By Arthur Lightbourn
He loves all things maritime, so much so that on one particular 6,000-mile road trip with his wife he visited 122 maritime museums throughout the U.S. and Canada, and eventually compiled and published a guide to some 650 museums in his book, “Maritime Museums of North America,” newly updated and about to be released in its eighth edition.
His name is Robert H. Smith, former fundraising assistant to UCSD Chancellor William McGill and vice president for development at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla.
As you might guess, Smith is a meticulous man, with a passion for collecting facts — combined with a love for the sea that led him to learn how to sail, to purchase a 38-foot cutter-rigged Down East sailboat and to try living aboard it with his wife when they moved to San Diego in the 1970s.
They sailed their “home” in the ocean waters around San Diego while he worked as a fundraiser at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation. To experience other waters, on vacations, they chartered vessels and sailed in Chesapeake Bay, the Virgin Islands and the Gulf Islands off Vancouver, British Columbia.
They lived aboard the Seaborne for about a year, or as his wife recalls, “for one year, one week, two days, and 20 minutes,” — until they realized living on a boat wouldn’t work while Smith had to put on a coat and tie every day to go to work.
They moved back on land to Del Mar.
About that time Smith also took to writing and visiting maritime museums in the U.S. and Canada that resulted in publication of his first guide to “Maritime Museums of North America,” published by the Naval Institute Press in 1988.
Subsequent updated and enlarged editions of the guide were published by Smith’s own company, C Books Publisher, Del Mar.
In addition to his maritime museum guides, Smith is the author of cruising guides for Southern and Northern California pleasure boaters (now out of print), a short history of the Erie Canal, (Clinton’s Ditch: the Erie Canal — 1825) and a soon-to-be published “Maritime History Short Stories of America’s West Coast” collection of 22 articles he wrote that originally appeared in California’s recreational boating newspaper The Log.
We interviewed the 82-year-old Smith in his Carmel Valley condo where he lives with his grown daughter, Rebecca Anne, and his wife of almost 63 years, Helen, whom he originally met in high school and reconnected with after he had served a hitch in the Navy during World War II. They married in 1948 and raised four children.
These days, although he no longer sails, you’ll find the tall, white-haired transplanted Midwesterner taking brisk, 2½-mile, 4:30 a.m. walks around Carmel Valley.
It’s been his health regimen for the past 15 years. “My doctor says, ‘Don’t ever stop.’”
Smith was born in Oak Park, Illinois, and was raised in Denver, Colorado. His father was an Iowa-born American Baptist minister of German heritage.
The family’s original name was Schmidt.
His grandfather had emigrated from Germany as a young man, married and was raising his family when, at the dinner table one evening, he announced: “We’re in America; we shall be Smith from now on.”
When Smith turned 18 towards the end of World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served 14 months at the naval training station in San Diego and at the Naval Ammunitions and Net Depot in Seal Beach, Calif., loading unexploded ordinance onto barges for disposal at sea and storing live ammunition in concrete “igloos.”
Returning to Denver, he married Helen Kingsley, whom he had met in high school; earned his J.D. from the University of Denver, but failed to pass the bar exam, “because, I was told later, they couldn’t read my terrible handwriting.”
Nevertheless, the law background stood him in good stead, he said, throughout a career as a developer of senior retirement apartment projects sponsored by the American Baptist Service Corporation in Denver, and later as a senior housing consultant for American Baptist in Pennsylvania, and as a development fundraising executive at Wesleyan University, Bloomington, Illinois.
In 1969, Smith joined UCSD as development assistant to the chancellor where he remained for eight years establishing fundraising and alumni programs. In 1977, he joined Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla as a planned gift officer. He was appointed vice president for development in 1982 and in 1984 was honored as “fundraiser of the year” by the San Diego chapter of the National Society of Fundraising Executives.
He retired from Scripps in 1989 to become a fundraising consultant and publisher.
Publishing, he said, has always been a labor of love. “When you sell books, there’s a satisfaction even if you don’t make money,” he laughs. “In 1997, Helen and I bought an RV, traveled 6,000 miles and visited 122 maritime museums in Canada and the U.S.; and I have to tell you that was 121 more than Helen ever wanted to see.”
He estimates that over the years he has visited more than 300 maritime museums.
Smith publishes his books through his company, C Books Publisher, Del Mar, 858-755-7753, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). His Website is: www.maritimemuseums.net The Website contains a complete master index to maritime museums.
He anticipates that the new edition of his Maritime Museums guide will eventually also be available on Kindle.
“Someday I may even write my biography,” he said, “if I live long enough.”
Robert H. Smith
Smith, former fundraising assistant to the chancellor of UCSD and vice president of development at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation, is the author of a comprehensive guide to Maritime Museums of North America and a short history of the Erie Canal.
Carmel Valley for 27 years
Oak Park, Illinois, 83 years ago. Grew up in Denver, Colorado
Law degree, LL.B., Westminster Law School; J.D., University of Denver, School of Law, 1953
He and his wife, Helen (nee Kingsley), have been married going on 63 years. They first met in high school. They have four grown children: sons, David, Mark, Steven; and daughter, Rebecca Anne.
Enlisted in U.S. Navy, 1945-46.
All things maritime and publishing what he writes. He was a long-time Del Mar Rotarian and served as president in 1985.
Walking two-and-a-half miles daily (except Sundays) at 4:30 a.m.
Estes Park, Colorado
“Wheel of Fortune,” “Jeopardy,” Turner Classic Movies, and PBS’s “Masterpiece Theatre.”
“As my father would say ‘Do unto others…’”