Vanderbilt Lawyer - Volume 36, Number 1

A Kind and Gentle Mentor

Ted Smedley


Emeritus Professor Theodore (Ted) Smedley, who joined the law school's faculty in 1957, died of a heart attack on Friday, June 15, at age 94. On Monday, June 20, we sent an announcement to alumni who attended the law school during the years Professor Smedley served on the faculty, from 1957 to 1978. In that announcement, we invited those who wished to share their memories or offer tributes to Professor Smedley, who taught equity, security transactions, damages, civil rights law and "Profession of Law," a course co-taught with other faculty that addressed professional and public responsibilities. A pioneering civil rights scholar, Professor Smedley also served as director of the Race Relations Law Reporter, which was established at Vanderbilt in 1956, from 1959 to 1968, after serving as associate director from 1957-59.

Within 15 minutes of the time we distributed the announcement, five tributes had arrived. Ultimately, we received more than two dozen. The tributes you see here, which are also posted in the alumni section of the law school's Web site, are an eloquent testimony to Professor Smedley's impact on his students, whose memories of his teaching and mentoring remain strong almost 30 years after his retirement.

Tributes to Professor Ted Smedley

"Ted was one of five faculty members who constituted the heart and soul of the school for a 20-year period. He was the prime proponent of what was called 'the Vanderbilt method,' the pervasive teaching of professional responsibility throughout the curriculum." –D. Don Welch
Associate Dean, Vanderbilt University Law School
"Ted was a path-breaking scholar and a gentle and kind mentor and colleague. He was indefatigable in the law professor's quest for equality and justice. His work made our society more just, and his legacy will be a reminder of our nation's progress but also our compelling need to continue his work." –Nicholas S. Zeppos
Interim Chancellor, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University Law School
"I had Professor Smedley for three different courses in the early '70s. At the time, he was one of the best professors at the law school and I enjoyed his classes. He will be missed." –Leonard Dunavant, '73
Evans & Petree, Memphis
"Professor Smedley had an enormous influence on my student efforts to become a good lawyer. From his insistence upon even-handed treatment of opposing case analyses in the Legal Methods course, to his time-worn sheaf of lecture notes on Security Transactions, darkened by year after year of turning the pages, he taught well the most fundamental part of practicing law-clear thought about complex issues, and a balanced approach that leads to good judgment. He is still with me, in some way, most days in practice after almost 32 years. The law school and our profession will mourn a great professor. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to have learned from him." –Jim Watson, '75
Holland & Knight, Atlanta
"Professor Smedley is one of the two or three professors I still have a vivid image of after 40 years. I remember him as a serious, dedicated scholar." –Bud Gerlach, '67
American General Corporation
"Professor Smedley was outstanding. I have a clearer recollection of his surety law course than any course I took at Vanderbilt." –Aubrey L. Coleman, Jr., '67
Senior Partner, Smith Currie & Hancock, Atlanta
"Professor Smedley was a terrific teacher. Twenty years after he taught me judicial remedies, a period in which I spent my time advising business clients and corporations and not practicing litigation, I reached into my memory in a case my company had and pulled out 'partition by sale' as the remedy of choice. Our litigation firm had never heard of it. Professor Smedley planted that there, and it stuck all those years. He loved what he did and it came through every day he taught at Vanderbilt." –Jim Cuminale, '78
Chief Legal Officer, The Nielsen Company, New York City
In my third year at VLS I forget to set the alarm for a morning final exam in one of Ted Smedley's classes. When I didn't show up on time he telephoned my apartment and woke me up. Of course, I panicked when I realized what had happened, but he graciously allowed me to come in for the final (I was there in 30 minutes) and gave me extra time to finish. It was a small act of kindness, from a kind and generous man, for which I will be forever grateful." –David J. Tarpley, '71
Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee, Nashville
"I was privileged to attend Vanderbilt School of Law 1957-60 and have fond recollections of Professor Smedley ('Ethical Smedley' was his nickname among some students). I am saddened to learn of his passing , but happy he had such a long and distinguished life. He and I had several conversations about his Naval service during World War II, and he seemed interested in my service as a Naval Aviator and carrier pilot fresh from the Seventh Fleet. Praise God for the life, work and influence of this great teacher and gentleman." –Dan Coffman, '60
Jacksonville, Florida
"Professor Smedley taught me Damages and Equity in 1971 at Vanderbilt Law School. He was a true gentleman and scholar. More important, he was a superb teacher. Even now, when I teach my 'Remedies' students, as an adjunct professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, I use some of the teaching techniques I learned from the Professor. He lived a long and productive life. He benefited many people in major ways. He should be celebrated." –Stan Wezelman, '72
Greco & Traficante, San Diego
"I remember Professor Smedley as tough and disciplined teacher. He was a legal scholar. All the foregoing are intended as high compliments. He had my greatest respect." –Bob Towler, '68
"Professor Smedley taught Equity, and very well too, as I can attest, having taken it in the early '70s. That's what he was known for in my day, a day which already took for granted his actually heroic (in my view) involvement in 'in the trenches' civil rights litigation a generation before me. –Isaac Braddock, '74
Beverly Hills, California
"I am saddened to hear of Professor Smedley's passing. In the Fall of 1971 when I was a student at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, and knew because of my GPA and Illinois residency that I was assured an early admission at U of I-Champaign Law School, Ted Smedley visited Carbondale on a Vanderbilt Law recruiting trip. I signed up to speak with him and expressed my feeling that since I was coming from a 'junior' state school in the 'North' I didn't expect that I would really have any chance getting admitted to Vanderbilt Law. Ted Smedley completely pooh-poohed all of my concerns. He talked about Vandy Law's desire for geographical and undergraduate school diversity in its student body as well as the more usual diversity goals, and invited me to come to Nashville for a personal visit. He was so sincere that I agreed, and when I went to Nashville later in the year, he took me on a personal tour of the law school and introduced me to a couple of other faculty members, all before I had been admitted. Because of Ted Smedley, Vanderbilt became my number one choice, and I was delighted when I got in. Looking back now at all of the relationships that have grown out of that admission, both in terms of the faculty and the substantial number of lifetime close friendships I made when I was there, I realize that I owe a lot to Ted Smedley and the two days, one in Carbondale and one in Nashville, when he charmed me into deciding to apply for admission. I will remember him always with great appreciation for what he did for me." –Bob Brownlee, '76
Managing Editor, Vanderbilt Law Review, 1975-76
Thompson Coburn, St. Louis, Missouri
"I had Professor Smedley for Damages (a course, not an outcome) and enjoyed the class immensely. He looked and acted as a legal scholar, enjoying the subject and students greatly. He taught me the conceptual basis of damages for legal harm, and I now use both the approach and the substance as a Professor of Public Administration. My condolences to the family." –Dr. Larry Keller, '69
Levin College of Urban Affairs, Cleveland State University
"I am very sorry to hear of Professor Smedley's passing. I admit I have not attempted to keep in touch with him since graduation. However, Theodore Smedley (I did not call him Ted, but rather Professor) was a significant influence on me. He recruited me from MacMurray College and found an apartment for my wife and me just off campus. Without his assistance, it is unlikely I would have attended law school. I have now practiced law for over 40 years. I will always remember his kindness and genuine interest in me." –Robert M. Koeller, '65
Ittenbach Johnson Trettin & Koeller, Indianapolis
"What always impressed me about Ted Smedley was not only what a wonderful teacher he was, but what a good person he was. There was no professor who packed more content and organization into a lecture than Professor Smedley. His lectures were so comprehensive that no part of the subject matter was left unexplored. Professor Smedley was one of the best teachers I ever had.

