Robert Smith

By Romi Carrell Wittman –


Robert Smith is a pretty common name. When told he’d been named a 2017 Father of the Year by the Father’s Day Council Tucson, the University of Arizona VP was taken aback. “I had to ask if they had the right Bob Smith,” he said.

Yet the honor is entirely fitting, given Smith’s devotion to his family, his community and his profession.

“I think my wife, daughter and grandson are the greatest blessings in my life. They’re everything a father could hope for,” Smith said.

Smith is a bit of a rare bird in these parts – a fourth-generation Tucsonan.

Two of Smith’s great-grandfathers settled here at the turn of the century. Smith grew up on Tucson’s eastside, where he came to appreciate the open spaces of the American West.

Smith loves Tucson and said he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. His only greater love is for his wife, Nancy, his daughter, Kacy, and 14-year-old grandson, Connor. “We live near each other,” he said. “We’re an integral part of each other’s lives.”

Professionally, Smith has been an integral part of Tucson and the UA for the past 22 years. After graduating from the UA College of Architecture in 1976, Smith went into private practice in San Diego, and later worked for the University of California at San Diego. In 1994, a UA position opened and, wanting to return home, he applied. He’s been at the UA ever since. He’s VP for University Planning, Design and Operations.

“I love being the campus architect here,” he said. “I get to work with creative and talented people and have gotten to know a lot of the leaders in the industry. I think I have the best job in town.”

Smith has led a $2-billion campus building program with no litigation, major claims or budget overruns – a feat that’s nearly unheard of. These projects have won more than 80 design and construction excellence awards. One project, the Meinel Optical Sciences Building, was the first Southern Arizona building nationally recognized by the American Institute of Architects. It received the Honor Award in 2007, one of just 11 projects around the world recognized that year.

Smith has been a leader in the regional and national design community, as well as the construction community. He’s served as president of the Southern Arizona AIA and the National Association of University of Architects. In 2012, he received the Southern Arizona construction industry’s Good Scout award.

“My job is pretty demanding and time consuming,” Smith said. “So I really try to find ways to contribute to the industry that are good for the university and for Tucson.”

Smith pioneered new design and construction delivery methods, working with other Arizona industry leaders to help develop the state’s innovative Construction Procurement Code.

The old, traditional process – design-bid-build – requires completed designs before the project goes out to bid. Once the bids come back, the lowest bidder is selected and the project commences. It’s a flawed process prone to problems, including cost overruns and delays.

Smith helped to implement an entirely new process – design-build.

“We hire the designer and the contractor together,” Smith said. “They work together as a team and are much more coordinated. We save time and money by ‘fast-tracking’ these projects, starting construction months before the design is completed.”

The first design-build project in Arizona was the UA Student Union Memorial Center.

Despite the demands – and his love – of his job, Smith is firmly devoted to his family. Smith applies the same values he uses in his professional life to fatherhood. “I believe in honesty and integrity and I try to look at the big picture at all times. Life has ups and downs. You have to take the long view,” he said.

He strongly believes in giving unconditional love to one’s children. “It’s harder than ever to be a kid,” he said. “They all need the foundation that they’ll be loved no matter what. That’s a parent’s first job. And you have to let them know that you believe in them, that no matter how tough things might be on a given day, they have what it takes to be successful in life.”

Smith summed up his approach to career, community and fatherhood simply: “Life is a great adventure. I live to enjoy and share the wonderful experience with friends and family.”

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