Thomas H. Smith

Retired Physician Seeks to Ease Financial Strain for Pediatric Residents

Thomas H. Smith (Med ’64)

Money was tight when Thomas H. Smith (Med ’64) was finishing his medical training at the University of Virginia. He had married his high school sweetheart and they had a young daughter.

As a pediatrics resident in 1966–67, he earned $150 a month. They were, he said, “flat broke.”

Two School of Medicine faculty members, McLemore “Mac” Birdsong, professor of pediatrics, and William Thurman, then chair of pediatrics, went out of their way to help Dr. Smith’s family make it through. In particular, Dr. Thurman created a job for Dr. Smith’s wife, Anne Patricia Smith, as a piano teacher in a music therapy program at the Rehabilitation Center in Charlottesville so she could support the family while Dr. Smith completed his medical program.

In this way, the Smiths were able to keep a roof over their heads, put food on the table and send their daughter, Anne-Katherine, to St. Anne’s-Belfield School. With his training in pediatrics completed, Dr. Smith joined the U.S. Army, serving as a pediatrician with the Army’s 130th General Hospital in Nuremberg, Germany, for three and a half years. He cared for the families of thousands of U.S. troops while based there during the Vietnam War.

“I really enjoyed the ‘little people’,” he said, explaining his choice of pediatrics. But his patient load at the Army base hospital was huge. “Even if I was not on call, I was busy. I finally decided I did not want to be on duty 24 hours a day.”

Diagnostics interested him most, as it required him to use his wits and powers of observation. That led him into radiology, which led to a second residency at U.Va., followed by a year of special training in pediatric radiology.

After serving on the faculty in pediatric radiology at U.Va. from 1974–76, Dr. Smith held positions in hospitals in Missouri and Texas, before retiring in 2005 as associate professor emeritus of radiology at Stony Brook University Medical Center, part of the State University of New York system. He enjoyed several years of travel and active retirement with his wife until her unexpected death a year ago, shortly before their 50th wedding anniversary.

In recent years, Dr. Smith and his wife had discussed ways to help young residents struggling to repay their medical school debts. They had spent 17 years in Charlottesville and still appreciated the help they had received while he was in training.

So Dr. Smith has endowed, through a bequest, the Thomas H. and Anne P. Smith Financial Assistance Fund to provide support for medical school graduates who are completing residencies in pediatrics at the U.Va. School of Medicine.

“When I graduated from medical school, I owed $5,000,” Smith said. “Now, graduates owe $100,000 or more. I want to help somebody out, to make a difference.”