Upstate New York Neurosurgery Pioneer Dies

September 25, 2003

Frank Pye Smith, M.D., who strongly influenced the evolution of neurosurgery from its fledgling status in the early 1950s into the universally recognized specialty that is practiced today, died in California on Monday, September 22.  He was one month shy of his 88th birthday. 

Smith served as chairman of the division of neurosurgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center from 1954-1974. During his 20-year tenure, he re-established the residency program, and increased number of full-time faculty.  Smith was very involved in clinical research on surgical treatment for pain management and brain aneurysms, arterial chemotherapy for brain tumors, bioengineering (as it related to lumbar disc protrusion), and pediatric neurosurgery.  He wrote the neurosurgical section of White's Atlas of Pediatric Surgery, 1st & 2nd editions, and authored Neurology and Neurosurgery: Common Principles, published by the University of Rochester Press.

Smith tirelessly worked to strengthen the field of neurosurgery through active involvement at the regional and national levels in neurosurgical associations.  His leadership positions included his selection as the first president of the Upstate New York Neurosurgical Society (1959), president of the Neurosurgical Society of America (1969); vice president of the Society of Neurological Surgeons (1974); president of the California Association of Neurosurgeons (1989); and president of the Western Neurosurgical Society (1998).  In 2001, he was honored with the prestigious Distinguished Service Award from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. 

In 1974, Smith relocated to Monterey, California, where he continued practicing until 1991.  Even though 3,000 miles from his alma mater, Smith remained active in helping the division of neurosurgery continue to grow and evolve at the Medical Center.   In addition to endowing the Frank P. Smith Chair in Neurosurgery in 1981, Smith’s vision and support contributed to establishing neurosurgery as a distinct department in 1998, and to developing the Frank P. Smith Neurosurgical Laboratories in 2001.  The Smith Laboratories, under the direction of Berislav Zlokovic, M.D., Ph.D., have emerged as a premier neurosurgical research laboratory, with groundbreaking research in stroke and Alzheimer’s Disease published during 2003.

In 1997, the Medical Center, with support from URMC Board Trustee Ernie Bates, M.D., established the Frank P. Smith Lecture Series and Visiting Professorship to honor Smith’s career-long commitment to excellence in patient care, resident education and neuroscience research at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Smith graduated, B.S. with honor, from Hobart College 1936, and M.D. cum laude, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1941. After completing a surgical internship at Strong Memorial Hospital, he entered military service in 1942 and served with General George S. Patton's Third Army, including the battle at Normandy, where he was in charge of setting up support for Patton. He rose to commander of the medical unit and received three Battle Stars and a Purple Heart.

Outside the neurosurgery field, Smith also was an accomplished squash player.  He won the Rochester City Championship seven times while playing in the title match 11 times. He captained the United States Squash Team at the 1965 Lapham Cup-Grant Trophy against Canada. Teamed with partner Paul Ouimet, he won the Doubles Squash Championships held in Montreal in 1965 and one year later in Toronto. In 1979 he was a finalist in the 60-plus age group and won the senior players individual championship in Philadelphia in 1987 in the 70-plus age group and was ranked number one. A former director of the National Intercollegiate Squash Racquets Association (NISRA), he was inducted into the NISRA Hall of Fame in February 1994.

A native of Rochester, Smith was a 1932 graduate of Charlotte High, growing up in a house on Beach Ave.  He was predeceased by his wife of 51 years, Ruth Finnie Smith, who also was an alumna of the University of Rochester School of Nursing.  Smith is survived by his daughter Susan Smith, Ph.D. in psychology, of Reno, Nevada, and his son, Frank P. Smith, Jr., M.D. in podiatry, of Stockton, California. 

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