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Jill Smart

Jill Smart

UI trustee | President, NAHR | Class of 1981

Before the UI trustee who now goes by Jill Smart checked in at the UI, no member of the Bellavia family had earned a college diploma.

So, while she knew all along that she’d be an Illini — the future Distinguished Alumna of the College of Business didn’t as much as send an application anywhere else — Smart arrived at the Florida Avenue Residence Halls 40 years ago last month “not having a clue as to what to expect.”

And then this happened.

“A tall red-headed young woman with a big smile on her face came to our car and said ‘I am Janet Brown, you can call me JB, and I am your Illini Guide, and I am going to help you move in to your dorm room,” Smart says. “Wow. Someone to help me move in to my dorm other than my parents? I obviously picked the right school.

“In addition to helping me move in, Janet really guided this naïve university newcomer as she started her college years. I spent two years in Trelease, and as someone who needed to spend a lot of time studying, I can still see my dorm room and the study room — OK, also party room — in the middle of the floor, and I can still see the cafeteria dish room where I worked to help pay my bills.  

“Forty years later, JB is now Janet LeRoy, and we have been true friends literally to this day, as proven by our grand time at the football game this (year). We commemorated our friendship with a cement paver with our names at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center

“This university brought us together. We are very different in many ways and have chosen different life paths” — Smart the longtime global head of HR for Accenture and now president at National Academy of Human Resources; LeRoy an elementary school teacher in Urbana — “a true reflection of the diversity of our university.

"But, we share the same blood. That being orange and blue blood, of course.”