A.F. Spilhaus, Jr.

2010 Waldo E. Smith Medal (INACTIVE) Winner


For most of the past 40 years, Fred Spilhaus led AGU with dedication, creativity, and leadership, making AGU a model union and a strong integrating force and professional home for Earth and space scientists across the globe. That AGU is held in such high regard stems mainly from Fred’s insistence that the Union be inclusive of all Earth and space scientists and that scientific quality and integrity hold the highest priority. Fred also bequeathed to AGU long-term financial stability.

Fred obtained a Ph.D. in physical oceanography in 1965 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and after 2 years of government experience joined AGU in 1967 as assistant executive director under Waldo Smith. That same year, the Solar Terrestrial Relations (now Space Physics and Aeronomy) section was formed, an action important for AGU, as space physics was a rapidly growing field without its own society. Fred became AGU executive director in 1970, a time when AGU was on the move. Radio Science had just become an AGU publication (1969), the Union was incorporated as an independent scientific society with members gaining the right to vote and hold office (1972), Geophysical Research Letters began publication (1974), and Chapman Conferences started (1975).

Fred ensured that AGU was popular by keeping fees low and by providing Eos (of which he was editor in chief) to all members. Fred’s efforts to bring meetings to underserved geographical areas (the Western Pacific Geophysics Meeting and the Meeting of the Americas) had a similar purpose. He recognized that younger scientists often could not afford to travel to the United States, so he brought the meetings to them.

Fred often said that strong national societies are critical to the strength of geophysics. His spirit of inclusiveness extended throughout the Union; its robust committee structure gave members an opportunity to take an active role in directing AGU. Fred also generously supported and accommodated fledgling scientific societies (The Mineralogical Society in its early years) and other groups such as the Global Change System for Analysis, Research, and Training and the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc.

Fred was elected an AGU Honorary Fellow in 1996. To this day, only three people have been given this prestigious award. It was given in recognition of a lifetime of achievement on behalf of AGU, but many years of service and accomplishments lay ahead. Milestones since then included establishment of Earth Interactions, the first electronic—only journal in Earth and space science; election of the first European member of the Council; creation of the Biogeosciences section; establishment of a complete electronic publication system; and the first Union-wide meeting in Latin America. Over 55,000 AGU members now benefit from Fred’s vision and hard work.

Fred is widely known as the dean of scientific society executives and has been highly commended for sharing his experience with the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives (­CESSE). In 2009, ­CESSE renamed its highest honor the A. Fred Spilhaus Leadership Award. It has been awarded only eight times, including to Fred in 1995. In announcing the name change, ­CESSE noted that the board wanted “Fred’s name to be tied to this honor forever.”

Both of us have known Fred for many years. We have seen his personal involvement in the Council, in all meetings of the Union, and in other international organizations. Whatever the issue, Fred seemed more knowledgeable than most and had a keen sense of the best course of action. His engaging personality and strong leadership characteristics make him easy to know and fun to be around. It is indeed an honor for us to present the Waldo E. Smith Medal to Fred Spilhaus.

—CHRISTOPHER HARRISON, University of Miami, Miami, Fla.; and JAMES BURCH, Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, Texas


I am deeply moved by this medal. It means so much because, like all AGU medals, this one comes from the hearts of AGU members. I am blown away by the commendations of my citationists, Chris Harrison and Jim Burch. Their words are especially touching because of their own long and faithful service to AGU. They have both given unstintingly in many capacities over the years, and the Union is richer because of their contributions.

This medal is particularly dear to me because it honors my good friend and mentor—AGU’s first executive director—Waldo Smith. He richly deserved the recognition of having a medal named for him. During his 25 years as staff leader he laid a strong foundation for AGU on which we were able to build. I counted myself lucky to have worked with him for 3 years before I assumed the AGU helm. Throughout that time he encouraged me to experiment and to learn.

The principles Waldo lived by, and which I tried to emulate, were (1) our scientific mission always comes first and (2) the members are AGU. AGU welcomes members of the scientific community worldwide. (3) By watching the pennies, we build the resources needed to serve in the future.

Over the years, I was fortunate to work with many dedicated scientists in all parts of our globe. From my first days at AGU, members who treasured our Union proactively shared their experience and their vision with me. I learned constantly from these and so many other colleagues within the broad scientific community, the scientific and engineering societies, the trade associations, and the publishing and meetings industries.

Together within AGU we did interesting, exciting, and valuable things because the membership cared and participated. Together we helped AGU grow from a committee of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to an independent international scientific society with a membership of over 55,000 spread across more than 130 countries. In 1970, when AGU was invited to leave the Academy, we had a negative net worth. By 2007, together we had built a net worth of over 6 billion pennies. We had indeed heeded Waldo’s words of fiscal care, some might say frugality.

Waldo enjoyed his AGU career, and he enjoyed the membership. It wasn’t hard for me to join in the fun. You, the members, made all of my endeavors fun. As a result, I had the best job in the world from 1967 to 2009.

The fun was shared by many staff members who considered themselves your partners and mine. For them AGU was not just a job. Two staff members who kept me on track and contributed enormously are my very dear friends Brenda Weaver and Judy Holoviak. They are imaginative leaders in their fields and in learned-­society management. This medal recognizes the dedication of so many AGU staff members over the years.

My thanks to all of my staff and to all of the members with whom I worked. I treasure your good wishes.

—FRED SPILHAUS, Executive Director Emeritus, AGU