providing scholarship feedback and career advice.  Terry assisted numerous black male and female law professors and helped to improve diversity within the academy. Through the faculty Terry lifted up, his legacy of fighting to protect those in need will continue.” 

Members of STU’s Black Law Students Association were “extremely devastated by the news of the passing of Professor Smith.” They noted, “Not only was he a phenomenal professor to those that had class with him, but a phenomenal advocate of and listener to those who came to him. His personality was as bright as his smile and colorful suits. Professor Smith truly knew how to light up a room.” 

The BLSA has fond memories of Prof. Smith’s participation in one of their Black History Month’s panels, “when asked to participate… Professor Smith agreed almost immediately and brought a valuable, insightful, and meaningful perspective. When the event was over, he stayed for an additional hour with Professor Tibbs to discuss with students our experiences navigating law school as a minority community. The conversation from that day will not easily be forgotten and remains in our hearts.” 

To his family and loved ones- they added, “we send our deepest condolences and prayers. Please know Professor Smith was loved and adored by students and faculty alike. We pray he rests peacefully. It was both an honor and a pleasure to know and learn from him.” 

The St. Thomas University law family has honored Prof. Smith with a dedicated mass this past Wednesday, April 8th. You may watch it here: Dedication Mass to Prof. Smith. In addition, after the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, St. Thomas University School of Law will host a formal tribute for Professor Smith.

Prof. Smith leaves behind a sister, Vernita Smith Walker, and many friends and colleagues in the legal community. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family, colleagues, and students. He will be sorely missed, but his life accomplishments will continue to inspire those he touched to maintain his fight.

Counseling services are available to his students and colleagues through the University Mental Health Counselor, Maria Garavito-Bedoya. She can be contacted at

Yamile Rodriguez

Author Yamile Rodriguez

More posts by Yamile Rodriguez