Patricia "Pat" Smith, 67, professor emeritus of English, died Sunday, July 11 in Albuquerque. Smith taught English at UNM for 32 years – from 1971 to 2003. Her courses included Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, as well as American literature and creative writing. A memorial service is set at the University of New Mexico Alumni Chapel Tuesday, July 20 at 5 p.m. The public is invited to attend.
Gail Houston, chair, UNM Department of English, said, "Pat was an honest, supportive and kind colleague. She was a lot of fun to be around – bright and quick. I couldn't ask for a better colleague. She never engaged in any one-upmanship. She knew she was very good and didn't have to compete. She knew her value and enjoyed making others feel good."
Professor Wanda Martin remembers meeting Smith. "She always welcomed everyone and everything new. She was introduced to me by the chair as the department's ‘designated nice person.' She gathered me up, took me home, and made me a part of the family. She made me, fresh out of graduate school, a part of this place from the first day."
"I have finger puppets from Pat. There was a time when my office was the only one in the English department without mice. Pat, who loved animals, thought that was a deprivation for me. She gave me three white mice finger puppets – a silly gift, but one of my favorites," Martin said.
Martin said that one of Smith's greatest skills was the way she encouraged people who might not otherwise develop a belief in themselves to explore their gifts and tell their stories. "Among those people are some of the best known writers, scholars and poets of our generation. Paula Gunn Allen was one of her first Ph.D. students, for example. A lot of people have done important writing, people who wouldn't have done so without her praise and encouragement, Martin said.
Smith's son Caleb, a UNM graduate, said he remembers her sense of curiosity and impulse to explore the world and her environment. "I remember driving with her west of the city on I-40. She pulled off the road to show me a stretch of the highway that was part of old Route 66 – the old Grapes of Wrath road. She saw the state as a place of history and exploration," he said.
Smith added, "She had a way of relooking at the familiar – she had her own angle on things. She didn't just drive by anything, but rather saw a sense of magic in the world."
Smith said that his mother was equally comfortable talking to scholars and grocery store clerks. "She talked to all on the same level and treated them all with the same kindness, openness, interest and respect."
An old UNM news bureau report dated June 2, 1971 said that Smith came as a visiting assistant professor of English for the 1971-72 academic year. At the time, she was married to Warren Smith, who was also joining the UNM faculty in Modern Languages.
They divorced and Smith later married John Crawford, associate professor of English at UNM-Valencia. He is now retired.
Crawford recalled their collaboration with three others on Western Literature in a World Context, as an important project. But, as a small publisher with West End, Crawford said Smith helped him locate authors.
"Our interests coincided and she knew more people – Native American writers like Paula Gunn Allen, Laura Tohe and Luci Tapahonso. It was valuable for the writers who needed a book. Their books were successful and Pat was important in every aspect of it. She knew it all - everything from the knowledge of the writers to the actual editing," Crawford said.
Crawford was inspired by Smith's teaching ability. "She had an enormous gift as a teacher. I couldn't touch her with her gift as a teacher. It gave me an understanding of what you could accomplish in a classroom."
Crawford said that Smith possessed an unselfish love toward others. "She had a miraculous ability with and for other people. Without taking credit for anything, she moved people from one point to another. The growth of their thought, ideas and even careers happened in part through contact with her. She was of a generation of teachers who really came in to teach. Professionalism wasn't the first word to come out when referring to teaching; it was more of an art and she exemplified that. I take a lot of heart in that. She left the profession in honor," he said.
Smith attended Smith College as a scholarship student, graduating with a B.A. in 1964, and Yale University from 1964 to 1970, when she was awarded a Ph.D. in English. Smith began to expand her interests in Native American studies. One of her early Ph.D. students, Laguna Pueblo author Paula Gunn Allen, published a revised version of her doctoral dissertation, The Sacred Hoop, a ground¬breaking approach to feminist stud¬ies in Native American Literature, in 1986. Among Smith's companions was Native American writers Joy Harjo, Leslie Marmon Silko, Simon Ortiz and Luci Tapahonso. She published the first book of her own poems, Talking to the Land, in 1979.
She published her second book of poems, Changing Your Story, in 1991. Smith and her husband John Crawford joined UNM Professors Paul Davis, David Johnson and Gary Harrison in editing and publishing Western Literature in a World Context, a two-volume college anthology, in 1995. She also published As Long as the Rivers Flow: Stories of Nine Native Americans, with Paula Gunn Allen in 1996; On the Trail of Older Brother: Glous'gap Sto¬ries of the Micmac Indians, with Michael RunningWolf in 2000; and a younger reader's biography, Weetamoo: Heart of the Pocassets, for Scholastic Publishers in 2003.