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Vanguard: News from the College of Human Environmental Sciences

Dean Emerita Bea Litherland Smith Receives ATHENA International Leadership Award

The evening was a true gala. The crowd was large and well-dressed—the shakers and movers in our community came together in recognition of women’s leadership past, present and future, writes Bea Litherland Smith. "I was overwhelmed by what a Big Deal it really was."

Dean Emerita Bea Smith received the 2018 Athena International Leadership Award conferred by the Women’s Network of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce on May 24 at a banquet held at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo. The Athena Leadership Award focuses on personal traits of strong, successful leaders and recipients are chosen for displaying excellence, creativity and initiative in their business or profession, providing valuable service to improve the quality of life in their community and helping women reach their full leadership potential. The first ATHENA Leadership® Award was awarded in Columbia, Mo. in 1995.

Dr. Bea Smith was Dean of the College of Human Environmental Sciences from 1977 – 2001, and has long been a champion for women. At the time she was hired she was MU’s youngest Dean. Firmly at the helm in 1981 when College programs were targeted for significant budget reductions, her message was clearly articulated in a New York Times interview, "The University of Missouri will not attack and remove high quality programs of special interest to women." She rallied students and alumni in a battle to save our programs. Dr. Smith studied comparative qualitative data and vowed to fight, and the photo in the New York Times shows her standing in front of a bulletin board captioned, "Fight with facts." This effort extended over months, encompassing not only this college but also programs in Nursing, Education and Library Science, all of interest to women. In a worthy conclusion, a blue ribbon University review panel recommended Enhancement for every program in the college.

Chancellor Emeritus Richard Wallace remembered the foiled controversy and Bea’s leadership in winning that battle for our programs, writing "…I focus on this bit of history for I think in this effort Bea demonstrated at an early stage in her career at MU the extraordinarily strong leadership that ultimately led to not only saving her program but, in the remainder of her career, using her leadership to build one of the Nation’s strongest programs in the human environmental sciences."

Bea Smith was nominated by alumna Michele Phillippe Batye (HES 1991) who spoke of the "extraordinary impact she had on all of us." Dr. Ruth Brent Tofle, Chair and Professor, Architectural Studies at the University of Missouri, supported the nomination, attesting to being the benefactor of Dr. Smith’s mentoring, having been hired by her in 1980 as an assistant professor, and again, in 1984 as Chair of the Housing and Interior Design Department. Tofle writes, "If you study Bea’s resume, she was a risk-taking advocate for women and a leader from her college days to the present. She has charted new courses. She worked through times of profound changes in the status of women. She has been a leader in all of her undertakings without slackening of energy or commitment to the present day." Dr. Anne Deaton agreed: "I made it my business to carefully "study" Bea, particularly her ability to juggle divergent opinions in the interest of making the best decision and her dogged determination to protect her college, faculty, and students' interests." HES Alumni Board president Liz Townsend Bird (HES 1996) recalled that "Dean Smith’s students also benefited from her vast corporate board experience. She was a role model and talked to classes and organizations about employability."

Under her leadership, the HES male enrollment rose exponentially in programs that were good for both men and women. Dr. Smith had an uncanny ability to encourage students to attain their leadership potential in national politics, business and life. Dr. Sandy Rikoon, Dean, College of Human Environmental Sciences at MU, writes "If the characteristics of an exceptional leader include their willingness and ability to identify, nurture, and propel the next generation of leaders, then in Bea Smith you have the consummate leader…. Bea Smith went to extraordinary lengths to develop a process of training for students that continues to pay leadership dividends more than thirty years after their initiation." This list includes dozens of individuals, from Vicky Hartzler, the current 4th District Representative to U.S Congress, to Pam Nicholson, CEO of Enterprise Holding and one of the leading businesswomen in the country.

Gutsy and able to energize crowds, a trend setter and a pioneer... her message has long been one of empowerment of women. She has forged many firsts, stepping out with faith and testing her talents. She is a consummate story teller, articulate and firmly rooted in her rural Iowa upbringing. Her community service encompasses a wide range of interests from the board of the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre to Powell Gardens and the Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri and a Trustee of the State Historical Society. As the hands-on owner of commercial real estate, she has spoken out for small business owners before civic boards. She was action oriented to procure Leah, the drug-sniffing dog, for the Columbia Police Department. What is best about Bea is that she truly cares for others and is generous with her time, talent and treasure.

On May 24 Bea Smith was honored with the ATHENA award, but was also treated to an amazing surprise as well. "I was dumbstruck when the family appeared," she writes. "I knew they were vacationing in Florida and it never entered my mind that there was even a ghost of a chance that they’d be here for the presentation. Son Dave said it was hard for him to keep the secret, but he certainly did a good job of it."

Michele Phillippe Batye, HES 1991, Bea Smith, and Vicki Russell, former publisher of the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Bea with grandsons Garrett (16), Griffin (13), and Gavin (20) Litherland.

Bea with her family – Garrett, Chris, Griffin, Gavin and David Litherland.

Bea Smith with Liz Townsend Bird, HES 1996, President of the HES Alumni Organization.

Bea in the College of Human Environmental Sciences Dean’s Office 1988.

Bea Litherland Smith with Micaela Burke, ’85 and Jeff Barnes ’85. The New Spirit t-shirt shows the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, and the other announces the college’s intentions to stay at MU.

Bea Smith with previous ATHENA Award Recipients.

The College of Human Environmental Sciences is proud of Dean Emerita Bea Smith for her long commitment to women in leadership and her stellar service to HES, MU and Missouri. A risk-taking advocate for women and a leader from her college days, she is a powerfully effective and courageous leader, who doesn’t just stand on the sideline and cheer, she leads the band.

Learn more about the ATHENA Leadership® Award and watch the video of the award.

Photos provided by Columbia Chamber of Commerce and David Litherland.