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In Memoriam: Edwin “Rip” Smith
USC Gould School of Law

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

In Memoriam: Edwin “Rip” Smith

Barrier-breaking international and environmental policy professor was 66

-By Gilien Silsby

Update: Please join the law school community as we celebrate the life of Prof. Edwin “Rip” Smith at  USC's Town & Gown on Dec. 8, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. RSVP to events@law.usc.edu

Edwin “Rip” Smith, a beloved USC law professor, and steadfast supporter of his students and colleagues for 36 years, passed away Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016.

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A renowned international and environmental policy attorney, Smith, 66, joined USC Gould School of Law in 1980, and was the Leon Benwell Professor of Law, International Relations and Political Science. He was the school’s first tenured minority professor.

“Rip has been a valued member of our faculty since 1980, teaching international law to generations of students,” said Dean Andrew Guzman. “The Gould community has lost a longstanding and irreplaceable member of our family.”

Known for his infectious smile, generosity and easygoing style, Smith was admired and respected by his students, many of whom he stayed in close contact throughout the years.

“Prof. Smith was a phenomenal professor and mentor to me,” said Josh Lockman ’08, a lecturer at USC Gould. “The opportunity to co-teach a class on international law alongside him was an honor and extraordinary opportunity I will never forget.”

Prof. Smith joined the law school faculty in 1980. He was admired and respected by his students, with whom he remained in contact throughout the years.

USC Gould Prof. Rebecca Brown said he had a “deep and authentic commitment” to his students. “It inspired me; he sought to infect them with the passion he felt about the topics that fascinated him, even when his twinkling eye revealed that he didn’t expect them necessarily to feel it.”

Smith, who earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University, also studied environmental law and was “keenly interested in the health of the oceans,” said USC Gould Prof. and former Dean Scott Bice.

“Environmental law was a relatively new field and Rip was one of the pioneers in the field.  His interest in environmental issues led him to expand into international law, as the oceans, of course,affect many countries and addressing ocean health required international cooperation and treaty responses.”

Rip Smith (right) with longtime friend and colleague Ron Garet. 

USC Gould Prof. Ron Garet who has known Smith since they were undergraduates at Harvard, said he was a cherished friend and colleague.

“Rip was a colleague on whom I relied, and the institution relied, for wise judgment on hard questions,” said Garet. “We grew up on the same beliefs about what our law school stands for and about how fortunate we are to live and work at such an extraordinary institution.  And Rip’s life and work, and his grace say much about why our hearts feel loss at this time and also feel so thankful for the gifts bestowed on us.”

Prof. Smith joined admitted students at Gould's annual Law Day in 2016.

Before joining USC, Smith was an associate at Rosenfeld, Meyer & Sussman, a staff attorney for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and a research associate with the Institute for Marine and Coastal Studies.  While on the faculty, he spent a year as a Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Serving as U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Special Counsel for Foreign Policy.  Smith was appointed by President Clinton as a science and policy advisor to the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and lectured internationally on United Nations-NATO cooperation in peacekeeping.

Colleagues say that Smith's optimism was inspiring, even in the face of distressing world events.

Alexander Capron, who joined USC law in 1985, said Smith’s optimism was inspiring even in the face of distressing world events.

"His involvement as a lawyer, public servant, and advisor to national and international officials made him a realist about the barriers to extending the rule of law into international relations, but his natural optimism left him hopeful that human progress in foreign relations was possible,” Capron said. 

“Above all, as a person, Rip was one of the kindest, most generous, and least pretentious people I’ve known across nearly five decades in the academy, and I and all his colleagues at the law school are going to miss him very much.”



Comments & Tributes

As part of our tribute, an e-mail account for individuals wishing to send their remembrances or other comments regarding Professor Smith has been established. Please send your remembrances to remembrances@law.usc.edu for inclusion on this page.

