Smith, Albert C. (Deceased)
Al was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on April 5, 1906. Completing high school there, he attended Columbia University and received an AB degree in 1926 and a PhD degree in 1933. In his final undergraduate year he studied at the New York Botanical Garden, becoming a staff member in 1928. His principal mentor there was Henry Allen Gleason. Nathaniel Lord Britton, founder and director of the Garden, was also a sponsor. These men pointed him towards a career in tropical systematic botany. Al's first tropical trips were made with Ellsworth Paine Killip, a long-time Washington Biologists’ Field Club member, to Colombia in 1926 and 1927 and Peru and Brazil in 1929. While working on their collections he spent extended periods in Washington, D.C., at the Smithsonian Institution, frequently visiting Plummers Island with Killip. A later field trip to British Guiana, was made in 1937 and 1938 with a group sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History. However, Al had made a collecting trip to Fiji in 1933 and 1934, and his botanical studies at the New York Botanical Garden were divided between South American and Pacific plants. Elmer Drew Merrill (director of the New York Botanical Garden (1930-35) and later of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard) was an important influence. In 1940, Al left New York to become curator of the Arnold Arboretum Herbarium at Harvard, working there until 1948, when he again returned to Washington and the Smithsonian Institution (1948-63). At the Smithsonian, Al served as curator in the Department of Botany, then as director of the National Museum of Natural History (1958-62), and briefly as assistant secretary (1962-63), with an interlude (1956-58) as a program director at the National Science Foundation. Leaving Washington for Honolulu in 1963, Al served at the University of Hawaii as director of research and professor of botany until 1970, then moved to the University of Massachusetts until 1976. Universities were at that time enforcing retirement at what now seem ridiculously early ages. In 1976, he returned permanently to Honolulu, serving the National Tropical Botanical Garden as editorial consultant. The Garden sponsored and published his five-volume Flora Vitiensis Nova (1979-91), summarizing his Fijian research. Al "retired" in Honolulu. He died there in 1999. A member and sometimes officer of several national and international biological organizations, Al was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (since 1944) and the National Academy of Sciences (since 1963). He was elected to membership in the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1948, served as secretary from 1956 to 1959, and was president from 1962 to 1964. He was awarded an honorary membership in 1982.