JARS v52n2 - In Memoriam: G.F. Smith

In Memoriam: G.F. Smith
Stephen Fox and John Hammond

George Smith, 1925-1997, was a lecturer in the Chemistry Department at Manchester University, and after his retirement in the mid-'80s he was able to devote most of his time to his other role - that of a dedicated plantsman. He loved and knew well the Alps and many parts of the Himalayas, and the study of their high-altitude flora never failed to absorb him. George's enthusiasm was infectious but never superficial: his training as a scientist enabled him to learn and remember a mass of botanical detail. In this he also had the advantage of being a bachelor and so of organising his time to suit himself.

It was about the time of his retirement that George fell seriously in love with rhododendrons and joined the Scottish Rhododendron Society, a natural choice, as he had formed many links with staff at the RBG in Edinburgh while studying alpines. For some years he described himself as a rhododendron novice, but inevitably his learning-curve was a steep one. Meanwhile, he grew several species - no hybrids! - in his small suburban garden and took great delight in them, especially when they flowered.

It was a great disappointment to George that, in the '90s, his health prevented him from undertaking the extended visits to the Eastern Himalayas which he had planned. A visit to China had to be cut short and George was lucky to escape with his life, having suffered a massive heart attack at altitude. After that, he had to content himself with the study of books, plants in cultivation and herbarium specimens. George was a keen and painstaking photographer and his many excellent slides formed the basis of the talks and publications which made him widely known and appreciated.

As a Director of the S.R.S., George was a natural choice of author when the need arose for a sequence of articles to introduce the gardens of Argyll and the islands to the many visitors to Scotland in 1996. First came the description of Arduaine, which essentially was a labour of love in respect of writing about a garden he particularly liked, followed by articles on Benmore and Crarae. With a great deal of willpower, determination and in failing health George drove the 700 miles round trip to Crarae on four separate occasions to be certain that no stone was left unturned before mailing the article to Journal editor Sonja Nelson. With the passing months it became evident that he would not be well enough to be with us in Oban, which was a major blow to George in personal terms and a great loss to the Convention Committee.

For the last few years he was engaged on a major project: a monograph on the genus Androsace with photographs and with illustrations by Duncan Lowe. With characteristic thoroughness, George obtained (through the good offices of the RBG) herbarium sheets from Russia of rare endemic species, though he would much have preferred to seek them out himself in the wild. Overcoming considerable man-made difficulties, George eventually persuaded the AGS to publish the monograph. An advance copy was sent him in early December and, beaming with satisfaction, he brought it to show his friends at the AGS branch meeting at Wilmslow on December 8th. Two days later, he died in his sleep.

Always a loner, George was unfailingly kind and generous to those of like mind. He was very much at home in Manchester yet, in fact, he was born in Italy and educated in France besides studying in Germany: a true European. European, too, in his love of Bach, Wagner and strong black coffee. Alas, who can replace him?