'Consummate Lawyer' and Onetime ABA President Wm. Reece Smith Jr. Has Died


Wm. Reece Smith Jr.
Photo courtesy Carlton Fields

Wm. Reece Smith Jr., celebrated throughout the bar for his devotion to legal services and dedication to the legal profession, has died at his home in Florida after a brief illness. He was 87.

With a biography page that reads like a directory of possible awards for outstanding service to the profession, Smith’s accomplishments were numerous. Indeed, his reputation as a “living legend” made his career the focus of a biography “A Consummate Lawyer.”

In the book’s foreword, Smith is described as “sui generis—a scholar-athlete, Rhodes Scholar, lawyer, teacher and leader of bar organizations as well as civic/community organizations.”

“But above all,” the foreword continues, Smith “is a tireless, passionate advocate of measures that will assure access by all to legal counsel and equal justice under the law.”

Smith, who was ABA president from 1980-1981, was a staunch opponent to the Reagan administration’s efforts to defund the Legal Services Corporation. He is credited with leading a lawyer “March on Washington” in 1980, an event that eventually led to the creation of ABA Day.

In an obituary released by his longtime firm Carlton Fields, Smith is noted to be survived by his immediate and extended family and “millions of people in this country and across the world who have benefited from the pro bono services they received as a result of his efforts.”

During his ABA leadership, Smith established the ABA Center for Pro Bono and chaired the ABA’s Committee on Legal Services for 12 years. He is credited with establishing Florida Legal Services and serving as that organization’s first president. He was recognized for his advocacy over the years with numerous awards, including the ABA’s highest honor, the ABA Medal and the Pro Bono Publico Award. Smith also was the first American elected president of the International Bar Association.

Born in Athens, Tenn., on Sept. 19, 1925, Smith attended the University of South Carolina, where he was starting quarterback of the Gamecocks football team, playing in the first Gator Bowl. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy with the rank of ensign, on the USS Columbia. He earned his law degree from the University of Florida, graduating first in his class and serving as editor-in-chief of the school’s law review. He was a Rhodes Scholar. And in 1953, Smith joined Carlton Fields, where until just a few weeks ago, he was still working daily, according to his obituary.

In the 1960s, Smith served as city attorney for the City of Tampa. And he served many years as a faculty member and lecturer at Stetson University College of Law.

Smith was an active member of the Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, where funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17. Visitation will be held from noon to 1 p.m. at the church, and a reception will follow at the Chester Ferguson Law Center of the Hillsborough County Bar Association, 1601 N. Tampa Street. Private burial services will be held in the family plot at Plant City Memorial Park, Plant City, Fla.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to one of the following charities:

Bay Area Legal Services, for
The William Reece Smith, Jr. Endowment Fund
829 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd., Suite 200
Tampa, FL 33602-3336

The Florida Bar Foundation
250 S. Orange Ave., Suite 600P
Orlando, FL 32801-3362

The ABA Fund for Justice and Education
321 N Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60654-4714

The Hillsborough County Bar Foundation, for
The Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Building Endowment Fund
1610 North Tampa Street
Tampa, FL 33602

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