Lives of the fellows

Bernard John Smits

b.3 August 1929 d.22 December 1992
MB BS Lond(1955) MRCP(1962) FRCP(1976)

Bernard Smits died following a fall from a tree while he was putting up Christmas lights. The circumstances were in keeping with the characteristics which shaped his life; great energy, personal involvement, a degree of impetuosity and few concessions to age.

He was born of Dutch Catholic parentage at Hoddesdon, where his father Johannes Petrus Smits had a market garden. Close involvement in the management of this, at one period of his life, gave Bernard a business and entrepreneurial viewpoint not commonly found in the medical profession. He was educated at St Ignatius College, Stamford Hill, and served in the RAMC prior to training in medicine at Charing Cross Hospital, London University, where he graduated in 1955. He held junior posts at Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick and the United Birmingham Hospitals. Having decided on a career in gastroenterology, he completed his training on the unit at the General Hospital, Birmingham, and in 1967 he was appointed consultant physician to Coventry and Nuneaton. His personality, and his keenness to be a catalyst for change, made it quickly apparent that both districts had acquired a formidable colleague, a belief which strengthened over the next 25 years.

His views on improving facilities and equipment in his specialty, clearly expressed in his strong voice, inevitably led to some unease or opposition but he was difficult to deflect from what he believed should be done. Over the years he developed an excellent service for the investigation and treatment of gastroenterological and nutritional problems, and also acquired a personal reputation as a highly respected opinion on these subjects. A very heavy workload, in two centres, was dealt with by good organization, a loyal staff - and, sometimes, by fast driving. He was very good at administration and enjoyed meetings; which led to membership - and often chairmanship -of many of the committees found in the health service at district, regional and national level. He was in his element at meetings of international societies and scientific conferences, valuing contact with participants from all over the world and returning full of enthusiasm to introduce the latest ideas. His appearance in the hospital in unseasonal dress usually heralded his departure to a conference in warmer climes.

Bernard was a Roman Catholic and showed a great commitment to his church. He was a papal knight and his medical care of sick pilgrims led him to become the founder chairman of the Lourdes Medical Association of Great Britain. He married twice; first to Norma Marie Douglas, daughter of an Army officer. They had two children, a son and a daughter. He had three more children, two sons and a daughter, by his second wife, Patricia Ann Bamford, and his zest for life was given a new impetus by the enjoyment of a second young family. They undoubtedly took precedence over his recreations of fishing, gardening and music. He was widely known, both because of his achievements and also because of his personality which never allowed him to be on the periphery of anything. He was ambitious for himself, his family, his patients and the institutions with which he was associated. He contributed greatly - and he would have contributed more.

J Howel Jones


(Volume IX, page 486)

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