Celebrating the Life of Art Smith, 1929 – 2010

My Friend and Colleague, Art Smith

Remarks by Gerald L. Wilson

“He was clearly proud of his family. When he would return from a trip to New Zealand or Switzerland I would hear about his grandchildren, their homes in the mountains and his visit. His New Zealand hat, cocked askew on his head, he wore with pride as the weather came cold as he walked to the squash courts where we would meet. We would discuss gardening, and although he had one I would hear about Amy’s gardening and her penchant for gathering seeds and drying seeds for next year’s crop. And later after Amy won the MacArthur Award I learned of it from him, but only a while after it happened. I learned that one of his step sons had bought a boat and was living on it. You might gather from this that he was effusive, that he was boasting about his family. Far from it. It took some thirty five years of meeting him twice a week to play squash for me to learn these things. It was not boasting.. it was quiet pride. He was a man of few words. His love for and pride in his family came through not by the volume of what he said, but by the quality of what he had to say.

He served his community in so many ways, at his church, in town government, in charge of selling Christmas trees. His role as a faculty member was marked by his selfless concern for the welfare of students. While undergraduate registration officer, in addition to understanding the nuances of the rules, he was always on the lookout for the student who needed a helping hand. When it came time to evaluate students at the end of the term, he was careful to ensure that the rules did not get in the way for what was best for the student. These decisions were always tempered by his wariness that sometimes we were too hard. He was not a soft touch by any means. He understood that there was a balance between holding standards in which he believed, but to not hold them so fiercely, that the human side of the institution became overwhelmed by the rules. He was a proponent of the belief that being an MIT student was like drinking from a fire hose. There were those who felt we had weakened, that we were not demanding enough. I can still hear his low key prodding: “Easy on the nozzle Gerry, easy on the nozzle.”

Most of my time with Art was in the business of playing squash. I am not sure when it began, but for thirty five years or so, we would meet in the locker room and get ready to play. There was a routine, but as I said before, not many words. Once in a while we would discuss some MIT issue, or gardening, or opening up our summer places, but it was mostly about squash.

He took responsibility for so much. He was the scheduler and keeper of the records for the Moncholo Cup. Paul Gray knows the history better than I, but a student named Moncholo apparently gave a brass cup to Dr. Rendell in the infirmary. It was and is the ugliest cup you can cast an eye upon. Ned Rendell was playing squash with MIT colleagues that included Art and Paul Gray and the cup was donated to be the prize to whomever won the Moncholo Cup matches, held at 7:10 a.m. now and then. Art would determined the now and then. He would come in with cards to draw to determine the order of play and new squash balls for each match. The winner would have to take the others out to breakfast. Being invited to join the Moncholo Cup tournament was an honor.. I thought.. until after I was invited, I learned that the new member had to take the whole crew out to breakfast … at the Ritz.

Art was a master of understatement, often making a point with a perspective that made others think; a short pithy comment that succinctly summed it up or enlightened.

He had a subtle sense of humor. Al Gregory told me the other day that he asked Art last Spring how he happened to begin playing squash. Art related that he and Paul Gray, when they were young students or faculty members, decided to forgo calisthenics which they found boring and bought squash racquets and began playing squash. And that they have been playing ever since. After a short period of silence as they walked along, Art added “You would think we would be better by now.”

I miss him.”

– Gerald Wilson

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One Response to “Celebrating the Life of Art Smith, 1929 – 2010”

  1. Larry Stabile says:

    I knew Professor Smith as an undergraduate student, in 6.08 (Stat Mech and Thermo). I had heard that the course was difficult from fellow students, so I was a bit anxious before it started. Largely due to Art Smith, it was one of the best courses I took at the Institute. His lucid style, well-planned lectures, and thorough recitation classes made the subject matter very clear and interesting. To this day the concepts are still interesting and illuminating, though that class was many, many years ago. He is certainly one professor I will not forget, and in retrospect I would have been better off had I taken even more of his courses.

    Larry Stabile, EE ’74

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