Former TCU professor dies at age 80

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    Dr. James Durward Smith, a determined scholar, fair professor and adventurous “mountain man” died at the age of 80.

    Smith taught at TCU for 31 years and was head of the department of biology when he retired in 1997.

    “In a biology department that prides itself on teamwork and collegiality, Durward Smith was the ultimate team player,” said Professor Ray Drenner, chair of the department of biology.

    Smith helped shape the future success of the department by bringing in quality instructors and guiding Drenner in his time as chair said his brother William Smith.

    Being an athlete who was part of the Border Conference Championship basketball team  in 1953 at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene improved his team building skills he said.

    It was through a basketball scholarship that Smith was able to leave the farm they grew up in Cisco, Texas and became the first in his family to attend college.

    He fulfilled his father’s dreams of getting an education and became the forerunner for his brother and children to follow suit, William said. Both his daughter, Jennifer Schulmeier, and son, Jim Smith, have gone to medical school and pursued a Ph.D.

    Schulmeier earned her Spanish and biology degrees at TCU in the 80’s and said she remembered her father separating his roles as both her teacher and parent. He enjoyed teaching and was enthralled by scientific processes such as performing experiments, she said, and gave her no special treatment.

    Jim said he got to know his father better than most by experiencing his stern teaching. He said on the first day of his honors biology course he told students, “If you hadn’t started studying, you’re already behind.”

    His wife Darla also taught in the department of her alma mater until she passed away in 1997. Even while taking care of her through breast cancer, Schulmeier said he kept a positive outlook on his life.

    He went through hardships such as losing a newborn, and William said “He used all those things to become what he became. Instead of destroying him it helped build him.”

    Although he had ambition from a young age, William said Darla helped him reach his full potential. The two had been forced acquaintances on their families’ trips to Colorado when they were young.

    After spending two years in Europe while in the military, Smith had begun to think seriously about his life plan and left the mischief of his younger years William said.
    He was working at General Dynamics, later known as Lockheed Martin, gold plating rockets that would make the first US trip into space, when he met up with Darla again in Fort Worth.

    He had developed a love of teaching while working at Decatur Baptist College, later moved to Dallas Baptist University, but had not finished his graduate education.
    It wasn’t long after they married in 1962 that Darla pushed him to get his Ph.D in microbiology from the University of Wisconsin.

    The couple also took time to return to Colorado every summer, said Drenner.
    He could locate hundreds of trout in the rivers near Wolf Creek Pass, he said.

    His interest in biology extended to the environment, said Jim who pursued his Ph.D in environmental toxicology. He said he remembered their backpacking trips the most and how familiar he was with nature, even naming different plant species.

    Schulmeier said some of her best memories are of her dad pulling her down a 60 foot waterfall and teaching her to rock climb at the age of seven. He loved to fly fish and hunt near the colorado rivers where, she said, his ashes will join his wife’s at Sand Creek.

    She said he said shortly before his passing, “I am the luckiest man alive. Nothing bad has ever happened to me. I have lived the best life.”

    He passed on April 15 while in Jackson, Mississippi of a heart attack said Schulmeier. His surviving family includes his children Jennifer and James and their spouses Greg and Leslye; his brother William and wife Mila and their children, Bret and Tanya; and Diana, his labrador retriever.