John Masson Smith Jr.
1930 - 2019
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John Masson Smith, Jr.

Feb. 13, 1930 - July 24, 2019

John Masson Smith, Jr. was born in 1930 in Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard where he also met and married his wife, Grace. He served in the army for three years before obtaining his PhD in Near Eastern History at Columbia University. He and Grace then spent a year in Istanbul, where he directed the American Research Institute in Turkey. They then moved to Berkeley, where John spent over forty years as a professor in the University of California Berkeley Department of History.
John was a world-renowned scholar of Islamic coinage and of the history of the Mongol Empire. John's great achievement was enabling scholars and students to understand the history of steppe nomad empires not only from the vague statements of their sedentary enemies but especially from a quantitative analysis of material that had existed for centuries but which nobody had bothered to take seriously.
John also traveled all over the world, supported the opera and symphony, and was an equestrian. He was an able squash player and enjoyed sporting bow ties.

John is survived by his wife, Grace, his brother-in-law, George Martin, sister-in-law, Donna Martin, nieces and nephews.


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Published in San Francisco Chronicle from Aug. 9 to Aug. 10, 2019.
Memories & Condolences
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4 entries
April 7, 2020
We will miss him. So sorry to hear of his passing. Grace: how can we call you?
January 4, 2020
Amazing Guy, I learned much from him.
Paul D Buell
August 27, 2019
John and Pax are definitely in Heaven reliving their Puteny and Harvard days. John was awesome. RIP John
August 16, 2019
It was the good luck of my family to be a neighbor of John Smith and his wife, Grace, for nearly 35 years. I will remember John as an old-school gentleman,who could make a bow-tie look cool and would tip his hat in greeting a lady. He was also the thoughtful and genial host of innumerable neighborhood gatherings at their spacious home on Scenic, filled with the fascinating objects collected during their lifetime of often exotic travel.
John and I shared one special passion: terriers.For years we crossed paths walking our beloved dogs:his large,energetic Airedale, Kermit, and my 12 lb Norwich terrier, Chutzpah. He often invited us into his home, where the dogs would engage in wild chase games, sending cushions and carpets flying in all directions, as Grace laughed along with us, with just an occasional moment of dismay.And when I fractured a toe during a dog walking accident, John showed up, unbidden, at my bedside with a broad smile and a pair of leashes to help out with my dogs.
He also came to our rescue when my then 13 year old son, Noah, needed to tie a Windsor knot for his middle school graduation, and no one in my family had any idea how to do this. We didn't have Google then, but we had John, who not only knew how, but patiently showed my son how to do it himself.
I think of John whenever I pass his house,and imagine seeing him and Kermit burst through the front gate. I know that won't happen, but am grateful to him,and his intrepid wife, Grace, for so many good memories. RIP,John.
Carole Berger
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