In Memory of Prof Olanrewaju Babtunde Smith

Published: 2021-05-21

Our beloved former Board Chair, Prof Olanrewaju Babtunde Smith, died on 8 April 2021. Joining a number of Prof Ola’s friends and family from around the world for a commemoration of his life and times on 8 May 2021 were IFS staff members Nighisty Ghezae, Ingrid Leemans and Ingrid Lindhe.

Olanrewaju SmithIn her remarks to the gathering, Ingrid Leemans said:

I learned so much from Ola who was an experienced SAC member when I joined IFS as a Scientific Coordinator. Ola was always looking for positive aspects to tell the many applicants. Instead of saying that the proposal was of poor quality, he was always looking for ways to tell the applicant how the proposal could be improved, by providing detailed comments regarding the weaknesses of the application but also providing suggestions based on solid science on how to strengthen it. Some people called Ola a real sportsman throughout his professional life, i.e., always aiming for the best while applying fair play, in other words, being professionally sound. I want to add an additional metaphor, borrowed from one of Ola’s fellow IFS committee members to describe him as a baobab tree: unique, majestic, strong, supportive, always there and inspirational, and like Ola, beautiful, both inside and out.

In her tribute to Ola on behalf of the IFS family, Nighisty Ghezae said:

It is my honour to speak today about Ola. Naturally, I would rather be talking with him and Francesca in their house in Ottawa, having dinner together, asking them whether they have finished the book they were writing together, or about how the twin grandchildren are growing and their enjoyment at being Grandpa and Grandma. Instead, we now gather to offer tributes to Ola, leaving us to ponder the fairness in matters of life and death. Ola’s family grieves and so with them does the IFS family also. Things won’t ever be the same.

I am speaking today not only on behalf of the many friends Ola made within the committees and Board of Trustees of IFS, but also the many early-career scientists in the “Global South” who directly benefitted from Ola’s scientific knowledge and wisdom when he commented on their research proposals. As you may know, IFS is a small international NGO with the broad mandate to strive for a more equal world through the provision of science capacity-enhancing support (including research grants) to young scientists. 

Ola knew every aspect of IFS, which is not a surprise, since he started at IFS as a grantee in the early eighties. Shortly afterwards he joined our worldwide network of scientists and experts who help IFS on a voluntary basis with the assessment of research proposals. In 1990, he was recruited as a member of the IFS Scientific Advisory Committee (or SAC) for Animal Production, providing final recommendations about the projects to be funded. In 2009 he joined the IFS Board of Trustees where he served his terms as Vice-Chair and later Chair until 2016. 

I first knew Ola as a member of the IFS Animal Production SAC. Ola and I, however, become closer at a critical time when I was elected to be the IFS Director at the time Ola was the Board Chair. Given the many challenges facing a small organisation with a worldwide mission, I told Ola that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Ola was there for me both personally and professionally, a trusted confidant, advisor and dear friend. He provided me with knowledge and support. Ola did an incredible job of bringing out my strengths and helped me have confidence in myself and my abilities to lead IFS to this day. I can’t thank him enough for his time and effort.

To have someone like Ola in your professional life is invaluable. He was the sort of resource you may not even know you are missing until you have a need for it. Ola … thank you for your mentorship and friendship! Thank you for continually inspiring me and so many others, for your guidance, friendship, discipline and love, everything in one person. And that person was and is you, Ola.

Once again, on behalf of my colleagues at IFS, your fellow committee members, and especially the many early-career scientists around the world who benefitted from your guidance, we thank you for all you have done for us. Ola, your name is inscribed in our hearts and your legacy will be upheld through the stories we will all share of you.

We are sad and, yet, filled with gratitude. Rest in peace, faithful colleague and friend.

With thanks 

Nighisty Ghezae



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