January 08, 2018 4:15PM
The PSU vice president emeritus died Friday, Jan. 5, at Via Christi Village in Pittsburg. He was 85.
“Grady loved this university and this community,” said President Steve Scott. “But, more than that, he loved life. He has left a legacy at Pittsburg State that will benefit Gorillas for generations to come. On behalf of Pittsburg State University, I offer my deepest condolences to his family and friends.”
Smoot was born on May 7, 1932, in Florida, and grew up as a self-described "farm boy" in Tennessee.
He went on to become widely traveled, and said in a local newspaper interview in 2013 that he was proud to have visited more than 100 countries on seven continents. At age 73, he climbed Mt. Kenya with his family. At age 75, he walked across the Golden Gate Bridge for the third time in his life.
He had nearly 700 publications to his credit, and was proud to have met First Ladies Jacqueline Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Reagan, and Presidents Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush.
But it was his work at PSU of which his writings indicate he was most proud.
In a letter to then-President Tom Bryant, Smoot wrote in May 2007: "I have always tried to do my best for this university in every capacity that I have had. I leave it to you and others to judge the degree of my success. My intention whether it was within the university or within the community was to give Pitt State my best effort."
Smoot came to PSU in 1984 as Vice President of Development and Public Relations, the university’s first full-time development staff member. Prior development efforts on behalf of the university had been handled by volunteers. He also served for eight years as assistant to the president under Bryant.
In 1985, the PSU Endowment Association and the PSU Alumni Foundation merged to form the PSU Foundation, Inc., and Smoot was named the new Foundation's executive director.
In 1986, Smoot provided leadership for organizing a $9.8 million "Campaign for Distinction," PSU's first major capital campaign. In 1993, he worked with university administration, Foundation leaders, and Campaign Chair Gene Bicknell to plan the university's most ambitious fundraising effort in history: A $100 million capital campaign called The Centennial 2003 Fund.
Smoot also is credited with establishing KRPS-FM, the University's public radio station. In 1988, it began broadcasting to the Four States.
And, he's credited with founding the Pitt State Magazine, creating a substantial endowment fund for university operations, bringing one of America's finest concert organs to the campus, and raising millions of dollars for the Kansas Technology Center, a $27.7 million state-of-the-art facility. The late Brig. Gen. Jim AuBuchon, a longtime PSU administrator, once credited Smoot with inspiring him to move forward with creating the PSU Veterans Memorial.
When Smoot retired in 1998, he had taken the Foundation from $3 million in assets to more than $25 million, and the Centennial 2003 Fund had reached $85 million.
His contributions to Pittsburg also were substantial. In 1999, the Pittsburg City Commission appointed him to the Board of Trustees on the Pittsburg Public Library, where he became a founder of the PPL Foundation in 2000 and its president in 2004. In five years, he raised almost $1.5 million in endowment funds for it.
He was a founding member of the Community Foundation of Southeast Kansas, and became a trustee of the Colonial Fox Theatre Foundation in 2007. And, Smoot served as a consultant for the capital campaign of the Stilwell Heritage and Educational Foundation; in gratitude for that assistance, a room there bears his name.
Smoot once wrote that his life philosophy comes from a statement by American architect and urban planner, Daniel Burnham: "Make no little plans. They have no magic with which to stir men's [and women's] blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work … Remember that when you create a situation that captures the imagination, you capture life, reason, everything."
He was preceded in death by his wife, Irma Jean Kopitzke, in 1999. Their son, Andrew Christopher Smoot, survives.
Service details are pending at this time.