Story #34

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Jean Smith – A Lifetime of
Caring and Lifting Lives

BronxWorks Volunteer Board Member & 2013 Annual Gala Honoree


Jean is the epitome of the person who is the most deserving of recognition yet the most reluctant to accept the praise.  As one of four honorees at BronxWorks annual gala on June 10th, the recognition is well deserved for our longtime, dedicated board member and this Bronx-born-and-raised community and youth advocate.  The honor will be only the most recent of the numerous awards and accolades she has received in recognition of her remarkable career and service to her beloved borough.

Her reluctance could come from her belief that while she has always worked very hard, she says she “got a lot of help and had people around her who said ‘you can do it.’”  And “do it” she did, from her childhood as the only daughter of a single, working mother (her father died when she was 3 years old) and baby sister to three older brothers.  She credits her mother with instilling in her the high standards she has set for herself and others throughout her career and life, saying her mother did everything with quality.

Jean made these standards known from her first day at Chase Manhattan Bank where she started as a block clerk (sorting and counting checks) and over the course of a 50-year career there, advanced to Vice President and Senior Executive Officer.  At one point, she was responsible for the bank’s flagship operation at One Chase Manhattan Plaza.

She admits to not wanting to accept that prestigious job because she had solidly established herself in the Bronx regional market overseeing more than nine branches, but accept it she did.  Whether she was working in a branch office or the headquarters, Jean instinctively employed the best of management practices such as managing by walking around, not sitting behind a desk; never taking credit for other people’s success even when it was success she facilitated; and having an “open door policy” with her employees.

She applies those same standards to her community and public service that has included serving on multiple nonprofit boards and as one of the founding trustees of Excelsior College, an institution dedicated to educating the adult learner.  Her awards, too numerous to list, include Excelsior’s 40th Anniversary Partners in Lifelong Learning, 100 Black Women Leadership Award, and the NAACP’s Roy Wilkins Humanitarian Award.

Asked why she joined the BronxWorks board more than 20 years ago, Jean says, “As a Bronxite, I am awed by the breadth of work done for the people of the borough by BronxWorks.”  She is equally awed and inspired by how hard her fellow honoree, Carolyn McLaughlin, BronxWorks Executive Director, works on their behalf.

When asked about Jean, Carolyn states that “Jean is an ideal board member, literally doing almost everything from serving on multiple committees to coming to the office to help wherever needed.  She truly understands the work we do and the issues young people in our community face, demonstrating care and concern for our staff, participants and our neighborhoods.”  Together, they form a mutual admiration society that results in a formidable team when it comes to advocating for those in greatest need in the Bronx.

Jean lives by her words: “You don’t just take, you give and help the next person that comes along.”  Thanks to the humble, smart and caring leadership of our friend and honoree, Jean Smith, BronxWorks will be able to help many more who come along through our doors, ensuring they build their lives for a better future.

Jean is one of 22 volunteer members of the BronxWorks board of directors.  The board carries governance and fiduciary oversight responsibilities for the organization and also gives generously of their time, talent, and treasure.  Questions or comments? Send them to info@bronxworks.org.

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