Kaighn Smith

Northeast Harbor

Kaighn Smith, MD, revered Philadelphia physician and iconic ocean sailing racer, died peacefully on Sept. 18 at his home in Northeast Harbor. Present were his loving children, Gay, Laurie and Kaighn Jr. He was 92 years old. His wife of 70 years, the Rev. Ann Robb Smith, died on June 6 in the identical setting.

Dr. Smith was the son of Katherine Coolidge Smith and Geoffrey Story Smith of Fort Washington, Pa. Raised on their small farm, he was strong for his size due to farm life, and he became an excellent horseman and athlete. He attended Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia and then enrolled in St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H. In his senior year at St. Paul’s, he was elected vice president at a time when the student government ran the school because so many teachers served in World War II. He loved St. Paul’s, always referring to his years there as his most formative. In later years, he served on the school’s board of trustees.

After graduating from Harvard University, Dr. Smith attended the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. In his third year, he watched a baby being delivered and was inspired to become an obstetrician gynecologist. Upon graduation from medical school, he served two years in the Navy. In 1966, after six years as attending physician at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, he joined Philadelphia’s Lankenau Hospital, and in 1974 commenced 22 years as chairman of Lankenau’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of the residency program. Residents were in awe of his surgical deftness and the depth of his wisdom. He would eventually lead the hospital as chief of the medical staff.

Dr. Smith loved to teach as much as he loved to practice medicine, holding numerous faculty appointments for decades at the University of Pennsylvania, Jefferson Medical School and Mount Desert Island Hospital. Former medical students appreciated that he always took the time to ask about their interests when other physicians never learned their names.

Dr. Smith was known as a leader in his field: he introduced the use of fetal monitors before they were hardly known, purchasing one of the first of these life-saving devices for the hospital; he was the first OBGYN in the Philadelphia area to bring midwives into the practice; and he unceasingly advocated for women to take leadership roles. Upon retiring, he delighted in turning over the helm of his department of over 60 doctors and numerous midwives to Nancy S. Roberts, whom he recruited.

Dr. Smith’s care of his patients, who numbered in the thousands, superseded all other interests. He was universally adored by them, captured by his caring, fatherly figure, his gentle sense of humor and his calm competence.

He held many leadership positions both within the medical profession and outside of it: as president of the Obstetrical Society of Philadelphia (following in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, Dr. Albert Holmes Smith), chairman of the board of the Philadelphia Contributionship and commodore of the Cruising Club of America, to name a few. His awards include the Endowed Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Lankenau and the Amos S. Weiner Award for Service and Teaching from Thomas Jefferson University.

In addition to his family and medical practice, Dr. Smith was passionate about sailing. In the late 1950s, he sailed competitively for the Navy in the small, one-design Thistle Class, winning regattas while described by local press as “virtually unknown.” He eventually turned to ocean racing and, with a finely honed amateur crew, won (overall) every major ocean race on the Eastern Seaboard in his Swan 38, Gaylark: the Bermuda Race, Annapolis to Newport and Marblehead to Halifax. Anyone involved in the high levels of ocean racing at the time knew and respected Dr. Smith and his crew.

Although designed by the world-renowned marine architect Sparkman & Stephens, the Swan 38 keel was not deep enough. Dr. Smith built a new mold for a longer keel in his basement, had the molten lead from the old keel poured into it at a foundry owned by a patient’s husband and refastened the new keel to the hull. That year (1983), he went on to win the Annapolis-Newport Race. A longtime member and one time commodore of the Cruising Club of America, Dr. Smith provided the idea for and the implementation of what became the “Safety at Sea” program, which has now trained thousands of amateur sailors for handling emergencies aboard offshore sailboats.

Dr. Smith was the patriarch of a family that admired and loved him beyond measure. In addition to his two daughters and son, he leaves four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, some of whom are named for him. A memorial service will be held next summer. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be made to Planned Parenthood and/or St. Paul’s School, financial aid.

Condolences may be expressed at www.jordanfernald.com.


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