Obituary: Philip M. Smith

The Polar world and SCAR have lost a great friend.

Phil Smith, known to SCAR members as the leader of the review that led to major restructuring of SCAR in the early 2000s, passed on February 16, 2014.

Phil began his involvement in the Polar Regions when, as a young US Army Lieutenant, he was sent to Greenland as a navigator for the heavy tractor “swings” then traversing the Greenland Ice Sheet. Phil was trained by Major Palle Mogenson and Captain Bert Danielson for his work in Greenland.

When his tour of duty in the Arctic was completed, Phil made the decision to volunteer to join the US efforts in the International Geophysical Year 1957-1958 (IGY) in Antarctica, and there he joined with Bert Crary and others utilizing heavy tractors to haul materials for the construction of the US bases established as part of IGY.

After returning to the US, Phil became an early member of the Office of Polar Programs that was established in the National Science Foundation to continue the scientific efforts begun as part of the IGY. Bert Crary was the Chief Scientist and Phil served as the Deputy Director of OPP for a number of years.

His abilities were soon recognized by his colleagues in Washington, DC, and in following years he spent time in the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and the Budget, followed by over a decade of leadership in the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council.

In the late 1990s Phil was asked by the then president of SCAR to conduct a review of that organization. At that time, SCAR was operating on the same “plan” that was instituted when it was formed in the late 1950s, and the increase in size and activities were not reflected in the SCAR system of operation, leading to pressure to change from some quarters. After some reflection, he agreed to lead a review committee, and it is as a testimony to his wise and skillful chairmanship that reforms which might well have been controversial met with wide approval. Indeed, SCAR as we see it today is largely a result of that review. More recently he was asked, and agreed to chair, a “review of the review” for a fine tuning of the operation of SCAR. He was elected as an Honorary Member of SCAR to recognize his contributions to SCAR.

Anyone who has worked with Phil knows that he was a unique individual. Outstanding leadership skills, the ability to get diverse groups to work together, but most importantly, he had the ability to see years ahead and to have an understanding of what was to come. He has been called a “futurist” by some.

Phil’s contributions to the continued growth and development of SCAR as an important organization in the international arena cannot be ignored. SCAR members owe a great debt to Phil and those of us who knew him well, some for over 50 years, will miss his skills, humour, and leadership. SCAR today is a far better and more relevant organization due largely to the efforts of Phil Smith.

Antonio Rocha-Campos, SCAR President 1994-1998

Robert Rutford, SCAR President 1998-2002

Jorn Thiede, SCAR President 2002-2006

Chris Rapley, SCAR President 2006 – 2008

Mahlon “Chuck” Kennicutt II, SCAR President 2008-2012

Jerónimo López-Martínez, SCAR President 2012-2016

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