Norman D. Smith, professor and chair emeritus in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, died Sept. 9 after a seven-year battle with cancer.
Smith was born to Charles and Doris Smith Jan. 26, 1941, in the Adirondack region of northern New York State. The son of mink ranchers, he grew up an avid outdoorsman and Eagle Scout who pursued fishing, trapping, piano and varsity sports. After graduating from Carthage High School in 1958, he earned a Bachelor of Science in geology from St. Lawrence University, followed by master’s and doctorate degrees in geological sciences from Brown University.
Smith was committed to the study of rivers and advancing science literacy. He was internationally respected for his research and teaching and gave generously of his time to professional and public service. Smith was Fulbright Scholar, fellow of the Geological Society of America, and Francis J. Pettijohn Medalist for his scientific contributions to sedimentary geology. He served as editor of the Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, and headed academic departments at the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Illinois Chicago, and as chair of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
As chair at Nebraska, he oversaw a reorganization of the department, and educated the general public about the dangers of subverting science education standards. For more than two decades, he led Nebraska Citizens for Science, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to advancing science literacy in the state.
Smith led scientific field expeditions to remote parts of Alaska, Antarctica, Botswana, Canada, Iceland, India, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as local sites in Nebraska. He published numerous scientific articles about contemporary and ancient river systems, as well as glacial depositional environments. He was an authority on river avulsions (rapid course changes), dedicating more than three decades of field study to a catastrophic avulsion on the Saskatchewan River Delta, Canada.
Smith enjoyed travel, the performing arts, cinema, spectator sports and tending a family woodlot in the Adirondacks where he built a log cabin by hand with his brother, Gilbert. Norman and his wife, Judith, explored many places abroad including the high Arctic, Botswana, Cuba, Egypt, New Zealand, Russia, and Tahiti. At home they were steadfast supporters of Husker sports, the Lied Center for Performing Arts, the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, and the Brownville Concert Series. A gifted musician, Smith volunteered weekly live piano sessions for the Bryan East and West hospital campuses and later, for his own cancer treatment center in Texas.
Smith is survived by his wife, Judith; sister, Randalyn Chegwidden; sisters-in-law Lucia Beach, Arlene Smith, and Robin Kellar; sons Laurence Smith and Daniel Smith; daughters-in-law Abbie Tingstad and Keri Smith; grandchildren, Selma, Iris and Sander Smith; and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by his parents, Charles and Doris Smith; and brothers, Gilbert Smith and Quentin Smith.
A celebration of life will be held at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church near the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s City Campus, at a date to be announced later following subsidence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The date and time for a safe memorial gathering will be posted at the Lincoln Family Funeral Care website, where written condolences may also be shared. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the proposed Norman D. Smith Excellence Fund for the Public Understanding of Science, being established with the University of Nebraska Foundation. Contributions should be annotated in memory of Norman D. Smith and all gifts received will be placed in the holding fund until the excellence fund is finalized.