Friends, family members, and admirers packed St. John’s Episcopal Church in Crawfordsville Thursday to say goodbye to and celebrate the life of a good man.

An honorary alumnus of Wabash, he exemplified the Gentleman’s Rule that is the single code of conduct here.

But “a good man” is still the first description that comes to mind when people ask me about Jim Smith H’50, who died July 15 at Marquette Manor in Indianapolis at the age of 91.

“Jim lived his faith,” Rev. Jan Oller said. “Jim was kind and caring. He was gracious and a “gentleman” in all senses of the word.

“Life was what it was he did what he needed to do.”

A good man.

I had been a member at St. John’s for almost a year before I realized Jim and his wife, Susie, had sent four sons to Wabash. Then it made sense to me—why Jim would frequently stop me after the worship service to talk about the importance of the liberal arts. He read the College magazine I edit, had a suggestion or two, but mostly was simply encouraging. Our conversations brought together our shared faith, as well as our shared passion for this form of education.

Jim made sure his sons received that education. He had earned his engineering degree at Purdue, but often told me he wished he had been taught in the liberal arts.

“The study of the liberal arts gives students today an opportunity to confront the questions about what they really believe,’ he once said. “It also gives them skillsets in writing, in thinking things through, and having an opportunity to debate those questions with other students and faculty.”

I think he spent his life creating that sort of education for himself, and living out its virtues.

Giving back and serving the community were just as important to Jim.

“If you are successful in life or business, you should always give back as much as you can. It’s what people should do,” he said.

And so he did. Jim helped build the philanthropic infrastructure of the whole county, and his legacy will continue to support people and programs here for years to come.

I saw part of that work at St. John’s and at Wabash.

But what I remember best about Jim was the way he carried himself through all this. He had a reassuring smile and the quiet charisma of a man of faith making sure what needs to be done gets done. He made others in the room want to do the same.

From what I hear, he carried that grace to his last days.

“Despite his failing health over these last several years, he still held onto hope and faith,” Rev. Oller said. “Faith is a daily choice made anew every morning. Jim didn’t complain but waited quietly for his Lord, even as he was less able to do everyday things. He didn’t complain about needing a walker. He still cared for Susie, visiting her in her new surroundings even when doing so meant he needed to rest once he traveled from his apartment to hers.”

His honorary alumnus citation reads in part, “you model for younger generations what it means to be a service-minded citizen, and this community is stronger and more robust because of your love and dedication.”

He did with grace what he needed to do—in work, in play, in love.

A good man.

—Steve Charles

Read more:

• Rev. Jan Oller’s homily for the Celebration of the Life of James. G. Smith

Honorary alumni citation for Jim and Susie Smith

Story and photos from Wabash Homecoming Alumni Chapel 2014 naming Jim and Susie Smith honorary alumni;

Journal-Review obituary