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Dr. Paul A. Smith

Cedar Rapids

Dr. Paul A. Smith, 86, of Cedar Rapids, passed away peacefully with his daughters holding his hands on Monday, March 9, 2020, at UnityPoint-St. Luke's Hospital after a brief battle with pneumonia.
Paul Aiken Smith was born Jan. 12, 1934, in Bucaramanga, Colombia, the fourth child of the Rev. Pryor T. Smith Sr., a Presbyterian missionary, and Letha (Brubaker) Smith. The family lived in a house on a mountainside overlooking Medellin, where he enjoyed watching people, butterflies and sunsets. Paul learned Spanish from his playmates and was homeschooled by his mother until she passed away in 1942, at which time the family returned to the United States. In Concordia, Kan., his father married high school classmate Alice Sjogren, who was willing to leave her teaching post to take on the family of four boys and a girl ranging in age from 5 to 16.
Paul graduated from Geneseo High School in Geneseo, Ill., and attended Park College in Parkville, Mo. There, Margaret McCluggage invited him to a Sadie Hawkins dance, and the two began courting. They were married in a church she had helped build in Juneau, Alaska, on Aug. 27, 1958. He completed his master's degree at Washington University in St. Louis and his Ph.D in physics at Tufts University in Boston. His dissertation research was conducted at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories in Berkeley, Calif. While in the Boston area, daughters Valerie and Amy were born.
In 1964, Paul and Margaret moved their young family to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as he had been offered a position as a professor at Coe College, where he remained until his retirement in 1999. Paul enjoyed teaching Introduction to liberal arts, as well as his specialties of physics and astronomy. He enjoyed mentoring his students, with a special focus on helping young women feel comfortable in the physics department. He helped establish the first computer center at Coe, built a cardboard geodesic dome planetarium, and projected solar eclipses onto the wall at the far end of Peterson Hall so hundreds of students could safely observe. He also hosted birthday parties for his daughters in the computer, physics and astronomy labs.
A highlight of his professional career was a People-To-People International trip to Russia and China during his sabbatical in 1983. He was one of 30 U.S. science teachers selected to share experiences and ideas on improving the teaching of science with Russian and Chinese counterparts.
Paul was a lifelong crusader for social justice, positive human relationships, peace and the environment. Both Paul and Margaret were active first at First Congregational Church and then at Central Park Presbyterian Church. Paul was involved in everything from pastor recruitment to furnace replacement committees. They also were active in the United Nations Association and Women for Peace (now Workers for Peace). Paul was a prolific writer of letters to the editor on topics of religion, politics, personal and community integrity, and conflict resolution. He also published his many writings at www.essayz.com.
Paul also was active in the Democratic Party. He served on the committee that reorganized the caucuses between 1968 and 1972, and as secretary and parliamentarian for conventions at the county, district and state levels. In 1996, he received the Iowa Democratic Party's Dixon Terry Award for outstanding service as a party activist. In 2008, he volunteered at the Democratic National Convention in Denver that nominated Barack Obama.
The whole family enjoyed vacation tent-camping in the Rocky Mountains and southwest deserts of Colorado, as well as in local, county and state parks.
In 2004, Paul and Margaret moved to Fort Collins, Colo., after having done extensive research to select the most appropriate city for their retirement. There, they made new friends at Plymouth United Church of Christ and helped establish a new chapter of the United Nations Association. When it became necessary, friends helped them move to Good Samaritan Assisted Living, and then briefly to Collinwood Memory Care in Fort Collins. In April 2019, their daughters moved them back to the Cedar Rapids area to be able to spend more time with them as their dementias progressed.
Paul is survived by his wife, Margaret; daughters, Valerie Smith and Amy (Rik) Dorff; grandsons, Nik and Luke Dorff (all local); siblings, Bob (Elaine) Smith (Minnesota), Joanne (Carol-deceased) Drake (Colorado), Dave (Linda) Smith (Wisconsin) and Karl (Maureen) Smith (New Jersey); sister-in-law, Reta Smith (Wisconsin); and 10 nieces and one nephew. He was preceded in death by his parents; and oldest brother, Pryor T. Smith Jr.
Per his wishes, he has been cremated. A Celebration of Life will be held in late April. For more information or to share your memories, please visit drpaulsmithcelebrationoflife.net.
Thank you to the staff of Promise House and the Hiawatha Care Center, and to the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, et al., at UnityPoint-St. Luke's Hospital for all their kind care.
In lieu of flowers, please consider contributing in his memory to any of the organizations mentioned above.
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