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James R. Smith 1 October 1935 - 12 August 2021

It was with great sadness that I recently learnt of the death of Jim Smith who many of our members will have known and worked with over many years. Jim made an enormous contribution to surveying, education and to the history of surveying over more than six decades. I am most grateful to his great friend John Hohol, President FIG Foundation, who has kindly given permission for Jim's obituary, which he wrote for the FIG, to be used here.



It is with great sadness that I share the news of the passing of my dear friend Jim Smith who died this past Thursday, 12 August 2021. He was preceded in death by his dear loving wife Ann. He is survived by two daughters, Nicola (Michael) Jones and Bridget (Antony) Johns; two grandchildren Eleanor (Peter) McCullagh (Johns) and Peter Johns; and his new baby great-granddaughter Annie McCullagh.


Jim qualified as a Land Surveyor in 1961 and has been an active member of the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) since 1968. This year during the 2021 FIG Working Week General Assembly Jim was named FIG Honorary Member in recognition for his many contributions to FIG over the past 50+ years.


Jim has authored various survey oriented texts including Everest: The Man and the Mountain (reprinted and again available), From Plane to Spheroid, The Tellurometer from Dr. Wadley to the MRA7 and R S Webb From Shropshire to Paarl via Geodesy and Lesotho.

He started his career in Nigeria as a Provincial Surveyor and also lecturer at the School of Surveying in Oyo teaching the local candidate surveyors and working for a government office in surveying.


Later he was Principal Lecturer in Surveying in the Civil Engineering Department of Portsmouth Polytechnic (now Portsmouth University) for 21 years and a great part of the English and Colonial surveyors have benefited from his experience.


He was not only Editor of the well known survey journal Survey Review for ten years but was also the author of many text books, which have guided more than two generations of Land Surveyors. Together with Jan De Graeve he translated and edited the conversion of the Struve Report from 1855-1857 into English, from early French in 2008.


Since then he has prepared Notes on the history of determining the size and shape of the earth using meridian arcs, in 5 volumes of some 2100 pages with the aid of Jan. He has also prepared the Meridian arcs through East and South Africa with emphasis on the arc of the 30th Meridian and Connection between the Struve Geodetic Arc and the Arc of the 30th Meridian. Both sets (a total of 3000 pages) are currently being printed and will be available September 2021.


With Jan De Graeve he created The International Institution for the History of Surveying & Measurement- an FIG Permanent Institution, which was formed during the FIG congress in Melbourne in 1994. Jim has served as Honorary Secretary of the Institute since 1995 and was considered the preeminent authority on the history of surveying.


Since 1984 Jim and Jan have organized most of the symposia that have taken place the day before the FIG conferences and or FIG working weeks. Together they prepared the inscription of the Struve Meridian Arc from Northern Norway to the Black Sea covering 10 countries, with the help of local colleagues. They started this after a paper was read in FIG Commission 1. Jan had the Honor to propose the inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage in 1994 to the FIG General Assembly in Melbourne and the WHL inscription was during the UNESCO general meeting in Durban RSA in 2005. Jim had been the silent force to achieve this recognition for our profession worldwide: This was first multi-national achievement covering 10 countries and was the first scientific monument inscribed on the World Heritage List.


Jim and Jan were currently continuing working on the project from Pole to Pole covering the Struve Meridian Arc, the 30th Meridian and the crossing over the Mediterranean sea from Hammerfest to Buffelsfontein covering 135° of latitude.


Jim has been for decades the working hand for friendship between land-surveyors and the silent help and encouragement for young surveyors to publish and share their experiences. He will be dearly missed by family, friends and colleagues. May he rest in peace with his dear wife Ann.


John Hohol, President FIG Foundation

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