Page 36: of Maritime Reporter Magazine (March 2003)
Profile: Rev. Dr. Jean Smith
Ministry With A Mission
Rev. Dr. Jean Smith on January 1. 2003 assumed the position of Executive
Director of Seamen's Church Institute of
New York & New Jersey (SCI), the not- for-profit organization, which provides spiritual personal and professional aid to the well-being of merchant mariners.
Formerly headed by the Rev. Canon
Peter Larom, the organization will con- tinue to flourish on the foundation that
Rev. Canon Larom instilled with new leadership by an experienced leader, who also happens to be the first woman to hold such a position at SCI.
By Regina P. Ciardiello, managing editor
Since grabbing the headlines more than one year ago with its highly praised relief effort in wake of the 9/1 I terrorist attacks, SCI remains at the forefront of the international maritime industry as an organization that lends a helping hand to those in need. Whether it is providing comfort and prayer (via its International
Seafarers' Center) to a merchant mariner, who has lost his connections to his faith and family; providing training to inland mariners at its Center for
Maritime Education in Paducah, Ky.: or fighting for the rights of Seafarers' around the globe, through its Center for
Seafarers' Rights group. SCI is ubiqui- tous in the maritime industry. With those roots and foundations firmly planted by the organization's former Executive
Director, Rev. Canon Peter Larom, (who will continue to function as a spe- cial adviser to the institute), SCI is ready to move into the next chapter of devel- opment through its new leader. Rev. Dr.
Jean Smith, who is no stranger to the organization or what ingredients are needed to formulate the recipe for suc- cessful leadership. Prior to assuming her current position, she served the Institute in various capacities, beginning in 1990 with her appointment as the Director of
SCI's International Seafarer's Center in
Port Newark, N.J. With her appointment as executive director of SCI, which com- menced on January 1, 2003, Rev. Dr.
Smith was an obvious choice, due to her current connections and contributions to the Institute. "Jean's [Rev. Dr. Smith's] proven leadership over the past 13 years will allow us to maintain our missions and respond to increasingly challenging times," said George D. Benjamin, head of SCI's Board. 36
Rev. Dr. Smith takes the reigns at SCI during a particularly critical juncture, as a delicate balancing act between seafar- er's rights and national security is being waged. Perhaps Rev. Dr. Smith identi- fies so well with the inner-workings of her position because she too, once felt like an outsider in a foreign land, as so many merchant mariners do when they travel on the high seas. Rev. Dr. Smith, along with her husband Peter, raised two children in places such as Paris and
Tokyo, sometimes spending as much as three years in a country where she. nor her family did not speak the language or were familiar with the culture. "My chil- dren grew up in foreign lands," Rev. Dr.
Smith said. "I can identify with mer- chant mariners because I know what is like to be an outsider."
Living in Tokyo for three years before the Smith family moved on to Paris,
Rev. Dr. Smith embraced this challenge by figuring out ways to overcome this obstacle. "When we first moved there (Tokyo), obviously I did not arrive there speaking any Japanese. I had so many concerns. How am I going to relate to people... Or as a young mother with children. I thought about safety con- cerns such as what if I needed a doctor or hospital when there's both a language and cultural barrier.
As time passed and Rev. Dr. Smith had begun to familiarize herself as best she could to feel a sense of "belonging," she discovered that the answer was a simple one. "The wonderful message that I fig- ured out over time, was yes, there are those barriers, but with effort we can overcome them," she said.
Rev. Dr. Smith's revelation not only helped her personally with her struggles to blend into a foreign county, but car- ried over into professional life as well when she was hired by SCI as the
Director of its International Seafarers'
Center in Port Newark, supervising chaplains and ship visitors. She discov- ered that when working with her staff to ensure that merchant mariners who vis- ited the Center were made to feel wel- come and comfortable that they too felt the same language and cultural obstacles that she had experienced years before. "When I would visit ships, I would real- ized that they (merchant mariners) are not only strangers when they walk off the gangway of the ship to go some- where, but even on the vessel they expe- rience these same feelings," she said. "Dealing with so many different nation- alities, cultures and languages - for sometimes a year at a time can be an iso- lating and lonely experience for some- one. That is why a sense of belonging or community is one that we at SCI try to instill."
The Road To Success
Raised on a farm in the small town of
Farmington, Mo., the former Jean
Reinhart was the youngest of three girls born to John B. and Betsy Reinhart; Rev.
Dr. Smith had a sampling of hard work and dedication through the efforts of both her parents from a young age. With her father going on to build what was then the largest manufacturing company of infant shoes, and her mother raising a family and keeping both a farm and household moving swiftly. Rev. Dr.
Smith's entrepreneurial spirit and appre- ciation for hard work is no accident. In fact, she can recall coming to New York
City as a young girl on business trips with her father, whose company. Trim
Foot Shoes, made the well-known boots for the Mouseketeers who appeared on the popular Mickey Mouse Club Show.
Grabbed by her father's passion for suc- cess and the ability to meet his goals,
Rev. Dr. Smith felt a connection to this way of thinking. "I thought, this (my father's company) is a huge success," she said. "I was intrigued by his ability to not only have a goal — but a passion to grow it. He was a good role model, and most importantly, he believed in himself."
After graduating high school, Rev. Dr.
Smith left the small, farming communi- ty where she was raised for metro-
Chicago, where she went on to attend
Northwestern University, graduating with a B.S. degree in Speech Therapy.
Following her marriage to Peter
Smith, the births of her two children, and six years spent living abroad. Rev.
Dr. Smith and her family returned to the
U.S.. at which time she began to recon- nect with her Episcopal Faith. Realizing this newfound connection, in 1977. Rev.
Dr. Smith enrolled at the Church
Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) in
Berkeley, Calif., where she was encour- aged to seek ordination as an Episcopal
Minister. Raised as a "Cradle
Episcopalian" (from birth). Rev. Dr.
Rev. Dr. Jean Smith, Executive
Director, Seamen's Church Institute
At the Seafarers' Center in Port Newark:
Rev. Dr. Smith leads a ship visiting min- istry of chaplains and volunteers, who visit more than 90 percent of all vessels that enter the Port of New York and New
Rev. Dr. Smith began her tenure with SCI in 1990 when she became director of the organization's International Seafarers'
Center located in Port Newark, NJ.
MR/EN had the opportunity to speak with the Rev. Dr. Jean Smith at SCI's head- quarters near New York's South Street
Seaport. (Photo by: Debra Wagner, SCI)