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Kanawha judge's estate gives UC $1.5M

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A $1.5 million donation from the estate of a former Kanawha County judge has helped create a new laboratory with "space age" technology that will be used by the University of Charleston's nursing and physician assistant students.

The Health Science Simulation Lab, which was completed with the donation from Judge Robert K. Smith's estate, was unveiled Friday morning in UC's Riggleman Hall.

The lab features realistic, computer-operated simulation Manikins, which will help students practice actual medical techniques to see how the patients respond. The Manikins breathe, sweat, bleed and can be programmed with many ailments and conditions, said UC nursing professor Karen Hoschar.

"The University of Charleston is truly humbled by the generosity of Judge Smith and his family," UC President Ed Welch said. "Donations of this nature are truly transformative for our institution. The funds received from this gift will assist in the education of current and future UC students for many generations."

The lab received $250,000 from the donation, with another $500,000 going to fund nursing scholarships. The other half of the $1.5 million will help establish a new English as a Second Language program at UC, with $500,000 going toward technology needs and the remaining $250,000 establishing an endowment toward the salary of ESL teachers, Welch said Friday.

Smith was a faculty member of the former Morris Harvey College -- now UC -- and his daughter, Robyn, received her education degree from the school in 1975.

Welch called Smith "a private person, even though he was a public figure. A mentor and dedicated family man who cherished his wife, who he called the love of his life, and his daughter, who he called the light of his life, both of whom preceded him in death," Welch said.

Smith's wife, Mary, was a registered nurse and a graduate of Kanawha Valley Hospital in Charleston, said Nancy Brown, the Smiths' niece, who attended the event Friday.

"[Mary] used her training in various aspects of her life," Brown said. "One of the last times she used her training was to perform CPR on a patient that had collapsed at a doctors' office here in Charleston. The patient was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy."

"The patient was a 44-year-old female and the patient's name was Robyn. My cousin did not survive that day, despite the valiant efforts of several doctors and nurses," Brown said through tears.

"It was an unfathomable loss to her parents. Robyn was tall like her dad and had blonde hair like her mom," Brown said. "She graduated from this school and she was proud to call it her alma mater."

Robyn Smith taught Spanish and French in Kanawha County and spent many hours trying to make her class exciting so her students would be engaged in learning, Brown said.

"After the loss of Robyn, my aunt and uncle had to find a new way to affect future generations," she said. "They decided to gift Robyn's alma mater and to do so in an area directly connected to Robyn through foreign language. The second part of the gift would be to remember my Aunt Mary and her chosen profession."

Hoschar said the gift would change how students learn at UC and will enhance the education program.

"UC students will enter the workforce having actually done chest compressions, learned how to use electronic medication dispensers, looked for signs of disease processes and watched a patient begin to sweat and have the ability to react when they leave [the school]," Hoschar said.

"By obtaining this lab, the nursing program at UC has entered the space age of technology and the graduates of this program will be able to step into patient-care settings having computer knowledge," she said. "Actual patient situations are sometimes hard for instructors to teach at a hospital but, here, we'll have the ability to talk about what happened, what was right and what was wrong."

Brown said Judge Smith told her many times, "'Being a nurse is an admirable profession.'

"The first time I heard it years ago, it kind of took me aback, because my Uncle Bob was kind of a real-life superhero to me," Brown said. "I found it funny that he picked nurses. Why not astronauts or neurosurgeons?"

Brown said she recalled her uncle reading her doubt and went on to explain himself.

"'Good nurses are selfless; they have to be in their work,'" Brown remembers her uncle saying. "'They have to have compassion every minute of the day, no matter what is going on in their personal life or if they got chewed out a few minutes ago by a patient's family or a doctor or a boss, they still have to have a smile on their face and when they come to you, the next patient. They have to make you feel like you are the only patient they saw that day and you are the whole world to them.'"

Former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Thomas McHugh and U.S. District Judge Irene Berger, a UC Board of Trustees member, attended the event Friday and recalled the Smiths.

"They were distinguished, yet humble," McHugh said. "They were dedicated to strong core beliefs . . . and they were always loyal friends."

Robert Smith was a World War II veteran and a graduate of the Washington and Lee School of Law. He retired in 1986 after 24 years of judicial public service but continued to work as a mediator and senior-status judge.

"Smith was made to be a judge," Welch said. "He had the right blend of firmness, compassion and fairness. Above all else, he was just a decent man. As is often said, but rarely seen, he was a gentleman and a gentle man. His family's legacy will live for many years at the University of Charleston."

Reach Kathryn Gregory at kathryng@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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