Cover photo for Kathleen "Kathy" Smith's Obituary
Kathleen "Kathy" Smith Profile Photo
1945 Kathleen 2023

Kathleen "Kathy" Smith

October 9, 1945 — March 18, 2023

Kathleen White Smith passed away on March 18, 2023. Born Kathleen Nora White in Chicago, Illinois, her parents were Richard Joseph White and Grace Mary (Colburn) White, both descended from Irish immigrants. Her father was a salesman, her mother a kindergarten teacher. Growing up on Chicago’s north side, Kathy attended Our Lady of Mercy School and Immaculata High School. In most summers she enjoyed Chicago Cubs (close to home) and White Sox (across town) baseball games with her father and visiting her mother’s cousin and her family in Waupaca, Wisconsin. For her undergraduate education Kathy was a student at Mundelein College, located on the shore of Lake Michigan, where she pursued majors in French and History and graduated summa cum laude in 1967. She was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. Kathy remained forever grateful for the mentorship of Professor Elsa Copeland, who instilled in her a life-long love of French language and culture. Awarded a Fulbright Fellowship, Kathy spent the 1967–1968 academic year at the Université d’Aix-Marseille in France and traveled extensively throughout Europe. (She was heavily exposed to tear gas in riots in Paris in 1968.) She undertook graduate study at the University of Wisconsin–Madison with focus on 20th-Century French Literature, earning her Ph. D. degree in 1973. In that year Kathy began her academic career at Kalamazoo College, where she rose to the rank of Professor of Romance Languages and Literature. She taught courses in French language and literature, first-year (writing) seminars, and in her early years Italian language. She served for many years as Chair of the Division of Foreign Languages. For her excellence in teaching Kathy was awarded the Florence J. Lucasse Lectureship for Outstanding Teaching in 1993, the highest honor bestowed by the College on its teaching faculty members. She was also the first professor appointed to the rotating position of Associate Provost at the College. Kathy presented numerous papers at professional conferences and often organized or moderated panel discussions. Her scholarship encompassed trauma and historical memory (motivated in part by the presence of Holocaust survivors in her girlhood Chicago neighborhood) and immigration. She spent sabbatical leaves at Harvard University and in Strasbourg, France. Kathy received fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, Camargo Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and others. In later years Kathy provided color commentary (history and culture) during trips to France for large and small groups. When Kathy joined the faculty of the College, she was one of a small number of women professors and administrators. She never forgot the guidance of senior colleagues, especially Eleanor Pinkham and Caroline Ham. In turn, during her years as a senior faculty member, Kathy became an indispensable model, mentor, ally, and friend to women across the College community. Throughout much of her career Kathy gave well-received talks in Stetson Chapel. She was a much sought-after advocate for younger professors seeking tenure and promotion. Kathy retired from the faculty in 2019. In 1984 Kathy married Tom Smith, another Kalamazoo College professor, in Stetson Chapel. That was the beginning of a happy 38-year union. Kathy and Tom often traveled to the other’s professional meetings, and they spent sabbatical leaves together. She was welcomed into Tom’s extended family and enjoyed trips to visit his relatives. Kathy looked forward to spending time at their cabin in the North Woods of Michigan, where she was surprised by how much she loved being surrounded by nature. Other interests included visiting with faculty colleagues and current and former students, hanging out with their dogs, reading mysteries, gardening and cooking, knitting, photography, and sports (watching, that is). In January 2023 Kathy was diagnosed with vascular dementia but died from cardiac arrest in March. Tom was with her in the hospital as she left this life. She will be greatly missed by friends and family and remembered especially for her quick mind, kindness, and humor. A celebration of her life was held on September 30, 2023, on the Kalamazoo College campus.

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