It is with profound sadness that the Medical College, Pakistan has learnt of the demise of our Founding Dean, Dr Cheves McCord Smythe, who passed away in his hometown of Charlestown, South Carolina on Monday, May 11, 2020, just fourteen days shy of his 96th birthday. Given the current Covid 19 pandemic, President Rasul will be hosting a virtual memorial to celebrate Dean Smythe’s life in the near future.
Dean Smythe was an icon who led a life full of accomplishments. AKU benefited greatly from his extraordinary vision. Our founding President Shams Kassim-Lakha sums up his incredible contributions to AKU as follows: “More than any other academic in AKU’s history, Cheves Smythe, the Founding Dean of its Faculty of Health Sciences, helped to shape its quality and character in keeping with the vision of His Highness the Aga Khan. His wisdom and practical insights, combined with utmost integrity set the tone for formulation of policies, recruitment of faculty and students, development of curriculum including clinical teaching and above all the value sets of AKU during its formative years.”
A graduate of the Taft School and Harvard Medical School preceded by time at Yale before he joined the Navy, Dean Smythe was an academic and strategic leader who left an indelible mark on three medical schools. In 1962, as a 37-year-old, he was named Dean of the Medical School at the Medical College of South Carolina followed by a Founding Deanship at the University of Texas Medical School in 1970, before taking up the challenge to initiate AKU’s Faculty of Health Sciences in 1979. Soon after his arrival, Dean Smythe successfully recruited amazing faculty to AKU, and shaped the direction of what we know as the Medical College and the School of Nursing and Midwifery today. He completed his tenure in 1985, and returned to Houston, till 1991 when he was requested to re-join AKU to serve as Chair of the Department of Medicine, where again he served with great distinction. In one of our highest academic honours, His Highness the Aga Khan personally conferred the title of Professor Emeritus on Dr Cheves Smythe at our Convocation in 2000. Dean Smythe is remembered as caring and supportive of faculty concerns and interests, and as a strong advocate for high quality academic programmes.
During his time at AKU, he was admired by faculty, staff and students for his straight-forward manner, ability to recognise and reward true talent, impeccable work ethic, the ability to build up capacities and above all, the tremendous energy he brought to every situation. Our very first Faculty member and Distinguished University Professor Camer Vellani recalls that on one of his first trips to Pakistan, Dean Smythe said to him “You are telling me that the glass is half empty and I will tell you that it is half-full; there is nothing here that cannot be fixed with a bit of elbow-grease".
He was a caring physician, a true mentor and will be sorely missed not only by his family, but also by numerous colleagues, friends, and patients he cared for. Former Dean Farhat Abbas who knew him well as both a mentor and friend reflects that “Dr Cheves Smythe will always, always be very fondly remembered and deeply missed by the AKU Medical College community as a truly inspirational figure, a man of great wisdom and wit – a visionary and an amazing people’s person, who laid the foundation of excellence for the medical college. He will always live in the hearts and minds of those who had the privilege of having interacted with him.
As a true educator, he will also be missed by his many beloved students and trainees whose careers he influenced, and who now hold senior positions throughout the world. The inaugural class of 1988 remembers him particularly well. A graduate of that class Dr Anita Zaidi, our former Chair of Paediatrics and Child Health writes the following about him: “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.”
Along with all of his professional achievements Dean Smythe was an avid outdoorsman, a duck hunter, sailor, golfer and an excellent cook. Dr Smythe is survived by his wife, Isabella Carr Smythe (Polly), and their five sons: Alexander Cheves Smythe, James Leighton Smythe, Augustine Thomas Smythe II, Daniel Thompson Smythe and St. Julien Ravenel Smyth. On behalf of the University, I offer our heartfelt condolences to Dr Smythe’s family on this bereavement.
And finally on a more personal note, as I searched the web to add to this memo, I came across a page set up to pay tributes to Dean Smythe. There, I found an entry from everyones’ favorite Professor of Neuro-Anatomy, Dr. Khalid Khan who wrote “Prof. Smythe's bold decisions got the medical college to 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.” I know, I am but one of several alumni who now hold such senior positions across the schools of medicine and nursing today. And while most of us probably never met him, even in his passing, Dean Smythe has found a way to inspire and motivate all of us to do our best – a truly incredible man. I am sure he must have been very proud to see where AKU is today, as one of the top 100 universities in clinical medicine.
We thank Dean Smythe and remember him for all he has done for AKU, the field of Medicine and the world – and know that his legacy will live on for generations to come.
Dr Adil H. Haider Dean, Medical College