David Smith will be remembered as a Stony Brook staple whose avid passion for action was as inspiring as it was endearing, close friends said this week.
Smith drowned while swimming in the waters he loved off West Meadow Beach on Aug. 28 despite the attempts of many to save him, witnesses said. He was 79.
A professor emeritus at Stony Brook University’s Department of Computer Science, Smith had noticeably appeared to be having difficulty while swimming near Aunt Amy’s Creek in East Setauket, spurring several onlookers to attempt to come to his rescue. Warren Smith, a resident who was at the scene, said there were many who helped in one way or another, but the professor emeritus did not survive.
“He was a well-known nature lover and often swam, ran and hiked,” Warren Smith said in an email. “The night of the day he died, owls came, and they hooted all night long.”
Smith received his doctorate from University of Wisconsin, Madison. He came to Stony Brook in 1966 and established the computer science department in 1970, the university said, adding that he will be remembered as “a staunch supporter of the department and an innovator in computer science.”
Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) remembered Smith as a jack of all trades who was active in the greater North Shore community well beyond the university, participating in the Gallery North Wet Paint Festival and working as an advocate for Forsythe Meadow forest.
“He was an extraordinary individual, academic, artist, athlete, advocate, volunteer and overall great guy,” Hahn said.
Louise Harrison, of the Peconic-based Conservation & Natural Areas Planning and former co-chair of the Coalition for the Future of Stony Brook Village, said Smith had recently taken up swimming as a substitute for running, since his knees were bothering him.
“Dave was with the coalition from the beginning and never missed a steering committee meeting or an opportunity to go to town planning board or legislative hearings in support of our cause,” Harrison said. “He volunteered to be our process server, a critically important role, for our original Article 78 against the planning board. This was an unfamiliar task and yet Dave was willing to give it a go and he made sure our petition was properly served within a very limited time period.”
Harrison said Smith never missed a coalition event and joined the group this July at the official opening of Forsythe Meadow County Park/Nora Bredes Preserve’s walking trail at 52 Hollow Road in Stony Brook: “I am especially thankful Dave was able to attend that event because he was our strongest and most vocal advocate for restored access to the forest, which he once had enjoyed from the village center during his daily runs.”
Moving forward, Harrison said she was considering ways her group could properly remember Smith, which may include dedicating a trail or portion of the trail at Forsythe Meadow in his honor.