When Albert Einstein walked past Timothy Heyward Smith and his roommate at Princeton University, they were not sure how to greet the legendary physicist, who taught at the school. So they bowed. And Einstein bowed back.
“Is that because one genius recognized another?” a former student reportedly asked Smith’s wife, Linda Longmire, after hearing the story.
Smith, a longtime Hofstra University professor of education known for serving as a moral compass and mentor with his kindness and deep curiosity about the world, died Saturday – the day after his 84th birthday.
“We feel there’s a personal loss, but more importantly, it was such a loss for future students, for those who could benefit from and desperately need that insight and depth,” said Longmire, a professor of global studies at Hofstra.
Smith was born in 1934 to Wilson Heyward Smith and Laura Bretz Smith in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He grew up in Ronks, Pennsylvania, and graduated from St. Andrew’s School, a Delaware boarding school, in 1953. He received a bachelor’s degree from Princeton in 1957.
Smith served in the Army for two years before receiving his master's and doctoral degrees at Rutgers University in 1961 and 1968, respectively. He was married to Dania Smith from 1959 to 1982 before divorcing and had three children, raising them in Wantagh, the family said. He served on the Levittown school board for six years, Longmire said.
Smith had a distinguished career at Hofstra, where he taught for 45 years, a school official said. He began as an instructor in the Foundations of Education Program in 1963 and was promoted until becoming a full professor in 1994. He also served as chairman of the Department of Foundations of Education and directed its master's program.
Smith, who had homes in Hempstead and Manhattan, maintained close relationships with students long after they graduated, even officiating at a couple of their weddings.
“Tim went from being my teacher to a mentor to a close and dear friend,” said David Kortava, a former student who had Smith and Longmire officiate his wedding in Costa Rica last year. “He furnished me with an example of how to be a good man.”
Longmire, 69, said she and Smith met and fell in love during a protest over the Shoreham nuclear power plant in 1984. They got married nine years ago after “Tim wore me down with his wonderfulness” following decades of dating, she said.
Smith retired from full-time faculty in 2004, becoming a professor emeritus in the School of Education. He started leading 12-week trips of students to Europe each year with Longmire. He also became an adjunct professor of Global Studies in 2011.
Smith, who was color blind, would have seen color for the first time with special glasses that his son bought as an 84th birthday present, Longmire said. But he went into cardiac arrest before he could get that birthday present. He died in his Upper West Side apartment. He had been diagnosed with renal cancer earlier this year.
Smith will be honored with a small gathering on the Hofstra Labyrinth at 6 p.m. Monday. A larger memorial will be held in the fall, with details to be determined. He will be cremated.
In addition to his wife, Smith is survived by his children, Cynthia Kidd Healey, of Danbury, Connecticut; Tamia Heyward Cobb, of Southampton; and Steven Smith, of San Francisco; his sister, Barbara Peck of Audubon, Pennsylvania; and four grandchildren, including Tim Healey, a Newsday reporter covering the Mets. He is predeceased by his brothers, Thomas Smith and Tucker Smith, and a grandson, Patrick Healey.