Cheves Smythe
1924 - 2020
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Cheves McCord Smythe M.D.
1924-2020
Cheves McCord Smythe, physician, professor of Medicine, husband of Polly, father of five sons, hunter, fisherman, sailor, golfer, cook, avid reader and intellectual, died on Monday, May 11, 2020. He died of heart failure, fourteen days before his 96th birthday. Due to the pandemic, a memorial service will be postponed until later in the year, when he will be memorialized and his remains interred in the graveyard of the Second Presbyterian Church of Charleston, the church of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
Cheves Smythe was born May 25, 1924 in Charleston, South Carolina, the youngest child of Augustine Thomas Smythe and Harriott Ravenel Smythe. He graduated from the Taft School in 1942 and went to Yale. Due to the war, he left Yale at age 19 before graduating and joined the Navy to go to the Harvard Medical School. While at medical school, he met his future bride, Isabella Carr Leighton, then in high school. They were married in Harvard Memorial Church on August 12, 1949, immediately after her graduation from Vassar College.
After medical school, he trained at Bellevue Hospital in New York City and at the Boston City Hospital, where he was Chief Resident in 1954-55. He was called to active service in the Navy in 1952-53 in a research laboratory at Camp Lejeune and served in the Navy Reserve for many years thereafter. In 1955, he joined the faculty of the Medical College of South Carolina, now the Medical University of South Carolina, as an Associate Professor of Medicine. In 1962, at age 37, he was named the Dean of the Medical School, the first of three medical schools of which he was dean and a major shaping force.
In 1966, after considering positions in various institutions, he moved his family to Chicago to become the Associate Director of the American Association of Medical Colleges. This was a period of rapid growth and change for that organization and the medical education system nationwide, with sixteen new medical schools opening in the United States and nine in Canada. In 1970, the family moved to Houston, Texas to begin his 41-year association with the University of Texas Medical School at Houston beginning as its founding dean. He remained in that position until 1975. During his tenure, the faculty was recruited, the class size doubled, and the principal buildings were built, all within budget.
From 1975 until 1979 he stayed on the medical school faculty as a Professor. However, in 1979, he began to shape the third medical school of his career, the Aga Khan University Medical College in Karachi, Pakistan. He was hired initially as a consultant working from Houston, moving to Karachi in 1982 when he was named the founding dean, where he was heavily involved in recruiting the faculty and getting the school off the ground. During those years he and Polly made many lifelong friends from all over the world.
They returned to Houston in 1985, where he became interested in geriatric medicine, then an under-valued medical specialty. He did a fellowship in geriatrics in Los Angeles for a year, with a goal of organizing a geriatric unit at the Medical School. However, upon his return to Houston, his efforts were met with resistance and it took about 10 years for those efforts to come to fruition. During those years he served as a clinician and on the faculty of the Medical School, including a stint as the second president of the Texas Geriatric Society.
In 1991, he was lured back to Karachi for a year as chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine, greatly stabilizing and strengthening it. He then returned to Houston where he was named Chief of Medicine of the LBJ Hospital, which he also ably managed and strengthened.
In 1995, he was named Interim Dean of the Houston Medical School. In that role, he finally occupied the physical office he had designed 25 years earlier but never occupied. After his service as interim Dean, he served as a clinician, faculty member and on numerous committees until his retirement from medicine on July 31, 2011, 64 years after graduating from medical school and 68 years after he first started working in hospitals. During his long career he received countless awards for his integrity, insight and clinical and teaching abilities.
Cheves was an avid outdoorsman, a duck hunter, sailor and offshore fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico, which he knew like the back of his hand. His boys were always the first invitees on these ventures and they and many of their friends learned these pursuits under his tutelage. A man of tremendous energy, after a full day in the field or on the water, he would come home, clean up, perhaps do some office work, then cook supper before finally falling to a well-earned sleep listening to the opera.
In 2013, Cheves and Polly moved back to Charleston, after 47 years away, to take up residence in the Bishop Gadsden retirement community on James Island, where they were re-united with many old Charleston friends and made many new ones. He is survived by his wife, Isabella Carr Smythe, their five sons, Alexander Cheves Smythe, James Leighton Smythe, MD, Augustine Thomas Smythe II, Daniel Thompson Smythe and St. Julien Ravenel Smythe, 14 grandchildren, three great grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews. In addition to his family, he leaves a legacy of the three medical schools he created or transformed, thousands of physicians whom he trained, and tens of thousands of patients he cared for. One is reminded of a line from the Messiah, one of his favorite musical works, taken from Corinthians I: Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory? Death is swallowed up in victory.

