Lives of the fellows

Walter Thomas Smith

b.30 September 1923 d.23 December 1982
MB ChB Birm(1947) MD(1957) MRCPath(1964) MRCP(1969) FRCPath(1969) FRCP(1975)

Walter Smith was born in Worcestershire and was educated at Halesowen Grammar School, where he got his colours for rugby and cricket, and the University of Birmingham, where he graduated in medicine in 1947. For a time he thought seriously of a career in clinical neurology and he served for a year as a neurological registrar, an appointment of the greatest value in his ultimate specialty choice of neuropathology. He became a lecturer in pathology in the University of Birmingham in 1949 and two years later he went to the Institute of Neurology, where he worked under William McMenemey, and saw much of JG Greenfield and Dorothy Russell. He returned to Birmingham in 1952 and did valuable research on the malignant neuropathies and the presenile dementias. At the same time he established a superb neuropathological diagnostic service in the Birmingham region and became the valued friend and adviser of all the neurosurgeons and neurologists in the West Midlands. He arranged regular meetings with his clinical colleagues which were of great academic value and did much to enhance the standard of clinical practice. In 1961 the University of Birmingham elected him a reader in neuropathology and in 1970 he was given a personal chair.

Walter Smith’s contributions to the neuropathological literature were immense; he was assistant editor of the Journal of Pathology, joint editor of Recent Advances in Neuropathology, editorial adviser to Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology, and published papers on the neurological complications of coeliac disease and the experimental induction of cerebral tumours. Many honours marked his later years. He was president of the British Neuropathological Society 1973-1975 and of the Midland Neurological Society 1981 -1982, and was a member of the working party on training in neuropathology and of the WHO panel on neurosciences. All this was achieved despite illness throughout his adult life, with innumerable perilous abdominal operations for Crohn’s disease, and for long periods physical frailty and malnutrition, which greatly distressed his many friends. Walter, however, ill as he was, was never deterred from his academic, research and service responsibilities, or from his many leisure interests - music, gardening, the Warwickshire County Cricket Club and the Coventry Rugby Football Club. In addition he contributed much to his University in return for the honours they gave him. He was a most successful editor of its Faculty of Medicine Bulletin and served for many years on the committee of the University Gazette. Outside the university he was governor of the Coventry Schools Foundation and a member of the Solihull Education Committee and of the Solihull Health Authority.

Always impeccably dressed, ever courteous and ever anxious to be of help to his colleagues, Walter inspired the affection of all who knew him; their admiration for his courage and achievements despite his chronic ill health was boundless.

In youth he was a promising pianist and organist, and although he largely gave up playing himself, he amassed a vast collection of classical records, focussing towards the end of his life on Bartók, Mahler and Beethoven’s last quartets. In gardening his green fingers enabled him to sport a buttonhole almost as a trademark, exotic blooms often betraying a dandyism at odds with his austere personality.

He married Beryl, a fellow medical student of great beauty, who supported him magnificently in all his endeavours. There were two sons of the marriage, one of whom qualified in medicine.

AGW Whitfield
JM Jefferson

[Brit.med.J., 1983, 286, 403; Lancet, 1983, 1, 370]

(Volume VII, page 549)

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