This blog is part of the ‘Blog a Book project entitled: The Inside Story –– a history of the Microbiology Department (University of Otago) from 1950 – 2010. Blogs are usually shown in reverse chronological order (from newest to oldest). For a ‘Blog a Book’ the posts are changed to be chronologically displayed (from oldest to newest) as one would in reading a book. Click on the building image in the upper left corner of this blog post to navigated to the beginning of the ‘The Inside Story‘..
Sandy (John Macalister Burns) Smith became the poster child of the esprit de corps of the department from his early student days, to his research and teaching activities and to his elder statesman period as Head of the Department. His story begins in the 1950’s at Southland Boys High School and his interest in agriculture and farming. He inquired from the visiting liaison officer from Otago University if they had any courses in agriculture or animal disease.
The Department had recently launched a BSc degree in Microbiology and this was mentioned. In 1956 this idea was taken up. He completed his BSc in 1959 and progressed through with his MSc and on to a PhD in 1964. He was supervised by Molly Marples and they had shown the presence of penicillin producing fungi growing on hedgehogs and the presence of penicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus on these hedgehogs. This groundbreaking research lead to two articles being published in the prestigious Nature journal in 1960 and 1964. As Sandy often pointed out to his students: not bad for some PhD research. In 1964 he was appointed a lecturer in Veterinary Mycology to the newly formed Veterinary School at Massey University. On the retirement of Molly Marples in 1967, he returned as a Senior Lecturer in Microbiology at Otago University.
He had a ‘competitive’ spirit and played social rugby and cricket. He enjoyed the sport of kings, but was known for placing small bets. In staff vs student cricket matches, his bowling prowess earned him the name of ‘The Killer’. In the family ethos of the Department, Sandy was the child that grew up but never left home. As a student in the 1950’s and 60’s he was mentored by the ‘larger-than-life’ Molly Marples and when she retired he took over her mantle as a senior academic than later as the Head of the Department. His story telling was legendary and he had the talent of making a good story even better. His unPC remarks about people and events were quotable (if you dared). He would hold forward with a glass of beer in his hand at the Friday evening ‘happy hour(s)’ in the tearoom on the 8th floor of the department with stories of the good-old-days.
Below is a video of Sandy Smith talking about his student days in the department with Molly Marples, his PhD supervisor ( from the NZ Microbiological Society Annual Conference in 1995)
Sandy Smith took over as the Head of Department from David Jones and held that position from 1996 to 2004. The Department was in good shape, thanks to David Jones, and Sandy’s style was easy going and laid back — letting people get on with doing their own things.
In 2005, the Royal Society of New Zealand awarded him a New Zealand Science and Technology Silver Medal, recognising his exceptional contributions, nationally and internationally, to medical mycology over an extended period. He had taken an ‘active role’ in making the public aware of the growing problem of antibiotic resistance and made regular contributions to public debates in this area. His research had highlighted the connection between antibiotic usage in farmed animals and the development of antibiotic resistance by a number of human pathogens. This has led to considerable public concern and calls for legislation to control this practice.
Sandy was the author of two books: Opportunistic Mycoses of Man and Other Animals ( 1989) and The Surgeon’s Guide to Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (2000) and also wrote more than 160 publications on medical mycology and clinical microbiology.
In its medal citation, the royal society acknowledged that Prof Smith had been “New Zealand’s leading medical mycologist for more than 40 years. He was also recognised nationally and internationally for his expertise in antibiotic resistance, and had an outstanding reputation in the field of medical teaching”, the society said.
His international reputation had been exemplified by his chairmanship of the World Health Organisation committee on fungal diseases, vice presidency of the international Society for Human and Animal Mycology (1988-1991), as associate editor of the journal Medical Mycology, and his advisory role as the expert microbiologist on the Pharmac committee on anti-infectives, the society noted.
He was long a member of the pathology committee, Board of Basic Surgical Training, of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (1987-2005).
He also received the Australasian Society for Microbiology Mycology Award for career accomplishments in medical mycology (1992) and the Australasian Federation for Medical and Veterinary Mycology Award for meritorious contributions to medical and veterinary mycology (1994). The society noted he had also been a regular member of the scientific organising committee of the International Mycological Congress. Sandy Smith had also chaired the scientific committee of the Otago Medical Research Foundation from 1986 to 1993.
His expert knowledge of microbiology led him to be equally insistent about hygiene, successfully impressing on members of his family the necessity of regular hand washing. Colour-coded chopping boards were used meticulously for different aspects of food preparation.
In 2004 he had heart valve replacement surgery and in early 2007 he was diagnosed to have leukemia. He died after a brief illness at the age of 69 in 2007. He was survived by his wife and four children. (Some material used from the Otago Daily Times Obituary, Saturday, October, 27th, 2007.)