Giving Back

Late Essex Fells Resident Honored with Plaque at Essex County Legends Way

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County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, Jr., dedicates plaque in honor of Dr. Leon Smith with Assembly Speaker Emeritus Sheila Oliver, Dr. Leon Smith, Jr., and Essex County Democratic Chairman Leroy Jones. Credits: Glen Frieson
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NEWARK, NJ — Late Essex Fells resident Dr. Leon Smith, a former infectious disease specialist at St. Michael's Medical Center in Newark, was recently honored by the county with a bronze memorial plaque that was placed along Essex County Legends Way alongside other community leaders who have impacted Essex County.

Essex County Legends Way, located at the Essex County Government Complex in Newark, was transformed from the former 13th Avenue on the southern side of the Essex County Hall of Records into a tree-lined promenade when the Jurors’ parking garage was opened in 2008. It now features bronze plaques recognizing people who have made significant contributions to Essex County.

“I believe there are three types of altruism in the world and the one I believe characterizes my father involves encountering strangers and giving them your all even when they cannot do anything for you,” said Smith’s son, Dr. Leon Smith, Jr. “My father believed everyone was a child of God and deserved your full attention. I know I have really big shoes to fill and I am very proud to be Leon Smith.”

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Plaques were also dedicated to the late Balozi Harvey from South Orange, who was the director of the Essex County Office of Cultural Diversity and Affirmative Action & the Essex County Economic Development Corporation, and the late Lawrence “Lonnie” Wright from South Orange, who was a two-sport professional athlete and Director of Minority and Underrepresented Student Recruitment at UMDNJ, on that date.

“Balozi Harvey, Dr. Leon Smith and Lonnie Wright followed very different paths, but they each impacted the lives of many and made Essex County a better place,” said Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo. “They are deserving of being remembered as Essex County legends, and having their names at our government complex will remind people of their contributions.”

DiVincenzo added that Dr. Smith, who died on Dec. 19, 2016, dedicated his life to treating the sick and researching some of the most deadly diseases our society faces.

His plaque begins with a quote he is attributed to have said, which is: “I just love being a doctor. I love the challenge of solving diagnostic problems, I love tough cases — the tougher the better.”

It continues with the following:

“His father’s early death set young Leon Smith on the road to medicine, resulting in the development of a doctor with extraordinary diagnostic skills and worldwide leadership in the field of infectious disease. The son of Lebanese immigrants, he was the first in his family to attend high school. New York University and Georgetown Medical School followed. He brought all this knowledge and experience to St. Michael’s Hospital in Newark ~ where he practiced medicine for a half-century. His compassion for his neighborhood patients, mostly of little means, led him to develop the first Free Inner City Medical Clinic, Hepatitis and Leprosy clinics, and the first clinic for Fever of Unknown Origin in the country. His HIV/AIDS clinic was the first in the state and second in America, as was the in-patient AIDS Unit. With accolades and honors bestowed throughout the years, he left a personal legacy, too. A loving marriage of 54 years, four of his five children are doctors and two of his 15 grandchildren are in medical school, with more to follow. Dr. Leon G. Smith saved scores of lives, trained a multitude of physicians, and established new boundaries for medical care. Essex County is proud of him and grateful for his work.”

The plaques at “Legends Way” currently feature:

  • Major League Baseball Hall of Fame players Yogi Berra, Larry Doby and Monte Irvin;
  • John J. Clancy, who served as the first Director of the Essex County Division of Youth Services;
  • Adrian M. Foley, Jr., who served as Essex County Surrogate;
  • Samuel Brummer, owner of Hobby’s Delicatessen and veteran who landed at D-Day during World War II;
  • Cephas Bowles, longtime WBGO Executive Director; the late Larrie West Stalks, former Essex County Register;
  • Clement A. Price, Rutgers University History Professor and Newark and Essex County Historian;
  • D. Bilal Beasley, Irvington City Councilman and Essex County Freeholder;
  • Raymond Durkin, long-time Chairman of the Essex County Democratic Committee and New Jersey Democratic Party;
  • Philip Thigpen, Essex County Register and long-time Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman;
  • Thomas Durkin, a prominent Essex County attorney;
  • Lena Donaldson Griffith, a cultural arts and civil rights pioneer in Newark and Essex County;
  • Raymond Brown, a civil rights leader and long-time attorney; and
  • Superior Court Justice Thomas “Timmy” McCormack, who was one of the authors of the County’s current Administrative Code and Freeholder By-Laws.

Pictured above with DiVincenzo after the plaque was unveiled are (from left) Assembly Speaker Emeritus Sheila Oliver, Smith's son Dr. Leon Smith, Jr., and Essex County Democratic Chairman Leroy Jones.

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