Beginning his career in 1988 in Dillingham, Jeff Smith directed the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation’s environmental health and safety program and provided services to 37 remote villages in southwest Alaska. In 1992, Jeff transitioned to the Alaska Area Indian Health Service, as the Deputy Director of the Division of Environmental Health Services, and later became the Director of Environmental Health Support at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Jeff served at ANTHC until his retirement in December 2015. Under his direction, the Environmental Health Support program at ANTHC expanded exponentially under his direction; it began with a staff of three people and evolved into a program with 15 professionals with oversight of 8 grants totaling nearly $2 million dollars annually.
Jeff has formally and informally provided mentorship to many in the environmental health field throughout his career. While working for the Indian Health Service, he was tasked with recruiting and mentoring environmental health staff. After the Alaska Native tribes began administering their own healthcare programs, Jeff no longer had an official mentorship responsibility. However, tribal organizations continued to utilize his expertise as they recognized his ability to recruit and support environmental health professionals. Since 1999, Jeff helped recruit and mentor 32 environmental health officers for Alaska’s tribal organizations. Additionally, Jeff worked closely with the University of Alaska’s, Department of Health Sciences program to teach students about environmental health as an adjunct professor.
For many of us working in the environmental health field in Alaska, Jeff was one of our first contacts and mentors. That was certainly true for my own personal experience. Eleven years ago, I “cold called” Jeff from 4000 miles away for information about a job opening in Bethel. He spoke openly about the challenges of bush Alaska work and life, provided encouragement on my chosen career path, fondly shared tales of his days working in Dillingham, and told me I’d never regret making the leap. As they say, the rest is history. I am thankful every day for this wonderful career path and life that I stumbled on to, with the help of and encouragement from Jeff! That said, I can’t think of a better way to recognize Jeff than in the actual words of his colleagues and friends in the environmental health field.
Well wishes and memories.
Jeff, I just wanted to take this opportunity to tell you how much I have appreciated the leadership you have provided since I first met you in 1997. I remember well back in 1998 when the IHS/EHS program was the first staff that ANTHC (at the time consisting of Paul, Garvin and Marianne) transitioned over to ANTHC. I was scheduled to travel to the bush 2-3 days later and ask you what the paperwork protocol was. You answered, “I don’t know. Put it on your personal credit card and we will figure it out later.” I returned from my travel, completed some “foreign” paperwork, and received my check about three days later. How cool was that and what a barometer of the awesome adventure that was to come!
– Mark Kelty
I know I feel very privileged and lucky to have worked under Jeff. He truly looked out for and took care of his staff. I believe he had a 100% track record in having all officers under him make their competitive promotions on the first try. That was not luck, but a concerted effort on his part to make sure evaluations, awards, deployments, etc. culminated at the right time when the officer was up for promotion. He was/is an excellent technical writer who has helped me tremendously. He is a true gentleman with a caring heart (that not everyone may have seen).
– Keith Cook
It has been an honor to have worked with CAPT Smith during my 26 year career with the Indian Health Service. CAPT Smith hired me in Dillingham in May of 1990 and I was fortunate to have learned from him both technical and managerial skills that have helped me immensely in my career. I have been able to share some of those skills with other Environmental Health Officers and Health professionals that I have worked with in hopes of better serving American Indian/Alaska Native communities. CAPT Smith, congratulations on your retirement, your leadership and dedication has directly impacted the work of Environmental Health professionals at the local, regional and national levels.
– CAPT Michael M. Welch
Jeff- Thank you for always providing sound advice. I appreciate your guidance and wish you and your family all the best.
– Kimberly Smith
I appreciate the start that Jeff provided me at ANTHC. That experience has laid the foundation for a truly fulfilling career. Many have benefited from Jeff’s counsel; this is evidenced by the multiple “Jeff’s rules for…” documents and e-mails I have accumulated over the years. They’ve yet to steer me wrong. I’ve been seeking Jeff’s guidance a far less time than others. However, I know his presence will remain with me, as the mentors that I value the most were themselves mentored by him.
– Katie Bante
AEHA member Bruce Gazaway and his wife Christina Kowalczewski each have worked with Jeff, but at times nearly twenty years apart:
Christina worked with Jeff in the early 90’s while she was employed in Anchorage as a planner with the USPHS. Jeff was one of the first people she met and she remembers him well. She states “He truly loved what he was doing and was always ready to assist with research on an issue or in providing good advice no matter how busy he was.”
From 2009-2011 Bruce was an officer with the Alaska Environmental Health Association (AEHA). “Until I was President-Elect I was unaware how important Jeff was to our operation” he said. “In the years previous to that I had known of Jeff as someone always in the background, but we had not worked closely and I did not know him well. What I found as President was surprising to me. Jeff was like a really good back fielder in baseball, with whatever play you were making, if you glanced over your shoulder then you would find Jeff was already there backing you up.”
Bruce continued “I learned then that Jeff had been a key supporter of AEHA for years. I think it is very likely AEHA would have foundered during the late 1990’s had Jeff not stepped in to help. He sponsored a meeting area, and provided much logistic support. Most importantly, he encouraged his younger co-workers in the Public Health Service to participate.”
“I also noticed that Jeff has a unique style of leadership. He is not someone to stride forcefully up to the front of the room thumping his chest and loudly proclaiming all that he is going to do. Instead he thrives in the background where he quietly provides help and encouragement. If we were ever to conduct a forensic investigation of AEHA then the files would show few photos of Jeff, nor would there be lengthy speeches on file, but you would find his fingerprints on everything.”
– Bruce Gazaway
In the words of one of his colleagues, please join me in wishing Jeff farewell on behalf of the Alaska Environmental Health Association member body:
“May you continue to enjoy your life journey in the yet to be written chapters!”
Contributed by Jennifer Dobson, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation
Town of Montague Massachusetts