Howard W. ‘Doc’ Smith
Howard Willis Smith. M.D., F.A.C.S., D.D.S. of New York City, former Professor at Yale University School of Medicine and Columbia School of Medicine, founder of Chairs in Otolaryngology and Pediatric Otolaryngology at Columbia University School of Medicine, co-founder of the American Board of Facial Plastic Surgery and founder of a residency program in plastic surgery at the University of Honduras, died Aug. 17 at his home in Lake Placid. He was 100.
Howard Smith was born on Sept. 10, 1919 on a farm in Brunswick, Vermont, that had been in his father’s family since 1714. The house had no electricity, plumbing, telephone, or central heating until the 1930s and the family insulated the farmhouse in winter by piling it with snow. Local roads were neither paved nor plowed and he attended elementary and middle school in town, spending winters in a boarding house and summers working on the farm, fishing and trapping muskrats, which he sold to Sears, Roebuck & Co. to earn money for his clothing. The farm’s barn had burned to the ground in the early 1920s, devastating the family’s finances. The insurance company declined to cover the loss and the family took on debt, eventually losing the farm to foreclosure when Howard was in high school.
With the family farm, his fishing poles and traps gone to auction, and his savings account lost in the bank failures of the Depression, Howard did not see a future in farming. Encouraged by his uncle Louis Marshall to pursue an education, Howard decided to become a physician. Dartmouth and University of Vermont were too expensive, so he set his sights on Keene Normal School, a teaching college in Keene, New Hampshire (now Keene State College) which offered him a scholarship on the condition he agreed to teach for at least two years after graduating. Working in a bakery at night and studying during the day, he graduated salutatorian of his class from Keene in 1942 and earned a scholarship to Tufts University School of Dentistry, from which he graduated with honors in 1945. Exempt from the military draft, he completed Oral Surgery Residencies at both Harvard and Yale. While in New Haven, he applied to Yale University School of Medicine and set up a dental practice to pay his way. By the time he was enrolled in medical school, he was debt free, had money in the bank and owned the office building where his practice was located.
Following graduation, Howard married his classmate, Dr. Ora Kingsley, enlisted in the Air Force and assumed a post with the Air Military Transport Service at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. After two years in the service, Howard and Ora returned to New Haven to complete their residencies at Yale New Haven Hospital, Howard in Otolaryngology and Ora in Internal Medicine. Many years later, Howard reflected that marrying Ora Kingsley was “the best thing that happened to me. I gained a partner for life.”
Over the course of his 43 years in medicine, Howard built a robust private practice in Otolaryngology and Maxillofacial Surgery and helped thousands of patients, but he never forgot his commitment to teaching. During his long teaching career, he trained generations of medical students, published over 130 scientific papers and wrote over 650 lectures for medical residents. To improve his teaching technique, he apprenticed with a former patient and master tool and die maker and acquired the skills to design and build a ground-breaking apparatus for filming his own operations, eventually producing over 40 teaching films and DVDs.
When he retired from Yale in 1989, he immediately took up a pro bono position as Professor of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery at Columbia University School of Medicine in New York. During his years at Columbia, he established Chairs in Otolaryngology and Pediatric Otolaryngology and helped renovate the Otolaryngology Department, improving the facilities, equipment and recruiting. Beginning in 1990, he traveled to Honduras four times each year to treat indigent residents with facial birth defects common in the Honduran population. In concert with the University of Honduras, in 1997 he established a Honduran General Plastic Surgery Residency to train Honduran surgeons in that specialty. Howard retired from active teaching in 2009 at the age of 90. In 2014, seventy-two years after granting him a degree in education, Keene State recognized his extraordinary contributions to medicine, education and public service by awarding Howard an honorary Doctor of Science degree.
Howard was a lifelong student as well as a teacher. He enjoyed working with his hands and applied his metal and woodworking skills to restoring antique wooden boats, restoring antique furniture and building his own. He loved having his children and grandchildren join him in his workshop. He took up painting in his 80s, going straight for oil because he didn’t think he had time to learn drawing and perspective.
As a child in Vermont, Howard learned to ski on rudimentary wooden skis, welcomed the opportunity to continue skiing on modern equipment as an adult and continued skiing well into his 80s. As his family grew, he treated his extended family to memorable ski trips to Austria and Utah. His combined skills in medicine and skiing permitted him serve as Vice-Chair of the Alpine Medical Committees for the 1979 World Cup and 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
Howard enjoyed a long and close relationship with the community of Lake Placid. He and Ora honeymooned in Lake Placid and were members of the Lake Placid Club for many years. With David Ackerman, he co-founded the Placid Lake Foundation, later the Lake Placid Land Conservancy and steered the protection of Mt. Whitney and nearly a mile of Lake Placid shorefront. For decades, Howard was a devoted customer at Ron Butler’s Howard Johnson’s lunch counter and would often be seen there with his friend, righthand man and workshop assistant Gary Barney.
Howard was a dedicated and generous father and grandfather, providing his family with the educational and cultural opportunities denied to him by the circumstances of his childhood. He encouraged all members of his family to pursue higher education and follow his example of community service and continuous self-improvement.
Howard Smith is survived by his wife of 67 years, Dr. Ora K. Smith, their children Catherine S. Cuthell (David), Elizabeth S. Reed (Justice), Roger K. Smith (Rachelle Bose) and Margaret J. Smith (Otto Mussak), eight grandchildren (David C. Cuthell, III, James K. Cuthell, Scott H. Cuthell, Whitney R. Smith, James K. Smith, Christopher D. Smith, Gordon K. Reed and Julia E. Reed), his brother Earl Smith and many nieces and nephews. He was pre-deceased by his parents, Charlotte Marshall Smith and Roy Edward Smith, his brothers Edward and Harold Smith and sister Pauline Smith Nugent.
The family is deeply grateful to the many people who supported Howard with love, friendship and compassion during his final years.
Howard will be remembered for his fierce determination, devotion to his wife Ora and their family, many private acts of generosity and compassion, and his unwavering belief in hard work and the enduring and transformative power of education.
Funeral arrangements will be private. The family will announce plans for a memorial service at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department and the Lake Placid Volunteer Ambulance Service.
The M. B. Clark, Inc., Funeral Home, 2310 Saranac Ave, Lake Placid, NY is in charge of arrangements. Please visit www.mbclarkfuneralhome.com to share a memory, upload photographs or leave condolences.