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Biographical entry Smith, Roger Abbey (1916 - 2016)

MB ChB Liverpool 1940; FRCS Edin 1943; MCh 1948; FRCS 1971.

15 August 1916
24 July 2016
Cardiothoracic surgeon and Thoracic surgeon


Roger Abbey Smith was a consultant surgeon at Walsgrave Hospital, Coventry. He was born in Birkenhead. At the age of 11 he was deeply affected by the early death of his mother from psittacosis pneumonia caught from the family parrot, despite being attended by Henry Cohen, arguably the most celebrated physician of the 20th century. His father never remarried and, having three brothers, Roger was brought up in an entirely male household. He attended Birkenhead School, and went on to study medicine at Liverpool School of Medicine, winning the A C Rich prize in medicine and the gold medal for obstetrics and gynaecology.

His mother's death set him on course for a medical career, with a focus on pulmonary disease. He qualified in 1940 and, after becoming a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1943, enlisted in the RAMC. He saw active service first on D-day aboard the hospital ship Batavia and then in Burma. He was subsequently posted to the Augusta Victoria Hospital - a 1,200 bed hospital - in Jerusalem, which had been requisitioned as the 16th British General Hospital. This was where his interest in thoracic surgery began under George Qvist, later consultant surgeon to the Royal Free Hospital, and Lloyd Rusby, later chest physician at the London Hospital.

After demobilisation and a spell at St Wulstan's Hospital, Malvern, a large TB sanatorium, he left for a year in Sri Lanka under the Colombo Plan, sailing there and back with his wife Teddie and three children.

On his return in 1953, he was appointed as a consultant thoracic surgeon to the Birmingham Regional Hospital Board, based at the King Edward VII Memorial Sanatorium at Hertford Hill, near Warwick. In the late 1960s, the chest unit moved to the new Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry, where Roger remained for the rest of his professional career, holding satellite clinics in Worcester (with Stan Kalinowski) and at Burton upon Trent. Over time his principal clinical interests were TB, oesophageal and lung cancer surgery.

Roger was the editor of Thorax from 1970 to 1976, and co-editor with R E Smith of Surgery of the oesophagus: the Coventry Conference: proceedings of a conference held at the Postgraduate Medical Centre, Coventry, on 14th and 15th July, 1971 (London, Butterworths) in 1972. With J Leigh Collis and D B Clarke, he co-edited the 4th edition of d'Abreu's practice of cardiothoracic surgery (London, Edward Arnold) in 1976. During his career, he wrote over 25 articles in eight different journals, and contributed to five international textbooks. In 1974, he was elected president of the Thoracic Society, and in 1976 president of the Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery. From 1975 to 1979 he was an adviser in cardiothoracic surgery to the Department of Health under the chief medical officer, Sir Henry Yellowlees.

Roger travelled, operated and lectured abroad, mainly in Spain, the Benelux countries and America, including the Mayo Clinic, and the Massachusetts General Hospital. He was an honorary member of many international thoracic associations.

Roger took a keen interest in the careers of his junior staff, but, I am told, terrified the theatre staff, demanding nothing but the very highest standards.

He retired in 1979 to rural Herefordshire. He was an enthusiastic gardener, a keen ornithologist - particularly knowledgeable on birds of prey - and enjoyed salmon fishing and shooting. He holidayed every year with his family in the hills above Harlech in north Wales, the childhood home of his mother.

He died peacefully on 24 July 2016, having lived in his own home until the last fortnight of his life, three weeks short of his 100th birthday. He was survived by Teddie, his wife of 73 years, his four children, 12 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.

Paddy Matthews

The Royal College of Surgeons of England