I remember several fascinating lunch conversations with Rip about his experiences growing up in Louisville (and being one of the first students to integrate a public high school there). He was a great colleague.
Clare Pastore
USC Gould School of Law

Rip was an incredibly supportive senior colleague when I was hired here. When I first joined the faculty, he told me how happy he was that I was doing this work on the history of race and law in this country, both so that he could read it - and so that he wouldn't have to do it! He was a steadfast supporter of critical race studies in the academy even while it was important to him to be able to work on other issues himself. He also taught me a great deal about teaching Contracts, always in his quiet and supportive way. I will miss Rip very much, but I'm a better person for knowing him.
Ariela J. Gross
USC Gould School of Law

Rip was a colleague on whom I relied, and the institution relied, for wise judgment on hard questions. He had far more common sense than I do, and was a good lawyer, colleague and friend. Rip and I were Social Studies majors together in college; he was one year ahead of me. Then our paths diverged but converged again when we came to USC. Rip, Matt Spitzer and I started teaching at the law school at roughly the same time. So we grew up on the same beliefs about what our law school stands for and about how fortunate we are to live and work at such an extraordinary institution. And Rip's life and work, and the grace with which he faced long illness, say much about why our hearts feel loss at this time and also feel so thankful for the gifts bestowed on us.
Ronald R. Garet
USC Gould School of Law

I too am very saddened by this loss. Rip had a deep and authentic commitment to the students, which inspired me; he sought to infect them with the passion he felt about the topics that fascinated him, even when his twinkling eye revealed that he didn't expect them necessarily to feel it. I saw him sculpt the debate about the South China Sea into a gripping tale for admitted students. He will be missed.
Rebecca Brown
USC Gould School of Law

I just heard the heartbreaking news that my longtime mentor, and friend, Professor Edwin M. Smith has passed away. For the last 2 years, I have had the honor to serve as Professor Smith's research assistant, studying in-depth the interplay between international law and geopolitics as major events unfolded. Professor Smith held an almost childlike wonder and excitement for the study of international law, and imbued his students, colleagues and friends with that same fervor through his infectious smile and love of learning. I consider it an utmost privilege to have developed the relationship I did with Professor Smith, and credit him directly for my love of international humanitarian law and my desire to pursue its practice throughout my future. The USC law family has lost a great man, and my heart goes out to his family, friends, and students suffering this tremendous loss. 
RIP Rip.
Michael Jones

I first met Rip in 1980, when he was a junior faculty member, interviewing me to see if USC wanted to give me a lateral offer to move from Northwestern. Rip was an energetic and engaging man who was intensely interested in oceans and fish, and the role of law in protecting them. The conversation with him was energizing. Apparently I passed the test; I got the offer and took it. 
Over the years Rip's interests migrated to war, particularly nuclear war, and how to avoid it. Conversations with him became full of Mutually Assured Destruction, bioterror weapons, and the history of World War II. I confess I liked these conversations even better than the ones about fish. 
It was during these years that Rip first started having trouble with one of his eyes, eventually wearing a patch. Everyone, including his MD, thought there was a problem with his eye. Only later did we find out that this was the first symptom of MS. Over the years it was hard to watch him deteriorate; MS can be a very cruel disease. 
In spite of these hardships, Rip was one of the friendliest, warm-hearted, and consistently empathetic people I have ever met. He never complained, and offered to help out when needed. I will miss him deeply.
Matthew Spitzer, JD '77
Professor of Law, Northwestern University School of Law 
Dean, USC Gould School of Law 2000-2006

I left the Gould family in 1980, but I participated in hiring Professor Smith. I was absolutely thrilled when we enticed him to come to USC. At the time, we didn't have many professors in international law. And Edwin Smith turned out to be a giant in that field. His book about the United Nations is amazing in its own right; one of the few books that really talked about the cooperation between the U.N. and NATO. 
He brought a wealth of unique knowledge to our school. He will be dearly missed. My one great regret is that I became a judge just as he came on the faculty. But when I visited the school, I was delighted to hear that the students loved him. Edwin was superb.
Hon. Dorothy Nelson, LLM '56
Senior Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Dean, USC Gould School of Law 1968-1980

At a time when the world is convulsed by war and bloodshed, and our own nation is torn by dissension and bellicose isolationism, it is especially sad that USC Gould has lost an advocate for human rights, a scholar on the law of war, and a believer in international cooperation as the road to peace. For more than three decades, Rip Smith shared his passion for public international law with his students and colleagues alike. He was deeply committed to the classroom and always hoped to raise the horizons of our young lawyers-to-be to the drama of world affairs. His involvement as a lawyer, public servant, and advisor to national and international officials made him a realist about the barriers to extending the rule of law into international relations, but his natural optimism left him hopeful that human progress in foreign relations was possible. Above all, as a person, Rip was one of the kindest, most generous, and least pretentious people I've known across nearly five decades in the academy, and I and all his colleagues at the law school are going to miss him very much.
Alexander Capron
USC Gould School of Law

