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Dean E. Smith

Posted By Hall-Wynne On February 10, 2015 @ 8:38 am In Durham,News,Obituaries | 19 Comments

Dean Edwards Smith
February 28, 1931 – February 7, 2015
Chapel Hill, N.C. – Dean Edwards Smith died peacefully at his home in Chapel Hill on February 7, surrounded by his wife and five children.

Dean accomplished many things in his public life as head basketball coach at the University of North Carolina from 1961 to 1997. His record of 13 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament Titles and two NCAA National Championships contributed to four National Coach of the Year Awards, and membership in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the inaugural class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

But Dean had just as much impact through what he did in his personal life. A man of deep and abiding faith, Dean often said getting into heaven was not about a checklist. Rather, he believed it was about acceptance and grace. He was a fixture each Sunday at Binkley Baptist Church for much of his time in Chapel Hill. He believed that everyone should be treated with equal respect and expected his children and his players to treat others the same. Dean said jokingly that the Holy Spirit is in everyone—even referees.

Dean worked tirelessly for civil rights. He recruited Charles Scott, the first African-American scholarship player at UNC, effectively integrating the rest of the ACC. He also pushed local Chapel Hill businesses to serve all patrons regardless of race. The son of a coach and a teacher, Dean promoted public education, from kindergarten to college, with a special emphasis on literacy. He pushed his players as hard academically as he did athletically, graduating 96 percent of the young men he coached. In the 1990s, he advocated against the death penalty and for a verifiable nuclear freeze. Dean got a flu shot every year because he knew that if he did, others probably would, too—he even filmed a public service announcement in support of the effort. He also made a point to promote and purchase the Christmas cards created by and for the North Carolina Children’s Hospital at UNC, and used them in his correspondence. In 2013, his work in service to his beliefs and these causes, in addition to his success on the court, earned him the Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor. Although he was uncomfortable receiving public recognition and personal accolades, as a devoted Democrat he would have loved being in the same room with former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama to receive this particular award.

The loyalty Dean instilled in his family, friends and players was matched only by the loyalty he had toward them. He maintained throughout his life close friendships that he formed at Topeka High and the University of Kansas. He had a local golf foursome that played regularly almost from the day he set foot in Chapel Hill—but he put the clubs away the day practice started and they didn’t come out until the end of the basketball season.

Dean was generous with his time, making anyone he spoke to feel as though they were the most important person in the room, whether it was a five-year-old child, an equipment manager or a head of state. His infectious smile and sense of humor charmed nearly everyone.

He was as conscious of the value of time as he was committed to the necessity of contribution, whether he was conserving time-outs in games or eking extra seconds out of his drive to work or anywhere else. For a man overflowing with generosity of spirit and a unique appreciation for every moment life gave him, there was simply no time to waste. If you were late, he believed, you valued your time above that of others, so everyone learned to be early. Dean was so intent on using time wisely that he would listen to sermons by O. Dean Martin and Tony Campolo on the way to the basketball office, and would time various routes down to the second to find the most expedient path to his most frequent destinations. He would not only try to find the fastest way, but would also try to get there the fastest—a trait some of his children inherited.

Dean was a fierce competitor on and off the court. He loved golf, and once played to within one stroke of his age, shooting 73 at age 72—which his son witnessed and paid for dearly. He held onto the scorecard as a keepsake and shared it often with his close golfing friends. He also loved to play board games such as Monopoly and Pictionary with his children, and competed against them as earnestly as he did against rival coaches and his regular golf foursome.

Though he kept his family out of the media spotlight as much as possible, the Smiths were active participants in local college-town life. Dean enjoyed hitting golf balls—which the kids delighted in chasing down—and taking the family to favorite eateries for birthday meals. He loved eating out and was held in high esteem by wait staffs around town as a pleasant and appreciative patron. Dean wasn’t much of a cook, but he would grill steaks at home for large groups. He remembered everyone’s order and each cut was always cooked to perfection. Family vacations to North Carolina’s beaches—often with a Golden Retriever or two in tow—were among the highlights of his year because the breaks provided private time with his family.

With Dean, the man you saw on the basketball sidelines was the same man you met in the fellowship hall or on the golf course: attentive, devout, funny and sincerely interested in the person in front of him. He was a teacher, father, leader, friend. Each of these things spoke to part of who he was, but the sum was always greater.

He is credited with changing the game of basketball, establishing the way to run a good program and serving as an example of an individual who endeavored to live his values. He influenced those close to him and those who never met him with his integrity, humility and grace.

