By Ursula Thomas Miller
General Introductions: Xavier’s Front Door
Jack Smith remembers seeing a bright light, feeling very cold and having the sensation of floating. The next thing he knew, he was in a hospital.
“I’m a survivor,” he says, recounting the near-death experience that left him unconscious for several days in 2004. “My journey was not completed yet. There’s a reason God sent me back. That’s why I say, ‘I’m a survivor.’ ”
That’s the kind of optimistic outlook that greets each visitor to Xavier. The 58-year-old Smith is the guard posted along University Drive on campus who directs visitors on what building they need to go to and where to park. And it is his mission, he says, to bring a positive message to all those he greets at the entrance to the University.
“This is the positive gate,” he says of the entryway where he works, which has ceremoniously been renamed the Jack Shack in his honor. “I tell people ‘You can do anything you want to do. Don’t let nobody tell you you can’t do something. When you come through here, you have to be positive.’ ”
Smith, an avid reader who loves to garden and hang out at the beach, has been working the gate at Xavier full time for four years. He joined the University after 28 years at Bethesda North Hospital, where he was an operating room assistant in the cardiac unit. That’s where he was the day he had a heart attack and lost consciousness after falling forward, hitting his head and breaking his shoulder.
“At Bethesda, I interacted with patients and families and now I interact with students,” he says, waving to one of his many student-acquaintances walking along the sidewalk in front of Schmidt Hall on a sunny afternoon. “I just like talking to people. If you don’t talk to ‘em, you won’t get nothing.”
Indeed, gate regulars routinely banter with Smith, a gray-bearded, husky man with a quick smile and a perpetual Key West tan.
“I’m here to teach a class,” an adjunct says, as she pauses her car to speak to Smith. “They told me if I told you a good story, you’d give me a parking pass.”
Smith grins and waves her on.
A friendly demeanor—and a love of sports—has helped Smith connect with everyone. He was even asked to give a Xavier welcome to officials from the University of Cincinnati who came to campus for a Crosstown Shootout.
“Three years ago, the president’s office asked me to stay over to greet the UC board members who were coming here for the Crosstown Shootout,” says Smith, who knew the members because he had worked as an usher for the University of Cincinnati for 28 years before he began ushering at Xavier basketball games in 2003.
He also has worked as an usher for the Bengals and Reds since he was 18.
Smith’s sparkle ignites smiles outside sports arenas as well. He likes to tell the story of a taciturn commercial banker who recently visited Xavier for a meeting with University President Michael J. Graham, S.J.
“The president’s office called me afterward and wanted to know how I got the bank executive to laugh,” says Smith, summing up his positive outlook on life, “If you treat people nice, they’ll treat you well.”