Professor Alec Smith
ABGS 1942 - 1950

Professor Alec Smith, 1997

Prof Alec Smith, 1997
(ABGS 1942 - 1950)
photo courtesy Kevin D’Souza

Alec James Smith was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, on January 30, 1932. The family moved to Wales in 1934 and settled at 3 Clifton Crescent, Aberaman, almost adjacent to St Margaret’s Church. The family’s new surroundings must have seemed familiar to them, as like Aberdare, Wakefield also had a long tradition of the coal-mining industry. Alec’s father had come to Aberdare as a youth worker and took on the position of secretary of the YMCA in Aberaman.

After attending Aberaman Junior Mixed School from 1937 to 1942, Alec transferred to the County School in Trecynon. He passed his School Certificate in 1947, was in the last year-group to sit CWB Higher School Certificate examinations in 1950 before GCE A levels were introduced. He passed in Economics, Geology and Geography with distinctions in the last two subjects. He also won the John Hughes Open Scholarship to UCW Aberystwyth which began a long association with university.

He was an undergraduate from 1950 until 1953 when he graduated with 1st Class Honours B.Sc. in Geology. He stayed at Aber for postgraduate study in Geology, focusing on the study of the Aberystwyth Grit Series which involved coastal cliff studies from New Quay to Borth. After three years the award of Ph.D. was made in 1956. Having won an ‘1851 research postdoctoral scholarship’1 for geological studies, he continued for one more year at the ‘college-by-the-sea’ and finally left in 1957.

He then embarked upon a thirty-five year career as a university academic in the University of London. The following summarises the positions he held during the period from 1957 to his retirement in 1995:

Besides lecturing and, in 1985 creating and directing a new and active academic department at Royal Holloway, Alec had a broad spectrum of research interests, usually overlapping, with a global distribution.


In addition to his responsibilities at RHUL he organised several national and international conferences: he was elected Treasurer and Vice-President of the Geological Society, London; President, Geologists’ Association; Chairman, Greenwich Forum; Chairman, Watt Committee on Energy; Chairman, Geological Grants Committee, Natural Environment Research Council; President, Section C (Geology) British Association for the Advancement of Science, (1991-1992); Geological Advisor to Kuwait University, (1991-1992); and Creator of the magazine Geology Today, 1985.

He was the recipient of many awards: The Coke Medallist of the Geological Society of London; Fellow of the Society for Underwater Technology; and Fellow of Royal Holloway University of London. He is now Professor Emeritus - University of London.

His record of over 100 published scientific papers is prodigious. He is also the author, or co-author, of four books:

In his retirement he edits geological publications translated from Japanese and he prepares the occasional scientific paper.

Alec married Anita Kenyon in 1990, and since 1992 Alec has taken the name Alec Kenyon-Smith. Alec & Anita set up homes in both Scotland and Denmark in 1992.

Alec Smith in 1956

Alec Smith in 1956
at the time of the
1851 Research Award

March 31st, 2011

Postscript :— Professor Alec Smith died on 12th November 2015 in hospital in Scotland after a short period of ill health. He is survived by his widow, Anita; his ex-wife, Joan Lilwall-Smith; his son Andrew Lilwall-Smith; daughter Dr Janet Jenkins; and 2 grandchildren. Tributes to Alec have been published on-line.3

January 27th, 2016

  1. The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 is a grant-making educational trust, providing funding for individuals, companies and organisations, particularly in scientific and technological disciplines.
  2. In 1985, Bedford College merged with Royal Holloway College.
  3. By Professor Paul Layzell and by Professor Derek Blundell. Writing of Alec, Professor Bundell concludes thus,“The Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway is his legacy.”