He has spent more than 52 years in the field, beginning as a teacher at Fairview Elementary in 1960.
Smith taught astronomy at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Cleveland State University during the early 1980s and was inducted into the Royal Astronomical Society in 1970.
Smith also served as a teacher or an administrator while at Rossville High School, Naomi Elementary, Gillen Elementary and the Walker County Science Center.
He later worked in the Walker County school system’s central office as the coordinator of secondary education and retired from a full-time role in education in 1991.
Smith served two terms on the Walker County school board for eight years, deciding not to run again in 2010. He liked the aspirations and stances of both candidates — Karen Stoker and Dennis Willerson — who sought the school board seat (Post 1) that he held and led to his decision not to seek re-election.
As a conservative Republican and an ordained Baptist deacon, Smith views young people as “the most valuable asset, as they will determine our nation’s future.”
“Teachers must motivate the learner to seek knowledge,” Smith said. “The best education a person can get is the education they give to themselves.”
One colleague who has worked with Smith during much of his career is Wayne Robinson, who served as WCS coordinator of technology, information services and science education from 1983-2011.
"I had the privilege of working for Jim Smith during my first three years in the Walker County school district,” Robinson said. “He was a tremendous mentor and one of my biggest supporters thirty years ago and he remains a mentor, a professional colleague and one of my biggest supporters today. His contributions to the Walker County school district and the tri-state area are immeasurable.”
Robinson has known Smith since their days as high school students, when both met their future wives, Pam (Robinson) and Shirley (Smith).
He recalls the great adventures to Mount LeConte and the professional goals that Smith envisioned, describing him as a “trailblazer in more senses of the word than one can ever imagine,”Robinson said.
Smith served as an educational mentor to many during his physics, biology and astronomy classes, including three world-renowned astronomers (Bill Cook and Rob Suggs with NASA and Caroline Sumner with the Houston Museum of Natural Science).
He also wrote the grant for the first Walker County Schools planetarium in the 1960s and has been a vital resource in the modernized relaunch of the planetarium that opened earlier this year.
He plans to remain a volunteer at the planetarium through the end of the school year and willing to be a resource to the next educator teaching at the planetarium.
Smith plans to continue enjoying his 34-foot class-A motor home and traveling around the U.S. It’s a longtime pursuit that he has enjoyed with his wife since 1982. They have been to all 50 states at least once and even driven across Canada and Mexico.