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1944 Jim Smith 2024

James F. Smith

August 21, 1944 — May 28, 2024


Shrewsbury - Jim Smith devoted his life to making the world a better place and inspiring young people to do the same. A student of history, Jim thought deeply about the big issues of his time such as racial injustice, war, and educational inequities, and worked tirelessly to address them all. Thanks to the example of his parents, Leon and Antoinette Smith, and a strong faith in God, Jim believed from an early age in the possibility of a peaceful world with equal opportunity for all. As a high school student during the Civil Rights Movement, he helped integrate the Atlanta Public Schools. As a college student and young professional, he was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. In subsequent years, he led teenagers on Outward Bound trips and Boy Scout adventures throughout New England. Throughout his life, he challenged himself and others to be better than they otherwise thought they could be. 

Jim left this world on Tuesday, May 28, 2024 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston with his wife Marcia, and children Chris and Emily at his side, having lived nearly 80 wonderful years.

James F. Smith was born on August 21, 1944 in Atlanta, Georgia to Rev. Dr. Charles Leon Smith and Sarah Antoinette (McDonald) Smith, the second of four boys. While in high school, Jim was a committed Boy Scout and travelled to the International Scouting Jamboree in the Philippines. He spent his junior year living in Stockholm, Sweden as part of the International Christian Youth Exchange, and won multiple state championships in cross country and track in both Georgia and Tennessee. Jim helped integrate Brown High School in Atlanta and stood up to bullying, intimidation, and even death threats from fellow white students and their parents. Jim’s father was a Methodist minister who spoke publicly against segregation in the church, and worked with other religious leaders like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to knock down racial barriers throughout Atlanta in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Jim traveled north to Harvard University for college, where he became an All-Ivy League cross country and track and field athlete, while majoring in history and residing at Dunster House. During his senior year, he met his eventual wife, Marcia D. Lees, herself a senior at neighboring Simmons College in Boston. Upon learning that Marcia planned to pursue a master’s degree in Education at Columbia University in New York City, Jim put his plan to join the Peace Corps on hold and took a job at the United Nations. After a year of dating in the Big Apple, the couple became engaged that spring and married on July 27, 1968 in Marcia’s hometown of Somerset, MA, with Jim’s father as co-officiant. 
 With the Vietnam War escalating in the late 60’s, Jim appeared before multiple draft boards to announce his objection to war and violence of any kind, a commitment he had first made in fourth grade. As an alternative to military service, Jim worked at the Lyman School for Boys, a residential program for troubled teens in Northborough, MA. While there, he not only taught classes in history and English, he led the boys on strenuous wilderness excursions in all four seasons, teaching them discipline and self-reliance and leading them onto the path of right decisions.

Having found his calling working with young people, when his service at the Lyman School ended, he accepted a job teaching high school history and coaching cross country and track in Hudson, MA. His son Chris was born in 1973, and the long jump pit at Hudson High School became his son’s first sandbox where he mingled with young athletes at Midland League track meets. Jim’s daughter Emily came along in 1976, completing their family of four (along with their dog Buddy). The family resided on Merriam Ave in Shrewsbury, MA, across the street from Mountain View Cemetery and the First Congregational Church. 

Having grown up in the church as the son of a Methodist minister, Jim and his family became active members of the First Congregational Church. He served on the Board of Deacons, Building Committee, several call committees (including the one that hired Rev. Paul Adkins in 1983), organized a youth group mission trip to New Orleans with his son Chris, and consulted on the church’s 300th anniversary events as local historian and Artemas Ward scholar, just this past year. In fact, Jim wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Artemas Ward in an empty office below the church steeple, overlooking the Shrewsbury town common. He attended church regularly with his wife, Marcia, right up until he passed. 

