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Praise for Sir David Smith, former Principal

Tributes have been paid to former Edinburgh Principal and Vice-Chancellor Sir David Smith, who has died at the age of 88.

An eminent botanist and a distinguished academic leader, Sir David became Principal at Edinburgh in 1987. He held the position until 1994 when he became President of Wolfson College at the University of Oxford.

A former senior colleague at Edinburgh, Emeritus Professor of Politics Malcolm Anderson, said Sir David would be missed enormously.

Professor Anderson, a former Dean of Social Sciences and Provost of Law and Social Sciences, said that Sir David was modest and open in manner for a man of considerable achievements.

Sir David Smith
Sir David Smith

Distinguished career

Despite having to steer the University through sector-wide upheaval, consideration and kindness were hallmarks of Sir David’s distinguished career, Professor Anderson added.

The current President of Wolfson College, Sir Tim Hitchens, said that those who had worked with Sir David had benefited from his humane, generous and admirable nature.

Although Sir David’s eminent appointments and honours were impressive, Sir Tim added, they could not evoke the benevolence, dedication, integrity and sweetness of nature that made him such a remarkable man.

David Smith was born in South Wales and educated at Colston's School, Bristol, and St. Paul's School, London. He studied at Queen's College, Oxford, where he was awarded an MA in Botany and a DPhil.

Research fellowship

After National Service, his academic career continued with a research fellowship at Queen's and a spell as Harkness Visiting Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.

Sir David returned to Oxford in 1960, taking up a lectureship in the Department of Agricultural Science before becoming a Royal Society Research Fellow and a Tutorial Fellow at Wadham College.

He held the Melville Wills Chair of Botany at the University of Bristol from 1974 to 1980, and then went back to Oxford as Professor of Rural Economy and Head of Agricultural Science.

Edinburgh role

In 1986 he was knighted and, in 1987, Sir David was appointed Principal at Edinburgh in succession to Sir John Harrison Burnett.

Sir David’s published work centres on the biology of symbiosis. He was initially concerned with associations between algae and fungi, and latterly with a variety of associations between algae and animals.

A Fellow of the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Sir David was made an Honorary Fellow of Wadham in 1987.

Gold medal

He was awarded the Gold Medal for Botany of the Linnean Society, and served as its President from 2000 to 2003.

In 1994, Sir David Smith's portrait was painted by Scottish painter and printmaker Dame Elizabeth Blackadder.

He is survived by his wife, Lesley, and by their children Bryony, Adam and Cameron.

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

Related links

Sir David Smith: an appreciation

Images © Wolfson College, Oxford