Dorothy Garrett Smith

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Dorothy Garrett Smith
Member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
In office
January 1988 – August 8, 1990
Succeeded by Walter C. Lee (permanent successor)
Webster Parish School Board member
In office
Personal details
Born c. 1932
Morehouse Parish
Louisiana, USA
Died August 8, 1990 (aged 58)
Shreveport, Caddo Parish
Cause of death Heart attack
Resting place Springhill Cemetery in Springhill, Louisiana
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Gerald B. Smith
Children Michael B. Smith, Gerald Garrett Smith, Timothy Lane Smith
Residence Springhill, Webster Parish
Alma mater Southern Arkansas University
Occupation School board member

Dorothy Garrett Smith (c. 1932 – August 8, 1990) was the first woman to have served as president of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which establishes and monitors education policy. Smith was the president from December 1989 until her sudden death eight months later during the administration of Governor Buddy Roemer.[1] She represented nine parishes in northwestern Louisiana: Beauregard, Bossier, Caddo, Claiborne, DeSoto, Red River, Sabine, Vernon, and her own Webster.


Smith was either a native of Bastrop in Morehouse Parish in northeast Louisiana[2] or Springhill in northernmost Webster Parish near the Arkansas state line. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, she graduated from Springhill High School and attended Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.[3] However, the Minden Press-Herald reported that she did not move to Springhill until 1957, when she was about twenty-five years of age and therefore would not have graduated from Springhill High School.[2]

Political life[edit]

A Democrat, Smith in the summer of 1970 defeated two opponents to win a seat on the Webster Parish School Board, an institution on which she served for the following sixteen years.[4] Smith was the parish school board vice-president under presidents Chester Marlon Pope (1929-1987), a Republican from Cotton Valley[5] and Henry Grady Hobbs (1923-2012) and Robert Edward "Bob" Parker, Jr. (born September 1948),[6] both from Minden.[7] During Smith's time on the parish board, several school grounds in rural communities were closed to the public for after-school use because of growing vandalism. "As far as we're spending our money for school improvements ... vandalism is tearing it all down," Smith said in expressing regret over the need for the new policy, which allows use of the school facilities for pupils only with adult supervision.[8] Roy Lee Spence, Jr. (born August 1933), also of Springhill, the first Republican ever to serve on the board,[9] said that "it breaks my heart to have to make off-limits something the children can use." He questioned the growing lack of parental control over children.[8]

Smith was elected in the primary in 1987 to the BESE board for Louisiana's 4th congressional district, since a revised configuration. She polled 86,414 votes (56.6 percent). Republican James C. Gardner, Jr., of Shreveport, the son of former Mayor James C. Gardner, polled 41,378 votes (27.1 percent). Another Democrat, Jerry Sumrall, received 24,938 votes (16.3 percent).[10]

Previously, Smith had been an aide to Governors Edwin W. Edwards and Roemer.[2] She was formerly the president of the Louisiana School Boards Association, having unseated the incumbent George Richard in 1981,[7] and the Southern Association of School Boards.[11]

Smith won the BESE presidency in 1989 by a six-to-five vote among her colleagues. A month before her death, she had narrowly survived an attempt to oust her from the presidency her colleagues, including Jesse Bankston of Baton Rouge and Carson Keith Killen of St. Amant in Ascension Parish, a former aide to the late U.S. Representative Gillis William Long of Louisiana's 8th congressional district, since disbanded.[1] Smith died in Schumpert Medical Center in Shreveport of a heart attack while undergoing treatment for leukemia. She was fifty-eight at the time of her death.[3] Roemer called Smith "a woman of great courage even in the face of debilitating illness. She continued to dedicate her life to the children."[11]

Walter C. Lee of Shreveport, the Caddo Parish school superintendent, won Smith's seat on the BESE board in a special election held on March 23, 1991. Lee prevailed with 15,161 votes (58.9 percent). Republican Sandra Worley Long trailed with 7,128 (27.7 percent), and a second Democrat, Eliot S. Knowles, Jr., held 3,460 votes (13.4 percent). Lee carried majorities or pluralities in all nine parishes in the district.[12] After twenty-three years, Lee resigned from the board in 2015 as its longest-tenured member. He was under indictment for double-billing of travel expenditures.[13]

Personal life[edit]

Smith was married to Gerald B. Smith (1932-1997),[14] the owner of a construction company in Springhill[15] and a Democratic former member of the Webster Parish Police Jury, the parish governing body, akin to the county commission in other states. He lost that position in the 1983 general election.[16] There are three surviving Smith sons, Michael B. Smith, Gerald Garrett Smith, and Timothy Lane Smith. She was a member of Central Baptist Church in Springhill. She is interred at Springhill Cemetery.[2]

The Smiths sued two physicians, Wallace Harold Brown (1913-1999)[17] and John D. Gladney, for medical malpractice in the death of Dorothy Garrett Smith. She died during a surgical procedure. The proceedings dragged on until 1999, when the case was dismissed. Gerald B. Smith died during the course of the suit. The Smith sons subsequently sued their attorneys, John B. Slattery, Jr., and James Johnson, for allegedly allowing the time to lapse in the proceedings and not informing them of developments in the legal process. In 2004, the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit in Shreveport dismissed the Smiths' case.[18]


  1. ^ a b "Dorothy Smith wins BESE presidency", Minden Press-Herald, December 15, 1989, p. 1
  2. ^ a b c d "Funeral services Saturday for state education leader", Minden Press-Herald, August 9, 1990, p. 1
  3. ^ a b "004521 Smith - Dorothy Smith". New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 9, 1990. Retrieved November 28, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Dorothy G. Smith elected to school board", Minden Press-Herald, August 17, 1970, p. 1
  5. ^ "Marlon Pope elected school board head", Minden Press-Herald, January 5, 1976, p. 1
  6. ^ "Robert Parker, September 1948". Louisiana Secretary of State. Retrieved June 22, 2015. 
  7. ^ a b "Smith New President of LSBA", Minden Press-Herald, February 9, 1981, p. 1
  8. ^ a b "School board adopts 'keep off grounds' policy", Minden Press-Herald, September 13, 1977, p. 1
  9. ^ "Roy Spence, August 1933". Louisiana Secretary of State. Retrieved June 22, 2015. [permanent dead link]
  10. ^ "Results for Election Date: 10/24/1987". Retrieved January 27, 2014. 
  11. ^ a b "Heart Attack Claims Dorothy Smith", Minden Press-Herald, August 9, 1990, p. 1
  12. ^ "Official Results for Election Date: 03/23/1991: BESE - 4th District". Retrieved January 29, 2014. 
  13. ^ Will Sentell, "BESE member under scrutiny," The Baton Rouge Advocate, January 15, 2014
  14. ^ "Gerald B. Smith (1932-1997)". Retrieved October 30, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Gerald B. Smith Construction Company". Retrieved October 30, 2015. 
  16. ^ "Results for Election Date: 11/19/1983". Louisiana Secretary of State. Retrieved October 30, 2015. 
  17. ^ "Dr. Wallace Harold Brown". Retrieved November 1, 2015. 
  18. ^ "Gerald Garrett Smith et al v. John B. Slattery, Jr. et al". June 23, 2004. Retrieved October 30, 2015.