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Biographical entry Smith, Geoffrey Harry (1937 - 2016)

MRCS LRCP 1961; MB BS London 1961; FRCS 1965.

11 November 1937
24 January 2016
Cardiac surgeon


Geoffrey Smith was professor of cardiac surgery at the University of Sheffield. He was born in Derby on 11 November 1937. His father, Stanley James Smith, was a greengrocer. His mother was Barbara née Perston and his maternal grandfather was a mechanic at Rolls-Royce in Derby. He was educated at Derby Grammar School and at St Mary's Hospital Medical School, London. As a medical student he gained a number of prizes, notably in heart disease and surgery. He achieved a distinction in surgery at the final MB BS examination.

He was a house surgeon at St Mary's and a surgical registrar at the United Sheffield Hospitals. He was a senior registrar at the Hospital for Diseases of the Chest in London. Surgeons who influenced him in his cardiothoracic training included Vernon Thompson and Marvin Sturridge at the London Chest Hospital. Others were Sir Frank Holdsworth, Sir Arthur Porritt and Herbert C Duthie. He returned to Sheffield in 1969 and joined another of his mentors, Desmond Taylor, as a consultant surgeon there.

In the maturing specialty of cardiac surgery, he paid particular attention to the quality of surgery and the reporting of results. In 1984 he published Complications of cardiopulmonary surgery (London, Baillière Tindall), which was an influential book at the time. He was instrumental in negotiating for a chair of cardiac surgery to be funded by the British Heart Foundation in Sheffield. Disappointed by the quality of applicants, Smith put his own hat in the ring and was appointed, becoming one of a handful of professors of cardiac surgery in 1987. He performed the first heart transplant in Sheffield in 1989. He was an early adopter of surgical techniques for mitral valve repair and published his results in the British Heart Journal ('Mitral valve repair: a valuable procedure with good long term results even when performed infrequently.' Br Heart J. 1991 Aug;66[2]:156-60).

A highlight of his career was his presidency of the Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery in Great Britain and Ireland (from 1992 to 1994). He served on the education committee of the European Association of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery.

He inspired the best of his trainees, recognising their abilities and encouraging them. He pointed out to his trainee Samer Nashef the first publication by Victor Parsonnet of a means of risk adjustment of cardiac surgical results. It is described with credit given to Smith in Nashef's book The naked surgeon: the power and peril of transparency in medicine (Scribe Publications, 2015). Nashef went on to become a leader on methods to fairly reflect surgical quality. Gianni Angelini was another protégé who, in 1992, went from senior lecturer in Sheffield to become British Heart Foundation professor in Bristol, resulting in 25 years of major research contributions.

In 1993 Smith led one of six advisory panels for the London Implementation Group on the reorganisation of medical specialties in London. The advisory team, chosen from hospitals outside London so they would be unbiased, proposed closing Harefield Hospital, at Hillingdon on the western fringe of London. The proposal was overturned and Harefield has remained. His willingness to be adversarial came to the fore when he became known as a medicolegal expert who would take a robust position against colleagues in court and at the General Medical Council.

After his retirement from Sheffield in 1993, he was chief of the cardiac service in Abu Dhabi, visiting professor in Umeå, Sweden, vice chancellor of the Asian Institute of Medicine, Kedah, Malaysia (in 2009) and medical adviser to the British Council.

He met Brenda Lawson while a student. They met at Fellowship House in Holland Park, where Geoffrey Smith was living. They married in 1960. He enjoyed opera, golf and walking the hills around Ulverston in the Lake District with his dog. At home he was fond of bread-making. He and Brenda had three daughters, Analisa, Katy and Shan. There are four grandchildren: Isabella, Anna, Oliver and Molly. Geoffrey Smith died on 24 January 2016. He was 78.

Tom Treasure

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Independent 29 May 1993; BMJ 2016 352 1727 - accessed 19 April 2016].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England