Papa Joe Smiddy remembered for work at UVA Wise and on stage


A champion for education in Southwest Virginia and a bluegrass legend, Joseph "Papa Joe" Smiddy leaves behind a lasting memory for his work in Wise County, Virginia.

The success of U-VA Wise still largely attributed to his unwavering devotion as first an educator, and the school's first chancellor. Current chancellor Donna Henry credits the college's early growth to his tireless effort.

"As he used to say, he would make decisions and move forward and if he got in trouble he would ask for permission afterward," she said.

Papa Joe Smiddy was a bold'n driving force, transforming from founding faculty member to college leader, charged with raising money and building the little Clinch Valley College into a branch campus for the University of Virginia. Vice Chancellor Rusty Necessary said he was always looking out for the future generations, recruiting from area high schools.

"He would say, 'Rusty, I've got a student I think you need to talk to. Are you in your office and can I bring the student by?' and that happened innumerable times," Necessary said. He remembers Papa Joe as the chancellor when he was just a student there.

"One of those larger than life characters that you heard about and then realize when you have the opportunity to finally meet him just what a genuine down to earth character he was," Necessary said.

The long-time educator was also a bluegrass legend, known for the claw hammer style of banjo picking. Director of Music Education Rick Galyean said the school's bluegrass band was formed in his honor.

"[A man] looked at Papa Joe and said, 'it's a crying shame we don't have something like that here.' and I vowed at that point in time that we would have a blue grass band," Galyean said, "and we do."

Adjunct music instructor David Barker knew him his whole life and said he treated everyone he met with kindness and genuine interest.

"He would have never changed," Barker said. "If he lived to be 200 he would have never changed. He was always willing to speak with you and he knew just about everyone by their first name."

Rita Forrester, executive director of The Carter Fold, remembers him as a regular performer on the old time mountain music stage.

"He personified everything that was good about the culture of the region, not just the music but everything about it," Forrester said. "If you saw him at the store or if he was on the stage, he was Papa Joe and you knew you were going to get a big hug and a smile."

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