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Published in Houston Chronicle on May 22, 2020.
MEMORIAL EVENTS
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MEMORIES & CONDOLENCES
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15 entries
May 25, 2020
Bless his soul!
Brian Messier
Acquaintance
May 22, 2020
I am so sorry to hear about Dr. Smythe. He and my dad, Isaac Konigsberg, were co-workers at UT Health and UT Dental. My dad was also Dr. Smythe's patient and friend. I remember hearing about their office visits. My dad had great respect and admiration for Dr. Smythe. May be rest in peace and his memory be a blessing to his family and friends as they mourn his passing.
geri konigsberg
Acquaintance
May 22, 2020
I just learned today May 22, 2020 that Cheves had died on May 11. He was an outstanding teacher, physician, and friend. I was a resident in Internal Medicine at MUSC in the early 1960's. He gave me great insight into the problems of hypertension, nephritis, dialysis, and he taught me how to do percutaneous kidney biopsies. He mentions my name in his book An Advantaged Life although he has my name as Chuck instead of Chic.
After he left Charleston to go to Chicago, I lost track of him but did run into him in Houston a number of years later. What a fascinating career and what a good man. I noted that he was writing his book at age 88. Since I am currently age 88, this was very meaningful for me.
Cheves will certainly be missed by many.
Thoughtfully,
Henry G. Howe
Henry (Chic) G. Howe
Student
May 15, 2020
So very saddened to hear the news -such a formidable force in Medicine. Met him in Karachi in the early 80s at a dinner my Aunt Asma Khan had In his honor. He was the first Dean of the newly built Aga Khan Univ / Med school and despite his very busy schedule consented to come and talk about cases in Wd 5 at JPMC . He had a delightful way of turning those events into such memorable and fun times! Also inspiring me to apply for a residents job in the newly opened AKUH - unfortunately leaving when I started there in Sept 1985 , though continued to help me move to the US 2 yrs later transitioning from a research fellowship at Mass Gen to further specialization in Internal Med and Endocrinology.He was an incredible human being and touched so many people that he came across. Was sorry that I couldn't stay in touch in his retirement years but wish his family the strength to bear this incredible loss. Rest In Peace dear Dr Smythe
Fazeela Baqai
Student
May 15, 2020
So very saddened to hear the news -such a formidable force in Medicine. Met him in Karachi in the early 80s at a dinner my Aunt Asma Khan Have In his honor. He was the first Dean of the newly built Aga Khan Univ / Med school and despite his very busy schedule consented to come here talk about cases in Wd 5 at JPMC . He had a delightful way of turning those events into such memorable and fun times! Also inspiring to apply for a residents job in the newly opened AKUH - unfortunately leaving when I started there in Sept 1985 , though continued to help me move to the US 2 yrs later to start a research fellowship at Mass Gen . He was an incredible human being and touched so many people that he came across. Was sorry that I couldn't stay in touch in his retirement years but wish his family the strength to bear this incredible loss. Rest In Peace dear Dr Smythe
Fazeela Baqai
Student
May 14, 2020
Cheves was a giant. A man of true intellect, insight and ability to lead. Straightforward, decisive and full of energy, honest and interested in people and places. Always helpful and generous with his time. A true teacher and mentor. Quick to recognise ability and reward merit. Always a problem solver.

It was an honour and a privilege to serve and learn from him. I will remember him with love and affection and miss him always. The world has lost a great man, a leader with soul and a love of humanity.
Fozia Qureshi
Coworker
May 13, 2020
Dr Smythe was an extraordinary Dean who truly deserves credit for the solid foundations he laid not only for the AgaKhan University medical college but also for us as the first medical students there. He was a compassionate and kind human being who has touched many lives. AKU alumni and people of Pakistan will always be indebted to his contribution to developing a world class medical institution in Pakistan.
Dr Amyna Merchant Sultan
Teacher
May 12, 2020
Cheves was a true physician, educator and a caring soul. I had the honor of being one of his many students during residency. He touched more lives than any of us will know, and lives on in all of us through his teaching. Rest In Peace
Jordan Lovy
Jordan Lovy
Student
May 13, 2020
I had the honor of meeting Prof. Smythe in December 1983 when he interviewed for a faculty position at Aga Khan University Medical College. It took me no time to accept the offer of Assistant Professor of Anatomy & Cell Biology. It was a revolutionary step as that was the first time when a non-clinician was recruited to teach Anatomy at a medical college in Pakistan. Prof. Smythe's bold decisions got the medical college gain full speed in a very short time and now AKU graduates are working all over the globe. His famous quote was "an institution reaches maturity when an alumni returns to take a senior position". I am sure he saw that on January 1, 2019, when a graduate from Class of 1998 followed in his footsteps and took the position of the Dean, Aga Khan University Medical College.
Rest in peace Professor Cheves McCord Smythe. Amen.
Khalid Khan
Coworker
May 13, 2020
May you Rest In Peace, Dr Smythe. I still remember my Medical School interview with him 37 years ago. He was a man with great intellect. Deepest Condolences to his family and friends. Dr Nashila Mohamed
Nashila Mohamed
Student
May 12, 2020
Dr. Smythe was the founding Dean of the medical school, Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan where I was fortunate to be in the first medical school class, the Class of 1988. His commitment to excellence, what he expected from the students, his massive energy to move mountains and get things done - they are indelible images etched in my brain. The students of AKU owe immense gratitude to Dr. Smythe.

Anita Zaidi, MBBS, SM
Director, Global Health
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Anita K. Zaidi
Student
May 12, 2020
Dr. Smythe was wonderful. I was a student of his at AKU and his legacy writs large over every single student who walked on that campus. He had a well lead life and we would be wise to follow his lead.
Our deepest condolences
Faisal Qureshi
Student
May 12, 2020
What an inspirational man!Rest in peace Cheves.
Nighat Khan
Coworker
May 12, 2020
Prayers and strength to all the family and friends including our UT family. Great man and MD. Thanks for being a great educator and MD and keeping us in good spirits!!! We love u and will miss u!!! Watch over your flock from Heaven!!!
Amanda Purington
Coworker
May 12, 2020
I had the privilege of working with Dr. Smythe at UTHealth McGovern Medical School from 1996-2000. He pronounced my name "Yasmin" and brought me souvenirs every time he visited Karachi. I also got to meet Polly as we were always invited to his annual fish fry. He was such a nice guy to work with.
Jasmin Cambel
Coworker
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