Ann W. Smith, 81; World-Renowned Preservationist

From The Washington Post, Friday, April 28, 2006

Ann Webster Smith, 81, a historic preservationist who was recognized last fall as a world leader in the field, died of melanoma April 20 at George Washington University Hospital. She lived in Washington.

Ms. Smith won the Piero Gazzola prize, given once every three years by the International Council on Monuments and Sites, for her lifelong efforts to protect historic and cultural sites.

She became interested in historic preservation in 1967, when she was working at the U.S. Department of Transportation. The National Historic Preservation Act had just been passed, and it required all federal agencies to evaluate how their work affected sites on the National Register of Historic Places. John Volpe, then the secretary of transportation, appointed Ms. Smith to the President's Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

"I think she saw what was happening with some of the perhaps misguided efforts of urban renewal," said her son, Richard Blackmer Smith of Bethesda. "If you look at the highway flyovers that cut through the middle of some urban neighborhoods, you have to wonder what we lost. I think she was just in the right place at the right time."

Ms. Smith was lent to the Department of the Interior and then to the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and was sent to Paris as deputy secretary-general of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), where she developed an interest in how other countries dealt with issues of historic and cultural preservation. That also began her long association with ICOMOS.

She returned to the United States in 1979 to become the state of New York's deputy commissioner for parks, recreation and historic preservation. She was responsible for all historic park structures in the state and the numerous house-museums in the Hudson Valley.

In 1983, she returned to Washington to work as executive vice president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation. In 1985, she was named executive director of the American Friends of English Heritage. 

Ms. Smith, in addition to her advocacy work, was known for mentoring a generation of young preservation professionals, advising many people around the world on how to set up a preservation organization and how to work with groups that had divergent interests in preservation matters.

Ms. Smith was born in Dallas and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She came to Washington in 1948 and worked at the Central Intelligence Agency until she married. She was a homemaker until she returned to the workplace in 1967 at Transportation.

Through the U.S. National Committee of ICOMOS, she organized an exchange of young preservation officials from around the world, coordinated the group's 25 international scientific committees, edited its newsletter and organized assemblies in Moscow; Rome; Dresden, Germany; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Sofia, Bulgaria; Mexico City; and Madrid.

Ms. Smith enjoyed cooking and entertaining, and until her fifth of eight hip replacements, she was an accomplished ballroom dancer. She enjoyed tending to the garden and landscape painting at the family's Chestnut Oak Farm in Etlan, Va.