Building a Community
An Exhibit Honoring Charles E. Smith
A visionary leader in the Jewish community, Charles E. Smith inspires us still. In October, 2014, Charles E. Smith Life Communities dedicated an exhibit honoring his memory and legacy. Charles E. Smith was a prominent builder who reshaped the Washington skyline, an extraordinary philanthropist who inspired others to be generous, and an influential leader whose impact on the community has left a lasting mark. As one of the major organizations that bears his name, it is our privilege and honor to be the home of this exhibit.
Charles E. Smith, 1901-1995
Charles E. Smith disembarked in New York as a ten-year-old who spoke only Yiddish. By the close of his 94 years, his office overlooked a sweeping view of Reagan National Airport, and its walls were filled with honors, personalized photographs, and letters from the most respected statesmen in America and Israel.
His life is the archetypical American success story. Charles E. Smith’s story begins March 28, 1901, in a Russian shtetl where he was born to an observant family living in an earthen-floored farmhouse. When he and his brothers were stricken with diphtheria, he alone survived the night. By an early age, he felt God guided his destiny and he was intended for a special purpose in life.
The loss of the family’s farmland and a fire that consumed their windmill compelled his father Reuven to abandon Russia. Arriving in New York in 1908, Reuven changed the family name from Schmidoff to Smith and became a builder. He sent for his family in 1911.
Charles became a builder as well, experiencing both prosperity and setbacks. He married Leah Goldstein in 1927, relocated to Washington in 1942, and became one of the region’s largest builders, developers, and property managers. He built thousands of apartments in Prince George’s County and on Connecticut Avenue, and dozens of office buildings downtown.
In 1967, Smith relinquished active management of his companies to his son Robert H. Smith and son-in-law Robert P. Kogod, to devote himself to community service and philanthropy. George Washington University’s indoor athletic center, the Jewish Day School in Rockville, the Jewish Community Services Campus in Rockville, and the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington and its affiliated senior services, all bear his name in recognition of his extraordinary support. As president of the Hebrew Home from 1959 to 1962, Charles E. Smith gathered like-minded friends and boldly laid the groundwork for the 1969 move of three key Jewish agencies to this campus. His philanthropy also transformed many other causes in the State of Israel.
Smith cherished his family, son Robert and his wife Clarice, daughter Arlene and her husband Bob, and set an example for future generations to emulate.
Each area of this exhibit illustrates Charles E. Smith's influence in a particular sphere. Please read the Exhibit Guide.
Building a Legacy
“Each of us should utilize whatever means and talents we possess and accept responsibility for making our community a better place in which succeeding generations—Christians, Jews, and Moslems, whites and non-whites—may live, work, and grow in conditions of justice and well-being.”
To the left at the entrance to the exhibit, is the desk from Charles E. Smith's office in Crystal City. Among items on the desk is a plaque engraved with an ancient proverb, "God gave me the gift of life; what I do with my life is my gift to God."
Window graphics in the entrance passageway show those served by organizations he supported and introduce a major theme, the three circles of life: family, friends, and community.
A Well-Constructed Life
“I want to share what I have learned about giving to others, the love of one’s family, and the importance of good health.”
This area of the exhibit includes his citzenship certificate dated November, 1942, personal photographs, and books from his extensive personal collection.
A Family Company
“We could not have built our business without the assistance of the loyal and talented people who have worked for us.”
A bronze bust, recognition plaque, and photograph of Robert P. Kogod, Charles E. Smith and Robert H. Smith at a construction site are in this section, along with honors and other presentations from employees and colleagues in the industry.
His Philosophy, His Story
“Life can be viewed as three concentric circles. At the core is family, then friends, and then community. Our lives should be dedicated to building and strengthening these circles in mutual support of one another.”
On this central wall is a key quote, flanked by his portrait, painted by Clarice Smith in 1988, and access to a video that tells his story in his own voice.
Family, Friends, Community
This area of the exhibit includes a sampling of photographs and letters from world leaders that were displayed on the walls of his office.
This section of the exhibit includes honors, medals, and awards presented for his commitment to philanthropy and to promoting peace. The exhibit illustrates how the legacy of one man can inspire generations and encourages each person to recognize their special talent and nurture it to honor family, friends, and community.
With gratitude to David Bruce Smith and the family of Charles E. Smith for their assistance in making this exhibit possible.
Exhibit co-author, David Bruce Smith | Exhibit design, The Design Minds | Exhibit fabrication, Color-Ad
The exhibit was dedicated on October 5, 2014. Read grandson David Bruce Smith's remarks.
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