Rip Smith was an environmental lawyer keenly interested in the health of the oceans when he joined the law faculty. Environmental law was a relatively new field and Rip was one of the pioneers in the field. His interest in environmental issues led him to expand into international law, as the oceans of course affect many countries and addressing ocean health required international cooperation and treaty responses. His interest in international issues evolved over time to concerns far beyond maritime issues. 
He was very involved in both scholarship and international organizations, serving on several important commissions and organizations. He established and well recognized and respected reputation as a leader in international law. 
Rip was a dedicated and highly regarded teacher. He was a fine colleague who was always ready to undertake important administrative duties and to read and comment on faculty scholarship. 
He was a courageous person who dealt with serious chronic illness for many years, maintaining his good humor fulfilling all his responsibilities with good cheer. 
In his early years and at the time he joined the faculty, he was an avid scuba diver---part of his attraction to caring about the oceans. Although his first name was Edwin, his nickname Rip, was how he was know to faculty, friends and students. This came from "rip tide" a condition that he apparently confronted and successfully overcame in some memorable dives.
Scott Bice, JD '68
Professor of Law, USC Gould School of Law
Dean, USC Gould School of Law 1980-2000

Rip was a wonderful and brilliant person. I was fortunate over the years to speak with him on a number of panels on a variety of international law topics. The last time was not long ago on Policing Trends in Democratic Societies in April 2016 for Celebrate Rule of Law Week. My condolences to his family and friends. He will be very much missed.
Jeff Daar

Rip has been a mentor and friend since my first year of law school, over a decade ago. He has inspired me with his brilliance, curiosity, humor, grace and kindness. I will miss him dearly.
Mary Hansel

Rip Smith was a very graceful and admirable person. His unflagging graciousness and affability, though, were almost deceptive; they masked what a remarkable person he really was. I had known Rip for years before I learned that he had grown up on the front lines of school desegregation in the South. Rip spoke to me about his childhood in Louisville only once, towards the end of an otherwise forgettable faculty party. What Rip had to say was characteristically low-key and modest, and entirely free of rancor or resentment. If you had just arrived from a different planet you wouldn't have known that he was describing his role in one of the most traumatic events in American history, nor that his self-effacing story was a tale of quiet heroism. Everything was between the lines. To hear Rip tell it, he was lucky to have grown up when he did and whatever personal pain he suffered was both well worth bearing and not important. I left that conversation thinking that we were all luckier than we had any right to be that Rip was one of the people who shouldered way more than his fair share of the enormous burden of struggling against racism in this country. 
As a colleague and a citizen of the law school, Rip was remarkably generous. He was always willing to help and he had the shrewdness and sense to know how to be helpful. As the years wore on and Rip's health declined, I saw less of him, but his company was always a pleasure in a way that I could never quite explain. Some of it, surely, was the grace with which he bore his long struggle with MS. Rip was as far from being a complainer as anyone could be. He made light of his troubles in a way which almost made you believe that they were no big deal. We are much the worse off for his loss, but very lucky to have known him.
Gregory C. Keating
USC Gould School of Law

Professor Smith was an understanding and encouraging presence throughout my studies at Gould. He was the only professor who agreed to speak at a student-organized rally to raise awareness of diversity issues. His support made such a difference, and his influence will always be a cherished part of my experience.
Gyongyi Bardos, '91

When I first came to USC law school in 1988, Rip was one of the most welcoming faculty members. David and I share fond memories of dinners with him and Denelle. He and David would talk endlessly about politics and sports and we all conversed about the news of the day and Rip's memories of his childhood in the South. He was a warm, intelligent man and I will truly miss him.
Nomi Stolzenberg
USC Gould School of Law

Professor Smith was the first professor that I met at USC. As the faculty adviser to the LLM program, he taught an introductory course on U.S. law and the U.S. legal system. He was one of the few truly gifted teachers, who was able to teach far beyond the substance of the written rules. Fueled by an unmistakable passion for teaching, he, in his own ingenious ways, walked us through many aspects of American law while imbuing his students with a longing to learn more. The best teachers are the ones that wake the thirst for knowledge in their students and Professor Smith was a true master at that. He was always up for a chat and I fondly remember the discussions about the relevance of international treaties like the CISG and about the intricacies of the U.S. legal system. However, despite his mastery of teaching law, the most valuable lesson Prof. Smith gave me was on the importance of and love for one's family. He spoke about his family many times and with such a passion that it was apparent how much he loved and cherished it. I appreciate his relationship advice that I have been trying to follow ever since our chat in his office seven years ago and -similar to him- I strive to have love for my family guide me in life. His passing saddens me greatly and I can only imagine how much his family misses him. It may be presumptuous to write this, but a part of him lives on in the many lives that he touched during his inspiring life and I feel most fortunate to be a better person because I knew Professor Smith.
Peter Steinwachs, LLM '08, JD '10

