Lives of the fellows

John Smith

b.24 July 1892 d.19 June 1976
MB ChB Aberd(1915) DPH(1919) MD(1922) DSc(1927) MRCP(1930) FRCP(1937) FRCPath(1964) LLD Aberd(1965)

John Smith, son of a Banffshire farmer Alexander Smith and his wife Louisa (née Smith), was born at Bogs of Enzie and graduated at Aberdeen University in 1915. He served in France as a regimental medical officer from 1915 to 1918 and was invalided from the Medical Corps. He obtained the diploma in public health at Aberdeen and in 1920 he was appointed assistant medical officer of health, with special duties in connection with the clinical and laboratory diagnosis of infectious diseases at the City Hospital, Aberdeen, where a new laboratory was just being established. The laboratory services developed rapidly and the post became a full time laboratory commitment with John Smith as director. In this laboratory, firstly under the local authority and latterly, from 1948, as part of the National Health Service, he spent the entirety of his working life, during which he accomplished much that was worthy of note in the fields of clinical bacteriology and infectious diseases. Specimens were submitted to the laboratory at the City Hospital not only for bacteriological examination, but also for biochemical, haematological or pathological examination. Such specimens came from the general practitioners in Aberdeen and the surrounding counties as well as from the City Hospital and other hospitals in the area, and from the different public health authorities.

Thus, in the north east of Scotland at an early stage, the needs of the general practitioners were met and their use of laboratory facilities was encouraged by the provision of pre-paid postal specimen outfits. This development was well ahead of its time and much of the credit for the establishment of a laboratory service for general practitioners must go to John Smith. Once the service was functioning in a satisfactory manner he felt that it would be unacceptable for him to devote his time only to the supervision of the various procedures for the diagnosis of disease, although that must always remain the prime function. As a result a rich harvest of research work emanated from the laboratory, made possible by the abundant supply of material on which extended investigations could be conducted. Thus the bacteriological and serological characteristics of organisms isolated from cases of disease occurring in a particular outbreak were correlated with the epidemiology of the outbreak. The results of such investigations were published in many papers, sometimes as purely personal contributions by himself and frequently in conjunction with colleagues engaged in administrative and clinical aspects of public health. In all he published more than eighty scientific papers, many of great importance, contributing much to our understanding of disease and enhancing his reputation both nationally and internationally.

Of particular significance was his work on the causation and source of infection in puerperal fever for which he was awarded the Nichols prize of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1931, and again in 1934. He also received the Katherine Bishop Harman prize of the British Medical Association in 1932 for his work on the prevention of puerperal fever. A further award came to him in 1954 from the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, in the form of a Lister fellowship for his bacteriological researches into infantile gastroenteritis and the association of serological types of Bact, coli with that disease. His contributions to our understanding of Weil’s disease and undulant fever, and the demonstration of new types of salmonellae, are worthy of note.

John Smith retired in 1957, and in the years that followed he read much and pursued his horticultural interests, including the growing of orchids. He met his old friends regularly and kept up his expertise on the billiards table, a skill which he had possessed from his student days. He died while on holiday in England visiting his son, a consultant obstetrician.

IA Porter

(Volume VII, page 545)

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