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Orthopedic surgeon blazed trail in isles


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POSTED: Friday, May 15, 2009

Dr. John Smith Jr. pioneered orthopedic surgery in Hawaii and helped thousands of patients and other doctors with his skills for nearly 50 years up to the time of his death May 6, colleagues said.

“;He literally, some people would say, died with his boots on,”; said Dr. Morris Mitsunaga, an orthopedic surgeon who worked with Smith at the Queen's Medical Center.

Smith was “;a superhero”; at Queen's, where he had been “;a mainstay”; since 1962, Mitsunaga said.

Smith, 89, had trouble breathing because of pulmonary disease but “;continued to work and help in the operating room even when he needed oxygen,”; Mitsunaga said. “;He was truly one of a kind.”;

Associates and friends say Smith was the best orthopedic surgeon they ever knew and an inspiration.

“;I don't think there is a single orthopedic surgeon in the state that he didn't bail out of trouble at one time or another,”; said Dr. Kent Davenport.

He said Smith was his orthopedic partner and friend for 33 years and “;a friend to all. ... When there was a difficult case in the operating room and tensions were running high, a collective sigh of relief would occur whenever he entered the room. John Smith was a positive energy, skilled, humorous and kindness all wrapped into one.”;

Smith would dress up as Santa Claus every year and visit patients at Queen's and at Shriners Hospital for Children, where he had been active since 1963. “;When I got to know John, I realized there was a Santa Claus and he was it,”; Davenport said. “;John Smith was the best human being I ever met.”;

Smith was born in 1929 in Swanton, Ohio. He went to medical school at Loyola University in Chicago and interned and did his residency at Tripler Army Medical Center. He was an Army veteran with a rank of major in the Medical Corps.

He was “;a very uncommon man with a common name,”; Dr. Quinn H. Baker, former chief of Tripler and former Army surgeon general, wrote in a Web site memorial.

Smith was his mentor when he was an intern at Tripler in 1956, and they were stationed together at Fort Gordon Army Hospital in Georgia, Baker said, adding that Smith could have been surgeon general of the Army if he had stayed in.

Mitsunaga said Smith did the first total hip replacement in Hawaii. He had a private practice, Bone & Joint Clinic of Hawaii Inc., and practiced and assisted surgeons and patients at hospitals throughout the state.

He said Smith was known for his generosity, always giving out “;John Smith pens and calendars. ... He was a people-patient lover.”;

Smith, who grew up in farm country, was an avid deer hunter with a ranch and clinic on Molokai where he cared for leprosy patients, Mitsunaga said.

He was a University of Hawaii orthopedic surgery professor, past chief of orthopedics at Queen's and past president of the Western Orthopedic Association, among other positions.

He received many honors and awards for outstanding professional and community service.

Survivors include son John S. Jr.; daughters Tane R. Noguchi and Gigi M. Smith; brothers Donald, Bob, Bill and Jerry, all of Ohio; sisters Rosie Ott, Helen Gillen and Lucille Smith, all of Ohio, and Teresa MacArthur of Canada; three grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

Visitation will be from 10 to 11:15 a.m. today at Star of the Sea Church with a eulogy at 11:15 a.m. and Mass at noon. Committal services will be at 2 p.m. at Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery, Kaneohe. Donations may be made to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation.