Celebrating the Life of Art Smith, 1929 – 2010

Remarks from J. Kim Vandiver

“I am Kim Vandiver. I first met Art, his first wife Anne and daughters Abby, Amy and Tracy in the early 1980s at the Follen Church society, a Unitarian Universalist congregation in east Lexington. The entire family were can-do, positive people that one liked to be around. Over time the entire family has had a significant impact on my life. It was Anne who gave me my first valuable lessons in fund raising, and sent me out to get the job done. Lesson one, nothing beats face to face contact and getting to know people.

It was not long after those first meetings away from MIT that I began encountering Art at MIT. I was a freshly tenured young faculty member serving on my first faculty committees. I learned a great deal from observing him. Unlike most faculty Art would say very little to great effect. I recall many CEP lunch meetings in which Art would quietly listen for most of a 2 hour long meeting, resisting the temptation to jump into the fray until most people had had their say. He would pass the time listening and drawing really intricate patterns on his napkin. And then with barely minutes to spare he would speak up and say something like:

‘Well, we considered this proposal in 1968 and decided against it. It was a pretty bad idea then and still is. I intend to vote no.’ The vote would commence and it usually went Art’s way.

He was a superb chair of the faculty. He was the one that realized the old CEP was too cumbersome and convinced the faculty to split it into the CUP and the FPC. Later I observed, as he served as Dean for Student Affairs years before we made it a job for two deans. He was especially effective with students.

One of the really important lessons I learned from him was to seek out and value student input, even in circumstances when we might be uncomfortable. He showed time after time that even in moments of conflict, by showing respect, being earnest and negotiating honestly, it was possible to get students to join in finding solutions. These lessons have served me well.

I will close by telling you about Christmas trees. In 1974 Art organized a Christmas tree sale as a fundraiser for the church. By the early 1980s, when I came upon the scene, the enterprise had been going for several years. I began helping out and it was not long before Art had made me a regular in the annual ritual. A few days ago Wilma gave me the enormous book of records that Art had compiled. This week we ordered 860 trees, so that this tradition, begun by Art might continue.

So if you are in need of a little boost some weekend in December, stop by the tree lot on Massachusetts Avenue in East Lexington. Art would tell you to get into the holiday spirit, to take a deep breath and smell the Balsam fir. This year think of Art Smith, who in his very quiet way touched all of us.”

– Kim Vandiver

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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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