He was one of my favorite professors. I was just thinking of him the other day-- a few years ago we were discussing the abysmal scale of American women in politics, and I lamented whether we'd even see a woman in the Oval Office during our lifetime. He told me that we absolutely would-- that Hillary would be the next president of the United States. I'm so sorry to hear he won't be here with us to celebrate. He was a wonderful mentor and teacher.
Kelsey McGregor, '15

Great law student, wonderful professor, better person. He was a constant source of encouragement for my daughter, Jennifer (USC Gould '13). Recently commented on our father-daughter dance. Said Jennifer's husband, Atim, was a "lucky guy." We were lucky to have known Rip.
Tom Sayles
USC, Senior Vice President, University Relations

Professor Smith was a brilliant teacher and a beautiful person. Without lecturing, he had a way of gently maneuvering the class to a deeper appreciation of the key issues in contract law. His discussions were efficient, challenging and inviting. I am thankful to have learned from him.
Roger Smith, JD '98

I have just found out about Professor Smith's passing away, and I am absolutely heartbroken. I can hardly try to find the words to express what an amazing person he was, but here is an attempt: 
Professor Edwin Smith's love for his subject and for teaching inspired and motivated me like nothing else in law school. He was such a believer in passing on his knowledge and giving his time to the next generation, and all of us who had the honor and benefit of being his students have been so incredibly touched by his care and kindness. His mentorship, guidance and support, especially as I wrote my note, was amazing. When I thought I was not up to par, he was always there to build me back up and restore my belief in myself. Even after law school he was supportive and generous with his time and help. Without his kind and encouraging words, I may not have decided to take the idea of going back to school and switch to an academic career seriously. I am blessed to have known this man as is everyone else who had the honor of ever crossing his path. I will sorely miss him. 
If you can, please pass on my sincerest condolences to his family and loved ones. Please tell them they are in my thoughts, and I wish them all the strength and fortitude in the world as they go through this incredibly difficult time. 
With sadness in my heart and deepest condolences,
Alma Stankovic, '08

Rip was a brilliant Professor, a mentor, a friend with whom I had the honor of co-lecturing courses on EU law and the CISG for many years. Pierre and I share fond memories of dinners with him and Denelle. We will miss him dearly.
Adeline Simenon, LLM '03

Rip was one of the senior leaders of the school when I joined the faculty. After meeting him and talking with him a bit, two things were immediately apparent. One was the level of devotion that he had for his students. He cared deeply about their education, and understood that our primary mission as a leading law school was the education of the next generation of leaders. The second thing that struck me was his commitment to USC Gould being a leading international law school. In addition to his own scholarship, he was a tireless advocate for our international students, reminding us that it was through them that our school would have an impact across the globe. Through his decades of teaching, scholarship and service, he made us a better law school. Through his example of graciousness, good humor and caring, he inspired all of us to be better human beings.
Robert K. Rasmussen
Professor of Law, USC Gould School of Law
Dean, USC Gould School of Law 2007 - 2015

The USC law community lost a great man. I was devastated to hear of his passing - Professor Edwin Smith was one of my favorite professors and just a wonderfully-kind and helpful human being. "Selfless" is one of the most apt terms to describe him. For me, law school was a rough time, crushed spirits and all. Professor Smith was instrumental in turning that around - it was a privilege to be taught by someone with such colossal expertise and extraordinary life experiences. I will always fondly remember his classes and chatting with him afterward about his favorite subject areas. He humored my outspoken advocacy of various international policies, shared his tremendous depth of perspective on all topics, and went the extra mile to help fellow students with research initiatives and letters of recommendation, including my own - I'm positive his letter of recommendation played a significant role in helping me receive my job offer. No words can adequately express what a titanic individual we have lost. RIP Professor.
Paurav K.Raghuvanshi

It was with great sadness that I read of Professor Smith's passing. (While he always urged me to call him "Rip," I always felt more comfortable referring to him as Professor Smith. Given his accomplishments and the depth and breadth of his knowledge regarding international law, it still feels right.) 
I served as Professor Smith's research assistant while I was in law school. After I graduated, he continued to provide mentorship as I entered graduate school and the academic world. I was honored to communicate with him over the years. In fact, he kindly sent me comments on my most recent article just last month. 
Professor Smith was a kind man and a wonderful teacher. He was an inspiration to students of color, including those of us who aspired to an academic career in law. 
Thank you for your kindness and your wisdom. You made the world a better place. And, you have left a legacy through each of the students you encouraged, challenged, supported, and guided.
William Aceves, J.D. '90

