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Thursday, May 11, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Donald Smith was a pioneer at Washington

Seattle Times staff reporter

Donald K. Smith, who was a pioneer in athletic administration during a 25-year career at the University of Washington, died Monday at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle after a long illness. He was 75.

Mr. Smith was one of the first African-Americans employed in athletic administration at a major university in the country when he was named as the assistant athletic director at UW in 1971. He later served as associate athletic director and was promoted to senior associate athletic director in 1989, a position he held until retiring in 1995.

"He carried the torch for a whole generation of African-American athletes here," said UW associate athletic director Chip Lydum, who is in his 21st year at UW. "He had a direct influence on a lot of individuals during an important period."

Mr. Smith was born in Keokuk, Iowa, and served in the Air Force for four years, including a stint in Korea. He was a 1959 graduate of Iowa State with a degree in technical journalism.

He was the sports and county editor at the Ames (Iowa) Tribune and also worked for United Press International prior to taking a job in 1963 at The Seattle Times, where he was a sports and urban-affairs reporter. He left the Times in 1966 to take a position with Pacific Northwest Bell and was later transferred to AT&T in New York, where he was a public-relations specialist.

He returned to Seattle in 1971 to take the job at UW, where he was hired in the wake of racial unrest that gripped the football program. Mr. Smith helped convince cornerback Calvin Jones to stay at UW rather than transfer to Long Beach State. Jones became an All-American for UW in 1972.

Former UW coach Don James recalled Wednesday that Mr. Smith accompanied former UW athletic director Joe Kearney on the initial interview James had with school officials in Cleveland in 1974. James said Mr. Smith was vital in recruiting, particularly with "kids who had issues about what had happened before."

Mr. Smith was responsible for most of the support areas of the athletic department, including oversight of the weight rooms, video services, housing and food services, recruiting and community relations.

Lorenzo Romar, who played basketball at UW from 1978 to 1980 and is now the Huskies' basketball coach, said, "He was a guy who was always trying to help you."

Former co-workers remember the stories he would tell of his childhood and his days in the military.

"He was a real personality around here because he had been through so much and he had such a great perspective," said Lydum. "It just felt like you were on the porch listening to your grandparents' stories."

Smith also was a mentor to other African-Americans who sought careers in athletic administration such as Herman Frazier, who worked in the athletic department at Arizona State for 23 years and has been the athletic director at Hawaii for the past five.

"We would have conversations about how it would be difficult for young African-Americans to be in this field,'' Frazier said. "The one thing he told me is that you just have to work – you can't take anything for granted – and that we all have to support each other as we moved throughout the business.

But he was very, very passionate about UW and the athletes there. I remember whenever we would play them, we would get off the bus and there was Don, dressed in his Husky gear.''

Mr. Smith is survived by his wife, Flossie; daughters Valerie, Leslie and Shelly Smith and Azizi Johari; and son Thaddies Bishop. He also is survived by two grandsons, JonMichael and Samuel Smith, and one brother, Alonzo Smith of Evanston, Ill.

A younger brother, Ralph Melvin Smith, preceded him in death.

The University of Washington plans a memorial for Smith but arrangements were still pending Wednesday.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the scholarship fund at New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, 409 3rd Ave. South, Kent, WA 98072.

Mr. Smith is survived by his wife, Flossie; daughters Valerie, Leslie and Shelly Smith and Azizi Johari; and son Thaddies Bishop. He also is survived by two grandsons, JonMichael and Samuel Smith, and one brother, Alonzo Smith of Evanston, Ill.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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