2010-10-16 / Front Page

Dr. Herbert C. Smitherman Sr. broke barriers at P&G, was innovative educator

Dr. Herbert C. Smitherman Sr., a chemist and executive who opened doors at Proctor & Gamble Co. for African Americans and other ethnic groups and later became an innovative educator at Wilberforce University and Cincinnati Public Schools, died Saturday, Oct. 9, surrounded by his family. He was 73.

Dr. Herbert C. Smitherman Sr. Dr. Herbert C. Smitherman Sr. “My father was the Jackie Robinson of Procter and Gamble,” said his son, Christopher Smitherman, president of the Cincinnati NAACP Branch.

Dr. Smitherman was the first African American hired by Procter and Gamble with a Ph.D in physical organic chemistry. Some of the many patents he developed for P&G are currently featured in the ‘’America I AM: The African American Imprint’’ exhibit at Cincinnati Museum Center. The products he helped create and develop included Crest toothpaste, Safeguard soap, Bounce fabric softeners, Biz, Folgers Coffee, Crush soda flavors, among others.

In addition to his position as a chemist at P&G, Dr. Smitherman spent his career there recruiting and retaining African American professionals. Many of the African Americans at P&G in the 60s, 70s and 80s were recruited and retained by him. “My father leaves a legacy of diversity at P&G,’’ said his son, Dr. Herbert Smitherman Jr., Ph.D and resident of Detroit. “There were a lot of challenges facing African Americans in corporate industry at the time. He tried to build bridges and open opportunities for everyone in the industry, including African Americans.’’

After retiring from Procter and Gamble after 29 years there, Dr. Smitherman served as vice president of academic affairs for Wilberforce University. He then started a high school called Western Hills Design Technology to assist African American students in performing well in math and science. He later joined the Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education as an assistant to Superintendent Mary Ronan.

“Herb was a wonderful educator and a consummate professional who will be deeply missed. He had a passion for giving back to the youth of our community, which is why he came to CPS after successful careers as a research chemist and a college educator. In working with Herb when he was a principal and even more closely in his role as manager of the Office of Innovation, I came to appreciate his dedication as an educator, his appreciation of the importance of research and data in school improvement, his integrity and his unfailing courtesy. He was a tremendous role model for our students and staff alike.”

Dr. Smitherman was an only child and was born in Birmingham, Ala., to Alberta Smith Smitherman and Rev. James Otis Smitherman. The family lived on the same street in Birmingham as the future wife of civil rights icon Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth Sr. and her family. Like Rev. Shuttlesworth, Rev. Smitherman was an activist as well as a minister. His church was burned twice in response to his involvement in voter registration activities in Birmingham.

Dr. Smitherman was married to Barbara J. Flowers Smitherman for more than 51 years, and they had six children and 14 grandchildren. The couple met during their college years at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. His doctoral work was at Howard University, and the couple moved to Cincinnati in 1966 when he was hired by P&G. They both have been teachers and school administrators and have been active in the local NAACP.

“After all of his achievements, my father would want to be remembered as a loving husband, great father, and proud grandfather,’’ Christopher Smitherman said. “He gave his entire professional life to improving not only the standard of excellence, but role modeling the essence of how a good person leads a good life.’’

Dr. Smitherman Jr. added, “Ultimately, my father’s life was about assisting and helping others. He assisted households by developing products to make their lives easier. He assisted college students at Wilberforce in improving their chemistry skills and how to better understand industry. He worked with high school students to prepare them for college. He was always working to make the community better, opening doors to industry and potential advancement.’’

He added his father was a very humble man who had lived a fulfilled life from his point of view. “He was proud of his family, and he loved Cincinnati,’’ he said.

Funeral services are at noon Saturday, Oct. 16, at Bellarmine Chapel at Xavier University, 3800 Victory Parkway, Cincinnati. A wake will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 15, at Bellarmine Chapel.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be sent in the name of the Dr. Herbert Charles Smitherman Sr. Scholarship Fund of Greater Cincinnati Foundation. Donations may be mailed to the Cincinnati NAACP at 4439 Reading Road, Suite 202, Cincinnati OH 45229.

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