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Do you know George Smith?

If you’ve driven a GM car, you probably know this Fox Run resident’s work

Created date

July 19th, 2016
George Smith, a retired General Motors research physicist, and his wife Mary Lee, who spent her career as a social worker, enjoy a variety of activities and interests together at Fox Run.

George Smith, a retired General Motors research physicist, and his wife Mary Lee, who spent her career as a social worker, enjoy a variety of activities and interests together at Fox Run.

If you drive a car made by General Motors (GM), some of the features in your vehicle may be based on research conducted by George Smith, who worked for the auto company for 40 years as a research physicist. 

Much of George’s research focused on liquid crystals, which were eventually used to make instrument display panels in cars.

Life’s thrills

“One of the things that was good about doing research at GM was that the company encouraged basic research—research that didn’t have immediate application,” George says. “Much of what I did was in solids, liquids, gases, alloys, and plastic crystals. I loved it, and because of that work, I was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society.”

George did his undergraduate studies at Knox College in Illinois, where he met Mary Lee Sackett, who would later become his wife. The couple moved to Houston, Tex., and George worked on his Ph.D. at Rice University while Mary Lee served as a social worker at MD Anderson Cancer Center. 

When George got his Ph.D., the Rice graduate wives awarded Mary Lee her “PHT” (Putting Hubby Through). After a year’s post-doctoral fellowship, George and Mary Lee traveled to Europe. George was then offered a position at GM Research Laboratories, and they relocated to Michigan.

Over the course of his studies and career, George published more than 100 physics papers and 17 patents. One of the highlights of his career was meeting renowned Danish physicist Niels Bohr, a Nobel Prize winner whose work was important to the understanding of atomic structure and quantum theory. 

“He came into my lab and asked about the research I was doing,” George recalls. “It was one of the greatest thrills of my life.”

Family ties

George and Mary Lee have two sons, a grandson, and a granddaughter, all in the Seattle, Wash., area.

George takes pride in his past service as the leader of a Boy Scout troop (his sons are Eagle Scouts), the members of which affectionately called him “Uncle George.” 

As former docents at the Detroit Zoo, George and Mary Lee endowed a monetary prize for outstanding physics students at their alma mater, Knox College.

In 1999, George retired from GM Research as principle research scientist. This gave him and Mary Lee ample time to engage in travel and other activities.

Life at Fox Run

In 2007, the couple moved to Fox Run from Birmingham, Mich. George says that taking care of their house was becoming a burden. 

They had visited Fox Run several times and decided the community would be a good fit for their retirement living. They selected a two-bedroom, two-bath, Kingston-style apartment with a full kitchen, a spacious living and dining room, and a walk-in closet. 

At Fox Run, George and Mary Lee, who will celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary in September, enjoy a number of activities together. 

They both belong to the poetry and prose group, the writing forum, and the recycling committee. 

Having taken a number of trips to places like Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Egypt, England, France, Germany, and Italy, the Smiths have given several travelogue presentations for their neighbors at Fox Run. 

George is also involved with the movie committee and was previously the group’s chairman. 

He currently chairs the music study group and the history club.

“That is what is important,” George says, “to keep busy and not lose your mental capability.”