In death, Dean gave hope, say friends

“He made it okay to die and he made it okay to talk about it,” said Dr. David Walker, dean of the faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s, when asked about Dr. Barry Smith.

Dr. Smith, former dean of Health Sciences, passed away just over a week ago, nearly two years after making the announcement he had ALS, the fatal neurological disease commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Dr. Smith resigned as dean in September 1999, but was far from finished his life’s work. Despite the toll the disease was taking on his life, Dr. Smith continued to study, teach and sharing his first hand experiences having lived a full life despite a terminal illness.

Friends and colleagues were grateful for the insights Dr. Smith passed onto them.

“He gave a lot of people an enormous amount of strength throughout the whole illness,” said Kimberly Dow, head of the pediatrics department at Queen’s.

“I think everyone who’s been around the family has felt it to be such a privilege and an honour to be part of his life.” In his final months, Dr. Smith stressed that despite their ilness, terminally-ill patients are very much alive.

“People are ill, people are disabled, people are dying. Don’t be afraid to say hi. Don’t be afraid to ask them what’s wrong or what affects them,” Dr. Smith told the Kingston Whig-Standard in an interview last November.

Even though Dr. Smith lost almost all his mobility and suffered from severe breathing difficulties, he spent part of the past year participating in a palliative care program called Living Lessons. The programs teaches physicians to help patients with terminal illnesses live out their days with dignity.

Dr. Smith also expressed his positive outlook on life and death in his “Living Lessons” essay written for the Glaxo Wellcome Foundation and the Canadian Palliative Care Associate, which was sent to 3,000 family physicians.

Dr. Smith was born in Toronto in 1945 and educated at Queen’s and McGill universities.

His career included appointments to numerous Ontario hospitals and he received several awards for his work in neonatology.

“[Dr. Smith was a] visionary in supporting the broad health care, to champion those of us who could have been sidelined a bit,” said Sandra Olney, director of the Queen’s School of Rehabilitation.

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