Former NAS Official Philip M. Smith Dies at Age 81


WASHINGTON -- Philip M. Smith, who spent more than five decades working in science, technology, and public policy, including 13 years (1981-1994) as the executive officer of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council, passed away on Feb. 16.


Smith earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in geology and science education from Ohio State University, where he was a member of the ROTC.  Upon graduation he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army and was sent to Greenland, where he helped develop a technique to detect crevasses on glaciers.  Smith was also involved in the Navy’s efforts to build a line of Antarctic stations as part of the International Geophysical Year in 1957.  And for more than a decade, he worked on Antarctic programs with NAS and the National Science Foundation, often leading research expeditions himself.


As executive officer of the NAS and Research Council, he worked closely with NAS presidents Frank Press (whom Smith also worked for when Press served as White House science adviser) and Bruce Alberts as well as the presidents of the National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine to strengthen the ability of these institutions to deliver objective, evidence-based advice to the nation.  Prior to this, Smith worked for three U.S. presidents -- Nixon, Ford, and Carter -- as associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.


“Whatever I have accomplished I couldn’t have done without him,” Press said about Smith.


Even after Smith left Washington and became a science and technology policy consultant in Santa Fe, New Mexico, he continued to volunteer on a number of Research Council study committees.  He was also instrumental in helping plan the U.S. portion of the International Polar Year in 2007-2009.


In addition to his service in Washington, Smith co-chaired the advisory board for the California Institute for Telecommunications & Information Technology -- a joint institute at the University of California, San Diego, and the University of California, Irvine -- and served on the boards of Aurora Flight Sciences and the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation.  He was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including an honorary doctorate from North Carolina State University and honorary membership in the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research, an international committee of the International Council for Science.


Smith was an avid outdoor adventurer throughout his life, and celebrated his 80th birthday in 2012 by leading an expedition of friends to the Galapagos.  In describing his life to fellow travelers on the trip, Smith wrote, “There have been two guiding principles in [my] public policy and expeditionary lives, namely, optimism is the first principle of management strategy and life must be lived to the fullest daily.”