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Biographical entry Smith, Irvine Battinson (1919 - 1999)

MRCS 1944; FRCS 1949; BA Cambridge 1941; MA 1945; MB BCh 1947; MD 1959; LRCP 1944.

5 December 1919
2 October 1999
General surgeon and Urological surgeon


Irvine Smith was a consultant surgeon to Burton-on-Trent General Hospital. He was born in Ilkley on 5 December 1919. His father, Fredric Battinson Smith, was a forensic pathologist who had won the Military Cross in the first world war and later advised the Ministry of Health on setting up a national pathology service. His mother, Mary Irvine (née Johnstone), came from a medical family; her father, Thomas Johnstone, had been dresser to Lord Lister at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Irvine's uncle, George Johnstone, became public health officer for Preston.

Irvine was educated at Marlborough and King's College, Cambridge, and did his clinical work at University College Hospital, where he was taught by R S Pilcher, H P Himsworth and F P Browne. After house jobs at the Royal Northern Hospital and Great Ormond Street, he did his National Service in the RNVR, serving as a Surgeon Lieutenant in HMS Bigbury Bay and Liverpool. He returned to University College Hospital as a demonstrator of anatomy to study for the primary and was then resident medical officer at the Cancer Hospital, and subsequently house surgeon at West Middlesex Hospital and then at Hammersmith, before passing the final FRCS in 1949.

He had a special interest in the treatment of cancer, and was house surgeon to the radiotherapy unit at Hammersmith, before going on to be registrar at Preston Royal Infirmary and later Leeds. In 1955 he spent a year at the Mayo Clinic as a research fellow, returning to Leeds as tutor in surgery and senior registrar. There he threw himself into calculous disease in Leslie Pyrah's new unit, and published many papers on the topic. He became something of an expert in the use of the ileal loop and the complications of ileostomy. He was appointed to the consultant staff of Burton-on-Trent General Hospital in 1957.

At Burton, although he increasingly specialised in urology, he remained a very general surgeon and was much sought-after as a teacher by young surgeons on the Birmingham rotation. He had a wide range of interests. His urological colleagues will remember his landmark study on trans-uretero-ureterostomy. His surgical colleagues remember him for his advocacy of hemihepatectomy for severe blunt injury - then unheard of. He set up the urological department at Burton-on-Trent. He was also a pioneer in day care surgery - the Burton unit is named after him. He was the prime mover in setting up the postgraduate medical centre at Burton in 1972, where a plaque records him as 'Irvine Smith, Founder'.

Irvine had innumerable interests; he had been a keen Boy Scout, and later, an enthusiastic climber (he broke his spine climbing into King's as an undergraduate). He was a diligent and popular member of the British Association of Urological Surgeons, disguising a discerning intellect behind a front of apparent diffidence. In later years he became a highly regarded medical historian, making Stephen Hales his particular subject.

He married Kathleen Lilley Turner in 1950, who had qualified from UCH and had a considerable interest in family planning. They were divorced in 1985. They had three sons, Robin Goulty (who died as a baby), Geoffrey Lilley (a Professor of Virology at Imperial College, London) and Christopher Frederic (an engineer), and two daughters, Anne Johnstone (who has worked in the blood transfusion service) and Dorothy Battinson (a teacher). In addition to a considerable interest and expertise in medical history, he was a keen ornithologist. He died on 2 October 1999.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from Geoffrey L Smith].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England