First black public defender in S.F. dead

The Associated Press
Saturday April 28, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — Frederick D. Smith, a Tuskegee Airman who became San Francisco’s first black public defender, has died following a long illness. He was 84. 

Smith was born in Kansas in 1917 and died April 13 at a convalescent home in San Francisco. 

He attended the University of Iowa in 1936, but left after three years to work in Chicago’s stockyards where he learned to fly planes. 

During World War II, Smith joined the Tuskegee Airmen, graduating in class 45C. After the war, he moved to the San Francisco Bay area to work as a longshoreman. 

In 1951, Smith entered the Hastings School of Law.  

And after graduating in 1956, he earned membership in the California Bar and worked for the law firm of McMurray, Brodsky, Walker, Bancroft and Tepper. 

Smith joined the Office of the Public Defender in 1961, eventually rising to head attorney.  

He ended his career with the office in 1986 at the San Francisco Youth Guidance Center. 

He is survived by his son, Frederick D. Smith Jr.; daughter-in-law, Josefa Matus; and grandson, Frederick D. Smith III, all of San Francisco; a sister, Marjoria Britton, of Pasadena; Mary Roth, his companion of 17 years; and his ex-wife, Mary Ellen Wilcox of Norman, Okla.