BY: LISA PURDIE
Dr. Marion Lofton Smith is remembered as being instrumental in the Methodist "Million for the Master" campaign. As a pastor, he was renowned for his inspirational and encouraging nature. As a husband and father, he was described as being gentle and loving.
Throughout his life, one trait of Smith is dominant: his outgoing personality. Called "Smiley" by the Millsaps students and well-known for his cheery disposition and mega-watt smile, Smith was the fifth president of the College. He served 14 years.
A native of Alabama and a Methodist minister, Smith received a bachelor's degree and a master of arts degree from Kingswood College in Kingswood, Ky., a master of arts and bachelor of divinity degree from Emory University, and a doctorate from Yale University. He taught for five years at Huntingdon College and in 1929, was named head of the department of religious education at Birmingham-Southern. He became president of Millsaps in 1938.
In his 1938 inaugural speech, Smith wrote, "The one supreme purpose that Millsaps College must continue to follow is that of building character and developing leaders. We want to teach our students to think. Our purpose is the man himself - his mind, his emotions, and his will."
Former Millsaps Director of Financial Aid Jack Woodward, B.A. 1951, was a student at Millsaps during Smith's time and remembers him fondly. "I was a freshman in the fall of 1947. Dr. Smith was president throughout my four years at Millsaps. Dr. Smith was a very well liked man by all on the campus. He always smiled when he would meet you, and he would stop and talk to everyone. Many who were in the administration at that time bragged on how he could gather funds for the College," Woodward said.
Smith's ability to gather funds increased the College's financial resources by almost two-fold during his 14 years. He assumed the presidency toward the end of the Great Depression and led the college during war time when student enrollment was down. He obtained a Navy V-12 unit for the College to help carry it during the war era and headed a "Million for the Master" campaign in 1950 during which Methodists of the state raised $1million for church institutions.
The physical appearance of Millsaps changed during his tenure. Whitworth and Sanders Halls were constructed, as well as the Christian Center and the auditorium which bears his name. One of his first acts as president was the installation of the cafeteria, as students had eaten in a dining hall before this addition.
Smith added new courses, created six additional departments, increased the number of faculty and staff, and initiated a program of sabbatical leave for faculty. The departments of psychology, economics, speech, sociology, and geology were added and religion and philosophy were made into separate departments. Typing and shorthand were added to the curriculum.
Millsaps students dedicated the 1940 Bobashela to Dr. Smith with these words: "He has instilled in us a love for our college which will broaden and grow stronger with the years, and has made us feel that we as students are the crew which, working together, keeps Millsaps sailing ahead; he steers our course."
After Smith left Millsaps, he took a pastorate at Moss Point Dantzler United Methodist Church where he served until he retired in 1961. The Rev. Robert L. Kates of the First United Methodist Church of Pascagoula said in an obituary that he wrote in 1984 for the Mississippi Methodist Conference Journal: "Humility and modesty marked Marion Smith's life, and a simple, quiet faith in God's goodness gave beauty and winsomeness to his soul. We will remember him as a model of the highest and best."
(reprinted by permission from Millsaps Magazine, Spring-Summer 2010 issue)