The UAB Department of Pathology is sad to announce the passing of John Smith, M.D., Ph.D., MMMD, DSc (Hon), Professor, Laboratory Medicine and Clinical Chemistry Section Head, UAB Pathology, on September 19, 2021, at the age of 74.

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Dr. Smith was a lauded member of the UAB Pathology family, having led the Division of Laboratory Medicine for 20 years as its director. In his tenure with the department he also served as Assistant Chief of Staff, UAB Hospital; Chair of the Promotions and Tenure Committee, UAB School of Medicine; Chair, UAB Faculty Senate; and UAB Faculty Representative to the University of Alabama Board of Trustees.

“John Smith’s impact on the Department of Pathology and in the fields of pathology and chemistry cannot be overstated,” says George Netto, M.D., Robert and Ruth Anderson Endowed Chair, UAB Pathology. “He was a lifelong learner, passionate about his field and about sharing his career knowledge with others. Dr. Smith was always finding ways to continue give back, and was a key contributor to the department and hospital labs in his role as section head for Clinical Chemistry.”

Smith was born in and raised in St. Charles, Missouri. He earned his undergraduate degree from Purdue University in Chemistry, a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Melbourne, and his medical degree at the University of Missouri-School of Medicine, before earning a Master of Science in Health care Administration and Management from Tulane University. He completed residency training in Pathology at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. Prior to joining the UAB faculty, he was Associate Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School; Associate Molecular Biologist and Associate Pathologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital; and Executive Director, Autoimmune Diseases Research and Molecular Immunology at Merck & Company.

His early research involved the invention of solid-phase combinatorial chemistry, the elucidation of the molecular presentation of peptide antigens to helper T cells, and the purification of important enzymes involved in protein processing. Smith was a founding editor of the Current Protocols series of laboratory manuals for life sciences, and co-edited the flagship of the series, Current Protocols in Molecular Biology, from 1986 to 2016. His alma mater Purdue University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2005 for his research in protein science and his contributions to molecular biology education. In his career, he published more than 200 papers, dealing with proteins, immune recognition, and health services research.

“Dr. John Smith was an extraordinary laboratory medicine physician, but perhaps his greatest contribution at UAB was the amazing mentoring and guidance he gave to junior faculty and residents,” says Vishnu Reddy, M.D., Division Director, Laboratory Medicine. “He was an excellent motivational speaker who always inspired not only pathologists but more importantly clinicians, laboratory professionals and hospital administration. An expert in clinical chemistry and peptide science, he was always curious to learn new technologies and had a great interest in informatics. He will be profoundly missed.”

Among many honors bestowed on him are the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the School of Science, Purdue University; Fellow, College of American Pathologists; Fellow, American College of Physician Executives; Award of Excellence, UAB Hospital; Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science; Alpha Omega Alpha; and Paul Harris Fellow (Rotary International). He was a Senior Research Associate with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Harvard Medical School; a Milton Fellow at Harvard University; a Wellcome Trust Fellow in the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, England; and a Visiting Scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Celera Genomics, and the European Bioinformatics Institute of Cambridge, England.

"Dr. Smith was a great ambassador for our department and knew so many people throughout UAB," says Marisa Marques, M.D., Professor, Laboratory Medicine. "Over the years, he mentored junior faculty members in our department, like myself, and others. His advice helped shape our careers and guide us to promotion and national recognition."  

Smith served on numerous national and local committees and boards, including as a founding member and treasurer of the American Peptide Society; Board of Directors, Science Policy Committee, and Vice President for Science Policy, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology; Standing Committee on Biodefense for the U.S. Department of Defense, National Academy of Sciences; St. Andrew’s Society of the Middle South; and Rotary Club of Birmingham. He was an Eagle Scout who later served as James E. West Fellow, Greater Alabama Council, Boy Scouts of America, and recipient of the Heritage Award, Greater Alabama Council, Boy Scouts of America.

“Although trained as a pathologist in Boston and an immunologist in Australia, John Smith was best recognized for his skills and abilities as a protein chemist,” says Gene Siegal, M.D., Ph.D., Robert M. Mowry Endowed Professor and Executive Vice Chair, UAB Pathology. “This work led to his election as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an incredible honor. Late in life, international travel with his beloved wife Dinny became his passion, and he regaled his colleagues and trainees with stories of alluring and colorful meals and fine wines in exotic locales from the Middle East, through Eastern Europe, to Asia. It goes without saying, we will all miss him deeply.”