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Dave Smith, rest in peace

I have an empty space in my heart, because my father has left the world. I’m glad I was able to be with him and my mother when he passed away. Now I’m back in Oak Ridge, but I’m feeling distracted by memories. Tomorrow, Tuesday, would have been his 88th birthday.

Thinking of those he would someday leave behind (and having written obituaries for many of his colleagues and friends over the years), he drafted most of his own obituary:

David M. Smith, Morris K. Jesup Professor Emeritus of Silviculture at Yale University and author of the world’s most widely used forestry textbook, died in Hamden, Connecticut, on March 7, 2009, at the age of 87.

Born March 10, 1921 at Bryan, Texas, the son of John B. and Doris (Clark) Smith; he grew up in Kingston, Rhode Island, and was a graduate of the University of Rhode Island, receiving a BS in botany in 1941.

During World War II he trained to be an Air Force meteorologist at New York University and served as a weather forecasting officer at heavy bomber headquarters in North Africa and Italy. Later at Yale he instituted the first U.S. instruction in forest meteorology.

At Yale University he received the Master of Forestry in 1946 and PhD in 1950, joining the faculty in 1947. He retired in 1990 after 43 years on the faculty of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He was an expert on silviculture, the technology of growing forests. He was the author or co-author of 4 editions of the textbook, The Practice of Silviculture, which is used throughout North America and, in several translations, throughout the world, and of numerous research papers and commentaries on forestry practices. His most important scientific contributions were in developing the concept that complex mixtures of tree species can be managed as even-aged aggregations in which different groups of species occupy different levels in stratified mixtures and that they often arise from “advanced” seedlings that naturally appear beneath forests. In his 43 years at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies he served as an advisor and mentor to numerous graduate students and directed the management of the Yale Forests, totaling 12,000 acres of New England forest land. He was a very popular teacher and an esteemed colleague.

American Forests gave him its Distinguished Service Award in 1990. He was a Fellow of the Society of American Foresters and received the Distinguished Service Award of its New England section in 1969 and 1993, the only person to receive this award twice. In 1986 his forestry efforts in Maine brought him an honorary Sc. D. degree from Bates College and in 1993 the University of Rhode Island awarded him an honorary Doctor of Science degree. In the early 1970s he was silvicultural consultant for the President’s Advisory Panel on Timber and the Environment. He was also an advisor to the US Forest Service and an advisor to government agencies in Australia and British Columbia.

For four decades Smith was either a Director or the President of both the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and Connwood Foresters, Inc., the nation’s oldest forest landowners’ cooperative. He was on the Connecticut Forest Practices Advisory Board during the 1990s and for many years a Director of the Hamden Land Conservation Trust.

He is survived by his wife of nearly 58 years, Catherine V. A. Smith, daughters Ellen D. Smith of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Nancy V. A. Smith of Carbondale, Colorado, sons-in-law Richard Norby of Oak Ridge and John Stewart of Carbondale, grandson Karl Norby, and brother Allen Smith of Hendersonville, North Carolina, as well as by a niece, nephews, and cousins.

A memorial service will be held at a later date. In keeping with David Smith’s wishes, the family requests contributions in lieu of flowers to Yale University, designated for The David M. Smith Forestry Scholarship Fund, to School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, 195 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06511.



  1. my regrets for your loss. but thank you for sharing his auto-obit writing.

    it was beautifully and thoughtfully written. and you’re right that he was likely thinking of OTHERS when he wrote it. (no one would have been able to so completely and concisely reviewed his life accomplishments.)

    sounds like he led a full and rich life. :-)


  2. jerry milne says:

    I am a forester who manages State Forests in Connecticut and also a member of SAF, so I was fortunate to hear your father speak at our meetings and forestry field tours. In particular, one of our SAF tours was in a Forest that I manage that had been donated to the State by another forester 50 years ago (George Cromie).
    Your father knew George Cromie, and he told me that Mr. Cromie would approve of the way we were taking care of his forest. I knew I had arrived as a forester if David Smith, who wrote THE BOOK on silviculture, approved of my work.
    Your father was well-respected. When he spoke, we foresters took his word as gospel.

  3. John Kershaw says:


    As a forester, I had the task (initially) and the delight (once I wizened up) of reading three different versions of your father’s book. As a student of Chad Oliver’s I had many opportunities to meet your father and walk through the woods with him. One of my favorite, though rather humorous, encounters was at the SAF National Convention in Portland, ME (1993, I think). Upon Chad’s and Ann Camp’s invite, I crashed the Yale Alumni social. Your father was making the rounds, greeting people and came to me. He apologized that he did not remember who I was or what year I graduated. Chad, in his deadpan, quite southern style, commented to Dave that I was a second generation Yale Grad. Your father assumed that Chad meant my father had gone to Yale, rather than I was a student of Chad’s (I was confused for a moment too). Your father began profusely apologizing at that point, before Chad let him off the hook. The few times I met up with your father he always remembered the incident. Your father influenced the thinking of forests since the mid1950s, the legacy he leaves behind, in both his students and writings, will continue to influence forestry for years to come. I feel honored to have known him and I concur with your loss, those of us who knew him will have many memories.

  4. Marcie Smith Gunnell says:


    I stumbled upon your blog and am happy to leave a comment. I have fond memories of your father, my Uncle Dave. Though we grew up many hundreds of miles away I always felt very connected – through the years that grandpa lived with us as well as through the many notes and letters that always reminded us how special we were. I remember with a grin when your Dad sent me a letter congratulating us on our first son, his first great nephew, Chris. Uncle Dave was quick to remind me that there was already a Chris Smith in our family. I will take from your dad the importance of family and family connections. Your dad left an indelible mark on the world and on many a heart.

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