Dean met the challenges of dementia with dignity and determination. He continued to find meaning and connection with others throughout his illness—sources of strength and comfort despite a relentless loss of function.

Dean is survived by his wife of 38 years, Linnea Smith, and their children Kristen Smith and Kelly (Adam) Kimple; Sharon (Tim) Kepley, Sandy (Steve) Combs and Scott (Kelli) Smith, and their mother, Ann Smith; seven grandchildren: Drew (Tami) Kepley, Megen (Michael) Vesser, Morgan Smith, Brian Smith, Luke Combs, Sam Combs and Leland Kimple; great-granddaughter, Ellery Vesser; and sister, Joan Ewing.

Dean was laid to rest in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery on February 12 within earshot of the Bell Tower and in the shadow of Carmichael Arena and Woollen Gym, venues where his teams earned so many great victories. A public service to celebrate his life will be held on February 22 at 2:00 p.m. under the dome that bears his name on the UNC campus. Memorial gifts may be made to the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service, based in Chapel Hill, which helps those in need by providing housing, food and other life essentials; or to The Dean E. Smith Opening Doors Fund at UNC to support talented undergraduate students who need significant financial assistance to attend Carolina, and to graduate students in education and social work—two disciplines close to Dean’s heart. You may also give to the charity of your choice to honor Dean and the values he exemplified.

The Smith family is under the care of Hall-Wynne Funeral Service, Durham. Online condolences: www.hallwynne.com (Select Obituaries)


Condolences for the family of “Dean E. Smith”

Condolence from Mark Allman on February 10th, 2015 11:57 am

God Bless Coach Smith. An inspiration to all.

Condolence from Frances Foster on February 10th, 2015 9:41 pm

My deepest sympathy to Coach Smith’s family. Thank you for sharing him with us for so many years.

Condolence from Curtis E. West on February 11th, 2015 9:26 am

My condolences to Coach Smith’s family, the Carolina family, and to all who were the closest to him. Following Coach and the Carolina basketball family, all these years, and in all his greatness there…I really never knew what a man of faith, with a heart for humanity, justice and civil rights for all, he was, and what he thought, planned and accomplished for the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the World. He has proven to be unselfish, humble, and most content with everyone else getting all credits of accomplishments. As Coach K said, “He was not loved..” He was revered..”
Rest in Peace, Coach.

Condolence from Sheila Fogleman on February 11th, 2015 2:08 pm

You all are in my thoughts and prayers during this time. He was an amazing person that will be missed dearly.
Love in Christ,
The Fogleman Family

Condolence from Olivia S. Jamison on February 11th, 2015 4:45 pm

My sincere condolences are offered to the Smith family during their hour of bereavement. Coach Dean Smith was an awesome coach and the most respected individual of college basketball coaches of all times. The sports world has lost an icon that can never be replaced.

Condolence from Teresa and Wayne Lovell on February 12th, 2015 1:39 am

My prayers for the family of Coach Dean Smith. I am not a sports fan, but did catch the sports news on tv and I never heard him utter a curse word in interviews like Roy Williams does. I believe that Coach Smith was a gentleman and a Christian man. I wish all coaches would live up to his legacy of being a gentleman.

Condolence from Edmond Nelson on February 15th, 2015 9:53 am

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Dean Edwards Smith many years ago. His smile then was the same smile that’s reflected in the photograph on this site. He was polite and friendly man to me and my connection to him was one of his former basketball managers. That manager, in high school, had been a Morehead Scholar nominee and the statistician for his high school basketball team. When it was close for this manager to graduate, Coach Smith called the Law School and endorsed this young man. This young man later graduated with his law degree. That’s what this man did for the “members of his basketball family.”

Thank you DES for your dedication to the sport of basketball and what you did in public life. May you rest in peace and know that if God’s not a Tar Heel then why is the sky Carolina Blue.

Bless you Sir and your family,


Condolence from Michael Eaton on February 16th, 2015 7:36 am

My God be with you and your family. Thanks Coach Smith for truly being Christ like. Setting a great example on how we should treat all people . He will be missed dearly.

The Eaton Family!

Condolence from Danya Bray on February 16th, 2015 8:50 am

Thank you for sharing your amazing father and husband with the world. Your willingness to allow him time and effort taken away from you and given to others has touched so many in ways you will never know. As a fatherless child in the 60’s and 70’s, I found in Dean a male figure to admire and cheer for, to follow and try to emulate. Although I will never be the person he was, his being in the world and as close as my radio or TV set comforted me and helped mold me. The world lost a great man – but, hey, you already knew that. Prayer to your family.

