CELEBRATING A UNIQUE CONNECTION TO USD
At the age of 27, Reggie Smith took the advice of her banker, who suggested it was time to invest in property and who promised to help her through the process of becoming a homeowner. He brought her to a modest two-bedroom, one-bath, 900 square-foot home on a dead-end street in Linda Vista not too from the University of San Diego. She fell in love with the home, she fell in love with the Linda Vista community and she fell in love with the campus that eventually became known as the University of San Diego.
That was in 1959. The San Diego College for Women had opened its doors only seven years prior, the College for Men only five years prior.
Today, USD is looking forward to Smith’s 90th birthday and to its own 75th anniversary in 2024.
Smith moved to a different home in Linda Vista in 1964, but kept, and only recently sold, that original house. She was involved with the university in numerous ways — watching it grow, evolve and gain prominence and acting as a valued advisor to founders Bishop Charles Francis Buddy, Mother Rosalie Hill Hall and Provost Sister Sally Furay, as well as every president who has followed in their footsteps since. Today, Smith is recognized as one of USD’s most beloved neighbors, advocates and supporters.
“Whenever I’m at USD, I can’t help but wonder what Bishop Buddy and Mother Hill would think of all that the campus has become,” says Smith, from her home just blocks from campus. “Each president left his or her particular stamp on the university. Each new building and each new program changed the university, enhanced the university and increased its status and its ability to attract students from all over the world.”
Smith recalls conversations she had with Bishop Buddy and Mother Hill. She recalls an indelible bond with Sister Furay, which was so strong that, upon her passing, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart gave Smith the founding provost’s upholstered chair, which now has a place of honor in her home.
“I still feel her presence when I sit in her chair,” Smith says. “She truly enriched my life.”
Listening to Smith’s memories of the people and the places on the campus is like watching the history of the university unfold.
Since its earliest days, Smith visited the campus regularly — sometimes several times a week to eat dinner, use the library, talk to students and professors and to walk the grounds. She still pictures pushing her children in strollers on the track that was once located on the west end of campus.
She recalls visiting USD’s Alcalá Park to see her friend, Judy Rauner. Together the two, who previously were colleagues at United Way, applied for and received a grant to launch what became USD’s service-learning program, which later evolved into what’s now known as the Karen and Tom Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action.
Smith remembers serving as the first board president of USD’s Manchester Family Child Development Center. She also served on the committee that reviewed graduate thesis proposals for students in the Hahn School of Nursing. She recalls meeting Mother Teresa as well as the Dalai Lama, both of whom spoke on the campus. She also attended the presidential debate between President Bill Clinton and Sen. Bob Dole. After the event, she sat with John McNamara, then vice president of university relations, at the desk where Clinton was seated behind the stage prior to the start of the debate.
“There was a basket of beautiful red apples and we ate one of President Clinton’s apples,” Smith says, laughing at the memory. “Can you believe it?”
Throughout the years, Smith attended tennis matches and basketball games and, during one special game, USD recognized her as a valued member of the community. The cheer squad cheered for her and the players presented her with a signed game ball, which she still treasures.
Smith served on the committee that worked with Joan Kroc to create what became the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice. She had the pleasure of meeting the philanthropist and working with Joyce Neu, the institute’s first director. She was even featured in USD’s 1988 President’s Report, in which she shared her father’s philosophy that it was important to take a few minutes out of each day to help others.
“It takes so little of our time to be concerned about somebody else,” said Smith, who has been a strong advocate for the homeless population. “I really try to make a concerted effort in my daily life to not forget that I’m very fortunate and everybody isn’t as fortunate as I am.”
Smith’s favorite way to quiet her mind is to sit in the intricately carved wooden chair at the entrance to Founders Chapel, the same seat that previously belonged to Mother Hill. She often tells people, if they truly want to experience the essence of the USD, they should start by sitting in that chair.
“When I needed to think through something, or when I needed spiritual support or guidance, I’d sit in that chair,” Smith says. “I still do it to this day.”
Smith has had a special connection to and cherished memories with each president who has taken the helm at USD. With Author E. Hughes, she recalls singing in the choir during his first Lessons and Carols, which is still a Christmas tradition on the campus. She introduced the president to her brother who, as it turned out, was his former student when he taught economics at Northern Arizona University.
She bonded with Alice B. Hayes over the fact that both of their fathers came from Ireland. When Smith completed her 10th year on the School of Nursing committee, Dr. Hayes held a reception in the French Parlor in her honor.
“It shows what a kind and thoughtful person she was,” Smith recalled. “She’s extraordinary and will always have a special place in my heart.”
When Dr. Mary E. Lyons became president, Smith took her on a tour of the Linda Vista community and introduced her to a gentleman from the local Hmong refugee community who later spoke at her inauguration.
“During our tour, I took Mary Lyons to a part of the neighborhood with military housing and she said she grew up in military housing and immediately felt at home in the community,” Smith recalls. “I had great respect for Dr. Lyons. She was so committed to USD’s Catholic philosophy and was willing to defend it at all costs.”
Smith also has a fondness for USD’s current president, James T. Harris, who graduated from her alma mater, the University of Toledo.
“We’re both Rockets,” she says, with great pride. “We talk about 10-Mile Creek and all sorts of things. Jim Harris has brought so many things to USD that are timely for today including a leadership dedicated to social justice, community enhancement and bringing USD out into the community in a very direct way.”
Her memories closely correspond with USD’s history and, as Smith thinks back on her decades-long relationship with the campus and its community, she’s grateful to be an honorary Torero.
“I’m so humbled to have known the people I know at USD and, as I look at the future of my life, I can’t imagine it without the influence of the USD family,” she says. “Thank you, to the university, for what you’ve meant to me. How else would I have been able to meet Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama? How else would I have been able to eat one of President Clinton’s apples? I’ve experience so many wonderful things in my life — and it’s all because I’ve been a part of USD.” — Krystn Shrieve
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