Philanthropy: Smith Chair: First Smith Chair awarded to Dr. Louis Harkey
By Tom Fortner
Becoming a national figure in neurosurgery would have probably been enough for most people. But for Dr. Robert R. Smith, the former chair of UMMC’s Department of Neurosurgery, a distinguished academic career wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy his wide-ranging interests.
He also was instrumental in establishing a cultural exchange with Russia that brought international acclaim to Mississippi and, after leaving UMMC in 1992, began a “second life” in private practice where he remained as engaged as ever, ultimately bringing the first gamma knife to the state.
For all that he meant to neurosurgery in Mississippi, Smith, who died in 2003, was honored in August with the awarding of the first Robert R. Smith Chair of Neurosurgery. The endowed chair, created with monetary gifts from many of Smith’s former residents, colleagues and friends, was presented to Dr. H. Louis Harkey at a reception at the Fairview Inn in Jackson.
Harkey, a former resident of Smith’s, followed in his footsteps and became chair of the department in 2008.
“Dr. Smith was a rare neurosurgical breed, a clinician scientist who had excellent clinical skills and bedside manner,” said Harkey. “Yet he also devoted years in the laboratory trying to better understand neurovascular conditions about which he was passionate.”
Harkey said the completion of the Smith Chair will provide funding needed to reinvigorate translational neurovascular research at UMMC, bringing findings “from the laboratory bench to the bedside” to improve care.
A native of Vicksburg, Smith earned his B.S. at Mississippi State University and his M.D. at UMMC in 1961. After an internship at Brooke General Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, he returned to Jackson to complete his residency in neurosurgery at UMMC in 1967, training under the likes of Dr. Julian R. Youmans, Dr. Forrest Tutor and Dr. Orlando Andy.
After his residency Smith joined the faculty and became chair of the department in 1979. During his tenure at UMMC he made many contributions to neurosurgical research and teaching, especially regarding the treatment of neurovascular disease.
In 1988, Smith joined a group of doctors on a medical research trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. The enduring relationships he made eventually led to his becoming a founding member of the Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange, which organized the exhibition “Palaces of St. Petersburg: Russian Imperial Style” in Jackson in 1996.
Smith might not have been a neurosurgeon at all if it hadn’t been for Dr. Marshall B. Allen. Allen, who retired as chief of neurosurgery from the Medical College of Georgia in 1994, was a resident in neurosurgery at UMMC and lived across the street from a medical student named Robert Smith. With daughters about the same age, the two became friends and Allen invited Smith to scrub in on some cases.
“That’s why he went into neurosurgery,” said Allen. “We just got closer and closer.”
They remained friends throughout their careers and, in the end, Allen made the gift that put the Smith Chair endowment over the top.
At the dedication, Dr. James E. Keeton, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, said, “the value of these gifts goes far beyond their monetary value. … They will make an impact on neurosurgery in the state of Mississippi for years to come.”
Leave a Legacy
For more information about how to create a legacy that will benefit generations to come, contact Sara Merrick, UMMC executive director of development and alumni affairs at 601-984-2300.