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Community: Obstetrician’s humor eased parents through childbirth

When offered an assignment to interview a retired obstetrician/gynecologist, I jumped at the chance upon hearing his name.

I first met Dr. Louis J. Smith when I was a young teen. He was my first gynecologist.

The fear I felt anticipating the appointment immediately disappeared. He was kind and gentle and had compassionate blue eyes and a quick smile.

What a joy it was to see him again after so many years and to finally meet his wife, Dorothy. The couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on Aug. 9.

She just turned 92 and her husband will celebrate his 93rd birthday on Thursday. They have six children and two grandchildren.

Smith started practicing in 1956 and retired in 1992. The hospital records state he delivered more than 9,000 babies at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.

His career path brought him to the local area while a twist of fate led him to the love of his life.

During World War II, Smith served in the Navy. He began pharmacist training and, six months later, became a lab technician in various departments including the bacteriology.

One day, a beautiful nurse walked in with a specimen, and Smith was smitten. He invited her to a dance coming up on the weekend, but she declined, saying he was too young for her. He was 19, and she was 24.

But she had a younger sister back in Philadelphia and suggested Smith start corresponding with her and they did.

When he came home to Montana from the Navy, he asked to borrow his dad’s car to drive to Philadelphia to meet the younger sister named Dorothy. He traveled 2,500 miles — no freeways — only roads badly in need of repairs.

Dorothy was training to become a nurse and was wearing her uniform — gray dress and white apron.

“This is the most beautiful creature I have ever seen,” he said. “She was humble and simplistic — the kind of girl I had always wanted.”

After another visit, Smith started home but stopped to call Dorothy along the way.

He asked “What would you say if I asked you to marry me?”

And she answered “Well, ask me.” He did, and she said “yes.”

Smith went on to apply to medical school at the University of Oregon with a fist full of sealed envelopes that carried his grades and letters from his professors. He was the first in the group to be interviewed by 12 doctors.

After they read the documents, the head of the admissions committee put his hands on his shoulders and told him, “Son, we’re going to see you here in the fall. Just keep up the good work.”

He finished his four years, moved to Los Angeles and interned at Queen of Angels Hospital. Then he started practicing in Burbank.

In the 1970s, he was delivering between 30 and 40 babies a month. During his career, he delivered two sets of triplets. He was often asked to assist other doctors with problem births.

Smith said he was interested in going into medicine as young as age 7. He was inspired to become an ob/gyn while working as a lab technician. A busy obstetrician asked him to come in and observe deliveries.

When Smith retired, then mayor Michael Hastings presented him with a Mayor’s Commendation. The two had met years before. Hastings and wife, Kathy, had their first two children at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

When they decided to have their third child at Providence St. Joseph, Smith was recommended by Kathy Hastings’ doctor at Cedars.

At first, Michael Hastings was very cautious, he said. But Smith’s personality quickly won him over. Michael Hastings found him to be compassionate with a beyond-fantastic sense of humor and he was already treating many people Hastings knew.

“He was just a fantastic human being beyond being a great doctor,” Michael Hastings said. “He’s funny, and he catches you off guard with some of his humor and that’s what I just love about the man.

“Those attributes are the perfect prescription for couples facing the most important, and frightening, step in their lives — having a baby.

“He sets you at ease and it’s usually through his humor,” Michael Hastings said.

Smith often stops in to say “hi” to Kathy Hastings, who is the patient relations concierge at the Disney Family Cancer Center.

“He stops to flirt with my wife there once in awhile,” Michael Hastings said, then corrected and added, “He’s got a smile that lights up the room.”

JOYCE RUDOLPH can be reached at rudolphjoyce10@gmail.com.

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