At the beginning of last week’s faculty reception that celebrated Michael D. Smith’s deanship of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), Harvard President Larry Bacow joked about the long line of presenters — “47 of them” — prepared to offer praise and appreciation for the former leader.
Though the group actually taking the podium would in fact number only six, their shared stories resonated deeply with an audience who responded with extended applause and heartfelt laughter.
Bacow led the program with an anecdote about first meeting Smith at an honorary-degree dinner at Annenberg Hall, where the former FAS dean complimented Bacow, then a member of the Harvard Corporation, on his cufflinks. When Bacow later gifted him his own set, Smith replied, “Thank you for very much, Larry, for helping to hold me together.”
“Now it’s my turn to say thank you for helping to hold us together for the past 11 years. It was always about the School, about your faculty, colleagues, and staff,” he said. “You are the essence of what a servant leader is about.”
Former Harvard President Drew Faust followed, noting that she felt nostalgic saying goodbye in the same room where she had introduced Smith as dean more than 11 years ago.
“How can it be this many years later and how come it’s not 100 years later?” she asked. “From the outset, Mike took on such an enormous sense of responsibility for making it right for FAS through the financial crisis and staying on top of all of those issues and making really tough decisions — unpopular decisions — but things he knew he had to do for the good of the institution.”