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Queen’s remembers Professor Emeritus Geoffrey Smith

Professor Emeritus Geoffrey Smith
Professor Emeritus Geoffrey Smith

The Queen’s community is remembering Professor Emeritus Geoffrey Smith, a long-time faculty member of the Department of History and the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, who died on Thursday, April 1 at the age of 80.

Dr. Smith arrived at Queen’s from Macalester College in Minnesota in 1969 to teach U.S. history. He would also later join the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies. He retired in 2006 and was appointed professor emeritus.

A lecturer of boundless energy and character, Dr. Smith was endlessly creative in his strategies to engage his students over his 37-year career at Queen’s. He was nominated for teaching awards several times and in 2004 he received the Frank Knox Award, the highest honour given to instructors by Queen’s students.

Dr. Smith grew up in California and completed a BA at University of California - Santa Barbara (UCSB), an MA at Berkeley, and a PhD at UCSB. 

“The irrepressible energy and spirit of my friend and fellow-historian Geoff Smith came along with a self-reflective thoughtfulness,” says Sandra Den Otter, Professor of History and Vice-Provost (International). “He was a gifted writer (nominated for a Pulitzer Prize) and astute commentator on public affairs, and he brought to both his research and teaching an over-arching commitment to the public good.  A champion of the unexpected, he was an inspiring lecturer, and engaged students to tackle big questions. Students remember his courses and office-hour conversations long after their time at Queen’s, carrying with them his disposition to question and to challenge, and also his many acts of kindness. His generosity of spirit to others who might think differently than him co-existed with his own very deeply-held commitments. His wide circle of friends will miss his ability to make us see in more vivid colours the world around us.”

His research interests involved work in international relations, security issues, and interrelated cultural questions focusing on sport and issues of race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, health and disease, economics, media, and politics. His thesis, later published as a book, To Save a Nation: American “Extremism”, the New Deal and the Coming of World War II (1973, 2nd rev. ed 1992), was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in History.

His flagship course, Conspiracy and Dissent in 20th Century America, drew throngs of students of history and other fields. On Sept. 12, 2001, he gave what a colleague describes as the “iconic Geoff Smith moment”. Before several hundred students, he delivered a “brilliant lecture” on the history of U.S.-Middle East relations, the rise of religious fundamentalism, the history of the CIA in Afghanistan, the concept of blowback, and the paradoxes of capitalist globalization. He then followed with an open mic discussion with students from all backgrounds and persuasions.

Outside of the lecture halls and classrooms, Dr. Smith also excelled at basketball, first as a player at UC - Santa Barbara and then in the coaching ranks with the Queen’s Gaels, serving as an assistant coach for five seasons. After stepping away he continued to be an avid supporter of the team, attending many home games, and leading the support when needed.

For many years his fervent belief in peaceful resolutions of political conflict found a congenial home in the Peace History Society, where he served as president. In 2015 the society presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also a member of the Society for Historians of America Foreign Relations, and a regular presenter of academic papers.

An online celebration of life will be held on April 14 at 4 p.m. through Robert Reid Funeral Home