Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Bill Smith, former IRRI editor, passes away (updated 15 June 2017)

By Gene Hettel

William H. “Bill” Smith, 84, former science editor at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), passed away on 4 June in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Bill attended Iowa State University on the GI Bill, and received a degree in Scientific Journalism.

The Oklahoma native began as an IRRI editor in the then Office of Information Services in 1979 (later to become Communication and Publications Services) and remained there until his retirement in 1991. He continued as a consultant for a brief time in 1992-93.

His 12-year tenure on the communication staff was during the heyday of scientific publishing at the Institute when there was production of numerous field guides for farmers and extensionists in local languages and cutting-edge scientific monographs. He was a member of the editorial team that produced Robert F. Chandler’s seminal work, An Adventure in Applied Science: A History of the International Rice Research Institute.

Bill has many good friends at IRRI who still remember him 28 years after his retirement. His compassion, council, wisdom, and humor are legendary. He affectionately earned the moniker “Coach” Smith for his intense and sometimes controversial coaching of IRRI’s international staff softball team during the 1980s.  

In his IRRI Pioneer Interview in June 2008, he pondered IRRI’s future challenges: “I think the biggest challenge is pretty much the lack of funding that all the institutes are feeling. Another thing that was true 12, 15, and 25 years ago is that population is still growing and, as it does, land comes out of production. Even though yields can go up to increase production, they don’t seem to be keeping up with population. Fertilizer and water, I think, are going to be the biggest challenges that IRRI, or for that matter any of the agricultural research institutes, will face and should be working on in the future.”

Also, during his interview, he stated, “I spent a year and a half working as a news reporter and photographer at a daily newspaper in northern Iowa [Fort Dodge Messenger]. Then, I spent 3 years working as an educational representative with a medical and biological publishing house [Saunders Publishing in St. Louis, Missouri]. Then, I worked as a physical science technical editor at the Ames Laboratory, affiliated with Iowa State University. However, working at IRRI was the best professional experience of my life. This weekend [8 June 2008], we are at Michigan State University attending, I think, the fourth reunion of former and present IRRI staff. I can’t think of any other institution that has its employees get together in a manner that generates such a feeling of camaraderie. So, IRRI does have to rank at the top.”

Bill was a long-time member of the Association for Communication Excellence (ACE). Upon his retirement, he was awarded life membership in the organization.

He liked a quote from Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, the ancient Roman rhetorician (c. 35-100 AD): “We should not write so that it is possible for the reader to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us.”

Bill is survived by his wife of 62 years, Marlene, five children: Stephen of St. Ignatius, Montana; David and wife Shirley of Mingo, Iowa; Meric Shipman of Springfield, Illinois; Stacie and husband Gary of Des Moines, Iowa; and Lisa and husband Jeff Ruppel of Dubuque, Iowa. Other survivors include eight grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews.

On 13 June, a memorial mass was held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine and Parish in Tortugas. The family requests that memorial donations be made to the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico, PO Box 13826, Las Cruces, NM 88013.

Those who would like to send condolences and memories to his wife, Marlene, can use Bill's email address: bsmith@totacc.com.

Read more about Bill's life.

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