Jim’s own passion for history and adventure led him and his young family to Boulder, CO in 1980, where he earned a master’s degree in American history from the University of Colorado. Two years later, the Smiths returned to Boulder for Jim to pursue a doctorate under renowned colonial and Seven Years’ War historian Fred Anderson, who inspired Jim’s Artemas Ward scholarship. During his time in Colorado, Jim took the family hiking in the Rockies, camping in Canada, on multiple cross country road trips, and even to the 1985 NBA Finals in Los Angeles to see their beloved Celtics play the Lakers. The family’s time in the Rockies fueled Jim’s own athletic ambitions, as he raced multiple Bolder Boulder 10K’s, the Peak-to-Peak Marathon, won the prestigious Imogene Pass trail race from Ouray to Telluride, and ran a marathon up and down Pikes Peak… twice. By the time the Smiths returned to Massachusetts in the mid 80’s, Jim had raced more than 20 marathons, including a dozen Boston Marathons as a member of the Greater Boston Track Club popularized by Bill Rodgers. He was an active member of the “Friends of Harvard Track” alumni organization.

Back in Shrewsbury, Jim settled into life as a husband and father. His wife Marcia became an elementary teacher and curriculum specialist at Spring Street School, where his kids attended. Jim coached his kids’ little league and soccer teams, served as Scoutmaster of Troop 114, and was the unofficial photographer for family events and milestones, ultimately inspiring his daughter’s passion for photography and career as a photojournalist. He taught Advanced Placement U.S. History at Leominster High School for many years, where he started a student and teacher exchange program with a high school near St. Peterburg, Russia. Each year, a class of Russian students visited Leominster (and later Weston, when Jim taught there), and their American counterparts visited Russia for up to two weeks at a time. Jim’s goal was to help breakdown the negative perceptions each country held about the other in the aftermath of the Cold War, and to build bridges of peace and understanding into the future. 

The highlight of Jim’s teaching career came at the very end, during his last seven years teaching American History at Weston High School. Jim was invigorated by a young and passionate faculty, a socially aware community, and a highly engaged student body that affectionately referred to him as “Doc.” He inspired in his students a curiosity about the past and encouraged each of them to research their own unique topics (as he had found inspiration in the life of Artemas Ward) during “National History Day” competitions throughout Massachusetts and the country. Jim did not merely teach students what to see, he taught them how to look, and saw the future in the eyes of each of his students.

One of the reasons “Doc” became such an influential history teacher was that he didn’t simply teach his students about acts of generosity and kindness in the past, he modeled them during his own life, in the present. He twice travelled to New Orleans to assist in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. He waved camp fees for runners that couldn’t afford it. And in 2001, he donated a kidney to John Delehanty, the husband of Marcia’s college friend, Judy Prince. The successful transplant took place at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital on August 24, and ever since, the couples shared an annual tradition of celebrating the donation together on Cape Cod. This August would have marked their 23rd celebration of life. 

Jim’s contributions to the classrooms of Massachusetts did not end with his retirement from Weston in 2006. He and Marcia visited elementary schools throughout Shrewsbury, revisiting the role of Artemas and Sarah (Trowbridge) Ward, teaching students about Ward’s vibrant life as a judge, land developer, and father of eight children in Shrewsbury, but most spectacularly, as the first commander of the colonial army during the Revolutionary War, prior to George Washington. Jim was an active member of the Sudbury Men of Militia and Minute, serving as the regiment’s flag bearer for Lexington and Concord reenactments each April, a nod to his lifetime commitment to pacifism. In 2015, Jim and Marcia received the Shrewsbury History Award from the Shrewsbury Historical Society for bringing the story of Artemas and Sarah Ward to life for a generation of young learners.

Perhaps Jim’s greatest contribution to the youth of Shrewsbury came in athletics, as he served as boys cross country coach at Shrewsbury High School for thirty-three years, as well as an assistant coach for both indoor and outdoor track & field during several of those years. He and his son, Chris (himself a history teacher and distance running coach) established the Rocky Mountain Cross-Country Camp in 2008, and have welcomed runners to their adopted home of Colorado each summer since. Highlighting the Shrewsbury team’s accomplishments during Jim’s tenure were numerous Mid-Wach League titles, a third-place finish at the 2012 Massachusetts state meet, and John Murray’s individual state cross country championship in 2010. 

