SMITH, RICHARD T., MD, 90
Gainesville - Richard T. "Dick" Smith, MD, passed away peacefully in the presence of his family on June 14, 2014, at the age of 90. He lived an extraordinary life. He was born at home on April 15, 1924 Rachel and Harvey Smith. His mother was the grand niece of Ulysses Grant. During his childhood he spent summers on his uncles farm with best friend and cousin, Charlie Blount. At age 8, his dad noted and fostered his interest in science bringing home science books and a microscope. His first successful home science experiment was building a bomb. As a result, he was redirected toward more productive scientific study. At an early age he recalled reading science books under the covers with a flashlight feeding his early lust for scientific knowledge.
With the call of World War II he joined the Navy and was assigned to the USS FRANKS as the chief radar officer serving in the South Pacific until the end of the war. Upon returning to Long Beach Dick nurtured his relationship with Jean Alice Whisenant, a Long Beach resident and Stanford graduate, who became his life long partner and love for 68 years.
Following the war Dick was accepted to Tulane Medical School. He excelled and finished first in his class four years in a row. Heavily recruited, he chose the University of Minnesota for residency in pediatrics. There he began a pioneering career of discovery and innovation in the new field of immunology. His mentors were Lewis Thomas, Robert Good, and others who, along with him would become the fathers of modern immunology. From his prolific academic fellowship he was recruited to University of Texas, spending one year on the pediatric faculty.
In 1958 at the age of 34, he accepted the position as the first chairman of the department of pediatrics at the at the University of Florida's new medical school. He then recruited promising young physicians from around the country and together they built a premiere academic pediatric department comparable with the best in the world.
His research contributed widely and significantly to the understanding of many diseases and conditions. He treated countless critically ill children in his lifetime including the first patient admitted to Shands Hospital in 1958.
Dick's scientific accomplishments resulted in significant national and international recognition. In 1958 he was selected as one of the 10 outstanding young men in the nation, (TOYM), along with Henry Kissenger and Pat Boone. In 1966 he took a sabbatical at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden to allow himself a year dedicated to scientific discovery and broadened horizons.
Following his sabbatical, he assumed the Chairmanship of the Department of Pathology, which was in need of his special skills in management and development. He embraced the challenge and developed one of the top pathology programs in the country.
He continued to be involved in laboratory investigation until retirement at the age of 75 as the Stetson Endowed Chair of Experimental Medicine in the Department of Pathology. His academic passions were the biology, origin and function of T-cells, cancer and tumor cell biology. During his career he was involved in many other university-based pursuits. His savvy for investing and financial management demonstrated while directing the Florida Clinical Practice Association led in 1984 to his being appointed the Vice President for Advancement and the Executive Vice President at the UF Foundation. In that capacity he directed the first University wide capital campaign raising over $400 million dollars for the University of Florida. He was active with the Foundation until his death. When serving as the Senior Associate Dean of Scientific Affairs in 1989 he suggested developing a university wide world-class brain institute rather than just adding a neuroscience building. His vision has now come to fruition.
Outside of his medical career Dick was tireless, curious and always in the pursuit of learning about and understanding new things that caught his interest. The list of his passions during his life is prodigious. He developed masteries of woodworking, wine, international cooking, bread and cheese making, orchids, finances and investing to name just a few. After his actual retirement, Dick read the Wall Street Journal every day from beginning to end and could converse on any current topic. If asked he would always offer a thoughtful prospective on any problem ultimately suggesting a reasoned solution. Stubbornly, when "they" said it wasn't possible and because of a life long fascination with flying, he obtained his private pilots license at the age of 86.
Dick Smith left this life when he knew that he needed more from his family than he could give back. His 90 years were filled with incredible accomplishment, richness and warmth.
Dick is survived by the love of his life, Jean W. Smith, 4 children and their spouses, Tom (Cinda), Joe (Sharon), John (Melissa) and Claudia (Grant), 14 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren. He is pre-deceased by his first daughter Schelly. He was an extraordinary father, grandfather and great-grandfather, and will be deeply missed by all that knew and loved him.
A memorial celebration is being planned for Saturday, August 2, 2014, at a place to be determined. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Florida Museum of Natural History-Butterfly Rainforest make checks payable to UF Foundation/FLMNH, PO Box 14425, Gainesville FL 32604 or the
Published in Gainesville Sun from June 18 to June 20, 2014