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Robert Lloyd Smith ’57

November 15, 2020, in Corvallis, Oregon, at home.

A professor at the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, Bob’s special interests included coast upwelling, dynamics of the ocean over the continental shelf and slope, and eastern boundary currents.

He was born in Chicago and grew up there in a home built by his maternal grandparents from Bohemia. His father was a businessman and his mother was a teacher. During WWII, the family had a victory garden and his mother pickled pigs’ feet and made soap. His grandmother Mary lived with them because her husband had died during the 1918 influenza epidemic.

Bob did well in school, attending Lowell Elementary and Kelvyn Park High School, where he played the tuba poorly—though he deeply enjoyed listening to music. His favorite subjects were art, math, and science. Bob was inducted into the National Honor Society and earned prizes at the Chicago Student Science Fair for his cloud chamber and an exhibit on chromatography. An article in the school newspaper noted that “Bob’s friendly smile and delightful personality makes a combination that is hard to beat.” Childhood summers were spent joyfully swimming and playing on the beach at the family summer home in Dune Acres. During his high school years, Bob attended Summer Naval School at Culver Academy in Indiana. He enjoyed the sailing, but not the military lifestyle.

In 1953, Bob came to Reed, which had recently been featured in the Saturday Evening Post. He enjoyed studying physics with fellow students in the so-called Rumford Society, several of whom became lifelong friends: Larry, Gene, Chris, and Peter. He also enjoyed studying the humanities, particularly with Prof. Lloyd Reynolds [art/English 1929–69], a world-class calligrapher and humanist. Bob’s physics professor was disappointed that, in his senior year, Bob chose to take Reynolds’s Graphics Arts Workshop rather than an extra physics course. He loved calligraphy and adopted italic handwriting for everyday use throughout his long teaching career. In later years, he was a member of the Goose Quill Guild in Corvallis, studied calligraphy with OSU art professor Allen Q. Wong, and lettered wedding and birth announcements for his family.

Bob met his first wife, Sheila Smith ’60, at Reed. They married in 1958, while Bob was a graduate student in physics at the University of Oregon. His career took an unexpected turn as a result of academic politics: his studies at U of O were interrupted when his thesis adviser was given notice to leave, though the preceding department chair had given him a firm promise of tenure and promotion. Cast adrift, Bob and his fellow students eventually wound up at Oregon State University, where Prof. Wayne Burt was just beginning a new program in oceanography. In the fall of 1960, Bob signed on as the first graduate student in physical oceanography. His OSU thesis adviser, June Grace Pattullo, had studied with Walter Munk at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, and was the first woman in the United States to get a PhD in physical oceanography. She encouraged her students to collaborate not only with each other, but also with colleagues in other disciplines and other institutions. Her senior students, Curt Collins, Bob, and Chris Mooers, got along very well together, and their work focused on the local ocean off Newport; together they undertook pioneering measurements of the currents over the continental shelf as well as seasonal monitoring of coastal upwelling and downwelling. All became internationally known leaders in coastal oceanography.

After completing his PhD, Bob took a NATO postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Oceanography in England before returning to Corvallis as an assistant professor. After a few years, he felt the need to spread his wings further afield and took leave from OSU in 1969 to serve as scientific officer with the Office of Naval Research, traveling around the country for site visits at various oceanographic institutions to evaluate their research programs and proposals.

Two years was enough to convince him that the collaborative spirit at Oregon State suited him far better than the narrow focus or internal competition he observed elsewhere. He returned to OSU in 1971. Bob was a leader in the NSF-funded Coastal Upwelling Unit off Oregon and follow-on experiments off Northwest Africa and Peru. He worked closely with OSU’s John Allen in Coastal Ocean Dynamics Experiment (CODE) and SuperCODE off California. Bob was vital in OSU’s participation and leadership roles in the many large-group, collaborative observing programs that followed, and he helped foster the tone for collaborative research in OSU’s oceanography for many years.

He was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and served as editor of Progress in Oceanography. He enjoyed sabbatical studies in Germany, in Wales, and especially at CSIRO in Hobart, Tasmania. Bob was adviser, mentor, and good friend to many students, postdocs, and technicians, and was a terrifically collegial scientist and a great host.

Beyond oceanography, Bob enjoyed the good things in life: swimming, walking, wine, food, art, music, Shakespeare, religion, history, and his grandchildren. His friendly good nature extended into all these areas. Reed College remained important to Bob, and he was very pleased to have his son, Colin Smith ’86, and his granddaughter, Ella Banyas ’17, become Reed alumni. He loved the Oregon Bach Festival in Eugene, and was especially inspired by the major Bach choral works conducted by Helmuth Rilling and Matthew Halls. He was a member of St Mary’s Catholic Church in Corvallis and was friends with the monks at the Benedictine Abbey in Mt. Angel and the Trappist Abbey in Carlton, Oregon.

In recent years Bob’s weekly round of meeting with friends (for water exercise, coffee, beer or Bible study) grew more and more important. And then, in March 2020, all of those activities ended abruptly, and his joy began to fade. Bob is survived by his second wife Jane, and his children Suzanne, Sean and Colin.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2021

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