Roger M. Smith, 91, Alfred,
USCG, Cambodia specialist, teacher
Roger Morton Smith, 91, of 30 South Main Street, Alfred, passed away peacefully, in the embrace of his wife and under the compassionate care of the nurses at the U. of R. Jones Memorial Hospital, Wellsville, in the first hour of July 5, 2021, after a long and courageous battle with spinal stenosis and Lewy Body Dementia.
Roger was born on March 28, 1930, in Auburndale, Newton, Massachusetts, the only child of Archer and Alice Bagehot Smith. Roger’s mother, a native of France, passed away when he was seven years old and his father enrolled him in boarding school in nearby Waverly; upon reaching 7th grade, Roger began studies at the Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in the United States (founded in 1635). When Archer entered the Army to serve in WWII, Roger commuted by streetcar to “Boston Latin” from a farm outside the city, where he had been sent to live with an Irish American family, gaining a deep appreciation of the land and hard work—and for a brief time enjoyed having “siblings”.
After high school, and barely 17, Roger’s father counseled him not to go immediately to university, but to spend some time serving his country; he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. Stationed at a USCG light house in Chatham, MA, a weather station boat in Boston Harbor, and an air-sea rescue cutter at Woods Hole, his writing talents eventually were discovered, and he was sent to the U. S. Navy Training Station, Chicago, to study journalism. After completion of the course, he was assigned to the USCG Public Relations office in New York City, where his “boss” was Alex Haley, at that time Chief Journalist, USCG—almost three decades before the publication of “Roots”. Subsequently, Roger also worked in the USCG PR office in San Francisco.
Some of Roger’s own deep family roots were in shipping, including ginseng, which was abundant in nearby Connecticut and in great demand in China; his interest in Asia thus was “in his DNA”. After discharge from the Coast Guard, he finally started his higher eduation: In the 1950s, virtually the only undergraduate program in “Asian Studies” was at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, where he earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. His graduate studies were completed at Cornell University. At that time, on-site research was required by Cornell for the Ph.D. in Government [Political Science]. After completion of his coursework, Roger spent 1960-1962 in Cambodia [and the countries that border it] on a Ford Foundation Foreign Area Training Program Fellowship to research his dissertation. He received his Ph.D. degree from Cornell in 1964; his dissertation was published by Cornell University Press in 1965, by which time Roger was teaching at the University of Washington.
“Cambodia’s Foreign Policy” comprises a meticulously researched summary of the country’s history starting with the magnificent 12th C Khmer Empire, its dismemberment by the Thai and Vietnamese, and subsequent domination by the French; and a detailed analysis of Cambodia’s valiant attempt, post-1954 Geneva Conference, at being a sovereign nation between the “cold-war blocs” and their entanglements in crises in Laos and Viet Nam. At the time of Roger Smith’s doctoral research, Cambodia was the least explored of the Southeast Asian non-aligned nations; “Cambodia’s Foreign Policy” was in demand as a university textbook for more than a decade after its publication.
During his years in Cambodia, Roger was helped greatly by the then Chief of State, H.R.H. Prince Norodom Sihanouk, whom he interviewed many times and who “opened doors” for him, enabling Roger to meet with many individuals crucial to his research and to travel extensively in the country, which was almost completely off limits to Americans at that time. During this period, Roger took stunning black and white photographs of people, villages and monuments throughout Cambodia, including the 12th century Khmer temples near the town of Siem Reap, the most famous of which is Angkor Wat, virtually deserted 60 years ago.
Roger also taught at the University of Michigan before accepting an invitation from the Ford Foundation to be their Program Officer for Southeast Asia, based in Bangkok, Thailand. During extensive work-related travels in the early `70s, from Laos in the north to the far-reaches of Indonesia, including the island of Bali, Roger amassed a beautiful collection of small sculptures, an antique carved decorative architectural panel, and many textiles, some of which are quite rare.
