Luther E. Smith, Jr.’s trademark combination of wisdom, passion, and humility has left an indelible impression on Candler and the world—an impression whose echo still resounds even after Smith’s retirement as professor of church and community this past August.

An activist, scholar, and teacher, Smith spent 35 years at Candler shaping ecclesial and societal leaders, impressing upon them the need for justice and inclusivity and teaching them how to actively work toward transformation in the world around them. And as he shaped Candler’s students, Smith shaped the institution itself.

Carol Newsom, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament, calls Smith “the quiet conscience of the faculty…Luther’s moral authority was so strong that he didn’t have to raise his voice. But when he spoke the truth, we recognized it.”

In addition to being known as a leading scholar of Howard Thurman, Smith is known as a champion of community. “One of the things I've stressed with students over the years is that concern for the community is not an elective,” he says. “It's fundamental to what we see as the call for faithfulness.”

True to that call, Smith has worked as a humanitarian and activist everywhere from homeless shelters and welfare agencies to boardrooms and government buildings in his effort to create meaningful change. His experience informed his teaching, and he challenged his students to expand their thinking and push their boundaries—but he did so by first providing them with a secure foundation of compassion. He wanted his students to know he cared about them, not just their performance in class.

Smith’s power to produce lasting impressions on his students is one reason he has garnered numerous teaching accolades, including the 2010 Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award, Emory University’s highest award for excellence in teaching. There is no doubt that he will continue to empower and inspire as he seeks to make the city of Atlanta his new classroom.

Photo credit: Cindy Brown 09T