• From left to right, Lt. Gov. Donald Ethell, Derald Smith (holding medal), Nancy Smith and Linda Ethell (Photo: Lynn Moorman)

He’s now this year’s Massey Medal winner , but to the thousands of students who passed through his University of Calgary classes, he’s always been much more than a geography professor.

Smith was awarded The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s lifetime achievement medal for his research into glaciation and its impact on oil and gas reservoirs, as well as his pioneering use of ground penetrating radar. His work has helped limit the environmental footprint caused by oil and gas exploration, by helping to pinpoint likely deposits before any digging occurs.

“I’m absolutely humbled and grateful that this award could be bestowed at this point in my life,” Smith told the RCGS.

The Massey Medal has been awarded annually since 1959 to recognize outstanding careers that further the understanding of Canada’s geography.

Smith’s graduate student, Chris Hugenholtz, nominated him just before his retirement. Hugenholtz said he nominated Smith because his impact goes far beyond his research.

“He’s an amazing person and mentor,” Hugenholtz said. “He has accomplished [a lot] on behalf of Canadian geography, whether on the science side of things, discovery, exploration or the huge number of students that he inspired to continue in geographic studies.”

Though recently diagnosed with cancer, Smith is looking to the future. "My students have driven me, carried me along and taught me more than I have taught them,” Smith said. “For that, I acknowledge my students as family—a family of wonderful young scholars."