Lives of the fellows

Robert Arthur Smart

b.29 April 1914 d.6 November 1986
CBE(1958) MB ChB Aberd(1936) DPH(1948) MRCP(1965) FRCP(1977)

Robert Arthur Smart (Sam or Robin to his friends) served in the Royal Army Medical Corps until 1972 and, on retirement from the Army, became medical officer to the Tower of London and chief medical officer of Esso Petroleum.

Robin was born in Aberdeen, where his father Arthur Francis Smart was in business as an importer. He was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and Aberdeen University, where he graduated in medicine, being commissioned in the RAMC that same year.

During the 1939-45 war he served in the Middle East and in Germany, first as a regimental medical officer and later with medical units, and in medical staff appointments. He was mentioned in despatches on three occasions.

At the end of the war, he decided to specialize in preventive medicine. In 1948 he elected to make a study of some medical problems encountered when living and working in extremes of cold, for the dissertation then required by the DPH examination. This choice of subject was to have considerable influence on his subsequent career, as the post war situation dictated a new requirement for the Army to train in cold climates, in addition to the temperate and tropical zones which had dominated prewar service. In consequence, during 1948-51, while on the staff of the Army School of Health, he was appointed to a winter warfare study team and spent several months at Fort Churchill in Canada. On return he made good use of this experience in his teaching, and many officers and soldiers were introduced to and encouraged to consider hazards to health in the Arctic and the necessary preventive measures. Many medical officers, both young and old, at the School learned for the first time in any detail about hypothermia, frost bite and snow blindness; subjects which heretofore had not received serious attention in the medical curriculum of the undergraduate.

In the latter part of 1951 the exigencies of the service dictated that he should discard cold weather problems for a time and return to sub-tropical and tropical climes in Tripoli and East Africa. In both these locations he was a much respected counsellor in the maintenance of health and prevention of disease.

In 1956 he again became involved in the subject of cold weather conditions, when he was seconded to the Royal Society to be leader of their International Geophysical Expedition to Antarctica, and spent a year at Hailey Bay. While there he fell on the ice, with a camera strapped to him, and sustained internal abdominal injuries which, luckily, in a situation where there could be no surgical intervention, responded to rest in Fowler’s position. On his return he was awarded the Polar Medal, and appointed CBE in 1958.

He was posted to Supreme HQ Allied Powers Europe in 1960, then in Paris, and while there he was awarded the Silver Medal of Honour of the French Military Medical Services. Following that appointment, and until his retirement from the Army in 1972, he was sucessively: deputy director Army Health Rhine Army, director of Army health at the Ministry of Defence, director of medical services Rhine Army, director of medical services Far East Land Forces and director of medical services HQ Army Strategic Command. He was honorary surgeon to HM The Queen from 1968 to 1972.

On leaving the Army he took up the post of medical officer at the Tower of London, and during the same period became senior and, later, chief medical officer of Esso Petroleum.

Robin Smart was a man of wide interests and an avid reader who could pick up a book or paper and give it his full attention whatever his surroundings. It is no apocryphal story that he would read when walking the dog, and on one occasion (on his own admission) continued to read and walk when the dog, still on the lead, had sat down.

His ability to achieve complete concentration was equally apparent in situations calling for speed of thought and action. When he was pulling away from London Docks for the Antarctica, with a very distinguished farewell party on the quay and the media well represented, his wife suddenly called ‘Robin - the car key?’. Without a qualm he paused, took careful aim - and the key landed at his wife’s feet.

Of quiet voice and reserved manner, he was happier in a ‘round the table’ discussion than when speaking from a lectern. He was always good company, with a sharp sense of humour, yet was not an easy man to get to know; those who did remained lifelong friends, and throughout his life he remained in touch with friends of his student and early service days. He could - but not often - be awkward to the point of cussedness. During the last years of his life he insisted, despite medical and family protests, on going alone from Aberdeen to London to attend a meeting at the Polar Club. It was later learned that it was his turn to take the chair. He returned without apparent harm. This incident highlights another facet of his career in that he always seemed to have great good luck and emerged from difficult situations relatively unscathed.

He much enjoyed hill walking and skiing; when in Aberdeen he was a frequent visitor to the Cairngorms, and when in Germany to the Harz mountains. He was also very fond of music and was an able pianist whenever he could be persuaded to play in company.

He married Josephine von Oepen, daughter of Bernard-Heinz von Oepen, in 1947, and they had one child, a daughter. On his final retirement they settled in Aberdeen, but his social life and outdoor pursuits were soon to be limited by progressive ill health which denied him the full enjoyment of the Deeside country which he loved. He was survived by his wife, his daughter and three grandchildren.

Maj. General TW Carrick

[Brit.med.J., 1987,294,188; Times, 10 Nov 1986]

(Volume VIII, page 470)

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