Lester W. Smith, retired associate director of the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society and former librarian of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., is dead at 73.
A memorial will be held at 3 p.m. Jan. 5 in Forest Lawn Chapel. Burial will be in Elmlawn Cemetery, Town of Tonawanda.
Smith, who died Monday (Dec. 24, 1990) in his Buffalo home, was acting director twice during his nearly quarter-century with the Historical Society.
"He was a scholar who was devoted to his work. He really almost put his work before himself," said Ernest H. Craigie, a close friend, who described Smith as "very precise, very careful in all that he did."
Smith was known for his willingness and ability in helping historical researchers find rare information and materials -- while not accepting personal praise for it.
"That's what we're here for -- this is a great organization," he would say of the Historical Society and its resources.
Research libraries across the country carry microfilm, edited by Smith, of the papers of Buffalo Gen. Peter D. Porter, secretary of war in the John Quincy Adams administration, and of Millard Fillmore, Western New York-born U.S. president.
Also an author of numerous research articles, Smith for many years produced an annual bibliography of records and manuscripts for the Society of American Archivists.
In 1952, a resolution was passed at the society's national meeting commending Smith for his work as chairman of its Committee on Bibliography.
In 1957, Smith received a Meritorious Service Award from the General Services Administration "for maintaining consistently high standards of library service" during his years as librarian of the National Archives.
After his retirement in 1981, he was named recipient of the Historical Society's Owen B. Augspurger Award for his "years of devotion to history in Erie County."
Born in Buffalo, he attended Schools 19 and 45 and was a 1935 graduate of Lafayette High School. He studied history at the University of Buffalo, where he was named Phi Beta Kappa and received a bachelor's degree in 1939.
According to Paul M. Rooney, retired director of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, Smith exhibited his scholarly interests early -- as a page with Rooney at the old public library in the 1930s.
He also did graduate work in history and philosophy at UB, considering well-known history professor Julius Pratt his mentor, before attending the Columbia University School of Library Science in New York City. He earned a second bachelor's degree, in library science, in 1941.
He then went to Washington, D.C., where he worked from 1941 to 1946 as an archivist for the National Archives with posts in the Interior Department and Legislative Archives and the Division of Research and Records Description.
He became librarian of the National Archives in 1946 -- a position he held until he returned to Buffalo in 1957 as chief of research for the Historical Society. He was named acting director in 1962, following the resignation of Dr. Wilbur H. Glover. He was later made associate director and took the position of acting director again when Dr. Walter S. Dunn Jr. left the Historical Society.
Smith, a past president, secretary and trustee of the Western New York Library Resources Council, had served on the New York State Education Department's Special Committee on Newspaper Preservation.
He was a member of the American Library Association and the Special Library Association. He was a past president and a member of the Literary Clinic, a local organization for the discussion of books and letters.
He was a member of Bethlehem Presbyterian Church. He enjoyed gardening in his retirement years.
His sister, Hyla Adelle Smith, died this year.