In Memoriam / Eugene Smith

Submitted by Henry J Laufenberg on
Professor Emeritus Eugene Smith

The UW English department regrets to report the passing of Professor Emeritus Eugene Herbert Smith (1927-2022). Professor Smith coauthered with former UW and current University of Michigan Professor Anne Ruggles Gere Attitudes, Language and Change (NCTE, 1979), a breakthrough book in Rhetoric and Composition that questions the English classroom as a place that defacto prioritizes usage over meaning and clarity.  Attitudes, Language and Change was thought-leading in challenging the hidden assumption that above all other potential enrichment, students needed to be trained out of less privileged discursive norms. In 1979 Smith and Gere’s book offered radical ways of thinking about these matters that now have become normal practice.

  Attitudes, Language and Change knew that English teachers were the key to reforming societal attitudes, and so focused largely on how teachers as individuals and groups might go about the process of reforming attitudes toward language -- their own and those of the broader public -- for the better.   

 In their words:

… we seek in this book to examine the nature of linguistic attitudes and the processes by which they might be changed.  This is an audacious claim because these attitudes are enormously complex, differing in some respects for every person, and also because its attitudes and process of change involve not only intellect but emotion as well.  While it may be foolish to proscribe change in basic attitudes toward language, it is irresponsible not to present reasonable alternatives to fixed notions.

 Professor John Webster remembers Dr. Smith as someone “whose University of Washington was not just the English Department.  He was also closely engaged with faculty in the School of Education. Like his colleague Anne Gere, Professor Smith was able to cross the invisible line that often separates one department or school from another.  Eugene was an innovator with a deep a quiver of teaching skills and experience.”

Below is a reprinting of Eugene Smith’s official obituary.  Rest in peace Dr. Smith.


Eugene Herbert Smith was born on February 23, 1927 in Framingham, Massachusetts and died peacefully on October 23rd, 2022 in Seattle, Washington at the age of 95.

He was raised on Long Island, New York and after graduation from Port Jefferson High School in 1944, served in the US Army. After discharge, he attended Oberlin College from which he received a degree in English. During the summer of 1950 while studying dance at the Jacob's Pillow in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, he crossed paths with another student, Marcia Miller. In short order, he was on a Greyhound bus following her to her hometown of La Grande, Oregon where they were married in 1951. He went on to pursue a career as an educator, starting as a fifth-grade teacher in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, and concluding as an English professor at the University of Washington.

Eugene and Marcia Smith had five children and six grandchildren. During retirement he continued to research and write on a variety of subjects including landscape design, a history of Black women in nursing in Seattle, the neurological disorder of dystonia, and a history of Seattle's Montlake neighborhood. He also founded the Union County, Oregon History Project and served on the LaGrande Oregon Library Commission.

Eugene was predeceased by his wife of 68 years Marcia Miller Smith in 2019. He is survived by his sister, Nancy Cella (Bill) of Jemez Springs, New Mexico; his children Sheila Smith (Don Ferguson), Kenna Smith Shangrow (Robert Shangrow), Maynard Smith, Bradley Smith, and Naomi Halfaker (Jon Halfaker); and grandchildren Colin Ferguson, Caitlin Ferguson, Olivia Shangrow, Spencer Shangrow, Holton Halfaker, and Henry Halfaker.

Memorial donations may be made to Harmonia Seattle, 1916 Pike Pl, Ste 112, Seattle 98101 or


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