By Gail H.M. Brown, Ph.D.,
The news of the death of Jackson native and former Hinds County District Attorney Robert Schuler Smith sparked a flood of emotional social media reactions, condolences and reflections from family, friends and associates locally and nationally.
According to media reports, Smith succumbed Sept. 10 after being critically injured in a car crash on the rainy night of Sept. 1 on Lynch Street in Jackson, Miss. Witnesses said a speeding driver slammed into Smith’s car after he had just left his nearby law office.
Veteran broadcast journalist and Florida native Kathy Times is among many longtime friends who took to social media with their heart-felt tributes, prayers for his family and fond memories of the law professional. Times posted a brilliant photo of Smith and her on her Facebook page. She stated in one part of her post: “It is surreal to know that @RobertShulerSmith’s work and countless good deeds on this side are complete. He was one of the first people to befriend me when I arrived in Jackson in December 1999. When I heard of his car accident last week, my mind flashed back to happy times with Robert and friends.”
The former anchor at WJTV and Fox 40, Times, who is now president of Yellowbrick Media Concept, served in the Jackson media market for many years.
In a telephone interview from Florida with The Mississippi Link Tuesday, Sept. 14, Times said, “Robert was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I know his work will live on.” She also pointed out that Smith “could have been successful anywhere in the world, but he was truly a native who stayed and was passionate about his work.”
Reacting to Times’ post was another friend, Michelle Funches, who commented: “I’m so hurt. We had some good times together. So hard to grasp.”
Noted national news correspondent and Jackson native Randall Pinkston also commented: “Oh no. I had not heard the sad news. I met him on assignment and, of course, growing up in Jackson, I knew of his parents’ brave work during the dangerous days of the civil rights movement. My sympathies to Robert Shuler Smith’s family and friends.”
Smith was born into a Christian family who stressed the importance of education. According to his family, Smith grabbed hold of those values with “fervor.” Such Christian upbringing and passion for education led him to develop a drive for “equity and justice.” That drive successfully drove him through completing his high school education at Forest Hill, college education at Tougaloo College, and his Juris Doctor degree at the St. Louis University School of Law in St. Louis, Mo. in 1996. He was admitted to the Mississippi State Bar Association in September of that same year.
And speaking of Smith’s Christian values, his friend Rev. Dr. Audrey Lynne Hall, senior pastor of Holy Temple Missionary Baptist Church in West Jackson, described him as “a very caring and compassionate person.”
Hall further told The Mississippi Link: “I have known him for over 30 years. He had a passion for mentoring young people and encouraging them to achieve academically, attend college or a trade school. He inspired the youth of Holy Temple when he served as our Baccalaureate speaker a few years ago. The youth talked for weeks about his speech and how approachable he was after the service, where he greeted each youth personally. I am very thankful that we crossed paths at a mutual friend’s home and became friends.”
According to his biography, Attorney Smith was licensed to practice law in all courts in the State of Mississippi, including the Supreme Court of Mississippi as well as the Fifth Circuit of Appeals of New Orleans. He worked as a prosecutor with the City of Jackson and a public defender with Hinds County. He was sworn in as the Hinds County district attorney in 2008, ironically the same year the nation elected its first African-American president.
Smith served as Hinds County district attorney for 12 years.
“Some said he wouldn’t win,” recalled Times. “But I told them the Robert Schuler Smith I know will win that election, and he did.”
Friend Attorney Winston J. Thompson III, who worked with Smith as a law partner at one time and at the DA Office, said Smith was simply a hard-working achiever. “In fact, he had so many achievements that I cannot recall them all,” the Callaway High School alumni said. “Honestly, Robert just worked like hell; he built a practice, and he was a great trial lawyer,” Thompson said. “I learned how to be a better trial lawyer through Robert. He was a great thinker. You could not out-think him, and you could not outwork him.”
A public visitation was held Tuesday, Sept. 14, from 12 p.m.-6 p.m., at Lakeover Memorial Funeral Home on Beasley Road. A private graveside service was held Wednesday at Garden Memorial Park Cemetery on Highway 49 North. Stephanie Hatcher served as program guide. His father, Dr. Royce M. Smith, delivered the eulogy.