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Biographical entry Smiley, Thomas Boyd (1917 - 1981)

MC; MRCS and FRCS 1948; MB BCh Belfast 1939.

9 May 1917
Castlewellan, County Down
2 August 1981
Thoracic surgeon


It could be said that had Tom Smiley not been a cigarette smoker in 1941, his patients and colleagues, thoracic surgery and his own family and local community would never have known him as a fine surgeon, husband and father and dedicated churchman, for it was a cigarette-case in his breast-pocket which deflected the point of a Japanese bayonet in Singapore.

Born on 9 May 1917 at Castlewellan, Co Down, educated at the Methodist College, Belfast, where he captained the 1st XV and was head of school, he entered Queen's University and after qualifying and working as a house surgeon at the Royal Victoria Infirmary he joined the RAMC and was posted to the Far East. Thus it came about that at the fall of Singapore his cigarette-case saved him from death. As a prisoner of war, and having a desire, if he survived, to be a surgeon one day, he was profoundly influenced by the example set by the surgeon, Julian Taylor FRCS, in the POW camp. Tom was awarded the MC and was mentioned twice in despatches.

Returning to Belfast he lost no time in sitting the FRCS and his interest in thoracic surgery took him to the Brompton Hospital where as RSO he was influenced by Sir Clement Price Thomas. In 1951 he was appointed consultant to the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Belfast, and to Forster Green and Whiteabbey Hospitals, where, like so many distinguished colleagues in those days before streptomycin and PAS became available, he took on the large amount of the surgery of pulmonary tuberculosis that had to be done. After the chemotherapeutic revolution for tuberculosis he was able to devote himself more to the development of oesophageal surgery to which he contributed significantly, and to the new cardiac surgery of the 50's. In 1950, while still a registrar, he carried out the first mitral valvotomy in Ireland and with John Bingham established the cardiothoracic surgical unit in Belfast instituting the open heart surgical programme.

A lover of the countryside and animals, especially horses, he farmed 60 acres at Magheragall, N Ireland, but on retirement in 1977 he moved to Bridge Farm at Litcham, Norfolk, which, with his wife Elizabeth (Mills) whom he married in 1945, he completely rebuilt and restored. In October 1980 he was visiting Professor of Surgery at the University of Malaysia, and retired only a month before his death. He was mourned by his wife, three sons, Christopher, Ian and Eric (two of whom are doctors in New Zealand) and daughter, Fiona. He died on 2 August 1981, aged 64 years.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1981, 283, 868].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England