2019: Carrying the Torch into a new year

2018 was a momentous year for the Smithsonian filled with blockbuster exhibitions, breathtaking discoveries and ambitious new initiatives. It was also a year during which we said goodbye to some beloved colleagues and welcomed new friends. As the old year wanes and the new one beckons, we wanted to highlight some of our most memorable stories about Smithsonian people—the talented, diverse and fascinating folks who truly make us One Smithsonian.

2019 spelled out in fireworks


Former FCC and Telemundo exec will lead Smithsonian’s communications team

Julissa Marenco became  Assistant Secretary for Communications and External Affairs, effective Feb. 12. She oversees the Smithsonian’s Offices of Public Affairs, Government Relations, Visitor Services, and Special Events and Protocol.

Head shot of Julissa Marenco

Julissa Marenco has been named Assistant Secretary for Communications and External Affairs, effective Feb. 12. She will oversee the Smithsonian’s Offices of Public Affairs, Government Relations, Visitor Services, and Special Events and Protocol.  (Hamilton Photography)

In Memoriam: Jeff Tinsley

Smithsonian photographer Jeff Tinsley died Dec. 7, 2017 after a long illness. Jeff’s colleagues shared their memories of a dear friend whose career spanned almost 30 years.

Photographers pose in front of Vietnam Memorial

Smithsonian Institution staff photographers, (l-r): Jeff Tinsley, Richard K. Hofmeister, Jeff Ploskonka and Dane Penland, whose work was featured in the SITES exhibition, “Vietnam Veterans Memorial: A National Experience” gather at the wall. Photo by James Wallace, as featured in the Torch, November 1986



Meet John Davis: Checking in with the Smithsonian Provost

Secretary Skorton asked John Davis to share his impressions after five months as the Smithsonian’s first Provost and Under Secretary for Museums and Research.

John Davis at his desk

John Davis, Smithsonian Provost and Under Secretary for Museums and Research. (Photo by Alex di Giovanni)


A Unique Lens: Photographs from the Smithsonian Family

In an era when social media is ubiquitous and almost three-quarters of adults have smart phones, photography is instantly gratifying. We document the fleeting moments of our lives—the mundane as well as the miraculous—to create our own personal narrative. But an artist can create moments that transcend the personal to suggest larger perspectives and universal connections.

Gallery visitors check their phones

In a particularly meta moment, visitors check the photos they have taken with their phones of the photos on display in the Gallery. (Photo by Michael Barnes)



A peck of Peppers prepare for parameter-pushing public program

Several museums will debut humanoid robots this month that will interact with visitors and expand the museum-going experience. While they’re not quite the same as living colleagues, we thought the merited a mention.

Still image from Simpson's show t


NASA scientist will be first woman to head Air and Space Museum

Ellen Stofan assumed leadership of the Air and Space Museum April 30.

Portrait of Stofan

Ellen Stofan (Photo by Callie Broadus)


A tropical science legacy: Ira Rubinoff, Director Emeritus, retires from STRI

After more than 50 years at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, director emeritus Ira Rubinoff  announced his retirement in May. He will travel to Vienna with his wife, Anabella, who was recently designated Panama’s ambassador to Austria.

Rubinoff with foliage in the background

Ira Rubinoff, Director Emeritus of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute


Plastic or Planet?

The world dumps the equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day, year after year. To mark World Ocean Day, Secretary Skorton explained how the Smithsonian is trying to slow the deluge—and what we can all do to help.

Skorton and Hollinger in front of a wall of plastic trash

Secretary David Skorton (left) and Eric Hollinger of the Natural History Museum listen as Julia Schnetzer from the Germaine Marine Research Consortium describes the Ocean Plastics Lab exhibition on the National Mall June 14. (Photo by Sarah Sulick)


One Smithsonian, Loud and Proud

The Smithsonian’s commitment to diversity is never more evident than in our presence at the Capitol Pride Parade each June. Bonnie Schipper took us behind the scenes.

Group photo of Pride parade participants

(Photo by Annalisa Meyer, June 9, 2010)

The 2018 Smithsonian Staff Picnic

As is traditional, the day of the Smithsonian Staff Picnic was blindingly hot and stiflingly humid, but as is also traditional, that didn’t keep everyone from having a great time!

