Harold Greville Smith, 1902-1974

imageHarold Greville Smith was born in Sheffield on 25 January 1902 and attended the King Edward VII School there.

Smith took Chemistry Part I in 1922 and did his Part II work in the Balliol-Trinity Laboratories, which was then the University Department of Physical Chemistry in all but name. He got the expected First in 1923 and was appointed a College Lecturer.

In the autumn of 1924 Smith went to the University of Bristol for what was to be his final academic year; he did not take to Professor McBain there and went to work for ICI at Billingham, where he was mainly concerned with the methanol plant. In 1929 he was posted to the New York office of ICI.

Smith moved to Montreal in 1932 as Manager of the Chemicals Development Department of Canadian Industries Ltd (CIL). On the outbreak of war he was named Vice-President and, a little later, General Manager of Defence Industries Ltd (DIL), a wartime government-owned subsidiary of CIL. At that stage Canada had no facilities for the manufacture of military explosives except for two small TNT and cordite plants which belonged to CIL at Beloeil, Quebec. These, with a dozen or so technical personnel seconded from CIL, were the initial nucleus of DIL which, under Smith’s direction, expanded in only three and a half years to an organisation with a labour force of 32,300, many of whom had never before worked in an industrial plant of any kind. Ten additional large-scale works and six smaller units were designed and built from scratch together with the necessary roads, railways and water systems to serve them, at a total cost of $97,000,000. By the end of the war DIL had produced 346,000 tons of military explosives, 71,000 tons of other chemicals, 2,889,072 rounds of small arms ammunition and 182, 914,000 shell fillings - all with an accident frequency rate much less than the prevailing average for all industries in Canada. For this prodigious managerial feat, Smith was made a CBE in 1944. Throughout the war he had also been a Director of the parent CIL, and he remained on the Board until 1958. He was President of the Company 1951-58. In his 1ast year at CIL he was also President of the Society of Chemical Industry. When he resigned from the Board of CIL, it was recorded that:

Throughout his thirty-three years of service Mr Smith had displayed a devotion to his duties and a determination in carrying them to a successful conclusion that had won for him universal respect. In the community, in business circles and in the chemical industry recognition of his outstanding ability and his willing acceptance of responsibility had been made evident by the important offices to which he had been appointed and by the honours that had been conferred upon him. During the term presidency the high reputation of the Company had been enhanced and its fine traditions strengthened. The warm and lasting regard of his fellow-employees had been an eloquent tribute to his unsparing application to the interests of the Company, his insistence on the highest possible standards of performance and absolute integrity in the conduct of its affairs, his concern for the welfare of employees and his personal modesty in his relationship with them.

He was no less busy in his later years, serving at various times as Director of a score of companies, Governor of Bishop’s University, Governor of McGill University, and President of the Royal Victoria Hospital Montreal.

A bachelor, whose principal private interests were fishing and his collection of Canadian paintings, his life was by all accounts dedicated to hard work. He died in Montreal after a short illness on 19 February 1974.

There is no trace in the College Archive of any contact with him after his emigration. We must suppose that he nevertheless held the memory of his student days dear, because he left a fifth of his estate, after a number of modest personal bequests, to the Oxford University Foundation of Canada ‘to be applied for the benefit of Balliol College, England, to be used as that College may determine without restriction’. He is remembered as one of the greatest benefactors in the history of the College. His estate was valued at over $4,000,000; the other main beneficiaries were McGill University, The Royal Victoria Hospital Montreal, Bishop’s University and Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario).

John Jones 

(Condensed from Balliol College Annual Record, 1981, pp.42-44.)