A Special Alum Begets an Ongoing Legacy

Alumni, family and honoree: Brian Wickes, Carmella Smathers (the mother of Capt. Smathers), Col. Mulholland and Michael McGowan, along with Athletic Director Mike Allen.
Alumni, family and honoree: Brian Wickes, Carmella Smathers (the mother of Capt. Smathers), Col. Mulholland and Michael McGowan, along with Athletic Director Mike Allen.

A chilly fall breeze whistled through Davidsonville, Md., on Oct. 23, but that didn’t stop more than 120 CUA alumni and friends from gathering at Renditions Golf Course to play a round and enjoy each other’s company for the CUA Athletics Golf Classic. Afterward, the afternoon took on a special meaning for many in attendance as the inaugural CUA Athletics Smathers Award was bestowed on alumnus Col. Sean Mulholland.

The award is named for another soldier and alumnus: decorated Army reservist and lawyer Capt. John Smathers, who died of heart failure on Feb. 4, 2006. The award will hereafter be given annually at the CUA Golf Classic to a current or former CUA student athlete who has distinguished himself or herself in service to community, university, profession or country.

Capt. John Smathers (B.A. 1980, J.D. 1984) epitomized the ideal of service to country, according to his former CUA classmates. During his military career, he earned four Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, an Army Medal of Commendation, and six Army Reserve Components Achievement Medals. After his unit came under heavy fire during his final mission in Iraq in 2004, Smathers suffered multiple injuries requiring emergency surgery.

Capt. Smathers’ warm heart, quick wit and commitment to his country haven’t been forgotten by those who knew him. “When he was your friend, you had no greater friend,” his law partner and former CUA classmate Michael McGowan has told the media. “He’d do anything for you.”

Col. Mulholland, a former CUA football player who graduated with a B.A. in 1982, was nominated by a number of his fellow alums to receive the Smathers Award. Like Capt. Smathers, he has established himself as a man of service to his country, in Mulholland’s case, in the Army Special Forces. In 2008 and 2009, the colonel served as commander of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan. He is currently the executive officer to the commander of the United States Special Operations Command. Col. Mulholland has earned a number of awards and decorations, including the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit and Bronze Star.

For the awardee, though, the event was about celebrating the life of the good friend for whom the award is named. “This is the annual ‘Remember John’ day,” Col. Mulholland said with a smile. “It is so special that the Smathers family is here today. We will always have a day to remember who John Smathers was.”

“We were delighted with the turnout for this golf tournament and award ceremony,” says CUA Athletic Director Mike Allen. “We are especially grateful to our head baseball coach, Ross Natoli, for allowing us to expand on the great work he has done with the golf tournament in the past, as well as to the many friends and family of Capt. Smathers and Col. Mulholland who helped make the event such a success. We look forward to another great event next year.”

The 2010 golf tournament will be held on Oct. 1, and CUA’s athletic department is currently soliciting nominations of candidates for the next Smathers Award. Nominations can be sent to Jen Cantwell at cantwell@cua.edu. — K.J.