Richard Smath Retires from KGS
Richard Smath served in the U.S. Army from 1970–1973, then studied at Hofstra University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in geology. Smath moved to Kentucky from Long Island, New York, in the 1970s. He later attended Eastern Kentucky University, receiving a master’s degree in geology in 1984. After completing his graduate degree, Smath began his employment with KGS.
During his 37-year tenure at KGS, Smath authored or co-authored 35 KGS publications. He answered public requests and organized and participated in outreach events at KGS. He judged the rock and mineral exhibition at several Kentucky State Fairs. According to Steve Greb, “For decades, [Richard] volunteered with educational outreach to schools, Scout groups, 4-H, and a variety of other organizations, not because he had to, but because he wanted to help.” Most recently, a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic, he gave a tour of KGS to students in the Fayette County 4-H program.
Steve Greb often worked on public requests with Smath. According to Greb, “Richard has been the KGS point of contact for the public for a long time. Whether it’s meeting people who walk into the front door and are not sure what they are looking for, requesting maps and publications, wanting tours of rocks and fossils at KGS, or needing help identifying mystery rocks and fossils, Richard was always there with a smile to help people get what they needed.”
Drew Andrews says, “Richard has been the bedrock of professional field trips and events in Kentucky for years. Beyond his unwavering support of the geology profession in Kentucky, he has a deep awareness of resources and information on Kentucky geology. He has represented KGS, UK, and the geology profession exceptionally well. His input and support will be sorely missed.” Smath served for several years as an officer of the Geological Society of Kentucky and has also been involved with the Kentucky chapter of AAPG. Dave Harris recalls how “his attention to detail ensured that three AAPG meetings ran like clockwork, not to mention countless GSK field trips. When all else failed, you could ask Richard, and he was on it.” In 2016, the Geological Society of Kentucky recognized Smath with an Outstanding Service Award.
Retired KGS geologist Bart Davidson first met Richard in January 1985, when Davidson was a student employee of KGS. According to Davidson, “Our offices were across the hall from each other in Bradley Hall. We worked for former KGS Director and State Geologist Jim Cobb in the Coal Section at that time. Richard has been closer than a brother to me since then and we’ve been on countless field trips together and given presentations on rocks and minerals to hundreds of schoolchildren.”
Steve Webb spent weeks in the field with Smath and Bart Davidson, sampling 61 domestic wells in eastern Kentucky. Webb says, “I can say without a doubt he is one of the hardest workers with whom I have worked. I have seen him crawl under houses to take pictures of water systems. Often, I was preparing to do a task only to find out Richard had already completed it. Richard is also a great navigator. He was able to find all of the houses we were going to sample, but the most impressive thing to me is he was able to do it in the passenger seat on the backroads of eastern Kentucky and not get carsick.”
Over the years, KGS received support from the U.S. Geological Survey for data preservation projects. According to Doug Curl, Smath “has always been at the forefront of KGS’s data preservation projects by leading efforts to scan and catalog many KGS documents, maps, and publications.”
Smath’s colleagues will miss working with him at KGS. Mandy Long will especially miss “his jokes, his zucchini bread, and more than anything, his willingness to offer a helping hand to anyone who needed it.” Mike Ellis has “enjoyed playing tennis with Richard over the years; he is as dedicated to his game as he is his work.” Dave Harris shared, “Having worked with Richard for 30 years, I can honestly say there is no one at KGS who can be counted on more to get a job done and done well. He consistently goes above and beyond what is necessary, whether it’s project work, a public request, or behind the scenes at meetings and field trips.” And as Bart Davidson says, “KGS will never see the likes again of Richard Smath, a man of integrity, compassion, and willingness to serve like no other I’ve ever known.”
Smath’s office was adjacent to Roger Banks’s office for 15 years. Banks will miss Smath’s “panoply of knowledge, wit, compassion, forbearance, love of life, and love of our fellow creatures.” Banks fondly recalls how he sometimes visited Smath’s office to see how his tarantula, named Betty, was doing. According to Banks, “She (the tarantula) was usually doing quite well, but when she was a bit low in spirit, or feeling ill, Richard would dutifully provide her with good food and attention until she became well!”
In retirement, Smath will continue working on a Story Map about the geology of Lower Howards Creek in Clark County, continue his involvement with the Geological Society of Kentucky, and volunteer with organizations that restore and improve natural areas in Kentucky. We are all excited he now has more opportunities to do the volunteer work he very much enjoys. He will be greatly missed by his colleagues for his hard work, humor, and willingness to manage projects, however. And in Steve Greb’s words, “Keep rockin’ on.”