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Pioneer for black doctors celebrated

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The life of one of the island's first black doctors was commemorated at a special celebration on Court Street in Hamilton.

Charles Smith was honoured outside the CA Smith Building, which used to house his medical practice and is now owned by his son, Harold Smith.

Dr Smith, who died in 1992 aged 90, was refused permission to practise in Bermuda in 1934 on racial grounds — but returned to the island after two years working in Ireland and Scotland and opened a doctor's surgery.

Mr Smith said: “It was a hard road to become a doctor in Bermuda at the time.

“My dad went to school at Meharry Medical College and did graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught. After that he came back to Bermuda, where they failed him because that is the way society was at that time.

“So he went abroad and when he came back he was allowed to practise medicine here. What I always say is, what the mother country passes, the colony cannot fail.

“This is a celebration of his life. My dad always used to say be the best that you can even if you are a street cleaner.”

It is the first year the event has taken place and his family plans to commemorate Dr Smith every year.

A display in memory of Dr Smith was placed at the entrance of what is now a shopping court and included letters from the Governor's office in 1934, which said that the medical board was unable to recommend Dr Smith for registration.

Friends and family also paid tribute to Dr Smith, including Ricky Lopes, whose family was very close to him.

Mr Lopes said: “What is even more interesting is the man behind the white jacket.

“Affectionately called Doc by his patients, he was a charismatic, caring man who believed in working hard. His principled beliefs and integrity helped pave the way for other black doctors in Bermuda.

“He was the epitome of a strong man who never shied away from taking a leadership role and who always gave back to the community.”

Dr Smith was born in Bermuda in 1902.

He attended the Berkeley Institute and later studied at Wilberforce University, Ohio, and the Meharry Medical College, Tennessee, where he was awarded an MD degree with honours.

He was awarded a fellowship by the Rockefeller Foundation to do advanced work in pharmacology, the study of the use of drugs and therapeutics, after an internship.

Dr Smith was appointed assistant instructor of all three subjects at Meharry Medical School only two years later.

He later worked at the Royal City of Dublin Hospital in Ireland for a year and completed a postgraduate course in obstetrics, gynaecology and paediatrics at the city's Rotunda Maternity Hospital.

Dr Smith also worked at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in Scotland, where he acquired further professional qualifications.

Dr Smith later returned to Bermuda and started to practise in obstetrics.

Hard road: Charles Smith was refused permission to practise in Bermuda in 1934 on racial grounds, but returned to the island in 1936 and opened a doctor's surgery (Photograph supplied)
Proud son: Howard Smith outside the site of his father's former surgery on Court Street (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)

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Published June 11, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated June 11, 2019 at 7:59 am)

Pioneer for black doctors celebrated

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