It is inspiring to learn about this humble, great man through reflections from those who knew him much better than I did. I worked with Professor Smith one semester; he was a research adviser to a paper I wrote regarding fracking's impact on California water. He was as insightful as he was informative, and always optimistic. I am sure there are many other law students like me who, despite only feeling his warmth for a brief span of time, feel fortunate to have met him. I will remember Professor Smith with great admiration and respect.
Ben Jakovljevic, '14

Before taking Professor Smith's class, I met him at a PILF luncheon, and despite his many accolades and achievements, he had no airs about him at all and was truly interested in getting to know me as a person. During class he was 100% genuine, demonstrating his passion for the law along with real investment in his students' interests and well-being. No matter how complicated an issue or concept was, Professor Smith was eager to go over them whenever we had trouble understanding, and he had faith in all our abilities and an utmost respect for each individual in the class. In short, Professor Smith was a great human being, and he will truly be missed.
Katrina Rayco, '14

Rip was a wonderful, warm professor who inspired many of his students to become actively involved in the subjects he taught. I was fortunate enough to study environmental law under Rip shortly after he arrived at USC. We became so enthusiastic about the subject we formed a group and put on an environmental law symposium at the school, "Energy and the Oceans: A Legal Perspective." We couldn't have done this without Rip's inspiration, encouragement and support. We will always remember his smile, his laugh, his enthusiasm for teaching law, and his profound effect on our legal careers.
Thomas A. Russell, '82

Edwin 'Rip' Smith served as Chair of the Academic Council on the United Nations System from 1996 to 1998. As one Council member expresses, “one of the most enjoyable things about working with Rip was his keen ability to show his appreciation for the efforts of his colleagues - he was an active and engaged listener who was very apt at finding common interests, always in the service of ACUNS as an association, and to the broader goals of contributing to the synergistic effects of advancing international organization and international law.” He is missed and mourned by all who had the good fortune to have met and worked with him.

Professor Lorraine Elliott, Academic Council on the United Nations System Chair, members of the ACUNS Board, and all ACUNS members


I first met Rip at the AALS hiring meeting when I was a candidate.  It was the last interview of the second day, and whatever energy there was in the room came from Rip, with his enthusiasm for scholarship, teaching and USC Law.  A few months later, Rip was in DC for meetings, and he invited me to have dinner with him.  At that dinner, Rip took away my anxiety about moving across the country and starting an academic career and turned it into excitement for the road ahead.   As an expert on international law among other topics, Rip was a wonderful mentor for me -- a young scholar at the time writing about international trade and looking to expand my portfolio.   Rip would be the first to congratulate people on any success or to encourage them when they hit a bump in the road.  Rip was a joy to learn from whether the subject was a technical legal topic, current events, or how to live a good life.
Rip was intelligent, committed and warm, with a good sense of humor.   I remember sitting around the faculty club one day eating lunch with colleagues when the question of Rip’s nickname came up.  Rip told us he came by it the same way Indiana Jones came by his.  We looked around quizzically, then someone asked, were you named after the family dog?  Rip just smiled.   I guess I’ll never knew whether Rip was named for his dog or he was just pulling our legs.  There is much I am thankful for and remember fondly from my years at USC, and Rip is central to many of those good memories.

Michael S. Knoll
Professor, University of Pennsylvania Law School
Professor, University of Southern California Gould School of Law (1990 – 2000)


I am as heartbroken as his other friends to learn of the loss of Rip Smith, who had a USC joint faculty appointment in International Relations. I was fortunate to know this smart, kind, dedicated man beginning in the 1980s. I remember well the period a generation ago when he and I worked energetically though unsuccessfully to recruit Anne-Marie Slaughter to USC Law and IR. I remember his leading a national research program to bring scholars of international law and international relations together and induce them to pay more attention to one another, which they did. Later I headed the IR undergraduate honors program, and when I had a student interested in international legal issues, I knew Rip would not hesitate to spend scarce time advising them too. In recent years we saw each other occasionally off campus at Council on Foreign Relations seminars. Especially given how much he had to bear in his life, I feel his cheerful grace and generosity still shine as a powerful inspiring light.

John Odell
USC Professor Emeritus of International Relations

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