In Memoriam: Geoff Smith

Geoffrey S. Smith, past Peace History Society president (1995-1997) and professor emeritus at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, passed away on April 1, 2021. 

PHS offers condolences to his family.

An obituary appears in the The Globe and Mail (Toronto):

Queen’s University offers this tribute to Prof. Smith:

https://www.queensu.ca/gazette/stories/queen-s-remembers-professor-emeritus-geoffrey-smith

We republish here the citation for the Peace History Society Lifetime Achievement Award which PHS president Kevin Callahan presented to Prof. Smith in October 2015 at the PHS biennial conference, in West Hartford, Connecticut:

In 2005, Peace History Society set up the Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented every other year to a PHS member who has contributed outstanding scholarship and exemplary service to peace history…

This year (2015), the Lifetime Achievement Award committee confers the highest distinction of the Peace History Society on Geoffrey S. Smith, Professor Emeritus of History, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. Dr. Smith was born in San Francisco and raised in California. He attended the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960s, where he got his first protest experience by spending a week holding a sign criticizing the administration during the Free Speech Movement. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1969 and taught at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota for two years before joining the faculty at Queens University.

Interested in security and its misuse by elites, Dr. Smith taught courses on “Conspiracy and Dissent in American History,” U.S. Foreign Relations, Latin American History, the Vietnam War, and American Social and Cultural History. Outside the classroom, he coached the Queens’ University basketball team for over a decade while also participating in Civil Rights protests and antiwar protests during the United States’ involvement in Vietnam.

Dr. Smith has written widely on issues related to peace history, gender and U.S. national security in the Cold War, the relocation of Japanese minorities in the U.S. and Canada during WWII, and American nativism. His 1973 monograph, To Save a Nation: American Extremism, the New Deal and the Coming of World War II, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. In this work, Smith argued that the activities of right-wing extremists like Father Charles Coughlin and Fritz Kuhn of the German American Bund tainted moderate and responsible non-interventionists prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, thereby making it easier for Franklin D. Roosevelt and his foreign policy advisers to garner support for intervention.

A true servant to the discipline, Dr. Smith is a Lifetime Member of the Peace History Society, has been an active book and article reviewer for the organization’s journal – Peace & Change, served as president of the Peace History Society from 1995-1997, PHS executive Secretary-Treasurer from 1997-2000, and most recently a board member from 2008-2012. Please join me today in thanking Dr. Geoffrey Smith and congratulating him on his tremendous accomplishments.

When news of Geoff Smith’s passing reached the Peace History Society his colleagues and friends offered these remembrances:


So long, Geoff.

It is the collective memory, which counts here. Although our organization may be small, its membership casts a wide net. Geoff Smith was one who did cast a wide net in terms of his excellent scholarship on behalf of peace as well as his affable and warm personality. I can’t count how many years I knew Geoff, too many at this point, but I always looked forward to seeing and talking with him at various professional meetings. Knowing he was a West Coast guy and from the San Francisco area, I bestowed upon him my peace necklace adorned with beads. I did it in the presence of my wife at one of the OAH meetings at the book exhibit. Geoff fondly took it and promptly placed it around his neck. We had a good laugh. The symbolism of the moment was appropriate as it brought back Geoff’s personal determination and grit to uphold conscience over conformity. There are other stories I could tell but I will leave that for others to address. The last time I spoke to Geoff it was the PHS meeting in Hartford, Connecticut. Fittingly, it was the occasion when he was bestowed the Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He presented a great acceptance speech and reminded us all our duties as peace scholars and human beings. We only have the memories now but thanks, Geoff, for creating them in the first place. 

So long, my good friend.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    — Chuck Howlett  

I sat next to [Geoff] at the banquet during which he received his Lifetime Achievement Award and remember that he was always welcoming to other scholars and had a great affection for PHS.  I learned more of our Society’s backstory that night than from almost any other interaction in my years with PHS!  He will be sorely missed.

                                                                               — David Hostetter, President, Peace History Society

Back in the early days of PHS in the mid-`90s, we helped put the Peace History Society on a sounder footing, corresponded fairly frequently, and gathered annually at history conventions. Geoff was a fantastic teacher, a fine scholar, and an all-around good person. I am deeply saddened by his passing.

                                                                              — Jeffrey Kimball, prof. emeritus Miami   University                                                                    (Oxford OH) and former president of PHS

I so enjoyed working with Geoff when we were both officers in PHS and also on the projects we worked on together. I always teased him that he reminded me of Steve Martin, not only in looks but in his great sense of humor. He thought that was hysterical.

                                                                               — Harriet Alonso

His humor was priceless and his commitment to a historical narrative that embraced a whole reality should provide a standard for everyone.

                                                                              — Sandi Cooper

I grew up with Geoff. His mother and mine were best friends at the University of California in the 1930s, and our families remained close as he and I grew up. Geoff and I spent many a happy summer together at the Lair of the Bear. the alumni camp of the university. We lost contact after that (I betrayed the good cause by studying at arch-rival Stanford). To my great pleasure, he and I reconnected through the PHS decades later. My sympathies go out to his family, particularly to his younger brother, Jon, who was also my good friend.

                                                                              — Roger Chickering

Like others, I recall most his great sense of humor. I served on a panel with Geoff at a SHAFR conference some years ago. In the discussion period Geoff regaled the room about his childhood experiences with civil defense drills and how, during one drill, he kissed his very young sweetheart under the desks which were protecting both from the mock nuclear attack.  He noted that, perhaps, his kiss subverted the drills, although I’m quite certain that this was not his intention at the time!

                                                                              — Scott Bennett

I’m very sad to learn of Geoff Smith’s passing. He was a kind supporter and mentor to me and to all of us who came along in the 1990s and beyond. I have a vivid memory of seeing Julian Bond give a talk at the 2003 OAH in Memphis, and in the Q&A afterwards, Geoff, who was sitting in another part of the enormous hall, stood to ask a question.  I don’t remember his question, or the long wind-up to it, but I do remember that by the time he was finished, he had the whole room – hundreds of people – in stitches. The person next to me said, “He’s a live wire, isn’t he?” and he was.

I’m happy to remember him as a great historian, a mentor to many,  but especially as a “live wire.”

                                                                              — Mike Stewart Foley

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s