New Smith-Cooper Scholarship Emphasizes More Than Academic Achievement

Susan Smith. Photo courtesy of OBCF.

By Kip Tabb

The Smith-Cooper Scholarship is a new four-year scholarship for Dare County students. It is, for Susan Smith, a way to honor her late husband, Fred Smith’s legacy, and his belief that a strong work ethic and a college education are key ingredients for success.

Susan is hopeful that the creation of the Smith-Cooper Scholarship will give students the opportunity to experience college. “Going to college just opens up so much for young people,” said Susan. “It is that college experience, the opportunity to meet new people, to encounter new ideas, and to have thoughts and beliefs challenged, that contributes to becoming a well-rounded person.”

The scholarship is also a tribute to the power of mentoring and belief in others. Fred Smith grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, and no one in his immediate family had ever gone to college. It was his Aunt Mabel Cooper who insisted that Fred had the drive and intelligence to do something his parents were unable to do: Fred was going to college!

Susan recounts a story Fred told of being very young when his aunt took him to the nearby town of Princeton, put him up on the wall in front of the university and told him, “That’s where you’re going to college.”

Aunt Mabel was a teacher, but her training in education came at a time when teacher training was done at a Normal School—two-year training institutes that taught the skills needed for teaching, awarding certificates of competency, but not a bachelor’s degree.

Mabel’s mentoring, support, and encouragement had a significant impact on him.  Fred fulfilled her dream of going to college—he even went to an Ivy League school, but it was Cornell, not Princeton.

After graduating from Cornell, Fred went on to study at Columbia University where he earned his MBA.

Fred started working in his neighborhood at an early age. At 12 years old, Fred started delivering papers for the Trenton Times, and he delivered papers all the way through high school. He continued to hold jobs while at Cornell to help cover the expenses that were not included in his full academic scholarship.

His career began at Prudential in Newark, NJ, but for most of his professional life, the Smiths lived in Atlanta, GA, with Fred working in finance and Susan as a career educator.

The couple first came to the Outer Banks in the late 1970s. “We were on the other side of Jockey Ridge,” Susan remembered. “We could walk right out onto Jockey’s Ridge. The moon was full, lighting the rolling dunes. It felt as though we were on another planet.”

Their love for the area never waned and when Fred retired in 2003, the Smiths made the Outer Banks their home.

Although retired, Fred felt it was important to give back to his adopted community. He was invited to join Dare Education Foundation’s Board of Directors, where he served as treasurer and then president. He also served on the boards of the Outer Banks Presbyterian Church and the Martin’s Point Homeowners Association as Treasurer.

Educational opportunity was something that Fred and Susan felt was important in creating a healthy community. An important part of that was helping students who wanted to go to college to achieve their goals.

In 2006 he and Susan, with the help of the Community Foundation, created the Mabel Cooper Scholarship, a precursor to the Smith-Cooper Scholarship. The scholarship awards academic achievement, but an important feature of the scholarship is that the student must also have a job outside of school.

“Fred always said that holding a job at an early age was important for developing management skills and people skills,” Susan said.

The Smith-Cooper Scholarship is patterned after that model, in that the student understands the value of work and academics. “We’re looking for someone who is well-rounded, has a good work ethic, and is serious about academics,” Susan said.

Susan Smith’s planned gift is a hybrid, as she not only initiated a new charitable scholarship fund, but also ensured its enduring presence in her estate planning.