Ronald E. Smith, MD, former chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, died on Monday, March 17. He was 71. He led the department from 1995 until retiring in 2013, and was one of the founding members of the department, having joined USC in 1975. 

“Ron Smith helped establish USC as a local and national powerhouse in ophthalmology,” said Keck School Dean Carmen A. Puliafito, MD, MBA. “He was a pioneering researcher, a compassionate clinician and an inspiring leader. He will be missed.”

He had gained international prominence in his field and was a former president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and former chair of the American Board of Ophthalmology. Smith earned many awards for his achievements, including a prestigious Gold Medal from the International Uveitis Study Group.

“The world has lost an international innovator in eye care and research,” said Tom Jackiewicz, MPH, senior vice president and CEO for USC Health. “The foundation Ron Smith helped to establish here at USC lives on through a lasting legacy of research, clinical innovation and education that have touched so many other leaders in this field. His contributions to medicine will live on.”

Smith graduated from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1967. After completing his residency at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins, he completed a fellowship in uveitis, cornea and external disease at the Francis I. Proctor Foundation for Research in Ophthalmology, University of California Medical Center at San Francisco. He returned to Wilmer as chief resident, followed by two years in the U.S. Public Health Service as an ophthalmologist for the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.

He practiced at USC for more than three decades, where he pursued his longstanding clinical and research interests in external disease, cornea and uveitis.

“During his term as chair, Smith led the department to new heights,” said Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and director of the USC Eye Institute. “He helped make the department one of the top 10 departments of ophthalmology in the United States, and it grew in its research programs, clinical care and educational endeavors. His loss leaves a huge hole in our hearts and in our lives.”

— By Sara Reeve