Geoff Smith, born in San Francisco in 1941, the same year the United States entered World War II, grew up in California and earned his degrees at UC Santa Barbara and Berkeley. He completed a community college teaching credential along the way, and also tried his hand at law (Boalt), but (see the film "The Paper Chase") he lasted a mere term before moving to graduate school in history. He taught at a splendid liberal arts college in St. Paul MN from 1967-69, Macalester College, where students stoked his inner radical and also introduced him to the joy of proscribed substances. He took part in his first big protest march (save the week spent holding a placard dunning the Berkeley administration during the Free Speech Movement) in St. Paul in 1968, the day after Martin Luther King's assassination.
A year later, it was off to what Abbie Hoffman once called "a hotbed of social rest," Queen's University in Kingston. Geoff planned to stay three or four years, and then return to the big time. Forty-four years later, the big-time was, and remained, Queen's. His first student at Queen's actually saluted him when he walked into class -- quite a difference from the freethinking and quarrelsome Minnesota group. Yes, there was a "Free Socialist Movement" at Queen's, and several from this small Marxist retinue ended up in Smith's 2nd year seminar on Inter-American Relations and tried to commandeer it. He gave the group forty minutes to convince fellow students of the superiority of their reading list over his, and this they failed to do.
Smith soon discovered that Queen's students were an intelligent lot, most in need of prodding in order to achieve their potential. Teaching consisted of getting into the minds of as many individuals as possible, pushing the left to the right, the right to the left, and the centre both ways, hard. He achieved tenure after one year -- that's the way it worked back then. Queen's was an Anglophile's dream in 1970, older white men (who liked to take tea at four) ran the place, and there were precious few people of the female persuasion or of colour on staff. To gain tenure, one's students and colleagues were polled, and police logs duly checked. It was a quick fix to keep faculty on board in the final year or so of a spectacular buyers' market.
Smith enjoyed Queen's and found ways to keep his sanity in such a sanitary environment. Lunch-bucket and city league basketball, coaching the Gaels, leading cheers (again and again and again -- kind of a hoops Groundhog Day), writing for publication (disciplinary and popular), and watching his three children grow to maturity. The eldest, who does media relations for UC Berkeley Alumni Association, will be fifty this year; the second, director of the John Wooden Athletic Fund at UCLA, will be 48; the third, who works out of Oakland CA for Puma, will be 45. Smith is married to Roberta Hamilton, who taught sociology at Queen's for twenty-five years and who brings her own three children to the mix.
There are now eight grandchildren, with Sam (9) and Amelia (7) in Kingston, Ayo (4) in Montreal, Noah (5) and Maia (8) in Oakland, Jake (18) and Hannah Grace (14) in Los Angeles, and Avery (13) in Fremont. The gang tries to get together ever summer, especially at "the island," a few miles north of Gananoque, where Geoff and Roberta seek solace and peace among the herons and loons between May and October.
Smith's academic career at Queen's lasted until 2006. He enjoyed developing and teaching courses on a broad variety of topics, including "Conspiracy and Dissent in American History," "Drug Wars and Drug Cultures," and "The Price of Sex: Sexually-Transmitted Disease in North American Culture since the 1880s." There were also, among others, courses in sport history and culture, the history of United States Foreign Relations, Latin American history, the Vietnam War, and American social and cultural history.
Among other scholarly contributions, Smith authored To Save a Nation: American "Extremism," the New Deal, and the Coming of World War II (1973, rev. ed. 1992), nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in History when it first appeared. His article for Queen's Quarterly (1989), "Historical Perspectives on AIDS: Society, Culture, and STDs," warranted inclusion in Best Canadian Essays -- 1990 (1990). He also wrote 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 in WWII, American nativism, and ante-bellum U.S. naval diplomacy. During his academic career, he was a member of several committees for the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and served as both secretary-treasurer and president of the Peace History Society.
In addition he wrote many columns for the Kingston Whig-Standard, produced and hosted a public affairs TV show ("This Olde City, with Mr. Fix-It") in 1997-98, and remained active in the antiwar movement here and in the United States. He continues to get rid of negative karma with rants to the "letters" column of the Globe and Mail.
Most important during these years were Smith's students, many of whom still keep in touch. He loved teaching and attempting to find what motivated, moved, and improved his charges. This passion resulted in several teaching awards, including the Frank Knox Award in 2004. Symbolically, in his first class in American diplomacy in 1969, he had future Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson as a student. In his last class in sport sociology in 2005, he had Danielle Simpson, Jeffrey's daughter. There were many such generational connections -- one of the reasons he decided to retire before the first generation's grandchildren turned up. As we all know from reading our text, time marches on inexorably, and one's bucket list cannot be ignored.
Smith's list now includes (besides spending time with his dog Forrest Gump and the grandchildren) traveling (in recent years Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Malaysia, Indonesia and -- many times -- the California coast), photography, swimming, knitting, watercolour and acrylic painting, and strumming the guitar. There is always something to do. Life is good, with every night being Friday night and every day a Saturday.