- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

George Switzer, 92, Smithsonian gemologist

PORT REPUBLIC, Md. (AP) — George Switzer, the Smithsonian Institution scientist who acquired the Hope Diamond and examined samples brought back from the moon by Apollo astronauts, died March 23, his son said. He was 92.

Mr. Switzer once transported the Hope Diamond alone and unarmed to Paris for an exhibition in 1962, saying later that “secrecy was my only protection,” said his son, J. Mark Switzer.

“I was 11 and it was a big deal, you know, because flying across the Atlantic was still a big deal and Mom sewed up this little cloth pouch and they safety pinned the pouch and the diamond inside his pants pocket,” Mark Switzer said.

The trip almost made his father believe in the bad luck stories that surround the diamond, Mark Switzer said, noting the original flight his father planned to take to Paris was canceled when the plane was damaged while landing in Philadelphia and the car he was riding in from the airport in Paris was involved in a minor accident.

“It was one of his good stories, but he had so many, he did so much,” Mark Switzer said.

Former Smithsonian curator William Melson, who worked with Mr. Switzer for decades, described him as a mentor who was well known for his research on the properties of diamonds and other gems.

“He was also a very affable person,” Mr. Melson said. “People liked George because of his very gentle ways, and that contributed to them giving the gifts they did.”

Mr. Switzer’s efforts to develop a major gem collection were rewarded in 1958 when New York jeweler Harry Winston gave the Smithsonian the Hope Diamond, still one of the most popular items at the museum.

Mr. Switzer is survived by his wife of 68 years, Sue Joan Bowden Switzer; two sons, James R. Switzer and J. Mark Switzer; eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

David Low, 52, NASA astronaut

David Low, a NASA astronaut who flew three space shuttle missions and later became an executive in the space industry, died March 15 of complications from colon cancer at Reston Hospital Center near his home in Northern Virginia. He was 52.

Mr. Low, who was born in Cleveland, was a 1974 graduate of Langley High School in McLean. He received a bachelor’s degree from Washington and Lee University in Virginia, a mechanical engineering degree from Cornell University and a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University.

He was an astronaut for 12 years before joining Orbital Sciences Corp. in 1996 to help oversee the company’s safety measures and later managed the company’s commercial space transportation program. He was a senior vice president of the Fairfax County company at his death.

Survivors include his wife and three children.

Alson H. Smith, 80, retired state legislator

WINCHESTER, Va. (AP) — Alson H. “Al” Smith Jr., a former state delegate from Frederick County, died March 24 at a Winchester nursing home. He was 80.

Mr. Smith, a Frederick County native, had a brain hemorrhage in 2004 and had been unable to move or talk since then, said his son, Alson H. “Skip” Smith III.

After graduating from Handley High School in 1947, Mr. Smith served in the Army in Newfoundland during the Korean War from 1951 to 1953. Upon his return to the Winchester area, he became a franchise holder for several Tastee-Freez restaurants in Virginia, West Virginia and parts of Pennsylvania, and was a partner in Shenandoah Foods, a former food-distribution business in Winchester.

Mr. Smith, a Democrat, represented the Frederick County area in the House of Delegates from 1974 until he retired in 1994.

“He was a great fix-it guy,” said former state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., Winchester Republican. “He knew how to wade through the bureaucracy, and he knew how to get things done.”

Mr. Smith served on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and served as chairman of the Mining and General Resources Committee. He also was on the Corporations, Insurance and Banking Committee, and headed the House Democratic Caucus for more than a decade.

“Al Smith was a rare public servant who never met a stranger, who understood human nature,” said Gerald L. Baliles, a Democrat who served as governor of Virginia from 1986 to 1990.

Survivors include his wife, Margarette Cage Matthews Smith; his son, Skip; a sister; and two grandchildren. Ason, David M. Smith, died in a plane crash in 1999.

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