Smathers' gifts to libraries cements his legacy at UF


The front of the newly renovated George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida from W. University Avenue Saturday, January, 20, 2007. Former Sen. Smathers for whom the library is named died in Miami on Saturday at the age of 93.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Former U.S. Sen. George A. Smathers, who died at the age of 93 Saturday, will have an established legacy at the University of Florida long after his death, UF officials say.

Smathers, a UF graduate, was a key donor to the university, most particularly the library system. In 1991, Smathers pledged to give $20 million to the library system, which was named in his honor thereafter. Under an agreement with the UF Foundation, the gift will be held in trust until the death of Smathers' wife, Carolyn Smathers.

Smathers' son, Bruce Smathers, said Monday that his father had an appreciation for the unique value of the UF libraries. George Smathers also recognized that libraries don't have a consistent base of alumni support from which to draw funding, unlike colleges and schools, Bruce Smathers said.

Smathers' giving to the library system began in 1989 when he donated $2 million to renovate what was then called Library East; the name was changed to Smathers Library after he gave the gift.

"That (Library East naming) was meaningful because, one, it was a building that was there when he was on campus," Bruce Smathers said. "And secondly, it housed the Latin American collection and Florida collection, which were areas of his interest. So, it was a nice fit."

Marshall Criser, former UF president, played a significant role in spurring Smathers' interest in giving to the library system, Bruce Smathers said.

Paul Robell, UF's vice president for development and alumni affairs, said the UF Foundation spoke with Smathers about other giving opportunities but the former senator truly made the library system his chief concern as a benefactor.

"He loved books, and he thought that libraries were very important to universities," Robell said. "And he just seemed to have a fascination with that. We talked to him about various (other giving opportunities), but he was enamoured with libraries."

With the possible exception of Ben Hill Griffin, whose name graces the football stadium, Smathers' name is probably the most prominently displayed on campus. Bruce Smathers, 63, said the naming likely meant as much to his father as any of the accolades he received in his storied career. "I think it was perhaps one of the highest honors of his life," he said. "He really loved the University of Florida."

Jack Stripling can be reached at 374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com

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