About Charles E. Smith
Charles E. Smith, 1901 - 1995
A visionary leader in the Jewish community, a persuasive force who made the Community Services Campus a reality, and a staunch supporter of the most vulnerable in our society – Charles E. Smith inspires us still.
Charles E. Smith began his involvement with the Jewish community in the mid-1950s. He had an agenda: he wanted Jewish people living in Washington to think of themselves as a community, taking responsibility for each other and for the survival of their Jewish heritage. It became the epitome of a win-win scenario: Mr. Smith found his service profoundly rewarding, exciting and personally fulfilling, while the Jewish agencies he led and the individuals they served were transformed by his vision, energy and generosity.
Charles E. Smith served as president of the Hebrew Home from 1959 to1962, encouraging a philosophical transformation within the organization, changing the Home from an institution that delivered custodial care and met basic needs, to one that instituted programs of rehabilitation and enhanced the quality of life for its 170 residents. Despite a relatively recent expansion to the Spring Road building, he recognized the need for new facilities and new services.
He envisioned a complex of three buildings in a park-like setting for the city’s most established Jewish agencies, the Hebrew Home for the Aged, the Jewish Social Service Agency and the Jewish Community Center, all of which were occupying facilities inadequate to meet the needs of an expanding Jewish community. Today, it seems beyond question that his vision was prophetic, but Charles E. Smith fought an uphill battle to make it happen.
There were those who did not think it possible to raise the required $5.5 million, since the largest sum of money raised for a community project to date had been $500,000 for the Hebrew Home addition on Spring Road. There were those who worried the project would jeopardize the annual United Jewish Appeal campaign, then raising $1.5 million. Mr. Smith spoke with residents of the old Hebrew Home who were reluctant even to say they needed air conditioning or private bathrooms.
“I listened to everyone, but I felt that I was right – that my vision for the community represented what should be done,” Charles E. Smith wrote in his memoirs.
He proceeded in his inimitable fashion: inviting 100 prominent Washingtonians to a fine dinner at the Mayflower Hotel. The date was November 30, 1965. Ninety-four attended. “I spoke of our planned complex as more than just a group of buildings. It would be a symbol of unity, a conduit for the values and ideals of our Jewish traditions. I did not ask for money. I told the successful men and women in the Colonial Room of the Mayflower Hotel that this would be the most gratifying and meaningful event of our generation.”
Charles E. Smith made his dream their dream. History and success have proven the wisdom of his vision. The Wasserman Residence opened in May 1969, along with the JCC and JSSA. This campus is now central to the local Jewish community. Other agencies, including the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, have joined the original occupants.
Once planted on Montrose Road, the Hebrew Home began an era of enormous growth: the Smith-Kogod Residence, Revitz House, Ring House, Landow House, the Hirsh Health Center, Rakusin Rehabilitation Center, Research Institute on Aging. More than 1,000 seniors make this campus their home. About 1,000 more also spend time here each year, recovering and returning to their own homes.
Recognizing the emerging system of care, and the continuing need for philanthropic support, Robert H. Smith and Robert P. Kogod are continuing both the legacy and leadership of Charles E. Smith. Their extraordinary $12 million gift will ensure the values, and the services, will continue into the future, and honor the memory of a remarkable leader as, on May 24, 2006, we adopted the name Charles E. Smith Life Communities for our campus of care.
David Bruce Smith has published several books about his grandfather. For more information about Charles E. Smith and the memoirs published by his grandson, visit David's website.
“I felt that my life was greatly enriched by my service to the Home, and that it gave me a deeper understanding of what it meant to grow old.”
Charles E. Smith