Roland T. Smoot, the first African-American faculty
member at the
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and an assistant dean
who helped recruit and significantly expand the
university's number of minority medical students, died Jan.
25. He would have turned 79 on Feb. 12.
"It's a big loss to me, personally, and a big loss to
Hopkins," said Levi Watkins, associate dean for
postdoctoral affairs in the School of medicine.
As assistant dean of student affairs from 1978 to
2004, Smoot was instrumental in ensuring that Hopkins
"evolved and embraced diversity at all levels," Watkins
said. In addition to being professional colleagues, Watkins
said he and Smoot were friends for more than 30 years
— as well as each other's patient. "He took care of
my blood pressure, and I performed bypass surgery on him 22
Smoot was on his way to Hopkins to be tested for a
defibrillator, a device to regulate a patient's heartbeat,
when he was stricken, Watkins said.
Edward D. Miller, dean of the medical school and chief
executive officer of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said, "His
quiet strength as a leader and his genuine warmth as a
human being were evident both inside and outside this
institution. Quiet leadership is a difficult art, but
Roland Smoot practiced it well."
In addition to his leadership role at Johns Hopkins,
Smoot led Med Chi, the 6,000-member Maryland medical
society, as its first African-American president, in 1983;
was president of the Baltimore City Medical Society in
1978; and served as a Maryland delegate to the American
Medical Association from 1984 to 1995. He also was a leader
in many other professional organizations.
For 26 years as assistant dean of student affairs,
Smoot searched the country for promising minority
premedical students. He and Watkins reviewed countless test
scores and wrote innumerable letters to the students,
encouraging them to come to Johns Hopkins. Smoot always met
with minority applicants to the school and along with his
wife, Minnie, hosted an annual gathering at his home for
students and faculty.
"He was an invaluable colleague," said Henry Seidel,
former associate dean for student affairs in the School of
Medicine. "He did a great deal to improve the quality of
the experience for many of our students."
David Nichols, the current vice dean for education in
the School of Medicine, called Smoot "a trailblazer here at
Hopkins who prepared the way for the rest of us. Whatever
can be said about the diversity of the staff here today
could not have been achieved without him. His personal
impact was quite extraordinary."
Smoot was born in 1927 in Washington, D.C., the only
child of a postal employee and a domestic worker, who
encouraged him to pursue an advanced education. He
graduated from Washington's Dunbar High School in 1944 and
enrolled in Howard University as a premed student.
Following a 15-month tour of duty in the U.S. Army
immediately following World War II, he used the GI Bill to
complete his under-graduate and medical education at
Receiving his medical degree in 1952, he did
postgraduate training at Kate Bitting Reynolds Hospital in
Winston-Salem, N.C., and Tuskegee (Ala.) Hospital for
Disabled Negro Veterans. It was at the latter that he met
his future wife, Minnie Lee Richardson, a night nurse. In a
2004 profile, Smoot joked that their courtship so
interfered with his preparation for specialty boards that
he proposed to her to save time for studying. The couple
had four sons. Their second son, Duane T. Smoot, is
associate professor and chairman of the Department of
Medicine at Howard University.
In 1960 the Smoots moved to Baltimore, where Roland
began work at Provident Hospital and opened a private
practice in the basement of their home. He also began
attending medical grand rounds at Johns Hopkins because "it
was one of the best educational programs," he told an
interviewer in 2004. Benjamin Baker, a renowned Hopkins
physician, invited him to become a member of the Hopkins
Hospital outpatient staff that year. Smoot also later
became a member of the outpatient staff at the University
of Maryland Hospital.
In 1963, Smoot became the first African-American chief
of medicine at Provident, and in 1966 he became the first
African-American physician given admitting privileges at
The Johns Hopkins Hospital. He became a part-time
instructor in the School of Medicine and was named an
assistant professor of medicine in 1974.
As assistant dean of student affairs, he once said, he
"got to speak to students who were having a lot of
problems. I got to help them resolve those problems ...
[and] reassure them that the situations they were in were
not unusual and that people had been in similar situations
and made it through OK."
James Weiss, a long-time friend and Hopkins colleague,
said Smoot "was a fantastic role model for all of our
students, but particularly the minority students. He was a
tremendous mentor and father figure, not just to the
medical students but to our house staff. He was a great
Following his retirement from the Dean's Office, Smoot
began intensive laboratory research on breast cancer, which
afflicts many African-American women. He was actively
engaged in that research at the time of his death. "He was
passionate about laboratory research," Nichols said.
Smoot and his wife also were avid tennis players,
scheduling regular matches with friends on Wednesday and
Saturday nights. He was planning to play tennis the night
of the day he died.
In addition to his wife and his son Duane, Smoot is
survived by his other sons, Ronald Harding Harvey Smoot,
Gregory Walter Smoot and James Henry Smoot.
Memorial services were held Sunday at the Mt. Zion
United Methodist Church.
Contributions may be made to the Roland T. Smoot,
M.D., Scholarship Fund for Minority Students at the Johns
Hopkins School of Medicine, Suite 200, 100 N. Charles St.,
Baltimore, MD 21201.