As the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences (PESS) warmly welcomes all new and returning students, the staff and postgraduate students in the department are still coming to terms with the loss of their longest serving and most loved teaching staff member, Dr. PJ Smyth.
PJ Smyth was unique, a rarity who was treasured and appreciated by all. He was a friend to everyone in PESS. His passion and commitment to teaching students was astounding. Faculty in the PESS department describe PJ as the ‘students’ favourite’ – an accolade that was associated with him from the first intake of Physical Education students in 1974, to when he retired from the department in 2013. PJ had a rapport with students that made students feel at ease and respected in his presence. He had the ability to encourage and include all students in critical thinking, discussion and debate and it is not surprising the number of graduates who built lifelong friendships with him.
Within the PESS department, the University of Limerick and further afield, PJ was held in highest esteem for his expertise and research in motor behaviour, applied sport psychology, skill learning and coaching. This knowledge was accessed by many leading national/international coaches in Ireland, most often from Rugby, a sport that PJ played competitively in (with Bective Rangers and Garryowen) for many years. PJ focused on sharing his knowledge and skills with others and delighted in promoting the achievements of students, graduates, athletes and staff rather than self-promote his own.
Having spent his life as an educator at the University of Limerick, PJ’s family refer to the PESS department and University of Limerick as ‘PJ’s Limerick family’. After almost 40 years as an educator on this campus, PJ taught and influenced generations of Physical Education teachers and Sport and Exercise Scientists. PJ was one of the original lecturers who taught on the Physical Education and Sport and Exercise Sciences degree programmes and he was immensely proud of the quality of the programmes that the PESS department offers. The BSc. in Sport and Exercise Sciences was part of PJ’s vision for the department and he was one of the key driving forces in the setting up of the programme which was offered for the first time in Ireland in 1993.
PJ’s generosity with his time, knowledge and books to both students and staff is unmatched (and he lost many books because of this generosity!). He always found time to help, inspire and motivate students and many past students of PESS admit that during stressful periods in college, they found an unofficial advisor/mentor/supervisor in the empathetic PJ Smyth. He supported all academic and social events in PESS, and rarely missed autumn graduations or the annual Jacinta O’Brien 10km race, organised by PESS students.
In addition to academia, PJ made vast contributions to coach education in both rugby and athletics and provided input into various athlete development programmes. He made significant contributions to IRFU and athletics coaching manuals in respect of physical fitness, skill development and sport psychology. He was a Sport Psychologist for the Irish Institute of Sport for many years and an expert on mental preparation for sports performance. PJ is regarded by many high performance Irish athletes, coaches and past graduates as instrumental in influencing their careers.
It will take a very long time for the PESS community to accept that PJ Smyth will no longer be the permanent fixture in the department we all knew and loved. Although we will miss our coffees with PJ we are comforted by the legacy he has left to this department. He influenced many practices in the department and his commitment to teaching, learning, coaching and research lives on in the hundreds of Physical Education teachers, Sport and Exercise Scientists and coaches who embrace what PJ advocated. PJ’s expertise, contributions, collegiality, and generosity will always be remembered. He is sorely missed and we will be a lot less without him.
At PJ’s funeral on August 2nd 2017, the eulogy referred to an article that was published in the first edition of the PESS eZine in 2013. The article “Dr. PJ Smyth: A Man Ahead of His Time” was written at the time of PJ’s retirement and included many stories from colleagues, friends and students of PJ. For those who would like to read the article, click on link.