December 13, 2020


I bring very sad news this Sunday. Last night, we lost our Spelman Sister, Dr. Jane E. Smith.

Spelman College ran like a river through the life of Dr. Smith. She was a life-long member of Friendship Baptist Church, whose founding pastor, Father Quarles, in 1881, provided the basement of Friendship to the Atlanta Baptist Seminary, which would become Spelman College.

When I first came to Spelman, Jane invited me to the groundbreaking of the new Friendship Baptist Church. That day, I knew that I was in the company of an exceptional Black woman. With Jane by my side, I think I met everyone in the congregation. She not only knew everyone’s name; she knew their story. She bathed each person in the warmth of her smile and the generosity of her greeting.

Jane has said that she came from a race conscious family that introduced her to Spelman early. She attended the Spelman Nursery School and returned to enter Spelman’s gates as a sociology major in 1964, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. She once shared that eight of her classmates started a group called Sisters in Blackness as the next step to the sit-ins. Their class was present to witness Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s body lay in state at Sisters Chapel.

If Jane’s early education and high school years were shaped by Spelman, so too, was her professional life. She earned a doctorate in education at Harvard University and brought to Spelman a highly regarded sense of leadership and professionalism when she started her career at the College as director of Freshman Studies under President Albert Manley, Ed.D. In 1976, when Donald Stewart, Ph.D., became president, she served as his special assistant.  

After leaving Spelman, she went on to a distinguished career of service in government and the not-for-profit sector. Her several leadership roles included serving as chief executive of the National Council of Negro Women and chief executive of Business and Professional Women/USA. She also held leadership positions at INROADS and The Carter Center and was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the National Women’s Business Council.

Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D., the College’s ninth president, invited Jane to return to Spelman to create an academy that would place leadership training at the core of the Spelman educational experience. When Kimberly Davis, C’81, former Spelman trustee, and current vice president responsible for social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs for the National Hockey League, joined the College as an “executive on loan” from JP Morgan Chase, with the remit to establish Spelman's Leadership Center, she quickly identified Jane as the perfect successor to fulfill the College’s ambitions.

Long before I started at Spelman in the fall of 2015, I received phone calls and notes from colleagues who counseled me that I had to meet this phenomenal person at the College, Dr. Jane E. Smith. They described with enthusiasm the Women of Color Leadership Conference that she and others spearheaded, they praised the work she had done with the Women of Excellence Leadership Series Scholars, and they shared that she knew everyone in Atlanta.  

They were right on all three counts. Jane was the first meeting I took on campus during the summer before my official start. I was so taken by the breadth of her knowledge of the school, the Black community in the city of Atlanta, Spelman students and most of all, her warmth. I knew at once that I wanted her to be a member of my leadership team. I was honored when she worked along with Spelman’s Vice President and Secretary of the College Terri Reed to plan a series of stellar events for my inauguration, a significant reflection of her love and pride for the College.

One of Jane’s most endearing attributes was her candor. She was honest and compelled to speak up and speak out. She passed that sense of honesty and candor to the students she mentored.

At the end of her life, when she knew that her time was running out, she chose to be with her family, and to open her heart to the many tributes and prayers that poured in.

True to her philosophy of servant leadership, Jane leaves us with the comfort of her own words. She shared several weeks ago that her God-given mission in life was to confront and overcome challenges. That mission, she said, has been fulfilled. We thank God for the witness of her life, and for these parting words that encourage each of us.

We cherish her as a mentor to our students, a sister alumna, a colleague, a friend and celebrate her life, legacy and commitment to the College in an online tribute where you can also leave your reflections.

Spelman offers its deepest sympathy to her two sons, Clinton Browning and Chad Browning and to all of the members of her extended family.

Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.
President, Spelman College

It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of our dear
mother Dr. Jane E. Smith. She was called home on Saturday, December 12, 2020, after a brief battle with cancer.

Please keep our family in your prayers during this time of loss. Details related to services and arrangements are to follow.

In lieu of flowers, we ask that you consider a donation in our mother's name to the Spelman College Annual Fund or giving of your time, talent or money to the Atlanta public school named (in part) after her great aunt, Usher-Collier Elementary School.

Thank you and God Bless!

Clinton & Chad Browning

Office of the President
Phone: 404-270-5001

Fax: 404-270-5010

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