Robert A. Smith Jr., a major fundraiser for Barack Obama in 2004, died after a lengthy battle with cancer last Friday. He was 39 years old.
Largely known for bringing over 100 attendees to raise cash for the Democratic superstar, Smith’s professional careers extended far beyond helping African-American politicians.
The Jackson, Miss., native initially parlayed his bachelor’s degree in economics into an analyst position at Chase Manhattan Bank’s Investment Banking Division in 1994. Before long, his financial savvy garnered him a job as a vice president. In 1998, the company selected Smith for a special rotation assignment to establish its business practices in South Africa.
Shortly after his return, Smith resumed his vice president duties in the renamed JPMorgan Chase.
Around the time he began his Chase career, Smith also caught a whiff of the political world. In 1996, his close friend, Democratic politician Harold Ford Jr., asked for his help when he decided to run for Congress in the 9th District in Tennessee.
Smith organized a fundraiser for Ford, which ultimately paid off when Ford won office at 26 years old. Inspired by the victory, Smith continued his foray into politics. He became a board member for the New Democratic Networks New York Chapter, a founding member of the Council of Urban Professionals and a Sterling Committee Member of the Democratic Leadership of the 21st Century.
All in all, he eventually helped raise over $4 million in fundraisers with New York City’s young professionals.
But away from working tirelessly to carve niches in the business and electioneering industries, Smith was one of the kindest people you’d ever meet, according to James Collins. “Robert was the consummate friend,” said Collins, a managing director at Leeds Equity Partners, a private equity firm, and close friend to Smith for 23 years.
“He would provide any help in any form or fashion that he thought would be beneficial to his friends–whether it was recommending a book or something that would help you improve yourself. He would give you the shirt off his back; that was the type of guy he was.”
Collins said Smith best helped his community by not only helping political pals but keeping them in check. “His primary impact was putting people in place politically whose feet he would put to the fire. He was a passionate activist for holding politicians accountable and filling elected seats with candidates who could make a difference.”
Smith’s upbringing in the Deep South led to a deep spirituality. He regularly kept a Bible near his desk, listened to gospel music and held deep conversations with others about their purposes and mission in the ministry.
The Black community was of the utmost importance to Smith; he was a lifetime member of the National Black MBA Association and the NAACP.
He is survived by both parents; his sister and brother; brother-in-law and sisters-in-law; and four nieces.