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In Memory of Peter A. Smith
by Ernie Mazzatenta, January 2001 issue of Intercom
Over the half-century of this society’s existence, few have impacted our mission and activities as much as Peter A. Smith who died on October 21 at age 80. A charter member of STWP, a predecessor to STC, Pete brought fresh ideas and new programs to both his chapter (Washington, DC) and the Society. Over the years, he did this in many, different capacities—as chapter president, co-founder of STC’s International Technical Publications Competition, Speaker and Program Planner at our conferences, longtime member of the Fellows Nominating Committee, and STC President.
For his innovative thinking, foresight, and lengthy record as a "doer," Peter was elected an STC Fellow in 1978.
Peter was among the first in STC to emphasize the need to attract young students to the profession. In the early 1960s, he helped establish, promote, and implement the chapter’s Science Writing Contests for high school students in the Washington Metropolitan area. In a talk at the Boston conference in 1972, he was still stressing that need; he urged members to "guide interested young people into appropriate careers by such local chapter activities as high school science writing contests and career development seminars."
In the late 1960s, Peter played a key role in the establishment of what has become a major society program: publications competitions. After conducting a successful chapter-level competition, he was asked to help organize and guide the first Society-level publications competition. He remained an important member of the competition committee in its first years—when you could count the number of participating chapters on one hand. (Today, dozens of chapter contests attract hundreds of entries—the best of which are entered into our Society-level competition.)
As STC president in 1975-76, Pete advised members on what we needed besides competence in our discipline. He felt strongly that we had to address the economics of our jobs—and by "we" he truly meant each of us. Writing in the Second Quarter issue of Technical Communication in 1976, Peter said: "We all hate the thought of economizing… (But) economy of expression is the mark of all great messages… economy of production and distribution is the mark of all great publishers. Economy of line is the mark of the great artist …Economy is the mark of the great technical communicator. If you achieve it, important people will notice and will want you to work for them."
In the Proceedings of the 1976 international conference, he added to that economic message: "…the economics of communication are constantly in flux … each of us (needs) to learn about many new tools, techniques, and approaches that can help us adjust to economic change and to step up the efficiency of our everyday efforts."
One of his most important contributions to society members resulted from his many years on STC’s Fellows Nominating Committee. From 1989 to 1996, he was responsible, along with partners Andy Malcolm and Ernie Mazzatenta, for recommending to the board 44 outstanding members for the rank of Fellow. That number represents 41 percent of all those elected up to the year 2000. During this span, Pete’s painstaking attention to the qualifications of each candidate was a major reason that the board seldom questioned the committee’s recommendations and rarely rejected them.
In a career encompassing almost a half-century, Pete distinguished himself as a practicing writer, editor, and provider of editorial design services.
In 1951, he received a B.S. degree from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. That same year, he went to work in the publications department of Transworld Language Service, Inc. in Washington. There, he edited scientific, technical, industrial, and economic reports based on foreign-language source material. Later, as editor and chief of that department, he was responsible for the camera-ready preparation of 5,000 pages of illustrated copy per month.
From 1957 to 1964, Pete was chief of the publications department at McGaughy, Marshall & McMillan in Washington. His work included development of a "Unified Construction-Combat Organization" for the U.S. Naval Construction Forces (Seabees). He also wrote the administrative manual based on the new plan of organization.
Pete then moved to the U.S. Department of State where he became chief of editorial services for all department publications. In 1969, he became general manager of the Editorial Services Division of Macmillan Educational Corporation. He founded his own company, Peter Smith Associates, in 1975.
During his 20 years as president and principal, he provided a wide range of editorial and design services for such organizations as the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency, and NASA.
We extend our heartfelt regrets to his surviving family members: his wife of 48 years, Ludmila; three daughters; one son, a sister, and three grandchildren.
Insightful Quotes from a Memorable STC President
During his year as Society president (1975-76) Pete Smith opened each issue of Technical Communication with a letter to members. These quotes reflect his far-sighted thinking about professional excellence and reveal some of the innovations undertaken during his administration:
… STC is both strong and solvent. Unfortunately, the overall state of technical communication is not quite so strong. As we look around, we see that a deluge of low-quality writing, editing, and artwork continues to clog the channels of communication. If these channels are to be kept open, we as technical communicators must continue to upgrade our performance.
… Should STC have a code of ethics? Should technical communicators be accredited by educational institutions, or by STC? … In search for the right answers, the Board of Directors has established two new committees: The Ad Hoc Committee on Ethics and the Ad Hoc Committee to Study the Feasibility of an Accreditation/Certification Program.
The true professional is one who sees ‘all the alternatives’ in perspective and who selects the set that best answers the problem at hand. In the field of technical communication, such awareness has seldom been achieved … With this issue, Technical Communication takes on an exciting new dimension. Editor Stanley Higgins has opened up his pages for ‘Recent and Relevant’—a major new source for members of our profession… From now on…we (will receive) a comprehensive, well-rounded summary of relevant articles that have appeared in other journals.