But outside of the accolades, what made Jim’s program unique was the sense of inclusion and belonging he engendered for every runner on the team, no matter how fast or slow. His legendary “Coach’s Corners,” penned after every dual meet, praised both the efforts of the varsity scorers and those struggling to finish in equal measure. Jim inspired a large community of parent involvement, including weekly pasta parties, held at runners’ homes on the eve of races, elaborate end-of-the-year awards banquets, and huge cheering sections at meets that dwarfed those of other schools around the state. His wife Marcia was beloved by the boys and their families as Mrs. Coach for her constant presence and booming voice of encouragement. Jim motivated scores of his athletes to continue running in college and throughout their lives. Many became his assistant coaches including Curt Gustafson, Dan Mortimer, and Wayne Carey. This is his greatest legacy.

Among other hobbies, Jim loved to hike, fish, travel to St. Augustine, Florida during the winter, and the McDonald family reunion during the summer. He loved visiting his daughter Emily, son-in-law Sean, and grandkids Griffin, Hallie, and Dylan in Jonesboro, Arkansas whenever he could. He and Marcia were so close, his grandkids referred to them simply as “MamaPa.” Jim’s final months were filled with love and support from his family, church community, and running alumni, as his mobility suffered from interstitial lung disease and the complications from multiple hospitalizations. The outpouring of support did not go unnoticed by his kids and the love of his life, Mrs. Coach.

All in all, the world is better place for having had Jim Smith in it. Like his parents, he used his time on Earth to identify what was most important, and do what he could to change or improve it, while inspiring others to act similarly. He gave as much as he could with the time he had.

In addition to his wife of 55 years, Marcia, he leaves his children, Christopher J. Smith of Brookline and his girlfriend, Kathryn McArdle of Winchester and Emily E. Allen and her husband, Sean of Jonesboro, Arkansas; his grandchildren, Griffin, Halcyon and Dylan Allen; his brothers, Don Smith (Elaine) of Lawrenceville, Georgia, Mark Smith of St. Augustine, Florida and the late Andrew Smith; his brother-in-law, Barry Lees (Barbara) of Williamsville, New York; and many nieces & nephews. 

Family and friends will honor and remember Jim’s life by gathering for calling hours in The Parlor of First Congregational Church, 19 Church Road on Thursday, June 13th from 4 to 7 p.m. His funeral service will be celebrated on Friday, June 14th at 10 a.m. in the church. The Rev. Holly MillerShank will officiate. Inurnment will follow in the Columbarium at Mountain View Cemetery, Shrewsbury followed by a collation in Gifford Hall at the church.

A livestream of Jim's service will be available here:

In lieu of flowers expressions of sympathy may be made to The Smith Family Cross Country Scholarship, in c/o Christopher Smith, 80 York Terrace, Brookline, MA 02446 or The International Rescue Committee

Arrangements by James + John Heald of The Joyce Funeral Home, 245 Main Street, Waltham. 

Service Schedule

Past Services

Calling Hours

Thursday, June 13, 2024

4:00 - 7:00 pm (Eastern time)

The Parlor of First Congregational Church

19 Church Rd, Shrewsbury, MA 01545

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Funeral Service

Friday, June 14, 2024

Starts at 10:00 am (Eastern time)

First Congregational Church

19 Church Rd, Shrewsbury, MA 01545

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Friday, June 14, 2024

Morey Chapel Columbarium at Mountain View Cemetery

22 Boylston St, Shrewsbury, MA 01545

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Friday, June 14, 2024

Gifford Hall at First Congregational Church

19 Church Rd, Shrewsbury, MA 01545

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