"I was fortunate that after law school, I became one of Ted Smedley's many friends. We have been members of the same church for all of these years, and Professor Smedley, his wife, Nancy, two of their three children and a son-in-law (his daughter and son-in-law sang with the Metropolitan Opera before returning to Nashville), have been stalwarts in our church choir. During that time, I have had the privilege of serving on many committees with Ted Smedley, some of which he chaired. He brought so much to those groups with his wisdom, judgment, quiet leadership and good humor. He was a wonderful example to others in the way he lived his life. I continued to learn from him long after my law school days ended.

"My life and my legal career have been so much fuller because of Professor Smedley and what I have learned from him. It has been a blessing to know him." –Warren H. (Skip) Wild, Jr., '73
Stites & Harbison, Nashville
"'Ted the Smed' as he was affectionately known by my class ('74) was a crackerjack law professor. He knew mortgages, equity and legal remedies like the back of his hand. He had a quick wit and a rapid fire way of conducting class. He kept us on our toes and fully engaged. He wasn't interested in teaching us precedents. He wanted us to be able to think our way through a problem using legal reasoning and principles. If he were not such a fine teacher, he would have made a good preacher. He was an evangelist for equity. He instilled in us a love of the legal principles in play. He was also available out of class to discuss a student's life beyond the law. I shall always appreciate his warm smile, the twinkle in his eye when a student caught the 'aha' and his passion for getting us to think." –Steve Ramp, '74
Hattiesburg, Mississippi
"I learned so much from Professor Smedley. His course in Equity was the best I took at Vanderbilt. As a result, I became interested in family law and made it a lifelong vocation. I have done cases all over the world and have been president of the World Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. I owe all this to Professor Smedley. He will be missed." –George Stern, '61
Stern & Edlin, Atlanta
"For 31 years, I have displayed in my bookcase the American Jurisprudence volume I was honored to receive after studying Remedies under Ted Smedley. A brilliant yet gentle legal scholar, Professor Smedley taught me that the law is more than a bound volume of rules, it is an exercise in grace and professionalism. In the end, those two virtues - grace and professionalism - are what Professor Smedley was all about.