Women smile for the camera

Nancy Bechtol (director of the Office of Facilities Management and Reliability) and Julie Beals (Smithsonian Scholarly Press) enjoy the shade at the 2018 Smithsonian Staff Picnic.


Chase Robinson to assume leadership of the Freer and Sackler Galleries

Chase F. Robinson, former president of The Graduate Center of the City University of New York and distinguished professor of history, became the Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, effective Dec. 10.

Portriat of Robinson posed against bookshelf

Chase F. Robinson (Photo by Paula Vlodkowsky)

In Memoriam: Lori D. Yarrish

Lori Yarrish, the director of the Anacostia Community Museum, passed away August 6 after a brief illness.

Yarrish holding magazine cover

Lori Yarrish at the Washingtonian magazine gala celebrating Washington, D.C.’s most powerful women in the arts. (Photo by Haili Francis via Twitter)


Things that go bump in the night: A night at the museums with the third shift

Andrea Martin tags along on the third shift to see what goes on in our museums after hours and learns that to the trained ear, things that go bump in the night may just mean a blown compressor.

Group photo

The 3rd Shift USRO Team from left to right: Anthony Dessaso, Dwayne Reed, Aaron Mason, Chau Le, Thomas McMahon, Jason Pickett, Troy Arnold, and Steven Thomas (Supervisor). Not pictured: Salvador Portillo and Lashaun Mitchell (Photo by Andrea Martin)

Secretary’s 2018 Research Awards presented

From music to mail and spectral energy to sustainability, Smithsonian research touches ever facet of our world–and beyond.

Songer in the field

Dr. Melissa Songer taking a break from tracking a conflict elephant for collaring in the Bago Yoma, Myanmar. She presented the annual Bruce “Will” Morrison memorial lecture Sept. 18. (Photo courtesy of Christie Sampson.)



Shawnie McRaney: The courage of change

Shawnie McRaney struggled to understand her gender identity for years before she finally identified as transgender. She shares her personal journey with courage and candor and explains how the support of her colleagues and the Smithsonian’s commitment to diversity and acceptance helped her make the decision to transition.

McRanety sits on the floor in front of the statue of George Washington

Shawnie McRaney sits before the Horation Greenough statue of George Washington at the entrance to the 2 West Gallery at the National Museum of American History. (Photo by Jaclyn Nash)


Drawing on a half-century’s experience

A self-taught illustrator, Vichai Milikul has been creating meticulous scientific drawings of the minutiae of mosquitoes and other insects for more than 50 years.

Vichai holding drawing of a fly

Vichai Malikul holds a completed drawing. (Photo by John Barrat)

A few of my favorite things: Hollis Gentry

We are privileged to spend time with some of the nation’s most cherished treasures as we go about our duties at the Smithsonian. Sometimes, these unique experiences find a special place in our own personal stories. Amy Kehs introduces Hollis Gentry and a few of her favorite things.

Harriet Tubman visiting card

Carte-de-visite of Harriet Tubman, 1868-1869
(Photograph by Benjamin F. Powelson Collection of the National Museum of African American History and Culture shared with the Library of Congress, 2017.30.4)


American History Museum makes its own history with first female director

Anthea M. Hartig, currently executive director and CEO of the California Historical Society, has been named the Elizabeth MacMillan Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, effective Feb. 18, 2019. She is the first woman to hold the position since the museum opened in 1964.

Hartig sitting on chair holding book sin her lap

Anthea H. Hartig (Photo by Roman Cho)

A humble horticulturist is a secret superhero

James Gagliardi, a self-described “plant geek,” used his knowledge to narrow an international search that resulted in the rescue of an abused and exploited child.

Gagliardi family pose in front of NCMEC screen

James Gagliardi with his parents, David and Joan Gagliardi.


Secretary David Skorton will depart the Smithsonian in June

Secretary Dr. David Skorton will leave the Smithsonian in June 2019, after serving four years as leader of the Institution. He will transition the organization during the next six months. Skorton, a board-certified cardiologist, will become president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, effective July 15, 2019.

Skorton sits on bench

David Skorton, the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian, sits outside the Smithsonian Castle last year in Washington. (Kate Patterson for The Wahsington Post)

Posted: 31 December 2018
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni has been editing the Torch since August 2006. She is fired with a burning desire to ignite the flames of enthusiasm among her Smithsonian colleagues while brandishing the Torch of knowledge. She also likes puns.