Condolence from Michelle Fleer on February 16th, 2015 9:54 am

What a beautifully written ode to a man who brought such happiness to our state and beyond. I watched Coach Smith as a child and although we never met personally, I loved watching him in action in the Smith Center. The love he had for his players was evident and the ability to remember the smallest detail a great gift that made people feel important -what a great mark of a man. My heartfelt condolences to your family. Thank you for sharing him with us. He will be missed but not forgotten.

Condolence from Gerald Millard on February 16th, 2015 10:08 am

May God bless Dean and your entire family. A great person that will be missed by all very much.

Condolence from Endiah Washington on February 16th, 2015 5:27 pm

May the peace of God rest, rule, and abide with the Smith family. Coach Smith touched my life and was an example of understanding what is truly important in life. I will see Coach again in Heaven. Thank you for sharing him with us.

Condolence from Glenn Osborne on February 16th, 2015 10:24 pm

Coach Smith has been a man I have greatly admired since I was 10 years old and started watching Carolina Basketball in 1966. I have cried with the loses and cried tears of joy for the great victories. I always marveled at the sheer genius of his coaching ability and have been deeply moved by his compassion for other people, especially the poor and disadvantaged in our society. I shed tears watching Coach Smith’s retirement press conference because I knew I would never again experience the joy of watching him coach. He was a great man who stood so much for what is right and just in our world. Much of what I do everyday to help others has come from my following the life of Coach Smith. I know it might sound strange but I literally loved the man and yet never had the honor of meeting him. He was and still is my hero. God bless and comfort the Smith family and everyone who grieves the passing of this great man.

Condolence from Jeff Hinton on February 17th, 2015 11:36 am

I am very sorry for your loss. I am 54 years old but I will always remember that Coach Smith took time to respond to a letter from a 14 year old UNC fan in 1975. My mother framed his letter that included a hand written “Thanks Jeff”. I can’t describe how good it made me feel.

Condolence from Gregory H. Tuttle, M.D. on February 17th, 2015 2:43 pm

I had the distinct honor and pleasure of meeting and helping care for Coach Smith on several occasions in the 1980”s and 90’s as a team physician for the basketball team. He went out of his way to help me personally on several occasions and I will be forever grateful. At a dinner with Dean and former head basketball coaches during the 1988 NCAA Regionals his warm humor and humility made a lasting impression on me. He always deflected honor and praise to those around him. We have all lost a giant of a man but Heaven has gained a dear soul. Please accept my warmest condolences and heartfelt wish that the Great Comforter would be an abiding presence to all of the Smith family in the days and weeks ahead.

Condolence from Ernest Carraway on February 17th, 2015 8:46 pm

Just wanted you to know how much I admired Coach Smith. I wrote 2 letters to the team back in the late 1960’s when I was in high school and he answered both letters. While I attended UNC from 1970-1977 (undergrad and law school), I went to his office twice when I couldn’t wait in line for tickets because of class conflicts and both times he left me tickets at the box office. He also gave me tickets so my parents could attend a JV game because my younger brother played for ECU who was playing in Chapel Hill. I attended Binkley and have the utmost respect for Robert Seymour. I respect everything Coach Smith stood for. Carolina basketball will continue to be great (I hope!), but it will never equal the Dean Smith era! I am so glad I was fortunate enough to have enjoyed that golden era for the Tar Heels.

Condolence from Christopher Schuyler UNC ’76 on February 18th, 2015 2:00 am

Very few people on this planet have impacted as many people as Coach Smith. I’ve met astronauts, Medal of Honor awardees, celebrities by the dozens, but I never got as excited as the few times I met and talked with Coach Smith.

Coach Smith was very special to all of us, and most importantly, he made a difference.

God now has his coach for Heaven’s team.

Condolences and much sympathy to the family and thank you for sharing such a great man with the world.

Condolence from LEIGH ANN GOFORTH on February 21st, 2015 10:07 pm


Condolence from Robert&Cornelia Thrush on February 22nd, 2015 4:39 pm

To the Family of Coach Smith.

Cornelia and I wish to offer our deepest sincere condolence for the loss of your Family’s Loved One and Our Dear Friend which So Loved visiting our Little Village of Pinehurst for his enjoyment of the game of Golf.

We miss seeing you every year in the Lobby of our Beloved PineCrest Inn and taking time to Always Acknowledge “Everyone” including Cornelia and I.

Our Thoughts and Prayers continue with Your Family at Home and the UNC CH. Hill Family!

May Gods Love and Comforting Sprit continue to surround and encompass your souls…

With Love,
Robert & Cornelia Thrush
P.O.Box 3371
Pinehurst, N.C. 28374

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