"When a star dies in the universe, its light continues to shine on for years. The light that Professor Smedley brought to so many will continue to illuminate our lives for decades to come. I will say a prayer tonight thanking God for giving us Theodore Smedley, though I know that he already sits in the midst of angels." –E. Thomas Bishop, '76
Bishop & Hummert, Dallas

What Professor Smedley Meant to Me

A tribute by Carol Daugherty Rasnic, '65

My husband's forwarded e-mail to me about Mr. Smedley's death (I was teaching a summer session at a law school in Austria at the time of his death) was headed, "I know this is going to make you very sad." This is, to be sure, an understatement.

Mr. Smedley had kept in touch with me throughout all these years, usually at Christmas-some years ago, he abandoned his practice of sending Christmas card/notes the day after Christmas-and every letter was Classic Smedley. Not one to enter the electronic age, his letters were lengthy hand-written treatises, generally making several references to "Nancy's and my advancing ages," after which he proceeded to summarize what the these two incredible people had done during the past year. Neither his energy level nor his amazing intellect ever waned.

While in law school, I did some typing for Professors Smedley and Kirby, who shared an office suite. They hounded me unmercifully because I was a stalwart Goldwater supporter, and I knew that the morning after President Johnson's victory, something would happen in that office. My desk was characteristically cluttered, but someone (and I would bet the farm-if I had one-that this "someone" was Messrs. Smedley and Kirby) had removed everything from its top, draped the desk in black crepe paper, and placed a handmade sign atop it, which read 'RIP.' I could hear those two grown men (and professionals, at that!) snickering in one of their offices, while peeping through a partially opened door to see my reaction. Somehow I maintained a straight face and act as though I hadn't noticed. I could tell many such stories, but this one typifies Mr. Smedley's wonderful sense of humor.

Mr. Smedley was truly my mentor. Moreover, he always chastised me for not getting enough rest. ("Your mother would not like this!" he would say emphatically.) As fate would have it, my name was one of those that was omitted, albeit inadvertently, from the published list of persons who had passed the bar exam in July 1965. (Some will remember those awful days when the now defunct Nashville Banner published these results on Saturday afternoon before we received official letters the following Monday morning.) I called Mr. Smedley in what can only be described as frantic and uncontrollable tears. He said, "Well, this just is wrong, Carol. I'm calling my buddy Gene at the Banner." This friend was unable to get any information, so Mr. Smedley called the chairman of the Tennessee State Bar. He did not stop until he got to Mrs. Norman, the bar secretary, who confirmed that I had passed and apologized, since my name had somehow been omitted. He was livid. That faith in me has stayed with me throughout my life, and I will always be grateful to this dear man.

Later, when I accepted a job teaching at a university, I wrote him in a semi-panic because I had no idea how to begin publishing. I probably still have his immediate response, telling me, "Carol, you'll find that you'll have to research to keep current for your teaching. From that, the publications will just flow. Trust me on this." He was absolutely correct, as usual.

I always called on Mr. Smedley when I needed something at a professional level. He readily wrote a letter of recommendation for my first Fulbright grant, and I credit him considerably with my successes in that area.

This was a man who truly revered his family. He talked incessantly about "Nancy, my boys, and my talented Helen." Helen, now soprano Elizabeth Carter, who has performed leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera, the Vienna State Opera, La Scala in Milan and countless others, was only five years old when he often brought her to the law school during our years. A few years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Smedley sent me a tape with Helen singing several of her favorites. Shortly after that, he engineered a meeting between Helen, who was singing the Queen of the Night role in Mozart's "The Magic Flute" in Vienna, and me, since I was then teaching at the law school in Graz, Austria. 'Little Helen' and I had dinner at her favorite haunt in Vienna, Ristorante Firenze, patronized largely by opera personnel, and we talked and giggled about her funny dad the entire time. I recall saying, "Hey, Helen-it's Father's Day. Let's call him collect!" We were on the verge of doing so when we both remembered that Father's Day in Europe is a week after ours in the United States. Only for this reason was he spared a costly trans-Atlantic phone call.

I will sorely miss my friend, who never lost his wonderful wit. None of us is immortal, but somehow, I suppose that I thought Mr. Smedley was indeed that. However, I can see him, even now, running around heaven, spouting explanations of the doctrine of laches and various and sundry maxims of equity. And asking everybody whether they have "heard my Helen sing."

God bless you, Mr. Smedley. The world is a better place for having had you with us.

Carol Daugherty Rasnic is professor of Business Law (Emerita) at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia