Dr. Charles M. Smith
Dr. Charles M. Smith passed away September 15, 2020. He was born August 24, 1930, in Bogalusa, located in southeast Louisiana on the Pearl River, which borders Mississippi. His father, Miah Smith, was a postmaster, and his mother, Viola Jenkins Smith, a schoolteacher, in nearby Franklinton. Before Dr. Smith’s birth, they moved 20 miles to Bogalusa for work. Bogalusa was a sawmill and paper mill town of about 14,000 people at the time. Both parents were very involved with charities and schools, but they never gave up their roots in Franklinton and eventually retired.
Dr. Smith grew up during the Great Depression and World War II, experiencing challenging times for our country. When the YMCA opened a facility next to the paper mill, he spent his early after-school years involved in gymnastics, woodworking, swimming lessons, pocket billiards, bowling, and various team sports. As he got older, he swam in gravel pits, waterskied, and hunted and fished with friends and family. Dr. Smith was also active in Boy Scouts, where he went on camping and bike trips and worked on projects like drawing a map of the city.
Family life was important in those hard times. Dr. Smith remembered playing board games and learning how to play gin rummy with his dad and his mother’s cooking. There were no big parties or dinners during the Depression, except for church gatherings or his parents’ canasta group get-togethers.
When WWII began, Bogalusa’s large paper mill company with its seven big paper mills auto parts store, where the big pulpwood trucks were repaired. He started out as a delivery boy.
Bogalusa was extremely patriotic during the war. To support the war, his family had a victory garden, and he remembered metal scrap drives during grammar school that played a significant part in the war efforts.
Many key life events helped direct Dr. Smith’s career path. His fascination with hospitals began at an early age, when his paternal grandfather sadly had an unfortunate, fatal accident. Also, Dr. Smith remembered always having an interest in elderly people. He often visited an elderly neighbor who had been a doctor in the horse and buggy days. He was intrigued by the stories about saddlebags, filled with medicine, that were made for the doctors who rode horses to make house calls. Back then, he said it was common for the doctors to preform procedures in the patient’s home. Dr. Smith recalls relatives and friends having surgeries and deliveries at home, even watching a doctor and nurse take an operating room table into a kitchen to perform a simple procedure. Many people back then did not go to hospitals unless it was a life or death situation.
Dr. Smith was inspired to attend college by several of his high school teachers, especially those who taught him chemistry and Latin. The Latin teacher was a graduate of Southwest College (now Rhodes College) in Memphis, TN, and that is where he wanted to attend school with a friend, but it was too expensive. However, to his credit, he received academic scholarships to LSU.
He arrived at LSU in 1947 with the goal of becoming a physician and received his B. S. in biological sciences in 1951. Dr. Smith did not think his parents were prepared for his decision to be a doctor because of the many years of school it would take to achieve his career goal. Also, his family was involved in the forestry and timber business and thought their son would follow that path. But it was medicine that Dr. Smith wanted to study and practicing family or country medicine that appealed to him.
When he entered LSU, there were two student age groups, those right out of high school like Dr. Smith and those returning to the classroom after WWII. At this time, service in LSU’s Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) was required, and Dr. Smith served in the Army ROTC his freshman and sophomore years. During that time, he lived in the small dorm rooms under Tiger Stadium, and in his final two years, he lived in the Kappa Sigma fraternity house, where he was social director his senior year. At LSU, he attended football games and parties, attended church, and occasionally enjoyed plays and his first opera. He was a good student and made A’s in most subjects, but not in chemistry and physics.
Upon graduation from LSU, Dr. Smith applied to medical school at LSU and Tulane University and was accepted by the both. He chose LSU in New Orleans. While in medical school, he worked summers, including being a counselor and camp doctor in Sewanee, TN after his junior year.
He also spent a one-year coveted internship in Shreveport, Louisiana in internal medicine, obstetrics, and general surgery, working shifts of 36 hours on and 12 hours off. When he completed the internship, he went home to Bogalusa for a much-needed vacation and wound up working in a family practice doctor’s clinic.
Dr. Smith completed medical school in 1955 and immediately enlisted in the U.S. Air Force’s Flight Surgeon Program. He was first stationed in Montgomery, Alabama a rapid three-month review of requirements that had to be met by a flight surgeon. He spent the next 21 months overseas in the Azores (islands off the Portugal coast). The Hungarian Revolution was occurring at this time, and many refugees from Budapest were being transported through the Azores to the Untied States. There, while planes refueled, people requiring medical care were treated at a local hospital wing. The U. S. base there had around 5,000 people, and the doctors provided care for sick families, including the delivery of babies and minor surgeries. Dr. Smith considered the Azores special, as he had Portuguese relatives on his father’s side who had homestead land in Franklinton.
After completing his military duty, Dr. Smith started a rotating residency program in family practice in Lafayette, Louisiana in 1957. Halfway through, he was recruited for a family practice in Sulphur – that had been there since 1927 – after one of its doctors died suddenly. Sulphur, which is in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, had a shortage of doctors, and the residency program allowed him to take the position in January.
A typical family practice day was a full one. Dr. Smith had walk – in appointments in the mornings and afternoons and headed out in the late afternoons to make house calls both in town and in surrounding rural communities. Later, he expanded the practice to include industrial medicine and chemical dependency. Throughout his career, Dr. Smith was highly respected as a skilled medical practitioner and for the kindness and care he gave his patients.
Motivated to improve the Calcasieu Parish Coroner’s Office, Dr. Smith ran for office and was elected Calcasieu Parish Coroner in 1975. He held that office for 20 years, serving the community with honor and dignity. During his tenure, a state-of-the-art morgue was built, with a large autopsy area, conference rooms, and offices. His office managed postmortem examinations and laboratory tests to determine the cause, manner, and circumstances of death, pauper burials, exhumations, and emergency psychiatric care.
Dr. Smith lived in a beautiful country setting north of Sulphur. He purchased the 100-acre property in the early 1970’s as it reminded him of the terrain where he grew up. A winding country road leads visitors about a quarter mile off the entrance to his home, which also includes a guest house and pool. The main house was designed by Louisiana architect A. Hayes Town, who is well-known for his residential designs that used recycled wood and other materials and were influenced by the state’s Spanish, French, and Creole history. Dr. Smith enjoyed the design and construction of his home, has taken pride in its landscaping, and kept quarter horses on the property.
In addition to serving as a physician, Dr. Smith has supported his community through his generosity and many volunteer commitments over the years. He was a Rotarian and directed the parish heart drive fund, polio drive, and immunization programs.
After retirement, his philanthropic efforts to his community have been inspirational. Dr. Smith was a benefactor to the Methodist Children’s Home of Southwest Louisiana, which provided assistance to adolescents with various needs. He never forgot that some of his fellow students were unable to afford college, so he funded several scholarships for local students interested in medicine at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA. Devoted to the Arts, he served on the board of the Imperial Calcasieu Museum, and he donated medical furniture and equipment from that original 1927 practice to Sulphur’s Brimstone Museum.
However, the hallmark of Dr. Smith’s generosity includes his alma mater LSU, it’s College of Science, and most specifically, LSU-MBPCC Medical Physics & Health Physics Program in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In 2006, he teamed with the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center and the Louisiana Board of Regents to create the $1 million endowed Dr. Charles M. Smith Chair in Medical Physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. The gift has cultivated other significant contributions to our program, making it one of the premier medical physics programs in the world for providing highly qualified and trained medical physicists to Louisiana and throughout the United States. Dr. Smith’s gift was motivated by care provided by medical physicists, who were an integral part of his team of health care professionals at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to the radiation therapy he received there for his cancer treatment. Now, the gift has come full circle as several of the LSU program’s graduates work in the radiation therapy facilities at the Mayo Clinic.
Although Dr. Smith never relocated to his hometown, he wanted to contribute something to that area. His involvement with the LSU-MBPCC Medical Physics Program has done that, as the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, with its main facility in Baton Rouge and satellite facilities in Hammond, Covington, and Houma, provides quality medical care throughout southeast Louisiana. Dr. Smith’s investments in the LSU-MBPCC Program have had a critical role in advancing health care in this area of Louisiana – with broad implications for communities around the world. He has ensured the continuation of his longstanding legacy by including the program in his estate plans.
Dr. Charles M. Smith led a distinguished and demanding career in medicine and public service. Dr. Smith was a native Louisianan, an LSU graduate, a family practitioner, a cancer survivor, and a philanthropist to Louisiana, LSU, and LSU-MBPCC Medical Physics and Health Physics Program.
The Dr. Charles M. Smith Chair in Medical Physics in the LSU Department of Physics and Astronomy is currently held by Professor and Program Director Wayne Newhauser’s focus has been to enhance the LSU-MBPCC Medical Physics and Health Physcis Program, using the approximately $45,000 annual earnings from Dr. Smith’s endowment to fund important, strategic investments in research and opportunities to prepare students for success in this field. Each year, usually one full or partial student stipend provides funding for research directions. Also, it has supported student research by helping fund travel to collaborating research institutions and laboratories and to external courses teaching complex research methods, such as Monte Carlo calculations. The funds have also helped support important programmatic expenses such as travel for student recruitment and practice exams to prepare students for future certification by the American Board of Radiology. The Dr. Charles M. Smith Chair in Medical Physics is a program lifeline, which has been instrumental in the LSU-MBPCC Medical Physics and Health Physics Program becoming one of the premier programs in the world.
Funeral services will be at 2:00 PM Saturday, September 19, at Henning Memorial United Methodist Church Family Life Center in Sulphur, LA. Visitation will be from 12:00 PM until time of service. Burial will be at Ellis Cemetery in Franklinton under the direction of Johnson-Robison Funeral Home in Sulphur. Donations can be made to the LSU – MBPCC Medical Physics and Health Physics Program in Baton Rouge.