Celebrating the Life of Art Smith, 1929 – 2010

Remarks at the Memorial Service for Arthur C. Smith

by Paul E. Gray

“Art was a friend for nearly fifty years. He joined the Electrical Engineering Faculty in June 1959, and I followed a year later. We shared for the next ten years adjacent offices in the basement of Building Ten.

With John F. Kennedy in the White House there was much emphasis on physical fitness. Art and I signed up in 1961 for a twice-a -week exercise class in the DuPont Gym. It was taught by the Ed Crocker, the MIT tennis and squash coach, which was for us providential. A few months of boot-camp style calisthenics got pretty boring, and we persuaded Ed to give us a few squash lessons, and that made all the difference. We played two or three times a week, eventually expanding the group of regular opponents and creating a small tournament with an accidental ugly bronze trophy. Winning the tournament had its price – the winner was required to take the losers to breakfast. Art was the faithful recorder of this contest – the Mancholo competition.

Art was the quintessential good citizen — In his life at MIT — at home — and in Lexington. He served over the years as chairman of faculty committees that required the highest level of care and thoughtfulness: the Committee on Academic Performance, the Committee on Privacy, The Committee on Educational Policy, and the Committee on Student Affairs. For two years he was the Chairman of the Faculty – a measure of the respect in which Art’s colleagues held him.

In 1990 the provost and I asked Art to serve as acting Dean for Student Affairs while a search committee looked for a permanent successor. A year later Chuck Vest removed the “acting” from Art’s title and added responsibility for undergraduate education. In my experience at MIT, there has been no other member of the faculty whose service to the Institute embodied the significance and scope of Art’s career.

Throughout these years of service to the entire Institute, Art continued his teaching in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. In the 1970s he accepted responsibility for graduate students, including oversight of graduate admissions, and in the mid 1990s he added responsibility for undergraduate students. In this work he upheld the standards of the department in a compassionate and thoughtful manner. Art continued in these responsibilities until a year or two before his full retirement.

Art’s family was immensely important to him. He provided real variety in the lives of his children. In the mid-sixties the Smith family went to London for a sabbatical year. A few years later the family took up residence for two years at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in the Rajastani desert of India where Art was part of an MIT effort to assist that private institute.

We often talked together about our families, and Art’s caring, his pride, and his interest in the education and careers of his children and step-children was always evident. He made time for each of them, even when it meant travel half-way around the globe. His love for them was visible and unconditional, as it was for Ann and later for Wilma.

In Lexington he served as an elected town meeting member and played the cornet in the Lexington Brass Band. He organized and oversaw each year the Christmas tree sale at the Follen Community Church.

Art was, in all contexts a quiet, reserved, understanding, approachable person endowed with sound judgment, unusual listening ability, and absolute integrity. He was a valued advisor to many, much appreciated by a small army of MIT students, as well as by a platoon of EECS department heads. He is sorely missed.

Henry Adams said: ‘A teacher affects eternity. No one can tell where his influence ends.” So it is with Arthur C. Smith.’”

– Paul E. Gray

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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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