s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe
You've read 5 of 15 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read 10 of 15 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
Ooops! You're out of free articles. Starting at just 99 cents per month, you can keep reading all of our products and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?

Dr. George L. Smith Jr., a leading cardiologist who helped make heart surgery available in Santa Rosa, was a man of many talents and passions, whether it was politics, history, fine food and wine, or opera.

In addition to being pivotal in obtaining certification for heart surgery at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, he also helped put Sonoma County on the culinary map as one of the co-owners and founders of the acclaimed John Ash and Co. restaurant.

Smith, 71, died Tuesday at his home in Oakmont, from apparent heart complications.

"He was very instrumental in recruiting heart surgeons to come to Santa Rosa and getting them established," fellow cardiologist Greg Hopkins said Sunday.

Smith was a founding member of Cardiology Associates in Santa Rosa and Northern California Medical Associates, an approximate 60-member physicians group.

About two years ago, he retired from full-time clinical work but remained involved in medical administration, teaching residents and system reorganization at Sutter Hospital.

He also was a member of the Board of Directors of the California Chapter of the American College of Cardiology and chair of the political action committee.

"He was a very unusual man. Besides being a marvelous doctor and a well known cardiologist, he was a very cultivated man with many, many interests," said Barry Sterling, the owner of Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol.

Sterling's Democratic party views were at odds with Smith's political leanings, but "it didn't change our friendship " Sterling said.

Among other things, he and Smith shared an appreciation of Armagnacs and other French brandies.

Smith was a member of the Board of Overseers at the conservative Hoover Institution, a Stanford think tank that he joined after befriending Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman.

As program director for the Commonwealth Club, Smith also helped bring speakers from the Hoover Institution to Sonoma County.

"He was interested in everything. He was a voracious reader - history, political science, cardiology. He was tremendously interested in fine food and wine and living life to the fullest," said Santa Rosa resident Bob Andrews, a friend of almost 40 years who provided business services to Smith and his medical group. "He was a modern version of a Renaissance man."

Smith also was one of six founding members and investors in Viking River Cruises along with company owner Tor Hagen. The two met in college in Tennessee.

Born in 1942 in Winchester, Tenn., Smith came from a family of physicians, including his grandfather, father and uncle. Smith's brother, Tom, is also a doctor.

He was a precocious child, who learned to play bridge when he was four years old and was said to have read the epic "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" as a youth.

Smith was valedictorian at Sewanee Military Academy in Tennessee and graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. After graduating from University of Tennessee Medical School, he completed his internal medicine residency in Denver.

In 1971, he was a major in the U.S. Army medical corps in Vietnam, serving as chief of medicine in a Danang hospital.

He then worked at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco before obtaining a cardiology fellowship at Presbyterian Hospital in the city.

Smith came to Santa Rosa in 1975, when heart patients had to travel to San Francisco for surgery.

"They couldn't do surgery here. Patients died getting to the city," said Dr. Nancy Doyle, a pediatrician and Smith's wife of 40 years.

She said that early on Smith worked with John Reed, the other board certified cardiologist in Sonoma County, to help change the situation and bring more heart specialists to the area.

"He was thorough, caring, smart. He loved being a doctor," Doyle said. "He was a doctor who would listen. Really listen to you."

Although they were divorced a year ago, Doyle and Smith remained close friends.

When their son was in third grade, Smith helped found the Sonoma Country Day School. He served on the school's Board of Trustees from 1984 to 1988,

Survivors include a son, Matthew Smith of Santa Rosa; daughter Megan Smith of Malibu; sisters Lolly Stuart of Washington, D.C, and Rachel O'Neill; and brother Tom Smith of Winchester, Tenn.

A memorial celebration will be held in May, at a date to be determined.

(You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com)