Doug Rae’s remembrance of Bill Smith

Rev. William Smith, in memoriam

Some time in 2002 I was reading the Williams class notes (thank you, Paul Neely) when I discovered that my freshman roommate, Bill Smith, had died. In the short obituary it said he had graduated from Harvard Divinity School and served as a Navy chaplain. The fact that I was totally surprised by this says more about me than about Bill.

When I arrived at the ground floor suite in Williams C that early September day in 1964, Bill had already claimed the single bedroom. He had flown in from Oklahoma City to Albany the day before in order to arrive at the appointed day and time. Bob (Heiss) and I were left to share the double. Bob was from D.C. and I was from N.J. so we shared a common east coast upbringing that was somewhat removed from Oklahoma. I do remember giving OU its due as Bud Wilkerson-coached football teams had won 47 in a row in the 1950s; but other than that Oklahoma might as well have been a foreign country.

Bill was reserved, maybe a bit shy, although none of us was much into the party scene. There were several other students from Oklahoma in our class, and Bill spent some time with them. We didn’t overlap much. I don’t think Bill and I had any classes together freshman year, and I spent most of my afternoons on Cole Field or at the track. I do remember one winter night when the power went out and most of the entry ended up in our room just hanging out and talking. I wish we had done more of that. Perhaps I would have come to know Bill better.

At the end of freshman year Bill, Bob, and I went our separate ways to Prospect, Brooks, and Wood Houses. With Prospect and Wood Houses at the opposite ends of campus I saw Bill only infrequently over the next three years. I certainly didn’t know of his interest in religion or the strength of his faith. And, probably, if I had known it wouldn’t have meant anything to me at the time.

Since graduating, however, I spent three years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, where I attended numerous Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu/Tamil religious feasts, weddings, and funerals and learned what it is like to be alone in a foreign culture. From there, I moved on to New Zealand for three more years where I taught in a Marist Brothers high school. When I returned to the U.S., I fell in love with an orthodox Jew and have lived in a kosher home for 42 years. And on two occasions I have fasted from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan to honor Muslim friends.

Bill, I wish I had taken the time to know you better. Now, older and wiser, I think we would have a lot to talk about.

Doug Rae ‘68

Editor’s note:

Many thanks, Doug, for your contribution. We welcome similar contributions from other classmates who wish to share their memories of a classmate who is no longer with us.

One comment

  • Arthur Cambouris

    Thanks for your remembrance of Bill. Like you I was a resident of Williams C. And like you I knew Bill was a member of that Oklahoma gang that invaded the school in 1964. And like you I did not know Bill very well except that he was an affable entry mate who probably wondered what sin he had committed to end up with this entry’s melange of characters. Things changed about thirty years later when Bill and I reconnected as members of the same nyc episcopal congregation. His untimely death was very sad but his remarkable memorial service was not. Four of his very good friends celebrated his life with moving and humorous stories which made you laugh and cry at the very same time. They spoke of a warm and caring man of faith with whom they shared many happy and meaningful years. Doug, I have no doubt you and Mr. Smith would have had much to discuss.

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