In Memoriam: Howard W. Smith

October 2020 – Vol. 39, No. 9

Submitted by KJ Lee, MD, with assistance from Lawrence Lustig, MD, and Laurie Wirth

It is with great sadness that we inform the members of the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) that Howard W. Smith, MD, DDS, a renowned otolaryngologist, facial plastic and oral-maxillofacial surgeon, passed away peacefully on August 17 at almost 101 years old surrounded by his loving family. He pioneered head and neck surgery and facial plastic surgery and launched these specialties of otolaryngology on very strong foundations after his medical school and otolaryngology residency training at Yale University. In Connecticut he was one of the first otolaryngologists to perform neck dissection, parotidectomy, face lift, cleft lip, and cleft palate repair. He was an avid educator in the Yale otolaryngology residency, reaching the rank of clinical professor. He had the early vision of forming an otolaryngology private practice group with ancillary services and in-office surgery. Together with Eiji Yanagisawa, MD, Robert S. Rosnagle, KJ Lee, MD, and Gordon Strothers, MD, he developed a large and prestigious private practice group in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1990 he retired from the New Haven practice at age 70, only to launch another meaningful career at Columbia University Medical Center.

While on staff at Columbia University, Dr. Smith was revered for his dedication to the otolaryngology service. He used to round with the residents every morning at 5:30 am, well into his 70s. He was known as a superb teacher with a tremendous scope of knowledge. His legacy is still felt today at Columbia University with two endowed chairs he donated to the department, one in honor of Lawrence Savetsky, MD, an esteemed pediatric otolaryngologist at Columbia University, and a second in his name.

Dr. Smith was also quite involved in medical mission work in Honduras, where he provided critical craniofacial care to the population. After several medical missions, Dr. Smith decided the best way to sustain craniofacial care in an underserved area was to train the local physicians. With this in mind, he started a full-fledged plastic surgery residency at the teaching hospital in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Among other things, this involved completely outfitting an operating room with equipment, paying for anesthesia and nursing care, flying to Honduras several times a year well into his 80s to give lectures and teach surgery in the operating room, coordinating an education curriculum, and flying teams of surgeons from all over the country to Honduras to teach the local residents. He would also bring the Honduran residents to take the Columbia University microvascular surgery course offered in the Orthopedic Surgery Department. He continued to mentor the Honduran residents as attendings and hired them as faculty after graduation to sustain the residency. Dr. Smith would also bring a Columbia University otolaryngology resident along for the week during these mission trips.

He was a fellow/member of the AAO-HNS, served on many committees, taught courses, and presented numerous papers. The AAO-HNS/F bestowed upon Dr. Smith many awards including the Presidential Citation in 2002. Dr. Smith was president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in 1983 and one of the founders of the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (ABFPRS). In 1999 he made it possible for ABFPRS to purchase its headquarters. Thanks to his hard work, otolaryngologists are practicing facial plastic surgery with our heads held high.

In addition to his busy schedules and accomplishments in so many fields, he found time to quickly respond to patients’ calls during and after office hours as well as calls from the emergency rooms.

Dr. 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.