At the urging of President-elect Eugene Pettis, the Bar’s new Leadership Academy, which kicks off at the Bar Annual Convention, will be known at the Wm. Reece Smith, Jr., Leadership Academy.
In a move that touched Bar President Gwynne Young, who was mentored by Smith, Pettis got the Bar Board of Governors at its May 31 meeting to approve the name change. It was unanimously recommended to the board by the Program Evaluation Committee.
“The life that that man lived seemed to be multiple lives,” Pettis told the board.
He said the goal of the academy is to train younger lawyers not only to be leaders in the legal profession but also in their communities. “I could not think of a life that better embodies that goal of the academy than Wm. Reece Smith, Jr.,” he added.
Smith, who died in January, had been president of The Florida Bar, the ABA, and the International Bar Association; served as an interim president of the University of South Florida; and taught law classes.As ABA president, he fought proposed cuts in federal funding to legal services.
“I thought there could be nobody . . . that we could aspire to, as we unfold this [Leadership Academy] curriculum for hopefully years and years to come, than Wm. Reece Smith,” he said.
Speaking after the vote, and with her voice breaking with emotion, Young thanked Pettis for the action, adding, “I think the other reason why Reece was a good choice is there is probably no other person of his generation who did so much for diversity and inclusion.”
Smith hired the first African-American assistant city attorney for Tampa. At Carlton Fields, Smith hired Sylvia Walbolt in 1964 as the firm’s first woman lawyer, and Eric Griffin as the firm’s first African-American attorney in 1969. By the time Young joined that firm in 1977, it already had African-American and women partners.
“I think our firm has a culture of diversity and inclusion because of him,” she said. “So thank you.”