- Associated Press - Sunday, May 29, 2016

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - Not too many people have what William “Bill” Smith has. He is passionate about his job. The University of Southern Mississippi marketing professor will definitely miss coming to work when he retires June 30 after a 37-year career teaching students.

“Think about what we do,” he said. “Every single day you get to touch somebody’s life. You never know how something you said impacts someone’s life and it goes on and on.”

Smith’s current responsibilities are demanding. In addition to the courses he teaches, the 69-year-old is chairman of the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Sport Management. He’s also interim chairman of the Department of Marketing and Merchandising. But teaching is his first love, a relationship that began in college.

“College changed my life. I saw what my potential was,” Smith said. “The most influential thing - I had never once thought about teaching. I had trouble getting up in front of people.

“We had to give a speech in English (class). I went so fast the professor made me give the whole thing over again.”

But Smith didn’t let that first shaky experience stop him.

“I took an elective - supervised teaching,” he said. “That’s where I got the bug. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. The opportunity to interact and see the light bulbs go off in somebody’s mind.”

Smith said without college he would have never pursued the career he so loves.

“It can change your life. Change the way you look at the world - change the way you think,” he said. “Because I ran at a weakness, I ended up making a living (by) talking. What knowledge does best is reduce fear.”

Faye Gilbert, dean of the College of Business, had Smith for a teacher in the early 1980s.

“He was a wonderful teacher, but he took no prisoners,” she remembered. “He expected you to achieve professional-level work.

“You don’t walk in late and say, ‘I just couldn’t do that.’ It didn’t feel like a classroom so much as the first step of your career.”

Even when Gilbert went from former student to being Smith’s boss, he didn’t stop teaching her. When she took over as dean in summer 2013, he gave her three articles to read on leadership in business schools.

“Whenever he can tell I’m struggling, there will be an article in my email or in my mailbox and I know it came from him,” Gilbert said. “He still expects me to give it my best professional effort.”

James Tisdale, director of external relations for the College of Business, agrees that Smith is one tough professor.

“They joke that back in the old days when you registered for class, if you had Bill Smith’s class, you got an assignment stapled to your (registration) card,” he said. “He pushed (students) really hard in class. When they got done with his class, they realized it had changed their lives and prepared them for the world.”

Tisdale said Smith’s love of his profession is well-known.

“That is his life,” he said. “His job is also his hobby. His wife says he’ll sit at the kitchen table and read student papers. He loves seeing his students flourish.”

Smith said he’s learned as much from his students as they have learned from him. He cites one example where he was finally able to teach a difficult statistics problem to a student.

“One of my students taught me how to communicate the concept and I’ve used that ever since,” he said. “All you gotta do is be open to learning and you’ll learn from the people you interact with.”

Smith said retiring won’t be easy.

“I just about could not stop,” he said. “I always told ‘em I’d teach for free. But it was time to let go.

“It’s scary. You get up every morning going to a place you love. What’s going to happen when I don’t come?”

Smith said he plans to travel with his wife - to the Midwest mountain states and San Francisco, Oregon and Alaska. He also plans to catch up on his reading and enjoy the occasional golf outing.

Smith said his legacy at Southern Miss won’t last long - only a couple years until his current crop of junior and senior students have graduated. But perhaps he’s just being humble.

On April 29, friends, faculty and staff honored Smith with a gala roast and the announcement of a scholarship endowed in his name. Established by friends and colleagues and administered through the University of Southern Mississippi Foundation, the Dr. Bill Smith Marketing Scholarship Endowment already approaches $25,000. The scholarship will be awarded to a junior or senior majoring in marketing with a minimum 3.0 grade-point average.

Gilbert said Smith will be remembered for a long time.

“Everywhere I’ve been as a dean, he’s an easy name to bring up,” she said. “People get a look on their face - ‘Oh, he transformed my life.’ No, I don’t think he’s going to be forgotten tomorrow.

“He’s still teaching classes. That’s what excites him. He is passionate about work with Mississippi Power and the other entities in the Gulf region. He still thrives working with cities, nonprofits and large corporations. When you put it all together, phenomenal is the word that comes to mind.”

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Information from: The Hattiesburg American, https://www.hattiesburgamerican.com


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