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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 30, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 19
Obituary: Roland Smoot, Pioneering African-American Dean, Faculty Member

Roland Smoot

By Neil A. Grauer
Johns Hopkins Medicine

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 years ago."

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 Howard.

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 man."

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.


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