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William G. 'Gil' Smith, a teacher and environmentalist who worked to protect Monarch butterflies, dies

William G. “Gil” Smith, a retired veteran Baltimore County public schools educator who maintained an interest in Monarch butterflies, died March 16 of Parkinson’s disease at The Maples of Towson, a senior citizen assisted-living facility.

The longtime Timonium resident was 86.

William Gilmore Smith, who was born in Baltimore and raised in Towson, was the son of Dr. Roy P. Smith, a dentist, and his wife, Maybelle Basford Smith, a Baltimore public school educator.

He attended Gilman School and Friends School and graduated in 1952 from Towson High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1957 from what is now Towson University, and a master’s degree in education, also from Towson, in 1968.

Mr. Smith, who taught elementary and middle school in Baltimore County for nearly 30 years, was a “strong believer in hands-on-science and a process of discovery,” his wife of 63 years, the former Katherine Susan Bradley, wrote in a biographical profile of her husband.

He began his teaching career at Lutherville Elementary School and during the late 1950s and early 1960s was on the faculty of Rosedale Elementary School.

Mr. Smith taught at Stoneleigh Elementary School during the 1960s and at Villa Cresta Elementary School from the late 1960s into the 1970s.

In the 1980s, he was at Rodgers Forge Elementary School and later Dumbarton Middle School, from which he retired in 1985.

For 16 years, Mr. Smith led an “individualized approach called ‘Explorers’ in grades K-6. Children brought their science interests to him which they and he explored together,” his wife wrote. “He hosted groups of educators from this country and Great Britain demonstrating how hands-on science instills keen interest in children.”

The preservation of the environment and “instilling a respect and love for nature were paramount” goals in Mr. Smith’s life, his wife said.

Mr. Smith was chosen as one of two science teachers from Maryland whose mission was to develop a hands-on science curriculum for the Elementary Science Study in Watertown, Mass.

While with the program, he developed a simple lens microscope kit that allowed children to construct their own microscope, which was incorporated into a unit called “Small Things.”

“He and his family put together 5,000 kits at cost and sent them overseas to underdeveloped countries, enabling children to build their own microscopes,” his wife wrote.

Mr. Smith had a lifelong fascination for the endangered Monarch butterfly and worked in Canada helping the butterflies before they began their migration south. He also raised and bred Monarchs with his fifth- and sixth-grade students, which they later released.

He also raised insects and protozoa for classroom study, and furnished these to other schools.

“Over the years, he met many students who told him how much they valued his teaching and how it had impacted their lives,” said a daughter, Dawn Marie Smith Christerson of Takoma Park. “He was recognized as a creative, innovative, and inspiring teacher, who motivated students to love and respect science and the environment.”

The longtime Timonium resident enjoyed bicycling, off-road motorcycling, hiking and camping. He also liked to play the guitar and harmonica, listen to classical music, and he appreciated barbershop harmony.

Other interests included amateur radio, model airplanes, photography and writing poetry.

He had been an active member of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Lutherville, where he taught Sunday school, sang in the choir, and was a youth group instructor.

After joining Towson United Methodist Church in the mid-1970s, he continued working with the church youth group and the outreach program of Camp Hope, an Appalachian service project.

Mr. Smith left his body to the Maryland State Anatomy Board. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. April 13 at his church at 501 Hampton Lane in Towson.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by two sons, Dale Andrew Smith of Catonsville and Gare Alan Smith of Great Falls, Va.; another daughter, Karen Gay Smith Beam of Fishers, Ind.; a brother, David Basford Smith of Bel Air; and seven grandchildren.

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