Lucille Smead (’28) met her fifth JMU president, Linwood H. Rose, at his home during alumni reunion weekend activities.

The Auntie Mame of Speech Pathology

Lucille Jones Clarke Smead (28) makes a splash as she returns to campus for her 75th class reunion

Betty Boop and Clara Bow may have been icons for The Roaring ’20s, but bob-bed hair was all they had in common with the girls at Harrisonburg’s newly named State Teachers College. And even shorn tresses were vehemently opposed until new Dean of Women, Bernice Varner, returned from a meeting in Atlantic City sporting the new style. Newspaper headlines that screamed of flappers, speakeasies, bathtub gin and jazz in New York and Chicago simply solidified moral opposition in small-town America.

Students like Lucille Jones (’28) — though she had the marcelled bob — didn’t question their parents’ and President Samuel P. Duke’s covenant that the training of future teachers included sheltering them from the sins of worldliness and imbuing them with a strong sense of religious morality.

Today, however, with just a wicked wink, Lucille Jones Clarke Smead imparts a lifetime of wisdom learned since those cloistered days before she graduated from the state teachers college in 1928.

At a recent JMU alumni weekend reception, President Linwood H. Rose complimented her for getting to campus, all the way from St. Simon’s Island, Ga., by herself.

“Sugar,” she replied, “I get to bed by my-self, I get up by myself, so why shouldn’t I get here by myself?”

Smead’s longevity and self-sufficiency — not to mention her long-honed streaks of independence, humor and drama — made her the life of the reunion party.

“I’ve had such a wonderful time this weekend. I don’t think I’ve opened a single door for myself. I don’t deserve all this attention,” she told fellow alumni. “But I don’t deserve this arthritis in my back either.”

Smead won’t reveal her age. She leaves the math to others. Though she’ll celebrate her 75th class reunion next year, her youthful vigor and saucy humor attract her to all age groups. Her ability to recall memories in such detail is uncanny.

Smead, for example, born in Buckingham County to parents of Welsh extraction, remembers her church doubled as a one-room schoolhouse, where her mother taught. “My mother played the pump organ with the songs sung in Welsh. I went to school when I was 4 years old. My next sister, was two years older, and I learned my ABCs right along with her and how to count. My mother had a big, fat chair at her desk, and I’d go up there while she’d teach class, and I’d be hugging her leg and hear every sound.”

Smead’s family moved from Arvonia to Dillwyn and during the teacher shortage of World War I, her mother, now with five children, was asked again to teach but in a larger setting. “She would teach music and she didn’t teach do-re-me. She taught Holy, Holy, Holy, The Old Rugged Cross, and things like that. The principal said, ‘Miss Lizzie, you have to stop teaching those songs. All the little boys and girls want to come in your class.”

Those ties to church and education, plus her mother’s example as a community leader have inspired Lucille all her life. Today this ageless senior citizen is retired from education but remains active in church. She had to leave the JMU weekend early to be on time at Sunday school the next morning. “I’m president of the adult class, and we have 120 on roll with about 80 in attendance each Sunday. And it’s an exciting class, so I’ll get into St. Simons Island at 12 o’clock tonight and be all ready to go in the morning.”

Smead’s early departure in no way dimmed the dazzling impression she had made on fellow alumni with impromptu remarks after a special introduction as the earliest class member. Her mix of humor and
practicality clearly came through — and are the reasons Nancy O’Hare, professor emerita of speech pathology, refers to her as “the Auntie Mame of speech pathology in Virginia.”

Smead closed her impromptu talk with a favorite joke: “A boy who had just graduated excitedly barged in on his father, diploma in hand, saying, ‘Daddy, I’m so happy, I just got my B.A.’ The father looked up, nonplused, and said, ‘Sit down, son. The world will soon teach you the rest of the alphabet.’”

The audience understood why she enhanced speech pathology across the state. As a member of the State Department of Education, Smead traversed the commonwealth persuading superintendents to incorporate speech and hearing programs into each school district. The statistics confirm her success. When she was invited on board in 1967, 74 districts had programs. Thirteen years later, she had established programs in every county and city district statewide, all 110. Her success led to one of her highest honors: selection as a Fellow of the American Speech and Hearing Association.

From early experiences as a classroom teacher to specialist in speech pathology, Smead met diverse assignments and adapted to demand. One year she taught high school chemistry. “I learned so much about chemi-stry — and I saw to it they had a chemistry teacher for the next year. You never know what you’ll have to do until you’re doing it.

“I would like to tell young people today in college to stick with teaching, because I feel the potentiality of the future teacher is great. Their status will be elevated and there’ll be a great increase in pay — which is very much needed. Teachers will have self-esteem, be proud of their work and people are going to look up to them.” She remembers the high status she enjoyed. “When I came along, I could get a check cashed anywhere. I didn’t have to have any references or driver’s license because I was a school teacher.”

While she was visiting JMU, Smead assessed the four JMU presidents she witnessed over the years. “Dr. Buruss set an intellectual basis for the school. Dr. Duke ran the place with no changes, quite a bit of growth, but still tightly with rules and regulations. Then Dr. Miller came in and it was “Wow! A little give and take on all.” Next Dr. Ronald Carrier came along, and this man was a shaker, a mover and shaper. Every time I heard him speak, I just wished I had a million dollars to give the university. I wish more people would do that.”

Now that Smead has lunched with today’s president, Linwood Rose, she feels he’ll continue JMU’s quality and growth.

Before parting the alumni weekend, Smead showed off her peerless perspective once again. While alumni who graduated in the late ’30s and ’40s were getting teary at the sight of Wilson Hall, she said, “Honey, Wilson Hall wasn’t even built when I was a student


Story By Nancy Bondurant Jones

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