WISE – The University of Virginia’s College at Wise announced Monday that the College’s first chancellor, Dr. Joseph C. “Papa Joe” Smiddy, passed away at the age of 96. Dr. Smiddy was a tireless champion of our region and a devoted educator. He began his educational career as a teacher and later principal at Jonesville High School in Jonesville, Va. Miss Grace Davis, another tireless advocate of education in our region, was a colleague of his at Jonesville that always praised Smiddy for his zeal and hard work until her death at age 99 in 2002.
In 1954, Smiddy gave up a promising career with Royal Dutch Shell to join the original faculty as a biology professor at Clinch Valley College (CVC)–now the University of Virginia’s College at Wise–in Wise, Va.
Papa Joe found his calling at CVC and spent the rest of his life championing the college and forming it into the respected institution that it is today. A genius at politics, Dr. Smiddy used his wits and charm to navigate good and bad times and grow CVC from a two-year commuter school into a four-year residential college—even when leaders in Charlottesville insisted that the school have residents. He always embraced the idea that it was easier to ask forgiveness than permission.
He became dean of CVC after only two years on the faculty, and he became director of the College after two years as dean. Upon his retirement 30 years later, U.Va.’s Board of Visitors named him Chancellor Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Biology in honor of his exceptional dedication to the students and faculty of U.Va.’s only division school.
Smiddy was a 1948 graduate of Lincoln Memorial Univeristy (LMU) in Harrogate, Tenn. He served on the LMU Board of Trustees for nine years from 2002 to 2011. Upon his retirement, the Board voted to bestow upon him the title of Trustee Emeritus. Dr. Smiddy had previously received honorary doctorates from LMU and two other schools: the University of Richmond and the College of William & Mary.
Apart from education, Papa Joe was well known for his clawhammer banjo picking, and he would bring out the banjo to the delight of all whenever time and space allowed it. Smiddy was also a huge promoter of Virginia’s State Parks, and his work at Natural Tunnel State Park in Duffield, Va. is memorialized in the Papa Joe Smiddy Mountain Music Festival each summer.
To say that Papa Joe will be missed is an exercise in understatement. His work was tireless, his talent unforgettable, and his smile infectious. He touched so many of our lives in countless ways. He leaves our region forever improved, enlightened, and entertained. Thank you, Papa Joe, for everything.