Julian Smith, chemical engineering leader, dies at 96

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Julian C. Smith Jr. ’41, M.Eng. ’42, professor emeritus of chemical and biomolecular engineering, died Aug. 30 at Kendal at Ithaca. He was 96.

Smith joined the Cornell faculty in 1946 and served as director of the School of Chemical Engineering from 1975 to 1983. He was director of continuing education for the College of Engineering from 1965-73. He retired in 1986. The College of Engineering established the Julian C. Smith Lecture Series in his honor.

“Aside from his many contributions to engineering and his superb leadership of the department as it transitioned from its historical focus on excellent teaching into one of the leading research programs in the country, he was also a professor who knew how to charm a crowd,” said Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering, in announcing Smith’s passing to the faculty.

Smith was born in Montreal, Quebec, to American parents – both Cornell alumni – Julian Smith Sr., Class of 1900, and Bertha Louise Alexander Smith, Class of 1901. Graduating second in his class, he went on to a Cornell master’s degree in chemical engineering, then worked for several years at DuPont, in part working on the Manhattan Project, separating uranium isotopes.

He co-authored (with Warren McCabe of North Carolina State University) a textbook, “Unit Operations of Chemical Engineering,” which is still in print and has sold more than a half a million copies. He contributed to five other books.

Outside of work, Smith was known as a singer and entertainer. As a member of the Savage Club he frequently performed comical songs and wrote a few of his own. He sang in the choir of the First Presbyterian Church of Ithaca for some 50 years and served as an elder of the church. He worked with the Ithaca Opera Association, the United Way and the Cerebral Palsy Association. He golfed, reputedly as the oldest member of the Ithaca Country Club, and wrote and published its history, “Breaking Ninety.” He built a prize-winning stamp collection, including at one time a copy of every stamp ever issued by the Canadian government. His annotated land snail collection is housed at the Paleontological Research Institution.

Smith’s wife of 57 years, Joan Dolores Elsen, died in 2003. He is survived by three chidren, Robert Smith, Brian Smith Law '85 and Diane Smith Brook; and four grandchildren, Daniel Smith '08, Celeste Juliana Smith,  Joanna Brook and Lisa Brook.

A private interment will be followed by a funeral and calling hours at Bangs Funeral Home Sept. 5. A memorial service will be held at Kendal at Ithaca at a later date.

Donations can be made to the Museum of the Earth or the Savage Club of Ithaca.


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