Amherst Magazine

Harold Jeffrey Smith '62

Submitted by Craig H. Morgan

From The Olio

>Smith HAROLD JEFFREY SMITH
101 Agnes Avenue, Missoula, Montana
Prepared at Missoula County High School
English
Independent

Harold Jeffey Smith died '62, died July 29, 2002.
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From Our Reunion Book ---

Hal Smith was very quiet and low-profile at Amherst, yet later revealed himself to be one of the more interesting, enterprising, and productive members of the class. Writing about Hal's experience at Amherst, his wife says --

Hal appreciated many of his instructors and classes at Amherst. As a professional, he may have modeled himself in part on his Amherst professors.... As for his fellow students at Amherst, he felt somewhat isolated from many of them, maybe, in part, because many came from affluent families in the East, and he came from a family of modest means in Montana. The high-jinks of fraternity life had no appeal for him, and he had little interest in sports...Hal was very much in favor of admitting women to Amherst. He wasn't enthusiastic about the "men's club" atmosphere.

His response was apparently to go his own way, choosing to be Independent. He majored in English, but he had already developed a fascination with French, which he began learning as an AFS exchange student in high school. So he spent his Amherst junior year in France, under a program organized by Sweet Briar College.

After Amherst, he won a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to study Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. It is there that he met his wife, fellow grad student Stephani Pofahl. They were married in 1968, after which they spent a year in Paris on a Fulbright Fellowship, where Hal finished his dissertation.

At this point Hal was hired to teach French at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where they remained until 1976. Then, not long after Stephani finished her own dissertation, and only four months after having their first child, Elliot, they started an international adventure. They moved to Nigeria, where they taught French and the Francophone literature of other cultures, first spending one year at the University of Jos on the Jos plateau, then spending seven years at Bayero University in the predominantly Muslim area of Kano. Hal loved experiencing Nigerian culture, loved the literature, and it appears that the Nigerians returned the compliment. When the Muslim Brotherhood turned out to picket, shouting "Death to Americans", they bypassed Hal and Stephani, perhaps assuming they were French, and instead targeted the home of a plump, blond Englishman.

During this period they took their vacations in Europe and the U.S. While on one vacation in the U.S. in 1979, their second child, Jessica was born.

The next phase was to bring all this experience and enthusiasm back home, indeed back to the region where Hal grew up. In 1985 they began a thirteen year stint at Minot University in Minot, ND. They both taught French, and Hal was Foreign Language Coordinator. He added Japanese and Russian to the language offering. And of course he was a foreign student exchange promoter, expanding the exchange program to include students of all disciplines. He took advantage of the opportunity to shepherd exchange students to various destinations, including Europe, Japan, and Quebec, and spent time there himself.

By 1998 it was time for a change, and now Hal and Stephani chose to experience New Orleans, where Hal became Director of the International/intercultural Center at Xavier University. He once again promoted exchange ---sending students to Europe, South America, Quebec, and Africa. He held delightful "study abroad evenings" for returning students to give short talks and share their experiences. And of course--as if in a new foreign country--Hal and Stephani took to learning all they could about New Orleans history and culture, both black and white.

While engaged in all this cross-cultural adventure and outreach, Hal had always squeezed in time to pursue another lifetime interest--playing classical piano. He was very good. But soon after arriving in New Orleans, he discovered that his right hand could no longer do a trill. It was the first clear sign that he had MSA, a very rare, progressive neurological disorder. With Stephani providing transport, he was able to work until June of 2001. After that, his decline continued, and he died July 2002.

Stephani notes that throughout Hal's life--

He was a romantic intellectual. He thoroughly enjoyed studying literature, and he believed in the intrinsic value of connecting with creative minds. Instead of groaning at the work of preparing a different course, he jumped at the chance to study new texts... Hal loved traveling, meeting people from other countries, and learning about other cultures....He jokingly referred to French as "la langue des anges." [the language of the angels] We sometimes spoke it at home, and we taught it to our children.

The Amherst undergrad life of today would be more appealing to Hal. But even the undergrad life of our day might have been more appealing if the rest of us had reached out to learn more about our fellow classmates. It is a shame we missed our chance to know him.

---Craig Morgan '62 with Stephani Pofahl Smith

Hal Smith

Hal and Stephani
With Stephani

Hal and Jessica
With Jessica