I have just learned from my colleague Tom Hazen that Hans Smit, who taught at Columbia Law School for more than fifty years, has passed away. Cribbing now from his Times obituary:
For more than 50 years, Hans was a powerful presence at Columbia Law School, where he made a remarkable contribution to the institution, to generations of students, and to the field of international arbitration. After earning his LL.B. and LL.M. from the University of Amsterdam in 1946 and 1949, respectively, Hans worked in private practice in The Hague and New York City. He earned a master's degree at Columbia in 1953 and graduated first in his class with an LL.B. from the Law School in 1958.
[Smit] was also an accomplished water polo player. He said he missed an Olympic spot with the Dutch national water polo team only because of a dispute with the coach, who suspended him for gambling instead of resting in the hotel during the 1947 European Championship in Monte Carlo. “In the middle of the day—it was absolutely ludicrous!” Smit told the New York Daily News in the early 1980s. “I told him I would get all nervous and sweaty trying to rest. Gambling was far more relaxing.”
With his powerful 6-foot-4-inch frame and refined throwing technique, Smit was relentless on offense, and he was considered among the world’s top water polo players in his prime. “Water polo balances my life,” he told the Daily News.
This is shocking news to me, because Smit loomed as such a large presence for everyone who was his student -- including me and I'm guessing Calvin Massey, too.
Today is the first day of classes here in lovely Chapel Hill, so I have less time to reflect on this news than I'd like, but I do recall that one of the first law review articles I read was Smit's "The Enduring Utility of In Rem Rules" -- because I had him for civil procedure in my first semester and I was trying to get a gauge on his thinking. Perhaps I'll have a chance sometime soon to go back and re-read that as a sort of memorial of Professor Smit. His family are in my thoughts.
Update: Among the many stories people have been recalling about Professor Smit today is one about his house, along Riverside Drive. Here is a Times story about it from a few years back. I recall him joking about the building where Harlan Fiske Stone lived while he was a Columbia professor -- before going on the Supreme Court. It had a plaque mentioning that Stone had lived there. And then he asked with a twinkle in his eye, "and do you know what the plaque out front of my house says?" "351." (Or some such number -- which was the street address.)