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Professor leaves his literary mark

USF’s longest-employed professor is remembered as a man who ran up and down the stairs of Cooper Hall while his younger students took the elevator. He also dressed as sharp as a model from a men’s fashion magazine.

Elton Smith, who taught in the English department for 47 years, died July 2 at the age of 92.

“I looked at him as an example of creative aging,” said Sara Deats, an English professor. “I was shocked when I heard the news, he seemed as young as he did 30 years ago.”

Smith started his career at USF when there were 2,000 students and five buildings. Deats worked with Smith for 38 years and served as department chair for most of that time. She said that he was someone she could rely on and that he exceeded all expectations.

“He was a wonderful professor and much loved by the students,” she said.

Smith was a distinguished professor of British literature and the Bible. In fall 2006 he retired as a full professor but continued to teach as an adjunct until March 2008 when he had to stop mid-semester for health reasons.

The Bible as Literature is a course that Smith started in 1961 and continued to teach until he left USF in March. The class always had a high enrollment of more than 100 students, English Department Chair Hunt Hawkins said.

“That (course) was extremely popular and he never turned anyone away,” Deats said. “He said he would teach anyone who would come.” Smith enjoyed the larger classes, she said, because he was a bit of a performer.

The students always appreciate his enthusiasm up until the end, Hawkins said.

Smith held a doctorate in Victorian literature from Syracuse University. He was also an ordained Baptist preacher before he became a professor and the Baptist Collegiate Ministries adviser from 1961-2006.

Smith published a number of books and was invited to Oxford last summer as a keynote speaker.

“I think it was amazing that he taught as long as he did,” Hawkins said.