Beverly McQueary Smith brought a drill sergeant-type approach to the classroom, but the tough-loving professor had compassion for promising law students and often traded legal discussions for life lessons.
Former colleagues and students paid homage Sunday to Smith, the 25-year educator at Touro Law School known for demanding excellence and instilling character and integrity that translated from the campus to the courtroom.
"She was no-nonsense and guided and pushed her students with high expectations," said Tianna Lyons, 31, a 2008 graduate of the law school who traveled from Washington, D.C., to attend her professor's retirement ceremony. "Her legacy is that she has a gift for helping students realize their potential."
Smith, who will retire from the Central Islip law school at semester's end, joined Touro Law in 1988, having taught contracts, torts, environmental law, consumer law, race and American law, among other disciplines.
She nearly single-handedly improved the school's reputation, and many in the legal community associate the school with Smith, Howard Glickstein, Touro's law school dean emeritus, said at the luncheon.
However, her hard-nosed reputation intimidated incoming students afraid to take on the well-intentioned professor.
Former student Valerie M. Cartright, now president of the Amistad Long Island Black Bar Association, spoke of the horror stories students heard about Smith. She managed to change professors, an admitted mistake.
"When I think of her, I think of great leadership and it rubs off on you," said Cartright, a Hempstead civil-rights attorney.
About a dozen more people shared experiences of the outgoing professor before Smith took the podium to briefly address the more than 100 attendees.
"The only good thing about today is that I'm allowed to hear it [these comments]," she joked as the audience burst into laughter. "It doesn't do any good to say it if I'm dead and gone."
Smith thanked her students for making her proud and walked back to her seat.
One attendee said Smith motivates the motivator. Another said she moves at two paces: fast and faster.
A stickler for professionalism and having courtroom etiquette, her classroom catchphrases include: "I don't charge you extra for this"; "If your grandmother doesn't approve, don't do it"; "Never go to court without your stockings"; and "Work hard, play hard and pray hard."
Frederick K. Brewington, an adjunct professor at Touro Law, said Smith can't be replaced.
"She turns young potential lawyers into gems."