James H. Smith

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When James H. Smith joined a union, it changed his entire life. “For my father, the union stood for equality,” said Luita Williams, Smith’s daughter. “He saw it as a platform to educate people about their rights, but also their responsibilities. He wanted to make sure people were taken care of and he used his involvement to reach back to younger people coming behind him to educate them about the union, so they would know what to do to keep taking care of their members and their families. He wanted them to become a force for good in their community.”

Smith, who died in 2005 at age 86, was a proud member of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 23. He represented the union with the Indianapolis Industrial Union Council, completed UAW training across the state and the nation, represented the union at national conventions and chaired the community service committee. After he retired in 1974 from a 31-year career with the Chevrolet Truck and Bus Company in Indianapolis, Smith served until his death in many roles representing fellow retired UAW workers in Indianapolis.

This engagement in the lives of autoworkers and their families led to a commitment to representing labor with United Way of Central Indiana. For two decades, he was a member of their agency relations committee and served as a labor loaned executive in 1981 and 1982.

Through this work, Smith became even more involved with organizations he believed were forces for good in Indianapolis. This included years of board service and volunteering with Greater Indianapolis NAACP, Indianapolis Urban League, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana and Boys & Girls Club of Indianapolis. Smith would have turned 100 this year, the same year that United Way is celebrating its centennial. In reflecting on her father’s life of service, Williams says it is fitting to imagine what Smith would have hoped for Central Indiana’s next century.

“I think Dad would hope that we ensure that future generations would not have to endure the struggles and obstacles that many in his generation did – economic and education inequality among them,” Williams said. “He would want us to reach back to help someone else, to make a difference by caring about the needs of others. He believed it is not enough for each person to move ahead in his or her own life. We do better when all of us do better.”