Former President Ray Smith Dies at 101

Sunset on Lake Superior
Sunset on Lake Superior
Former Michigan Tech President Raymond L. Smith (1965-79) died Sept. 18. He was 101.
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One of Michigan Technological University's most influential leaders and fiercest supporters, Ray Smith, has died.

The Michigan Tech community is mourning the passing of one of the most significant individuals in the University’s history. Raymond L. Smith, Michigan Tech’s president from 1965 to 1979, passed away peacefully on Tuesday, Sept. 18, at his home in Green Valley, Arizona. He was 101.

Born and raised in the small town of Vanceboro, Maine, Smith earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alaska and a PhD in metallurgical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.

A World War II veteran, Smith was working as a technical director and head of solid state physics at the Franklin Institute of Research in Philadelphia when he left to come to Michigan Tech in 1959. He served as chair of the Department of Metallurgical Engineering for six years before becoming the University’s sixth president in 1965.

Under Smith, the University experienced unprecedented growth in terms of enrollment. During his tenure, enrollment grew from 3,400 students in 1965 to nearly 8,000 in 1979. Faculty numbers nearly doubled during that period as well, and nearly 66 percent of the faculty had PhDs, compared to 27 percent in 1964.

Formal headshot of Raymond Smith
Raymond Smith was one of Michigan Technological University's most influential leaders and fiercest supporters.

Unprecedented growth

The University’s physical growth under Smith was impressive as well, with the Administration Building, Electrical Energy Resources Center, Noblet Forestry Building, Chemical Sciences and Engineering Building, Student Development Complex, McNair Residence Halls, the Gates Tennis Center, Upper Daniell Heights Apartments and the Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics Building (later named the Raymond L. Smith Building) constructed or acquired during his presidency.

Perhaps just as significant was Smith’s creation of a culture of philanthropy at Michigan Tech.

In a 2016 interview for Michigan Tech Magazine, Smith said, “When I came here I was told, ‘You can’t talk about money. You can talk about hockey, but we don’t raise money here.’” That was soon to change. Smith quickly established a foundation to benefit the University. “We were only taking in about $30,000 a year (in contributions) when I got here,” Smith said. “It didn’t take long to make it millions.” In addition to philanthropy, research dollars increased 250 percent during Smith’s tenure.

University President Richard Koubek said Smith was one of the most influential figures in Michigan Tech’s history. “Just walking through campus, it’s impossible not to see evidence of President Smith’s accomplishments. Michigan Tech is what it is today, in large part, because of Ray Smith.”

Photo of Ray Smith
 Ray Smith's positive influence on the University lasted long after his retirement in 1979.

Smith retired from the University in 1979, but in many ways he never really left. He served as an advisor to University presidents Dale Stein, Curt Tompkins and Glenn Mroz, and was active in promotion and fundraising for the University up to the end of his life.

Eric Halonen, assistant vice president for advancement, said in Michigan Tech Magazine that he met with Smith at least once a year since the late 1990s. “Ray continue[d] to have a strong network of Copper Country friends and former employees. In recent years, several members of his leadership team have made major gifts,” Halonen said.

As a reminder of Smith’s impact on the University, the Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics building bears his name, as does the award presented annually to Michigan Tech’s outstanding male and female athletes.

A memorial service to honor Raymond L. Smith will be held at a later date.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.

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