In Memoriam: Calit2 Advisory Board Member Phil Smith (1932-2014)

San Diego, February 21, 2014  -- Philip M. Smith, the founding co-chair of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) Advisory Board, passed away on February 16, 2014, after a brief illness.

In 2008, Phil Smith (far right) visits the StarCAVE 
virtual-reality environment in Atkinson Hall with
(l-r) Calit2 Director Larry Smarr and Advisory Board
members Andrew Viterbi, Vint Cerf and Forest Baskett.
Smith was one of the most experienced science policy professionals in the United States, having served in Washington, DC during every administration from Eisenhower to Clinton. He received a BA in science education and Master's in psychology from Ohio State University, and conducted research in Greenland and Antarctica, leading to his directing large-scale international research programs in the geophysical sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the 1960s and 1970s. Smith later served as Associate Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for Natural Resources, Energy and Science from 1975 to 1981, working closely with Frank Press, who was President Carter’s science advisor and director of OSTP. Following this, Smith became Executive Director of the National Research Council for 12 years, where he continued his collaboration with Frank Press, the President of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) from 1981 to 1993. Smith participated in many other public and private organizations, including as a member of the Board of Directors for Aurora Flight Sciences.

Smith is remembered fondly by national science leaders:

Calit2's Smarr (left) with Smith in Santa Fe, NM, in 2006.
Calit2's founding director Larry Smarr, a professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of California, San Diego, had a long-lasting relation with Smith. "I first met Phil while serving on an NAS committee (the “Zare Report”) to determine whether NSF should initiate its later, highly successful Science and Technology Centers program. For the next 25 years, Phil served as my mentor, with my making innumerable trips to seek Phil's advice in his two homes: Washington, DC, and Santa Fe, NM. Phil served as the Chair of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications External Advisory Council for 15 years while I was Director there. After I moved to UC San Diego, I asked Phil to become the co-chair of the Calit2 Advisory Board along with Forest Baskett, now a General Partner at NEA."

In his role as Advisory Board co-chair, Smith worked closely with the UC San Diego and UC Irvine Chancellors on strategic planning for Calit2.

The Calit2 Division Directors and Chief of Staff worked closely with Smith and look back fondly on his sage advice:

During a Calit2 Advisory Board meeting at UC Irvine,
Phil Smith (seated third from left)  and fellow board
members are briefed on the Hiperwall display system.
Working closely with Smith over the last 13 years were his fellow Calit2 Advisory Board members. His special abilities were perhaps captured best by board member Mark Anderson, CEO of Strategic News Service and Founding Chair of the Future in Review Conference: “Phil had a delightful ability to see through all of the smoke and mirrors, whether scientific, logical, or those presented by human nature, and to understand the most complex problems in a structured, straightforward way. No matter how convoluted a technical or policy issue, he seemed able to immediately see it in its parts, and he found a useful path for the rest of us to follow in doing the great work he so passionately believed in. In this pursuit, it was as though he was all spirit and no ego: it didn't matter whose idea was being considered, or where it came from. If it moved the world, or our projects, along, he immediately grasped it and integrated it into the whole of our efforts. He was a wonderful human being, with a delightful sense of humor. I will miss him and his contributions to our shared efforts.”

Many other members of the Calit2 Advisory Board (AB) had similar thoughts:

Exploring the
Grand Canyon in 2007
What made Smith so unusual was that, in addition to his 60 years in science policy, he was a perfect bridge between C. P. Snow’s “Two Cultures” of sciences/engineering and the humanities/arts through his lifelong engagement with both. As a collector and mentor of many contemporary artists, he developed a major personal collection. Later in life he began to give away large segments of his collection, for instance to found the Nampeyo :: Namingha – Tradition and Transition exhibit at the Museum of Northern Arizona. Smith was a great devotee of the theatre and made numerous trips to New York and London to see a wide range of peformances. As a result, he was a deeply insightful advisor to Calit2’s projects in the digital arts.

Similarly, Phil Smith’s lifetime of outdoor adventures provided a unique perspective on Calit2 projects in the digital environment. In his early years Smith was active in cave exploration and mountaineering, and for five decades he was an avid river-runner on the Green-Colorado River System. In 1958, he conceived and helped plan the first and only successful upriver jet boat trip through the Grand Canyon in 1960.
Fellow expedition member Sandra Blakeslee and
Phil Smith explore the Galápagos Islands in 2012

Smith shared these immersive experiences with Smarr and co-chairs of the Calit2 Advisory Board Forest Baskett and Anne Petersen in the “Friends of Phil” expeditions he led to the Grand Canyon in September 2007 (a two-week rubber raft trip down the Colorado river through 200 rapids) and on a National Geographic ship to the Galápagos Islands in July 2012.

Calit2's Smarr reminisced: "Phil’s all-too-early departure leaves a large hole in many of our hearts. He was the quintessential public servant, a role which is so essential and yet filled so rarely at the level Phil Smith served. We deeply miss him."

Related Links

Aurora Flight Sciences Obit
National Academies
January 2003 oral history interview with Phil Smith
Calit2 Advisory Board Members
Nampeyo :: Namingha: Tradition and Transition Exhibit
Oral history interview with Phil Smith on Antarctica