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Obituary: Saras Smith

Saras Smith (née Saraswati Keskar) was born in Bihar, Eastern India, on 22nd April 1936, the third of six children.

She qualified with an M.B. and B.S. from Bihar University in 1958, took the M.S. (Obst & Gynae) at Bihar in 1963, and moved to the United Kingdom in 1965 to work towards the MRCOG, which she gained in 1969. In the intervening time she was briefly a House Officer at Hairmyres hospital in East Kilbride and a Senior House Officer at the Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital. She married Neil Smith (2nd July 1966) and spent two years travelling with him in the United States, where the first of her two sons was born (Amahl, 1967; Ivan, 1973). After a brief period at St Andrews hospital, London, in 1970 she moved to the Luton & Dunstable Hospital’s Community Health Department. She remained in the Luton and Bedfordshire area, first as Senior Medical Officer, then Senior Community Medical Officer and then Senior Clinical Medical Officer, the position she held at her retirement in 2004. She was repeatedly asked to return to do locum clinics for many years after that.

Saras’ father, Govind Raghunath Rao (1901–1963), was a government-employed doctor specialising in tropical medicine. Saras’ secondary school subjects were in the Arts; her ambition to study medicine (in a generation in India where the education of women was seen, at best, as eccentric) seemed fanciful, but she was accepted by the convent-run Patna Women’s College in Bihar, on condition that she make up the subjects she lacked — mathematics, physics, biology and chemistry — during her first year. Studying by torchlight under blankets after lights-out, she surprised everyone by doing so, and won two gold medals for her undergraduate performances in medicine. Her life was indelibly influenced by the opportunities afforded by her parents’ belief in education, and throughout her life, and in her will, she gave money to help rural and poorer communities in India, for projects concerning women’s health and those promoting access to education.

Saras was a Foundation Member of the Society of Community Medicine in 1989, and a Member (1993) and then Fellow (2005) of the Faculty of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, for which she acted as Regional Training Advisor. At her funeral, her colleagues recalled her unwavering devotion to patients; her commitment to teaching and encouragement that they become Faculty Trainers; her multilingualism, putting patients from the Indian subcontinent at their ease by conducting consultations in Hindi, Marathi, Bengali as necessary; her deep interest in their own lives and families; and her thirst for knowledge, and curiosity about interesting cases, even from her hospital bedside. She exemplified evidence-based medicine and life-long learning before those became buzzwords. One of her last outings, which she had looked forward to enormously, was to the retirement dinner of a long-time friend Val Godfree at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Saras died after a short illness at the Luton & Dunstable hospital on 20th December 2018. She is survived by two younger siblings, her husband Neil, her sons Amahl and Ivan, and her much-adored grandchildren Zachary and Joshua.