Bob Kupa’a Smith, a.k.a. ‘The Wordsmith’, 91, died at his home in Sonoma, California on January 11, 2020.
An avid language enthusiast, fan of children, nature lover and pursuer of knowledge in all forms, Bob was born on October 11, 1928 in San Francisco. At age 15 he attended the University of Chicago, where he lettered in high hurdles as a member of the track team and earned a liberal arts degree in just three years. His drive to understand human nature led him to nine years in a Jesuit seminary, where he earned a separate master’s degree in philosophy, and decades of exploring other human potential movements. Later, he earned an All But Dissertation (nearly Ph.D.) and a master’s degree in linguistics from the University of Michigan.
Bob’s passion for language resulted in the instructional television series Wordsmith. Shot in black and white at KQED studio in San Francisco from 1964-65, the series was reshot in color in 1975. The show included characters like Mr. Homonym, Ms. Onomatopoeia, Ms. Hyperbole, and Mr. Alliteration. Aimed at a range of K-12 students, the series is still used in schools today. His book The Dictionary of English Word Roots, originally published in 1966, has been reprinted multiple times. Later in life he became interested in both the Hawaiian language and the Karuk tribal language.
He was also the host of the television program Backroads of California, a project his former wife Koana Smith says they had fun researching. The couple were married from 1963 to 1989 and had two children, Greg and Heidi.
After a career in education and media that included Lone Mountain Catholic College, Santa Clara University and Mission College, Bob retired to Happy Camp, California in 1988 where over the course of 22 years he volunteered at the local elementary school and worked in the Distance Learning Center. His combined love of children and photography resulted in a catalog of 4000 photos of local residents he later donated to the Bancroft Library at the University of California Berkeley.
Since 2012 he’s been a resident of Sonoma, California where he volunteered as a mentor, continued to be an early adaptor of new technology (a trend started in the early ‘80s as one of the first owners of an Apple IIE) and dyed his hair blue to celebrate his 90th birthday.
Bob’s family will be celebrating his life at the Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club at 574 1st St. E., Sonoma CA 95476 on Saturday, March 14th from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
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