George Smith, leading Santa Rosa cardiologist, dies at 71

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.

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