Robert Smith receives award for outstanding volunteer service to Columbia

Thursday, April 26, 2012 | 6:02 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Former mayor and state Rep. Robert C. Smith has been selected to receive the fourth annual Howard B. Lang Jr. Award for outstanding volunteer service to the city of Columbia.

The award is given each year to a resident for outstanding volunteer efforts that benefit the city. It's presented in honor of Howard B. Lang, Jr., who served as Columbia's mayor from 1953 to 1957.

It will be given at the city's volunteer reception May 18 at the Sunrise Optimist Club building.

Smith was mayor of Columbia from 1961 to 1962, and he served as a state representative in the Missouri General Assembly in 1954, where he was the youngest speaker pro-tem in Missouri's history at the time.

He has also been involved in a number of community organizations, including the Missouri Symphony Society, the State Historical Society of Missouri, the Boone County Bar Association and the Missouri chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"I’ve always felt an obligation to the community because it’s the responsibility of a lawyer to get involved in public service," Smith said. "I appreciate what Columbia has done for me. Columbia has been good to me and I feel like I should give something back."

Smith said Lang was his mentor when Smith was starting out in his law practice.

John Baker, trust specialist for the New Century Fund of Columbia, which gives the award, said the recipient is nominated by a varied selection committee that includes government officials and private citizens.

Carole Sue DeLaite, co-president of the Missouri Symphony Society, knows Smith because of his involvement in the organization. Smith has been a member and a donor for 43 years and has served as president and board member of the society.

"He’s been a supporter with the historical society and a mainstay of the Democratic Party," DeLaite said. She added that he serves on the board of the Stafford Foundation, where he was helpful in securing a grant for the restoration of the Missouri Theater.

"He’s a very active fellow ... He loves the Columbia community. He grew up here and his family has been in the community for several generations," DeLaite said. "He’s knowledgeable, thoughtful and candid, which I think is important to someone who’s active."

Smith began practicing with the Smith Lewis law firm in 1959 and retired in 1991. Doug Crews, executive director of the Missouri Press Association, said he knew Smith when he served as lawyer for the organization. 

"He made many contributions to help support and sustain the press associations as far as newspapers of Missouri," Crews said, adding that they have both been involved with the State Historical Society of Missouri, where Smith served as president, and Crews was on the board of trustees and executive committee.  

"I’ve seen his volunteerism in action at the State Historical Society of Missouri, and I know he’s passionate about that organization and its mission. He’d be the one to volunteer," Crews said.

Smith was also responsible for initiating the preservation of the Gordon tract, now known as Grindstone Park.

He led efforts to establish a legal aid program for those who could not afford legal assistance in the county and sponsored legislation to establish the Missouri Commission on Human Rights.

"He’s very faithful to his tasks. Its that kind of spirit that we celebrate him being honored for this award," Baker said.

Past recipients of the Lang Award include Dave Griggs, chairman of Regional Economic Development Inc., former city councilman Ed Kaiser and former mayor Darwin Hindman. The winner is presented with a plaque and $1,000. 

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