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Dorothy Smith Obituary (1939 – 2022) – San Diego, CA

Dorothy Louise Christel White Smith, age 82, passed away peacefully at home in San Diego on February 16, 2022 while being comforted by family.

Dorothy was born on September 28, 1939 in a rural area of ​​Memphis TN, to Theodore Everett White and Classey Ellie Mae Turner White. The sixth of ten children, Dorothy was raised in a loving and supportive family with a solid foundation in Christian principles fostered by the church that her father pastored her. Education was strongly valued by her parents de ella, and Dorothy demonstrated a passion for school from a very young age. Gifted with a dependable work ethic and a thirst for knowledge, Dorothy would become valedictorian at Weakley County Training School in Martin, Tennessee. She accepted a vocal music scholarship to Philander Smith College, where she also received a National Methodist Scholarship. Active on campus, Dorothy joined the Gamma Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

At Philander Smith, Dorothy met her future husband, Carl Smith, who said that he was captivated by her intellect and enjoyed their lengthy conversations. They married in 1958, and their marriage was blessed with two children over the ensuing three years. Balancing family responsibilities with continued educational pursuits, Dorothy completed undergraduate studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1966, followed by a Master of Arts degree in English from California State University, Long Beach in 1969. As a career educator, Dorothy always encouraged her students to never stop seeking knowledge, which she exemplified by later returning to school at the University of Southern California to earn a Doctorate degree in Educational Leadership in 1992.

Dorothy was a highly committed, nurturing educator and professor, and a passionate advocate of quality education for all students, regardless of their backgrounds. She taught at Glenville High School in Cleveland, OH, Long Beach Millikan High School, Long Beach City College, Grossmont Community College, San Diego City College, and San Diego State University where her courses included Writing & Rhetoric, African American Studies, and Department of Teacher Education courses. At SDSU she was the inaugural Director of the “Aim to Teach” program that increased the number of African American, Latino, Native American, and Asian American students who completed the teacher credentialing program at the School of Teacher Education. Dorothy was renowned for her patient, mentoring teaching style. Rather than giving her students failing grades on writing assignments, she would return ungraded papers and offer individual tutoring for revisions until a passing grade could be achieved. She insisted that students of all ethnic, cultural, and educational backgrounds were capable of excelling in higher education, and she fought for them to have the opportunity.

As much as Dorothy loved classroom interactions, she further impacted students throughout the San Diego Unified School District when she was appointed, then elected, to the Board of Education in 1981, becoming the first Black woman ever to be elected to public office in San Diego . She served on the Board of Education for eight years, presiding as Board President in 1984 and 1988, all while continuing her full-time college teaching responsibilities. Dorothy’s enduring accomplishments while serving on the Board include: initiation of a Core Curriculum Policy that assured that all high school graduates had completed the courses necessary to meet requirements for college admission; improved methods of identifying Gifted and Talented students of all cultural and racial groups; promoted and supported local English teacher Mary Swanson’s “Advancement Through Individual Determination (AVID)” program that was created to motivate and assist students in developing skills to be college-ready. Dorothy influenced the Board to expand AVID from just one school, to every school in the district. The successful AVID launch was eventually adopted statewide, and Dorothy later served as a Board Director for the Dana Foundation to advocate for dissemination of the AVID model nationwide, where it now impacts millions of students in over 7,000 schools.

Recognized for her many contributions as an educator and community leader, Dorothy was honored with hundreds of awards and accolades. Highlights include induction into San Diego County’s Women’s Hall of Fame in 2019, receiving the Monty Award as a San Diego State University distinguished alumnus in 2017, and being honored as a Remarkable Leader in Education by the University of San Diego in 2009.

After retiring in 1997, Dorothy volunteered her time even more generously for many organizations: The Common Ground Theater as Board member, Production Manager, and occasional actor; University of San Diego School of Leadership as Advisory Board member; Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority Golden and Life Member; Women’s Incorporated officer; United Negro College Fund; Catfish Club as Board member. As a trusted community leader, San Diego’s appointed Mayor Dorothy to be Commissioner of San Diego’s first Ethics Commission in 2001. She was also tasked with selecting the thirty Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes engraved on plaques adorning the Promenade along the San Diego waterfront.

Dorothy enjoyed writing poetry, authoring two books of her compositions, “My Face To The Rising Son,” and “Afterthoughts.” She was also passionate about researching her genealogy de ella, and wrote a book about her family’s ancestry that future generations can reference. Dorothy also enjoyed traveling internationally and loved to cook, merging those avocations by adding foreign cuisine recipes to the extensive collection of savory dishes that she had mastered. She often invited students to her home for Thanksgiving dinner when they were unable to travel home, including college sports teams who remained in San Diego to participate in holiday tournaments.

A devout Christian, Dorothy was an active church member throughout her life, joining the Golden Hills Christ United Presbyterian Church upon moving to San Diego in 1973, where she continued the legacy of service and faith instilled in her by her parents and grandparents. She eagerly volunteered to participate in numerous church activities, emulating the way she saw her mother de ella take on a multitude of roles to assist her father de ella as he ministered to churches in Tennessee. Among many other functions, Dorothy sang in the Chancel Choir where she was often a soloist, taught Sunday School, was an Elder, led youth activities, and directed the Children’s Choir. The McGill School of Success located on the church campus was co-founded by Dorothy. She absolutely adored her church family de ella, and frequently cooked homemade meals, pies, and cakes to deliver to church members and friends. When church members were coping with illness, Dorothy treated them as she did her own family, warmly attending to their needs and sitting at their bedsides. Ella’s Dorothy’s benevolence was returned to her in kind by the many family and friends who showered her with love by calling, praying, visiting, and helping to care for her during her final months, which she greatly appreciated.

A doting and devoted wife, mother, and grandmother, Dorothy is survived by her husband of 64 years, Dr. Carl Smith; they are Dr. Carlton Smith (Carol); daughter Sharian Lott; grandchildren Brandon Mouton, Loren Lott, Evan Lott (Brandi Coley), and Carlton Smith Jr.; sisters Alberta P. Moore, Lynnie Mae Higgs (Laconia), and Ellie Y. White Horner; a host of nieces, nephews and other family members. Dorothy was preceded in death by sisters Mae Ruby Carter, Fannie Couch Dyshart, Juanita Dodson, Joyce Murrell, and brothers Theodore White and Hubbard White.

Dorothy was interred at Greenwood Memorial Park in San Diego. A memorial service celebrating Dorothy’s life will be held at 12:00 PM on Saturday March 26, 2022 at Christ United Presbyterian Church, 3025 Fir St, San Diego, CA 92102.

Published by Legacy Remembers on Aug. 4, 2022.

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