Doctor Tony Smith: Medical writer best known for the 'Family Health Guide'
Wednesday 27 May 2009
Tony Smith was a medical journalist who wrote for The Independent and other papers as well as writing many medical books for lay readers. He was probably best known for writing the Family Health Guide, published by Dorling Kindersley. He oversaw many new additions of the Guide and was intent on keeping it accurate and up to date. Smith also wrote a number of "Family Doctor" books for the British Medical Association; his book on adolescence was particularly popular. Explaining medicine to the public did much to further, and sometimes initiate, the movement towards self-help and patients' participation in their treatment.
Smith was born in Coventry in 1934. Both his parents worked in car plants and both were committed Labour supporters; his father was a shop steward. Although his father had left school very early in order to contribute financially to the family he was widely read, (The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was on his bookshelf), and determined that his sons should be well educated. Both sons went to Bablake Grammar School although it involved some financial difficulty. When he was 17 Smith won an open scholarship to Oxford where he first read law and then changed to medicine; he completed his clinical studies at the London Hospital (now The Royal London), and qualified in 1959.
Smith was never entirely happy as a practising doctor and soon started as assistant editor of the British Medical Journal, where he felt he had found what he wanted to do. He gradually expanded his writing – he was a restless man, always seeking new challenges, so writing for different publications suited him well. He was also a political man and well aware that he had been able to change his fortunes by his hard work but also by means of the welfare state; he was strongly opposed to the introduction of student fees and the curtailment of grants.
Smith was also a restless traveller; he hated sitting on beaches, and although living in Camden Town he bought a long-chassis Land Rover and took his wife and three children on camping holidays all over Europe. But possibly his favourite indulgence was food and drink; he seized any opportunity to take people out to long lunches; on at least one occasion he was in trouble with the BMJ editor for having spent journal money on too much, too expensive wine.
His other great love was boats, an interest that may have started when he was evacuated after the Coventry raids and went to stay with foster parents in Warwickshire. His foster father worked with canal boats, which much impressed Smith. There were many sailing holidays in hired boats and in the mid-1980s he bought his own, much-loved boat, "Emily", which he sailed around the south coast of Norway.
In 2000 it became clear that he was developing Parkinson's disease. He refused to let it interfere with his life although he knew well what the progress of the disease meant. He was living with his long-time Norwegian partner Inge and insisted on flying back and forth between Norway and London, as he had been doing for many years. In 2007 it became apparent that he needed nursing care and he moved to a nursing home in Woodbridge, Suffolk where he felt safe and well looked after. He still took visitors out to lunch and held interesting conversations in spite of his tiredness and occasional confusion.
True to form, he decided to go for a walk by himself in June 2008 despite having been asked to wait for some company. He did not return and there was an extensive search by family, friends, the police and search-and-rescue experts. His body was not found until 1 March. He had got into some private woodland overlooking the river, and had probably sat down to rest.
Anthony Smith, doctor, medical writer and journalist: born 4 December 1934; married 1958 Evelyn Adey (one son, two daughters): died c 5 June 2008.
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