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Dean Smith remembered for social advocacy

To the nation and especially to North Carolina, Dean Smith was one of the most successful and admired college basketball coaches of all time. To UNC’s School of Social Work, Smith was an advocate for human rights and a generous supporter who helped educate others about the value of the social work profession.
“Dean often spoke very passionately about the need to support social work because he said social workers were the ones doing the important work in society,” said Associate Dean for AdvancementMary Beth Hernandez.
Thanks to a newly created fund in his honor, Smith’s commitment to the field and to students will continue for many years to come. The University and Smith family recently announced the creation of the Dean E. Smith Opening Doors Fund. Learn more about this fund.
The fund, which celebrates Smith’s legacy, aims to provide more opportunities for students in need to attend Carolina.
The fund will financially support undergraduate students and two disciplines “close to Coach Smith’s heart” —education and social work. Undergraduate students will be eligible for $5,000 toward college expenses, while graduate students could receive up to $30,000 for a full scholarship. Smaller amounts will also be awarded to pay for innovative research, travel and dissertation stipends.
As a man of faith, Smith believed in giving back and ensuring that all students have equal access to an education, said Louise Coggins, a personal friend of the Smiths and chairwoman of the School of Social Work’s Board of Advisors. Smith, who died on Feb. 7 at age 83, was a long-time board member; his wife Linnea still actively serves on the board.
“He and Linnea didn’t want students to have to leverage their whole future by being in such debt,” Coggins said. “They believed by supporting students, they would make the (University) and North Carolina better.”
Smith lived his entire life as a change-maker, Coggins added. He actively worked against racial discrimination in the South, recruiting the first African American star basketball player in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He also helped to integrate a restaurant and neighborhood in Chapel Hill. His efforts off the court earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian award.
“Dean was a great basketball coach, but he was a much greater man and mentor,” Coggins said. “His dedication to families and to social justice, not to mention equality and racial justice issues—every single cause he believed in was just in his blood and demonstrated in his actions.”
Smith’s work extended to the School of Social Work, which he supported “with his time, input and effort,” praised Dean Jack M. Richman.
“When called upon, he would often use his fame to share the importance of both education and social work—two professions that offer real solutions to social problems such as poverty, family violence, and racism.”
Smith’s influence was instrumental in helping to secure several of the largest gifts the School has ever received.
“His impact on the School, though he often did the work behind the scenes, was immeasurable,” Hernandez said.
Although most will remember the coach—the 879 career coaching victories, the 13 ACC Tournaments and two national championships—Coggins and others will remember Smith for his moral compass and desire “to always do the right thing,” to help improve the lives of others.
“He was the ultimate social worker,” Coggins said.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will celebrate the life of Coach Dean Smith during a public memorial service at 2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 22, in the Dean E. Smith Center. The public, fans and all who cared about Coach Smith are invited to attend this event.
To make an online gift to the Dean E. Smith Opening Doors Fund, go to, or checks can be mailed to: The Dean E. Smith Opening Doors Fund, Office of University Development, P.O. Box 309, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514-0309.
Story by Susan White