In Memoriam: Albert H. Small

The GW community remembers the life of Albert H. Small, a philanthropist and real estate developer who supported the university’s commitment to the arts, history and research.

October 6, 2021

Albert H. Small

Real estate developer and philanthropist Albert H. Small. (William Atkins/ GW Today)

The George Washington University community remembers the life of Albert H. Small, a real estate developer and philanthropist with a far-reaching impact that includes the establishment of the Albert H. Small Center for National Capital Area Studies and the Albert H. Small Normandy Institute. Mr. Small, 95, died on Sunday. 

Mr. Small attended GW Law from 1947 to 1948 and went on to become one of the university’s biggest champions. He received the GW President’s Medal in 2011, in recognition of his efforts to enhance cultural and educational opportunities, and an honorary doctorate of public service in 2016. Mr. Small was also honored during GW’s Centuries Celebration Weekend as one of the university’s distinguished Monumental Alumni.

Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations Donna Arbide said she had the privilege of getting to know Mr. Small over the last few years and described him as “a man of tremendous passion and conviction, a remarkable philanthropist and a leader in this community.”

"I was consistently impressed not only by his clarity of vision about the educational legacy he hoped to leave behind, but by the ways that legacy was already manifesting during his lifetime,” she said.  

GW President Thomas LeBlanc recognized Mr. Small’s legacy during a Board of Trustees meeting on Monday.

“He was a wonderful, wonderful man, a huge supporter of our university,” Dr. LeBlanc said. “We are deeply sorry about his passing and want to share our condolences with his family.”

Mr. Small is survived by his wife, Shirley, children Albert Jr. “Sonny” and Tina Small, Susan and Gerald Savitsky, James and Anayansie Small, grandchildren and extended family. 

Mr. Small, a third-generation Washingtonian, was an avid collector of rare books and manuscripts for more than 65 years. In 2011, Mr. Small made a historic gift, donating his unparalleled collection on the history of Washington, D.C. to GW. The Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection, a collection of more than 2,000 prints, maps, manuscripts, books, newspapers and photographs, is available to the D.C. community in its permanent home at the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum’s Woodhull House. This collection and the Woodhull House’s Albert H. Small Center for National Capital Area Studies, a research center launched in 2015, has been a vital resource for GW students and faculty.

“Having worked with Mr. Small through the renovations of Woodhull House, transfer of his collection to our museum, establishment of the Albert. H. Small Center for National Capital Studies, exhibitions of Washington history since 2015, D.C. Monday educational programs, and our annual Albert H. Small Symposium—I can testify to Mr. Small’s passion for history and even greater interest in perpetuating that enthusiasm to future generations,” said Museum Director John Wetenhall. “I remember many, many visits to his office in Bethesda—guided, advised and escorted by Bob Perry, B.S. ’70,—where Albert Small inquired about the details of exhibits and programs, always with words of enthusiasm and encouragement, as well as a joke or two. Through his collection, study center, and a commitment to learning and research, he has left us a magnificent legacy.”

In 2019, GW became home to the Albert H. Small Normandy Institute. Mr. Small established the Normandy Institute in 2011 to honor the World War II soldiers who died in the 1944 D-Day Campaign. The institute sends teams of high school students and their teachers to Normandy, France, after participating in a series of lectures by GW history professors and conducting research on a fallen soldier from their respective hometowns. Mr. Small served as a second lieutenant in the United States Navy during WWII and had a deep interest in memorializing the D-Day Campaign, which he felt had a profound impact on the world we know today. 

Mr. Small co-founded Southern Engineering Corporation in 1950, and developed millions of square feet of office space, apartment communities, and single-family homes in communities across the Washington D.C., metropolitan region.

He has served on many civic and cultural boards, including those of the National Trust for the Humanities, the National Symphony Orchestra, the National Gallery of Art, the Foundation for the National Archives, and the James Madison Council of the Library of Congress. He was a 2009 recipient of a National Humanities Medal, presented by the National Endowment for the Humanities to individuals and groups whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities.

Mr. Small attended D.C.’s Woodrow Wilson High School before graduating from the University of Virginia School of Engineering, where he received a degree in chemical engineering. He also attended American University's Kogod School of Business.