Kentucky State University mourns the loss of its first female president Dr. Mary Levi Smith

Kentucky State University mourns the loss of its first female president Dr. Mary Levi Smith

Kentucky State University’s fourteenth and first female president, Dr. Mary L. Smith, 84, departed this life Saturday evening, November 28, surrounded by her loved ones at home. 

Kentucky State University President Dr. M. Christopher Brown II said losing Dr. Smith will profoundly impact the Thorobred family. 

“There are no words to express the enormity of losing a chain breaker, like President Smith,” Brown said. “Mary was more than just a pioneer — she was an incredible person. She was admired and known to many as a thoughtful, thorough and well-organized administrator and educator. Mary devoted her life to the pursuit of knowledge and public service.”

The Mary L. Smith Clock Tower was recently constructed in her honor on the campus of Kentucky State University last spring. The clock tower is a beacon to students on campus, sitting outside the Paul G. Blazer Library. A trailblazer and a longtime advocate for access to education, Dr. Smith was not only Kentucky State’s first female president but also the first African-American female president in Kentucky. Dr. Smith served as president from 1991 to 1998. Before becoming president, she was special assistant to the president and professor of education at Kentucky State. 

Smith also previously served as interim president and vice president for academic affairs. Dr. Smith became an assistant professor of education at Kentucky State University in 1974, then associate professor of education and acting chairperson of the Division of Education, Human Resources and Technology in 1981. In 1983, Dr. Smith became dean of the College of Applied Sciences and professor of education.

While at Kentucky State, two accredited master’s programs were added: public administration and aquaculture. Dr. Smith oversaw the establishment of the Center for Diversity and the Center of Excellence for the Study of Kentucky African Americans (CESKAA). Dr. Smith also oversaw the building of the William Exum Athletic Center, the Cooperative Extension Building and renovations to Hume Hall.

Dr. Smith graduated from Jackson State University in 1957 and earned her master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Kentucky. 

Arrangements are pending, as Dr. Smith’s family is requesting time to plan appropriately due to the global pandemic. Kentucky State will update the University community, alumni and friends on upcoming tributes to honor Smith’s life and impact.