Top Stories

Passing of a Pioneer

Dr. Helen Richards-Smith

A distinguished woman left her legacy as she impacted the lives of many, practiced what she preached, and greatly encouraged everyone to further their education not only at Grambling State University, but in the entire community.
Dr. Helen L. Richards-Smith served the university, alumni and community for decades in various capacities until her retirement from GSU in 2004.
She was born March 29, 1923, in Bar Lake community located in Sabine Parish. She was the fourth child of Allison Madison Richards and Modest Grice Richards. Having lost her mother in early infancy, she was reared by her stepmother, Faustina Simmons Richards. At a youthful age, she united with Macedonia CME Church. She died Oct. 24.
Richards-Smith was influenced by her parents to become a teacher. She enrolled as a teacher education major at Grambling College, and in 1944 she graduated summa cum laude in Grambling’s first four-year degree class. In 1949, she earned a Master of Arts degree at the University of Michigan.
Registrar Emeritus Ruby Weekly Billups, a family friend of Richards-Smith’s and 1951 graduate of Grambling said, “Many of us never could have made it without her assistance and her continuous encouragement.”
 “Helen was an excellent teacher, and extremely student-oriented,” Billups said. “I met her in 1948 when she returned from the University of Michigan.”
“After a while we began working together in the Registrar’s Office under the direction of W.L. Garner, who was the registrar at the time.”
Billups said Richards-Smith was one who shared her knowledge throughout the community, reached and taught hundreds of students, and was definitely a true friend.
Billups’ daughter, Susan Billups Wiley said. “I always admired her for her classiness, professionalism, and brilliance.”
“She was always a very vibrant part of GSU.”  
Richards-Smith’s professional career extended far beyond the Grambling State University campus.  Among the many honors bestowed upon Dr. Richards-Smith are the following: Educator of the Year Award by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Regional Director, Southwest Region, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. (1958-1960), and the Distinguished Alumni Award by the Grambling University Alumni Association.
“Leaders don’t make life about them, they make it about those they serve,” said Pamela Rogers,he current regional director for the Southwest Region of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority “Richards-Smith was an icon and an initiator, she served as the Delta Sigma Theta ninth regional director.”
The role model was able to continue to serve others because she continued to serve the man who is able to conquer all.
“Auntie was raised on Christian principles,” said Floretha Richards Lofton, niece of Richards-Smith. “She had the greatest passion for family, and she tried to be everyone’s mother, she never hesitated to lend a helping hand, and she didn’t mind having extremely high expectations for everyone she came in contact with.”
Richards-Smith was Grambling’s biggest booster and biggest fan. Wherever and whenever there was a GSU event, she was there or she knew what was going on. 
“She attended all of the National Conventions no matter when or where they were,” said James Bradford, former president of GUNAA for 14 years.  “Even when her health failed her, she still attended, and when there was a problem at Grambling she would call me at night and say, ‘Bradford we have to save Grambling."
Richards Lofton said, “If you typed in on Google, Who is Grambling State Universities number one fan?, a huge picture of Richards-Smith would pop up.”
During her retirement, Dr. Richards-Smith continued to actively support her church, Lewis Temple C.M.E. Church.
“She loved to sit on the front row during church so that she could learn as much as she could,” said Charles Young, member of Lewis Temple C.M.E. Church and family-friend.
“She was passionate about attending Sunday school, and when she became unable to drive she would call us to come pick her up,” he said.
Young expressed that he will always remember her as a life-long learner and a life-long teacher. He said she is someone who made sure she touched the lives of many in a positive way. 
Another church member, Viola Wiley, who knew Richards-Smith for 65 years, said that Richards-Smith had leadership ability, was friendly and helpful, and she loved her students and colleagues with all of her heart.
She is one of the four founders of the Grambling University National Alumni Association. The other three founders are Dr. Leon Whittaker, Coach Robert T. Ennis and Mr. Wilbert Purvis, III.               
“Dr. Richards was a consistent supporter of the Alumni Association with her money, time, and talent,” said Bradford. “She was a big contributor to the purchasing of the Alumni House, which was formerly President Jones’ home.
Richards-Smith wanted to make sure that all students had an equal opportunity to receive a higher education.
“She would call me on several occasions asking me if I needed any money to help with the alumni or if I knew any students that needed tuition assistance,” said Bradford. “Time was never an issue for her, she would call early in the morning and late at night if it had to do with the future of Grambling.”
Thelma Smith Williams, a longtime friend, said Richards-Smith is one of the reasons for her success and she was responsible for her making motivational speeches around the community. She said no matter what the subject was Richards-Smith always submitted her name.”
 “My first month working in Grambling, she took me to a Nationals Teachers Meeting in Shreveport, and that’s when I realized her dedication to education,” said Williams.
“I was able to take courses under her, and I got the opportunity to find out she cares for everybody’s child.”
“She would even check on my children, and I know her first and last love was Grambling.”
Although during her years at Grambling it wasn’t very popular to have women department heads, but Richards-Smith did not let that stop her; she encouraged more women to take leadership roles and hold their own ground.
Richards-Smiths has one of the greatest stories and her legacy will live for decades to come and whose impact will continue to be felt.