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Biographical entry Smart, John Gordon (1926 - 2013)

MB BS London 1949; MS 1965; FRCS 1957.

5 June 1926
22 February 2013
Wymeswold, Leicestershire
General surgeon and Urologist


John Gordon Smart was appointed to the Leicester Royal Infirmary as a general surgeon with an interest in urology in 1965. Later he became the first pure urologist to the hospital and was responsible for building up the urology unit to become the largest in the Trent region. Possessing an administrative flair, he also started the day unit service and directed it after its inception in 1979, being responsible for the planning and later the running of the definitive day stay unit at Leicester's City General Hospital. Eleven specialties used the unit and it boasted one of the largest through-puts in the country.

He was born in London on 5 June 1926, the second son of John McGregor Smart, a merchandise buyer and importer, and Margaret née Edwards, a seamstress. His older brother, Donald, also studied medicine at Middlesex Hospital and became a general practitioner. Gordon started his secondary education at William Ellis School in Highgate, north London, and continued at Highgate School (for some of the war years the school was evacuated to the country). He was extremely athletic in these schooldays, a fast sprinter and good at both rugby and soccer: indeed, he was approached to have a trial for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

Training at Middlesex Hospital, he graduated in 1949 and served six months as a house surgeon under R Vaughan Hudson, then a senior surgeon at Middlesex Hospital. National Service followed in the medical branch of the RAF from 1950, when he was stationed at RAF Scampton with 617 Squadron ('The Dambusters'). After a year he was promoted to squadron leader for his work on high altitude flying. Already developing an interest in art, Gordon particularly admired the pencil drawings drawn by many of the airmen who lost their lives during wartime operations: he felt that they received scant recognition.

Returning to civilian life, although electing to pursue a career in surgery, he first needed to obtain a post in medicine and became a house physician at Willesden General Hospital. Following this, he benefitted from a six-month spell in general practice as he covered his older brother Donald's absence on sick leave.

After studying on the Royal College of Surgeons' course and passing the primary FRCS, he commenced his surgical training as a casualty and receiving officer at senior house level to the Dreadnought Seaman's hospital. This post was a requirement for those sitting the final FRCS examination at the time. He furthered his experience at senior house officer level in general surgery and urology at St James' Hospital, Balham, being privileged to gain experience with Norman Tanner in gastroenterology, and was introduced to urology by H K ('Pop') Vernon and H Burke. After attending a postgraduate course at St Thomas' Hospital, he passed the final FRCS examination in 1957, before continuing his general surgical experience as a registrar for a year to H L Cochrane at Fulham Hospital. He broadened this good base at registrar level in a two-year rotating post, starting with R W ('Bob') Nevin at St Thomas' Hospital, then at the Hydestile branch, the Royal Waterloo Hospital, before gaining further experience in the casualty department back at St Thomas'. A locum senior registrar post for a year at St Mary's Hospital, Portsmouth, added to his overall experience as he worked with two general surgeons, Bernard Williams and J W Younghusband, and also W Wiggins-Davies, whose main interest was in urology.

Gordon felt he needed further experience in the developing specialty of urology and obtained a rotating senior registrar training post at St Thomas' Hospital and St Peter's Hospital, Chertsey. Starting in Chertsey, he worked with a most delightful general surgeon, Murray Pheils, who was an excellent teacher. In 1965 Pheils left this post and a lucrative private practice to take up a newly created position as professor of surgery at the Repatriation Hospital, Sydney, New South Wales. Back at St Thomas' Hospital, Gordon worked with the urological surgeon T W Mimpriss, achieving his aim of concentrating on urology. He saw and treated a lot of urothelial tumours of the bladder and upper tracts and published a paper on 'Renal and ureteric tumours in association with bladder tumours' (Br J Urol. 1964 Sep;36:380-90). Further research work into the use of radioactive phosphorus in prostatic cancer led to a South West Regional Board prize and a paper 'Radioactive phosphorus treatment of bone-metastatic carcinoma of the prostate' (Lancet. 1964 Oct 24;2[7365]:882-3). He was able to drop some clinical commitments and, with the aid of funding from the regional board, he set up a laboratory and employed a technician for studies on urinary infection. This valuable experience in research led to a thesis for the MS degree and to his election as Hunterian Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons. He delivered a lecture on 'The diagnosis and localisation of urinary infections' at the College on 10 March 1966.

His successful application for the post of consultant surgeon with an interest in urology in Leicester was supported by T W Mimpriss, Murray Pheils and R W Nevin, the highly respected general surgeon and long-time dean of the St Thomas's Medical School. Once in post, he showed the determination and eloquence he had exhibited back in his schooldays. In 1943, as a schoolboy, he had taken part in a BBC Home Service programme presented by the eminent sociologist Karl Mannheim, discussing a variety of topics, including 'Why do we agree over right and wrong?', 'Can society survive without common values?' and 'The power of society to influence man's behaviour'. As a consultant surgeon, Gordon showed he was clearly a person who had strong opinions on what he felt was best and proved outspoken in committees. He was supported by his consultant colleagues in the development of the urology unit and day care facilities. Not afraid of hard work, he worked up to the last moment before enjoying family holidays - something appreciated by his patients who recognised his personal care. He did not suffer fools gladly, but was very supportive of all the clinical staff, particularly the nurses.

He assumed many roles even before he became a consultant. From 1962 for six years he was an examiner for the Royal College of Nursing and tutor in anatomy for the Association of Occupational Therapists for two years. After his consultant appointment, from 1974 to 1982, he was a Royal College of Surgeons tutor for the Leicester area. From 1986 he represented all surgical specialties and day services on the management board. His colleagues thought so highly of his endeavours that he was elected chairman of the Leicester area consultants committee for two years from 1976, after less than 10 years as a consultant. He enjoyed his membership of the Punch Club, an informal group of urological surgeons, and was a supportive member of the British Association of Urological Surgeons and the urology section of the Royal Society of Medicine, being an elected member of both councils. As a mark of esteem his colleagues in hospital and general practice elected him president of the Leicester Medical Society from 1989 to 1990, having served as secretary some 10 years previously.

During his training, at a party, he met Joanna ('Jo') Brenchley, a nurse at Middlesex Hospital. They married in Ospringe, Kent, in 1956, and she supported Gordon during much of his surgical training, undertaking a variety of jobs herself, ending up studying at the Bar. After moving to Leicester, she became a Justice of the Peace, working on the criminal and domestic benches. Jo was also a member of the Police Authority, being heavily involved in a charity which supported prisoners in their rehabilitation once they had served their sentence. Fiona, their only child, was born in 1966, after Gordon had taken up his consultant post. She became a civil servant and then set up her own company.

Gordon and his wife were very fond of travel, visiting India, Pakistan, Israel and Jordan. Gordon was also interested in arts and antiques. Having collected many paintings, he enjoyed painting himself in both oils and acrylic. He was a great admirer of Turner's works. In his own painting, he was a perfectionist, just as he was in his distinguished surgical career.

Sadly, shortly after his retirement, Jo was diagnosed with advanced myeloma. Gordon supported her during her various treatments, and nursed and cared for her until she died in 2004. Fiona, always encouraged by her father throughout various stages of her life, was equally supportive of him in his later years.

J Gordon Smart died peacefully at his home in Wymeswold, Leicestershire, on 22 February 2013 aged 86, with Fiona by his side.

N Alan Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from Fiona Gordon Smart].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England