Ernestine Smith worked as a nurse’s aide in Brookhaven but wished she had become a nurse. That dream inspired an endowed scholarship from the estate of her son, Hugh Carroll Smith, to the School of Nursing at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
The estate bequest, expected to total $350,000, will endow three $5,000 Ernestine Price Smith Scholarships for registered nurses in the RN-to-BSN program at UMMC.
“We wanted this to help nursing students who are older than traditional freshmen and want to advance in their nursing careers,” said Karen Thompson, executor of the estate and a first cousin of Smith who cared for him in his later years.
Hugh Carroll Smith, who died Nov. 4, 2022, at 79, was a Brookhaven High graduate who earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in biology from Mississippi State University. A professor emeritus at Louisiana State University in Alexandria, he was cared for by several of his former students who had become nurses, Thompson said.
“They all liked him as an educator, and all the nursing students at LSUA had to take biology,” Thompson said of Smith’s former biology students. “He was a wonderful teacher.”
Ernestine Smith, Thompson said, “was everyone’s favorite aunt. She was sweet and kind. We loved ‘Teen-Teen.’”
After marriage in the 1940s, Ernestine Smith worked in manufacturing before becoming a nurse’s aide in a long-term care home in Brookhaven. “She didn’t sleep well at night, so she specifically requested the night shift,” Thompson said.
Said Dr. Susan Lofton, a professor in the School of Nursing who teaches in the RN-to-MSN program and is the niece of Ernestine Smith: “I wish she had become a nurse, because she would have been great at it. She had the heart of a nurse, no question.”
Her only child, Hugh Carroll Smith, was bookish as a child, often choosing his comic books over playing outside.
“Hugh was an introvert and a voracious reader,” Thompson remembered. “He was a member of book clubs and had more than 2,500 books in his home. Many of them were about science, but he also had books on religion, art and history as well as novels.”
A clarinetist in Mississippi State’s Famous Maroon Band, Smith was also a member of the Alexandria Symphonic Orchestra for many years.
Nursing is a profession among Smith cousins, with Gaye Price Ragland and Lofton graduating from UMMC and formerly working at University Hospital. Ragland has since retired.
The scholarship will be life-changing for students, said Lofton, who earned her BSN at UMMC in 1978.
“Many of our nursing students struggle to get their education,” she said. “Some of our students are working registered nurses who have families. Many times, these students work toward their BSN one class at a time, paying out of pocket, which is a slow process, and they can be easily derailed financially. An unexpected bill could halt their studies.”
The complete cost of the RN-to-BSN program is about $11,000, so a $5,000 scholarship award would cut a student’s costs significantly, Lofton said. Students in the RN-to-BSN program come to UMMC after they have completed an associate degree, passed the licensing exam and have been working as RNs. The program includes 12 courses plus any electives required.
Earning a BSN helps nurses advance in their profession and can launch them into careers as nurse practitioners or nurse educators.
“We encourage these nurses who are seeking a BSN to continue their studies and work toward a Master of Science in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree,” Lofton said. “This gift and the educations it will help fund are a great legacy.”
By Annie Oeth/UMMC Public Affairs