Sir David Smith

Published on:

Friday 29 June

It is with great sadness that the College has learned of the death of Sir David Smith, FRS, FRSE on 29 June 2018.  He was the President of Wolfson College between 1994 and 2000.

Sir David, an eminent botanist and distinguished academic leader, was born on 21 May 1930, in South Wales. He studied botany at The Queen’s College, Oxford, where he gained a BA in 1951 and a Ph.D in 1954. After his National Service, he then held a research fellowship at Queen’s and a Harkness Visiting Fellowship at the University of California in Berkeley. He had a University Lectureship in the Department of Agricultural Science at Oxford from 1960. He was a Royal Society Research Fellow at Wadham College and a Tutorial Fellow at Wadham. He held the Melville Wills Chair of Botany at Bristol University from 1970 to 1980, and then returned to Oxford in 1980 as Sibthorpian Professor of Rural Economy and Head of the Department of Agricultural Science. He was then elected Principal of Edinburgh University, a post he held from 1987 to 1994. In 1993 he was elected President of Wolfson College and took up the post in April 1994. He was President until September 2000.

David Smith was a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He was made an Honorary Fellow of Wadham in 2000. He was awarded the Gold Medal for Botany of the Linnean Society, and served as its President from 2000 to 2003. He was a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association and a member of the Advisory Council for the Campaign for Science and Education in the UK. He was knighted in 1986.

Sir David’s work centred on the biology of symbiosis and was initially concerned with associations between unicellular algae and other organisms, and later with a variety of associations between algae and animals. He co-authored The Biology of Symbiosis in 1987.

This list of eminent appointments, honours, and achievements speaks for itself. But such a list cannot evoke the exceptional benevolence, professional dedication, integrity, passion for education and sweetness of nature which made David Smith such a remarkable man, and such a strong influence for the good on all who came into contact with him and benefited from his humane, generous, and admirable nature. He and his wife Lesley were greatly loved, admired and respected at Wolfson College, during their time here and after their retirement. He will be deeply missed.

Tim Hitchens 


The funeral service will take place at 11am on 18 July at Mortonhall Crematorium, Edinburgh.