by Alice F. Fitzpatrick
From his early days as a founding trustee, through his continuing generous scholarship support, to his plan to charitably divest his stock portfolio, we enjoyed a close and mutually supportive relationship with Laurence P. “Jim” Smith. He was the first major donor to the Community Foundation in 1983 with an unrestricted gift of $25,000. To date, his contributions to and through us exceed $5 million, more than any other single donor.
Over 25 years, Jim contributed these millions of his privately earned dollars to better the lives of deserving local kids. He wanted to see every ball field in use every day. He wanted every achieving student to have a chance to go to college, as he had not. He wanted his good fortune to be passed quietly to the community he loved. From Lawrence & Memorial Hospital to the United Way to the Visiting Nurse Association to Mitchell College, BP Learned Mission/Child & Family Agency to Waterford Country School, he regularly took care of many local nonprofits. Recently, and quite unexpectedly, he decided to give $50,000 to install lights on the girls’ softball field for the Waterford Little League South!
On his 90th birthday, I tried to find a way to honor him, but knew he had a core aversion to recognition ceremonies. I was able to convince him and his wife, Marjory, to attend a Sunday Ice Cream Social at Mitchell College to which all 100 Smith scholarship winners and their families were invited. Many came to thank him that day and many who lived out of the area wrote tributes to him, explaining how his financial support impacted their lives at a critical time. It was not the only time I saw Jim moved to tears, but one of the most memorable.
How can this community ever thank this humble local hero for his unselfish and shrewd philanthropy? I guess by doing what you can for causes you care about. The amount Jim contributed was indeed staggering. But what I will always treasure is the spirit behind each gift. “Let’s make sure these kids have a chance,” he would say to me, “We’re partners in this, you know.”