Gerald R. Smith, 87, died peacefully at home on Sandhill Farm, Chelsea, September 20, 2022, under the loving attendance of his wife, Catherine Badgley, his son, Keith Smith, and his sister-in-law Barbara Badgley. Jerry was born March 20, 1935 in Los Angeles and was raised in Salt Lake City, Utah where he earned a B.S. (1957) and M.S. (1959) at the University of Utah. In 1965, he completed his Ph.D. in Zoology at the University of Michigan, and in 1969, after three years on the faculty at the University of Kansas, he returned to Michigan as Curator of Fishes for the Museum of Zoology and Curator of Lower Vertebrates for the Museum of Paleontology, affiliated with what is now the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
Jerry’s primary field of study was the evolution of North American freshwater fishes, with particular interests in Cenozoic fossils and the calibration of rates of evolution; speciation, biogeography, and conservation. Jerry loved field research, and he travelled widely to study fishes in South America, Central America and Siberia. Over the last fifty years he has been an important resource in the identification and ecology of fishes of the Great Lakes region. His primary field work was in the Great Basin and on the Snake River Plain. In western Idaho and eastern Oregon, living fishes in the Snake River are surrounded by sediments bearing the fossils of their ancestors—sedimentary sequences from two to ten million years old—providing a rich laboratory for the study of evolution; it is full of puzzles that fascinated Jerry for the whole of his professional life, and he continued to work and publish on this sequence until the last couple months of this summer. Before he died, he completed a synthesis of many threads of his life work, documenting the effects of hybridization on fish evolution, and challenging prevailing assumptions in the determination of evolutionary trees using mitochondrial DNA.
Jerry loved animals of every kind, but particularly his pigeons, his horses, and the on-going family of wild cranes that return to Sandhill Farm every year to raise their young. Before he switched to science, Jerry pursued early ambitions as a classical French hornist, and he sustained a deep, lifelong appreciation of music. He loved history of the American West and was passionate about sustainable agriculture.
Jerry Smith will always be remembered for his kindness, compassion, and generosity. His personal and intellectual generosity and collaborative spirit have influenced, inspired, and supported his students, his colleagues, his peers, and friends alike, and he will be sorely missed.
He is preceded in death by his sister Barbara Corbett and is survived by his sisters Lou Ann West and Karen Jensen.
A celebration of his life will be arranged at a future date. Donations in honor of Jerry can be made to the George Junne Internship Fieldwork Award Fund of the University of Michigan (account 337670). This fund was started by Jerry and Catherine Badgley to support black and indigenous paleontology students in conducting their field work.
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