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Prof Bernie Smith

It is with great sadness that we have to announce the death of Prof Bernie Smith (Professor Emeritus, Queen’s University Belfast) on 31st October 2012 at the age of 61 years.  Bernie died peacefully at home after a long and debilitating illness and will be greatly missed by his family, friends and colleagues.

Bernie described himself first and foremost as a Geographer who practised Geomorphology in its broadest sense.  He was proud to be a Geographer and in my many conversations with him over the years he was at pains to emphasize the unique nature of a discipline, which focuses on providing explanations of how the human and physical environments operate and the complexity of their interactions.  He always felt privileged to be able to earn a living from his ‘hobby’, a ‘hobby’ which required him to travel the world and experience first-hand many of the planet’s most impressive landscapes and the peoples that inhabited them.

Bernie graduated with his PhD from the University of Reading in 1975 and relocated to Nigeria with Dorothy his wife, where he taught in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.  On his return to the UK Bernie took up a lecturing position in Queen’s University Belfast in 1979 and held the Chair in Tropical Geomorphology from 1998.  Bernie continued in post up until illness necessitated his early retirement in 2011.

Bernie supervised the launch of many geomorphological careers (my own included) with his thoughtful and generous PhD supervision and influenced the career decisions of many of the undergraduate students who came into contact with him.  Bernie was an inspiring teacher who believed that it was essential for the future of geomorphology that all students and practitioners should have a thorough understanding of the history and development of the subject.

His research interests were wide and varied but were rooted in his love of hot deserts and tropical landscapes and his desire to better understand the processes that shape them.  Whilst the interpretation and exploration of landscapes formed the central core of Bernie’s career, his fascination with process studies and weathering processes in particular led him onto some of his most significant geomorphological work and establishment of the Weathering Research Group in the early 1990s in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology at Queen’s.

The focus of this group was on improving our understanding of stone weathering in both natural and built environments and resulted in Bernie’s involvement with local conservation architects and the wider building conservation community in the UK, Europe and further afield. He really enjoyed this work because of the many wonderful historic and archaeological structures that it gave him access to.

In the last decade or so, Bernie’s core interest in landscape interpretation came back to the fore as he became increasingly involved with UNESCO initially through his advisory role for Northern Ireland’s own World Heritage Site at the Giant’s Causeway and then on a broader global stage as a world heritage evaluator.

Throughout his career Bernie’s quiet advice has influenced so very many people in many different disciplines and he leaves a significant legacy of research and publications that will undoubtedly continue to influence the direction of future Geographical and Geomorphological research.  He will be sorely missed.

Patrica Warke

1 Nov 2012

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