Celebrating 70 Years of the Smith Scholarship Fund
Seventy years ago, Florence L. Smith could only imagine the lives she would touch through her generosity. Smith, the daughter of a Norfolk physician, left a gift in her will to the community foundation when she died in 1952. Her $460,000 bequest created a scholarship fund for students attending medical school.
The Florence L. Smith Scholarship Fund continues the excellent work she envisioned. It has grown to more than $2.5 million and has helped educate more than 750 physicians.
Dr. Dorothy Urban Wright was among the first Smith Scholars, and she graduated from the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, which is now Virginia Commonwealth University.
“It meant a lot to me,” said Wright, who graduated from medical school in 1956. “I wanted to be a doctor at 12 years old; it’s something I always wanted to do.”
The scholarship helped Wright break barriers as a woman in the primarily male medical field at the time.
“There were about eight of us out of 100,” Wright said, recalling her medical school peers.
Thanks to Smith, she was able to accomplish that dream. Wright, who grew up in northern Virginia, needed help with medical school costs after attending The College of William & Mary. Wright received a nearly $1,000-a-year renewable Smith Scholarship to pay her tuition and fees. She became a pediatrician and even spent time teaching ethics in medical school. She later started a palliative care program at a hospital in Syracuse, New York, where she retired and still lives. And Wright twice worked in Haiti at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital.
Wright felt so inspired by Smith’s generosity that she became a faithful donor to the scholarship fund. Wright’s advice to medical school students today: “Follow your dreams.”
For the 2021-22 school year, the Smith Scholarship supported 10 students attending medical schools across the state, helping defray costs, which can top $200,000. Like these scholars, Dr. Alfred “Buzzy” Schulwolf said the scholarship was a lifeline.
“It made my time at medical school much easier not to have to worry about borrowing money,” said Schulwolf, who got a scholarship in 1954. He worked as a pediatrician in Norfolk for more than 40 years. He served as president of Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughter’s medical staff and chaired the admissions committee for Eastern Virginia Medical School. Schulwolf, who graduated from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, donates to the Smith Scholarship Fund every year. He also established his own scholarship fund at the community foundation in honor of his late wife and Smith, called the Buzzy and Helen Schulwolf Fund for Smith Scholars.
“Giving back is important to our community,” said Schulwolf, who began donating to the Smith Scholarship Fund when he retired nearly 20 years ago.
“I always had some thoughts of doing something when I could afford it. Towards the end of my practice in 2004, I became reinterested in doing something for the Smith Scholars. I had never had the opportunity to repay in some way the benefits that I had gotten in scholarships in both college and medical school. So that became a goal of mine that I really felt good about being able to accomplish.”
That First Class of 26 Smith Scholars
According to foundation records, the first class of 26 Smith Scholars in 1953 included the future president of the American Medical Association, the future head of Walter Reed Army Medical Center during Operation Desert Storm, and the future president of the Virginia Medical Society as well as students like Wright destined to help generations of patients have good health. They have led prestigious medical associations, including the International Society of Pediatric Surgical Oncology, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Smith Scholars count among their ranks the former commissioner of health for the Commonwealth of Virginia and the former chief of aerospace medicine for the United States Air National Guard.