James Weldon Smith III
September 7, 1933 – October 24, 2018
With great sadness, we announce the death on October 24, 2018 of James Weldon Smith, III.
Weldon was born on September 7, 1933 in Richmond, VA, the son of James Weldon Smith, Jr. and Viola Elliott Smith.
Weldon graduated Yale University (BA; 1955), Duke University Divinity School (M. Div.), and Northwestern University (PhD, Garrett; 1962).
While obtaining his PhD, Weldon served as a Methodist minister in Oregon, IL. He pursued his love for the humanities as professor of Philosophy and Religion at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, IL where he taught from 1962-1980. Weldon was active in the civil rights movement, raised funds for the NAACP, and attended Martin Luther King’s Washington, D.C.’s “I have a Dream” speech.
His appreciation for the arts then led him to a path of teaching and leadership roles in the arts community. He served as a professor at J.F. Kennedy University in Orinda, CA (1980-1981); Director of the Fiberworks Center for the Textile Arts in Berkeley, CA (1981-1987), and Director of the San Francisco (California) Craft and Folk Art Museum from 1987 to his retirement in 2002.
During these roles he took every opportunity to lead, teach and curate, serving as a board member of the California Association of Museums, instructor the Art Institute of Chicago, and as a consultant to the California Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
An avid lover of African art, Weldon loved to explain to all around him the beauty and meaning of art that was new to them. He curated numerous exhibitions of African art across the nation. Upon his retirement, the City and County of San Francisco formally designated March 26, 2002 as “J. Weldon Smith Day.”
In July of 1955, Weldon married the love his life, Nancy Linnaea Lee (Bennington College ’55), to whom he remained married for 63 years. Weldon is survived by his wife Nancy, his children Marshall Taylor Smith (Lake Geneva, WI) and Christian Linnaea Smith (San Mateo, CA), and his sister, Charlotte Smith Edge (Raleigh, NC).
In 1980, Weldon and his family moved to San Francisco, CA where he and Nancy spent countless evenings and weekends redesigning several homes. In 1999, Weldon and Nancy purchased a home in the wine country of Kenwood, California where they spent much of their time. Following a lifelong love and fascination with Mexico and its culture, Weldon and Nancy bought and rebuilt a home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in 2006. They spent half of the year in San Miguel de Allende where they discovered new friends and adventures.
Weldon was a remarkable man with a gentle, kind and patient spirit. He had a gracious word, a receptive smile and an outreached hand for anyone and everyone with whom he came in contact. All those who knew him were touched by the way he found beauty, humor and meaning in the most ordinary things of life. His extraordinary wit, intelligence and respect for others enriched the lives of those who knew him and will never be forgotten. He led a robust and rich life.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that any donations be made to the Alzheimer’s Association.
James Weldon Smith III
December 30, 2020
Professor Smith offered a one-semester course titled “Ethics” in which I enrolled in 1964 at MacMurray College. It was a very demanding course requiring the reading of difficult (for me) books on philosophy and a great deal of student participation during formal class meetings. I was an Economics-Business major, not a Philosophy major. Yet, Professor Smith’s class has had a greater impact on my personal and professional life over the last 55+ years than any other class I took at MacMurray. The class was a real bear, but was extremely enlightening on several levels. Professor Smith’s reserved, non-threatening, but pleasant manner greatly aided the learning process.
June 16, 2020
Dr. Smith was my faculty advisor when I majored in philosophy and religion at MacMurray College, class of ‘73. It was through a humanities class he taught that convinced me to pursue this major. He, in his quiet way, allowed me to study and learn to think and discern from the subjects I studied. He never judged, only asked thought provoking questions. But the best part about J Weldon Smith was when he would give the knowing smile/smirk when he appreciated and acknowledged a well thought comment or response to a question he put forth.
When I think back, Dr. Smith has the most lasting impact upon my college career and I will always remember him with great affection. I will also remember babysitting for his children.
Dr. Bob Zellmann
December 7, 2019
I am sorry to hear of Dr Smiths passing. He was my first philosophy professor at MacMurray College in Jacksonville IL, in 1978, and along with Dr Palmer is the reason I am now a philosophy prof. I cannot say enough good things about the man, and what he did for me. He was a model of how to be a person. I will never forget his kindness, and what ideas and possibilities he opened for me in the classroom. I’ll never forget his first homework assignment in existentialism, “ What is the difference between you and a rutabaga?” I didn’t get it, it but once I did, there’s was no looking back. Sorry.
Gerry or Carole Max
July 22, 2019
Weldon and Nancy Smith were our neighbors while we lived on Vallejo Street in San Francisco from 1986 until 1989. Both were congenial, giving people. Carole and I met Weldon once at an exhibition of Eskimo art at a gallery off Market Street near the Embarcadero. We also ran into Nancy once at an exhibit of Frieda Kahlo's work at Fort Mason. Both Nancy and Weldon had a love of art that was apparent, and I always benefited from their views. I only wish that I had gotten to know both of them better. Carole and I will miss you, Weldon--to know a gentleman as fine as you resides in this world.
author, Horizon Chasers--The Lives and Adventures of Richard Halliburton and Paul Mooney (McFarland, 2007)
May 19, 2019
My husband was in Divinity School with Weldon. He served the Stem UMC when the Smiths were in Butner. They often rode to Durham together and we shared many meals with them. They were our friends. I was sorry to learn of Weldon's death. Vernon, my husband, died in Decemter 2018. I live in Raleigh, NC.
October 31, 2018
I was always in awe of my cousin Weldon. He was 12 years older, and I, as a child, thought my teenaged cousin was oh-so handsome. When I entered the ordained ministry, I was very aware of following in the footsteps of my Uncle Jimmy Smith and Weldon, both Methodist pastors. Weldon had such a sharp mind and his readiness to share his expertise in art and in social justice opened up my world. My family was privileged to spend time with him and Nancy in the San Francisco area. They loved introducing us to their favorite museums and wineries. And yes, Weldon always remained oh-so handsome. May he now take his rest in the Arms of Mercy in the land across the Jordan.
Lovingly, Cousin Barbara
October 31, 2018
We were so lucky to have had Weldon among us. I studied with him for years, listened and talked with him for decades after. More than philosophy, more than art, each encounter with Weldon helped me learn how to savor and love all kinds of people. He embraced others with such warmth, passion, humor. His stories are the stuff of legend. How shall we collect and retell them?