MB BChir Cantab(1968) MA(1968) MRCP(1972) MD(1979) FRCP(1983) FRCP Edin(2000)
01 February 1943 – 02 March 2004
John Rodney Cove-Smith, known as Rodney (or ‘Rod’), was a consultant physician and nephrologist in Middlesbrough from 1978 until his death in 2004. In 2002 he became an honorary professor of medicine in the University of Durham.
He was born in wartime London, the son of Ronald Cove-Smith, a distinguished doctor and sportsman, who had captained the British Lions rugby team and was a vice-president of the BMA. His godfather, speaking at Rodney’s 21st birthday, said light-heartedly that he was, “brought up by his father with a rugby ball in one hand and the Bible in the other, and by his mother [a nurse] with a gin and tonic in one hand and a cigarette in the other.” His father was undoubtedly a major source of inspiration to Rodney in his life and career.
Rodney was educated at Rugby School, where he became head boy. He was then an exhibitioner at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and subsequently a clinical student at St Thomas’s Hospital, London. After house jobs at St Thomas’s, he worked as a medical registrar in Dorset, then moved to Nottingham to pursue further training as senior registrar in general internal medicine and nephrology. Here he also carried out research with Martin Knapp for his MD, entitled ‘Sodium handling in analgesic nephropathy and experimental renal papillary necrosis.’ He maintained his interest in drugs and the kidney throughout his career. While he was a senior registrar he also spent a period on secondment to the renal unit at Guy’s Hospital, London, before he was appointed as consultant physician to the South Tees Health District in 1978.
Although still young and recently appointed, he soon became a member of the commissioning team for the replacement of North Ormesby and Poole Hospitals in 1981 by the new South Cleveland Hospital. Over time other hospitals closed in succession, their services being transferred to the South Cleveland site, until the eventual merger of South Cleveland with Middlesbrough General and the North Riding Infirmary in 2003. Rodney’s involvement was integral to these developments: he commissioned the first coronary care unit in the town, he was instrumental in ensuring that the cardiothoracic centre was located in Middlesbrough where renal services could be made easily available, and he was on the project team for single site development which is now the James Cook University Hospital.
He also championed the cause of postgraduate and, more recently, of undergraduate medical training on Teesside. He was clinical tutor from 1987 to 1990, was a prime mover in the expansion of the Durham and Newcastle Medical School to the Stockton Queen’s Campus and, as chief of the academic division in the James Cook University Hospital, he led the development of the academic centre there. In recognition of this he was awarded an honorary chair by Durham University, and the new medical library bears his name.
Throughout all this time he carried a heavy clinical workload in nephrology and general medicine, and was highly esteemed for his clinical service by his local colleagues and those in neighbouring hospitals. He was also for eight years chief of service for medicine and latterly associate medical director. In fact, if any project within the hospital needed overseeing he was regarded as a safe pair of hands. In wider circles of the health service he also made important contributions. He was an examiner for the College, on numerous working parties, and was regional adviser from 1998 to 2002, during which time the first regional office was established at Newcastle. He was a leader in many of the new processes underpinning the professionalism of medicine, such as revalidation and personal development for physicians.
In 1969 Rodney married Jacqueline (Jackie) Morgan, a doctor. They moved in 1978 with their young family to live at Kirby-in-Cleveland, where life comprised a very busy mixture of work, recreation and family pursuits. Rodney excelled in sport: he had played hockey for the England schoolboys’ team and continued to play both hockey and squash until his late fifties, when failing health intervened. His other main interest was music; he was a member of two choral societies; and he enjoyed a broad range of classical music from the time of Monteverdi and earlier through the twentieth century. He enjoyed taking part in village activities, including the annual carol service that he always conducted, pantomimes, and debates with friends at the village inn. After being diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in 2001 he chose to continue to work, but arranged to bring forward some trips with Jackie that they had originally hoped to make later, during his retirement. One was to revisit India, where he had made an overland expedition as a student. Another was to the Galapagos Islands, where, with typical fortitude and determination, he was able to climb to the summit of Bartholome just a few weeks before he died.
He is survived by his wife, his three daughters, Julia, Andi and Laura (two of whom are doctors, one being a trainee in nephrology) and his grandson, Fraser.
David Carr, Andrew Paterson
Courtesy, Royal College of Physicians London, Munk’s Roll, Volume XI, page 129