Matthew Denman Smith, PhD, 45, of Longmeadow, MA, died at Brigham and Women's Hospital on Tuesday, July 21, 2020. Matt will be deeply missed but his spirit remains in the hearts of his devoted mother, Margaret (Smith) Agnoli; his loving sisters, Rebecca MacCormick (Gunnar) and Angela Olivere (Mark); his much adored nephews and niece, James and Asa MacCormick, and Lillian, Andrew, and Benjamin Olivere; many dear aunts, uncles and cousins; an abundance of deeply loved friends; and of course his steadfast pup, Marty. Matt was preceded in death by his father, Scott R. Smith, his step father, Donald G. Agnoli, grandparents James and Lois Denman and Marilyn and Russell Smith, and his beloved four pawed companion, Luther.
Matt was born in Rutland, VT on October 25,1974 to Scott and Margaret (Denman) Smith. He was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at the age of 17 months (with a life expectancy of 19 years), but never allowed CF to define his life. Instead he used the awareness of mortality as a catalyst to embrace and make the most of his experience. This approach to life was only reinforced by the loss of his father at age 7. Matt grew up skiing and exploring the Vermont outdoors where his love for nature and science took root. The family moved to Longmeadow, Massachusetts when Matt was a teenager, where he gained treasured new family and friends. He discovered his love for travel and adventure and expanded his horizons through family trips to Europe and camping across the United States. He graduated from Longmeadow High School in 1993. Matt attended Earlham College in Indiana, a Quaker school that he often reflected on as a formative place. There his innate kindness and pensive nature blossomed from learning deeply about the power of humility and spirituality.
Matt gravitated towards higher education after college, where he pursued his interest in nature. He began with a Masters in Wildlife Science at the University of Arizona where he studied "perhaps the most adorable of birds", the burrowing owl. He spent long summers in careful scientific observation of these owls all over the remote mountain west. He completed his thesis in 2004 and a publication resulting from this work was featured in the preeminent textbook on animal behavior - a great distinction. He then transitioned back to the east coast to conduct his PhD research studying animal behavior at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Powered by the salty ocean air that always felt good on his lungs, Matt spent 7 years studying the mating behavior of horseshoe crabs. Because horseshoe crabs often mate at night, much of Matt’s research included late nights with his feet in the ocean lit by bioluminescence in the shallow sandy waters. Throughout these years he traveled to some of the most beautiful places in the world. Highlights included skiing in Canada, surfing in Costa Rica and attending scientific conferences in Australia and Brazil. After he finished his PhD in 2012, Matt continued working as an adjunct lecturer at UF, where he dedicated much of his time to training younger scientists, one of his dearest passions. He then began postdoctoral research at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology.
Matt uplifted others with his fun-loving nature, infectious humor and enthusiasm for life. These qualities were wonderfully balanced by his sincerity, thoughtfulness and wisdom. He had a unique ability to hone in on the deeper aspects of the human experience and brought great value to relationships with his considered and wise counsel. He forged strong lifelong friendships. His spirituality, introspection, and care and support for others were exemplified in the handful of marriage and commitment ceremonies that it was his great honor to conduct for friends and family.
He was always on the lookout for an element of the sublime. Eating well was one of his enduring pleasures. That exquisite ribeye, beautiful salad, or rich dessert enjoyed with friends or family was a constant theme. He even, as an extreme night owl, woke early on occasion in pursuit of smoking the perfect brisket. He appreciated art and craftsmanship in many forms. He was a car enthusiast from a young age and was keenly interested in technical and design features as well as the pleasure of driving. He loved discussing the merits of the latest movies and television series, pondering possible additions to his artwork collection, or creating his own paintings and photography. He sought adventure and a good time: parties, game nights, trivia, bowling, golf, surfing, karaoke. Music was incredibly important to him throughout his life. He loved discovering, listening to and sharing music of many genres, new and old, and reveled in being up against the stage at live concerts, dancing and singing along. At UF he caught the fever for the incredible communion of Gators home football games and from then on was a truly dedicated fan.
He took pride in his appearance and enjoyed dressing well, supporting small, ethically-run clothing companies. He was always trying new and engaging ways to take care of himself and build his strength. He started with road biking in his teenage years and participated in the MS challenge by riding 150 miles (96 in the pouring rain). He enjoyed hiking, canoeing and kayaking. Later he got into more formal fitness training programs and even completed an olympic length triathlon.
As his lung disease progressed, Matt returned to Longmeadow, to be closer to family and the Cystic Fibrosis Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. He spent his summers on Cape Cod, boating and enjoying the beach and ocean air. In May 2019 Matt underwent a successful double lung transplant surgery and survived 14 months that included precious time with family and friends. Unfortunately multiple rare complications prevented a full recovery. He showed strength and courage throughout his medical journey and faced every hurdle with perseverance and grace.
The family would like to extend its deepest gratitude to those who provided exceptional medical care for Matt. Special appreciation to Dr. Manuela Cernadas from Boston Children's for her incredible dedication and to the doctors, PA’s, nurses and staff at Brigham & Women’s and Dana Farber, especially the Lung Transplant, Pulmonary and Critical Care and the Palliative care teams. The family would also like to thank his childhood doctors, Dr. Donald Swartz and Dr. Robert Gerstel for their early guidance and treatment that served him well throughout the years.
Due to the current pandemic, there will be no public service. We encourage sharing of photos and memories at the Forastiere Funeral Home website.
In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made to the Matthew D. Smith Memorial Fund for graduate students studying Animal Behavior at the University of Florida. Checks can be made payable to “UF Foundation” and include “024973 - Dr. Matthew D. Smith Memorial” in the memo line. Mailing address: University of Florida Foundation, PO Box 14425, Gainesville, FL 32604. Donations can be made online at the UF webpage: here or on the gofundme page here
"Please don't say I lost a battle with CF. I never saw it as a battle. I saw it as a gift that reminded me how beautiful life is. Smile, you're alive!” - Matt
Dr. Matthew D. Smith Memorial Fellowship in Animal Behavior
University of Florida Foundation, PO Box 14425, Gainesville FL 32604
Checks can be made payable to “UF Foundation” and include “024973 - Dr. Matthew D. Smith Memorial” in the memo line.
This fellowship was created in honor of Dr. Matthew Denman Smith who received his PhD from the Department of Biology at the University of Florida in 2012. For those who walked the halls with him at Earlham College, the University of Arizona, and the University of Florida, Matt was known for his infectious enthusiasm, creativity, rigor of critical thought, and commitment to teaching and research as a unified enterprise. His research focused on the ecology and evolution of animal behavior in a diversity of organisms, including burrowing owls, horseshoe crabs, and crickets. Among Matt's most important final wishes was to establish a fund that supports UF graduate students pursuing research in animal behavior. This fellowship celebrates his deep dedication to the study of behavior and his profound impact on students and colleagues.
The Matthew Denman Smith Memorial Scholarship in Animal Behavior