At the conclusion of his term with the Ford Foundation, he taught at Cornell while his esteemed graduate school mentor was on leave for three semesters, after which Roger assumed the position of Associate Dean of Liberal Studies at SUNY Potsdam, where, in early 1975, he met the love of his life, Sharon Bouck, Director of Dance. Later that year, Sharon’s teaching career led them to Bronxville, NY; they were married there, in Christ Episcopal Church, on March 21, 1976. In 1981, her dance career enticed them to Milan, Italy, to embark upon a new life of teaching outside conventional academia—and cut off from the English-speaking “ex-pat” community. For seven years, they worked in Milano, became fluent in Italian, enjoyed stimulating new experiences throughout the country, and made many close Italian friendships, which have endured these forty years.
In mid-summer 1987, Roger and Sharon returned to the U.S.A and settled in Alfred to be close to her parents, the late Warren and Dorothy Bouck, after so many years apart. Roger served a stint as Director of Public Relations at Alfred University, where Sharon taught Italian, during which time they got to work on realizing a dream that had begun to form while they were still in Italy: to create unusual cultural travel experiences that they would plan and lead and that would be difficult for individuals to have on their own, throughout mainland Italy and Sicily, including hiking trips in the Dolomites and the western Italian Alps. Thus, came into being Travel Designs Associates Inc., tour operator.
Their first tour was in Italy in the late spring of 1989; until 2017, over 70 specially designed small group tours followed, from the Alps to Sicily. Requests came from “repeat” clients—alumnae/i associations, art museums, and individual travelers—to take them to other European countries. Dozens of trips followed, especially to Austria, the Czech Republic, and France, all of which they knew well and had architectural and historic “ties” to Italy—and to Turkey, ancient Byzantium, the former eastern capital of the late Roman Empire. Roger’s experience in, and deep knowledge of, Southeast Asia enabled them to lead small group tours also in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Viet Nam, from early 2001 until the financial crisis of 2008.
Roger was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia in March 2015, yet still traveled yearly in Italy with Sharon, as recently as 2019, to visit close friends in Milano and to vacation in southern Tuscany’s exquisite Val d’Orcia, where he was able to walk in the garden of their small countryside hotel and revisit favorite off-the-beaten-path villages, historic wine estates and cellars, and small restaurants—all, including the hotel, owned by colleagues who had become friends over the years. Their compassion and affection for Roger and the tranquil countryside, with its olive trees, cypresses, vineyards and rolling green hills, provided him with much pleasure as the LBD began to take a greater toll on his body and mind.
Roger was an avid reader of history and biography. During their three+ decades at 30 South Main Street in Alfred, he also took time to help Sharon create a landscape garden that, in the summer of 2020, served as a veritable sanctuary for them as they “sheltered in place”. Roger could explore the garden with his walker, watch Sharon pursue her passion (gardening), snooze in the sunshine, and enjoy quiet time there together with a glass of wine, listening to the birds, as the late afternoon sun made its way behind Alfred’s “West Hill”.
Roger is survived by his wife, Sharon Bouck Smith; his brother- and sister-in-law, W. Lynn and Jill Bouck, niece, Elizabeth (Libby) Bouck, and nephew, David Bouck, all residents of the Island of Martha’s Vineyard; a virtual family in Milano, Carlo and Erminia Bonati Staudacher, their daughters, Anna and Elisabetta, and their respective spouses, Roberto Faccincani and Luca Camassa, and children, Eleanora, Filippo, and Emma, Emanuele and Greta; and dear friends in Alfred—and from Maine to Florida and North Carolina to Arizona, with whom Roger shared his grace and knowledge on many foreign and domestic tours during 1989-2017.
A memorial service will be held in Roger’s honor on August 21, 2021, at 2:00 p.m. in the Union University Church, Alfred, NY, followed by a reception at the UUC Church Center. For friends unable to attend, tributes may be sent to Sharon B. Smith, P.O. Box 782, Alfred, NY, 14802.
Sharon would like to thank Brown & Powers Funeral Home for its assistance during this painful time. In lieu of flowers, those wishing to do so are asked kindly to contribute, in Roger’s memory, to: Union University Church, 29 North Main St., Alfred, NY 14802; Hart Comfort House, 141 East State St., Wellsville, NY 14895; The Lewy Body Dementia Association; or The Nature Conservancy.
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