Cover photo for Gerard Vinton Smith's Obituary
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1931 Gerard 2022

Gerard Vinton Smith

October 14, 1931 — July 8, 2022


Gerard Vinton Smith

1931 – 2022

CARBONDALE – Gerard "Jerry" V. Smith, age 90, passed away peacefully and with family by his side on Friday, July 8, 2022, at Memorial Hospital of Carbondale. He was a beloved husband, father, grandfather and friend, lifelong Christian, and devoted member and elder of his church until the day he died.

Jerry was born on October 14, 1931, in Delano, CA, to Marion and Marjorie (Ryland) Smith. He was a gifted athlete, excelling in water polo and tennis in his youth. He lettered in both sports and received a B.A. (1953) and an M.S (1956) in chemistry from the College of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. He received a Ph.D. (1959) in chemistry from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, AR, and became an avid Razorback fan for the rest of his life.

During his time in Fayetteville, Jerry met and fell in love with Jolynn Clayton Fenn, a pre-med student in one of his chemistry labs. They married on June 22, 1956, in Searcy, AR, and settled into student housing in Fayetteville while Jerry finished his Ph.D. work. They had two sons, Ken and Craig, during these early years, and moved to Evanston, Illinois, in 1959 where Jerry served for the next several years as a research associate and instructor of chemistry at Northwestern University, and as an assistant professor of chemistry at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Their daughter, Elise, was born in 1961.

In 1966, Jerry, Jolynn and their children packed up and moved to Carbondale, where he accepted a position as an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Southern Illinois University. He became a full professor in 1973 and served as the director of the Molecular Science Ph.D. Program from 1978 – 1996. In 1996, Jerry took a six-month sabbatical to serve as a visiting professor in the department of chemical engineering at Pohang University of Science and Technology, Pohang, South Korea. That year, he was also awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the Jozsef Attila University in Szeged, Hungary. He was named chair of the SIU chemistry and biochemistry department in 2000 and served in that capacity until his retirement in 2003.

Jerry devoted much of his career to advancing the field of organic chemistry through mentoring students and through research, writing and service to professional and academic associations. His greatest professional passion was working in the lab alongside his graduate students. He advised countless master’s and Ph.D. students from around the world, many of whom earned their degrees under his guidance. He earned dozens of grants and research fellowships for his work in catalysis. He authored and co-authored several books on catalysis in organic chemistry. He was a member of and served in leadership roles in numerous associations including the International Congress on Catalysis, the North American Catalysis Society, the American Chemical Society, Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society and Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society among many others.

He received several awards for his research work including the Outstanding Researcher Award from the SIU College of Science, the Kaplan Research Award from the SIU chapter of Sigma Xi, the Paul N. Rylander Award from the Organic Reaction Catalysis Society, and the Henry J. Albert Medal from the International Precious Metals Institute.

Even more than his commitments to his academic and professional pursuits, Jerry was a committed Christian who sought to live his life as a follower of Jesus Christ. He served as a deacon at the Wilmette Church of Christ in Chicago from 1964 until the family’s move to Carbondale in 1966. He served as a deacon at the Carbondale Church of Christ from 1972 until he became an elder in 1994. He remained an elder of the church until his passing and was the longest-serving elder of the congregation. Throughout these years, he was a mentor to countless members and visitors to the church and was a constant source of encouragement, and often financial support, to those in need.

Jerry and Jolynn were widely known for their warm hospitality, opening their home on Lark Lane to church friends and their families, the church youth group and neighborhood friends; and to international students, college students and others who needed a place to stay, to enjoy a homecooked meal, or to find a home away from home for the years they were in Carbondale. They loved their time living in Parrish Acres for 50 years, grateful for their neighbors, many of whom became lifelong friends.

Jerry’s commitment to his family was one of his greatest achievements. For 66 years he was a loving husband to his wife, Jolynn. He was a caring and loving father to his three children, Ken, Craig, and Elise, and to his nine grandchildren, full of support and advice such as “don’t take any wooden nickels.” Each of his children graduated from college and went on to successful careers in their field.

Jerry also served in the local community as a member and past chair of the board of The Science Center, which Jolynn co-founded in 1994.

Jerry is survived by his wife, Jolynn Smith of Carbondale; sons Kenneth (Lynn) Smith of Oakton, VA, and Craig (Tina) Smith of Corpus Christi, TX; daughter Elise (Raye) Mitchell of Nashville, TN; grandchildren Mackenzie (Chris) Vaught of Dickson, TN, Jackson Mitchell of Norfolk, VA, Victoria Smith of Tampa, FL, Jazmine Smith of Oklahoma City, OK, Ryan Smith of Wheaton, IL, Lydia Smith of Oakton, VA, Anna Smith of Oakton, VA, Mako Smith of Corpus Christi, TX, Chase Smith of Corpus Christi, TX; sister, Joyce Kirk of Tracy, CA; and brother David (Evelyn) Smith of Visalia CA. He was preceded in death by his parents.

A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, October 22, 1:00 p.m., at the Carbondale Church of Christ, 1805 W. Sycamore.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to:

• Carbondale Church of Christ, 1805 W. Sycamore, Carbondale, IL 62901

• The Night’s Shield children’s shelter in West Frankfort, IL, donations can be made online here

• Abilene Christian University for the JMC-Morris and Mitchell Ad/PR fund. Gifts can be sent to ACU Box 29132, Abilene, TX 79699-9132 or can be made online here

Meredith Funeral Home assisted the family with arrangements. To leave a story or memory of Jerry, visit

To order memorial trees in memory of Gerard Vinton Smith, please visit our tree store.

Service Schedule

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Saturday, October 22, 2022

1:00 - 2:00 pm (Eastern time)

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