Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology

Obituary for Dr. Valene L. Smith

Dr. Valene Lucy Smith passed peacefully on Jan 16, 2024, just a month shy of her 98th birthday.  She was born the only child of Earnest and Lucy Blachly Smith in Spokane, Washington on February 14,1926.

Valene’s earliest memories were road trips with her parents, later just her mother, in the family Buick named Lizzie. They camped, hiked, fished, worked odd jobs, read up on the areas to which they traveled. By 1947 Valene had seen all 48 United States, well before highways and hotels were standard fare. Valene and her mother challenged the role of women during this period and did exceedingly well at showing how capable and self-sufficient they were.  This love of travel was a passion from childhood, which became her profession for life. 

Valene began her academic journey with a BA (1946) and MA (1950) both in geography from UCLA. In her own words these were her “passport to a better understanding of the countries that [she] hoped to visit.”  Between 1950-1967 she began to travel the world in earnest, while teaching at City College in Los Angeles.  She traveled to Alaska and connected with Inuit and Inupiat peoples. She was awarded a Fulbright Award to teach for a year in Pakistan. She began organizing tours to Asia and Europe before the jet plane and ahead of the post-war wave of tourism.

Upon the successful completion of two international tours, Valene opened Jet-Age Travel Service in North Hollywood (California). These years of travel, adventure, and research contributed to her Ph.D. work in Anthropology (1966) from the University of Utah and set the stage for her academic legacy within the field of anthropology tourism.  With new degree in hand, Valene accepted a tenure track position at CSU, Chico in 1967.

She moved herself, her parents, and their travel agency to Chico. Valene never slowed down. She soon built a following of intrepid travelers and students.  Her classes were legendary, and many loyal students of that era say they never missed a class, because she took us beyond the walls of the classroom to far-off places one only dreamed of visiting. Teaching during the academic year, overseeing a travel agency, and leading summer tours to Europe, India and Asia were the foundation upon which she asked  bold questions.  One of which shaped the discipline of anthropology.   Valene put a brief notice in the Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) asking “is anyone else interested in the study of tourism?”  This resulted in a panel at the 1974 AAA meeting, coordinated by Valene. This forum legitimized and put in the limelight tourism anthropology as a field of study.  Valene is quick to point out that she organized the group, but many were involved in the shaping of the field.   Her edited volume and groundbreaking text, titled Hosts and Guests, on tourism research arose from this meeting and is still in publication. It has been translated into many languages, underscoring Valene’s intellect, skill, and ability to bring people together and never be afraid to ask questions. The book helped to legitimize the study of tourism as worthy of academic interest and many in the field attribute this book to turning their scholarly attention toward tourism research.

Valene played a vital role in the Chico community as well, serving on many boards and organizations, such as Soroptimists International, Enloe Hospital, Chico Museum, and the University Foundation’s Board of Governors. In 1981 she was named Outstanding Professor at Chico State - recognized for her teaching, research, and community service.

Her crowning legacy, which bears her name, is the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology at Chico State.  Her testimonial bequest in 2010 allowed the campus Museum of Anthropology to expand in size and relocate to the heart of campus. The museum’s vision like Valene’s is to promote cultural awareness of the diversity of the human experience. 

Valene was adventurous in her personal life as well.  While earning her pilot’s license, she met and married her flight instructor Ed Golay in 1970. They were married until his untimely death in 1980. In 1983 she married Stanley McIntyre, who preceded her in death in 2000. In 2005 she married George Posey, who preceded her in death in 2009. In 2011 she married Bob Benner, who preceded her in death in 2020. She is survived by Golay family members, Glenn and Kathy Golay, and their children and grandchildren.

Her life-long motto, Learn by Doing; Teach by Being was the guiding principle by which she made decisions for her students, fellow travelers, academic colleagues, close friends, family, and the Chico community, which she dearly loved. Everyone whom she met experienced her strong presence and love of adventure.  Her passionate, intellectual curiosity compelled her to reach for excellence and never take no for an answer.  Whomever Valene met she always pushed them to do the same.

Her Celebration of Life will be held on her birthday, Feb 14, 2024 @11:30 am, on the Chico State campus at the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology.

Accolades and recognition of Dr. Valene Smith’s scholarly contributions to the field of Tourism continue with this tribute from, Anatolia: An International Journal of Tourism and Hospitality Research:

Always a traveller: a portrait of Valene L. Smith

Valene L. Smith