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Smith Family Legacy Supports Faculty Talent, Elevates Training

By Jennifer Johnston
February 2013

Mark Smith was both a talented engineer and accomplished businessman, a rare combination, says his son, Clay. When he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2000, the elder Smith looked for an equally unique combination of treatment – access to leading-edge medicine combined with compassionate care. He found what he was looking for
at Vanderbilt, and especially in the person of his physician, James Netterville, M.D.

The friendship he developed with Netterville and his appreciation for the compassionate and skilled care he received at Vanderbilt led Smith to establish the Mark C. Smith Chair in Head and Neck Surgery before his death in 2007.

Despite a busy schedule, Netterville stayed in touch with the Smith family after Mark’s death. “He always was and is so thoughtful. Most important, and the most wonderful thing about him is, he’s a good doctor. He listens. You are not a number to him,” said Mark’s widow, Linda Smith.

The Smith family – Linda, Clay and Cynthia – continued to support the endowed chair and additionally have made possible the Smith Family Fellowship in Head and Neck Cancer, currently held by Adam J. Luginbuhl, M.D.

The endowed chair provides “the ultimate enhancement for faculty talent,” said Roland Eavey, M.D., chair of the Department of Otolaryngology. As the current chair holder, Netterville benefits daily from protected time as a mentor, administrator and educator, said Eavey.
The second gift from the Smith family, to endow a fellowship to support trainees in head and neck cancers “allows us to elevate our traditional educational level of the finest available clinical experience by adding the finest molecular cancer training for care in the future,” explained Eavey.
Luginbuhl was a sought-after fellow, so the Smith family was thrilled to provide support that attracted a high-level trainee to the program. “Adam could have gone anywhere, but he chose Vanderbilt,” said Linda.

Her husband would have approved of the family’s continuing legacy at Vanderbilt, and he would have been fascinated to follow new developments. For example, the way Vanderbilt is bridging its schools of medicine and engineering with research into state-of-the-art techniques such as robotics to provide minimally invasive surgery would have been
of great interest, she said.

“Vanderbilt always seems to provide the highest grade of medical treatment without ever forgetting the patient and the importance of interacting with the patient in a loving way. You don’t get
this everywhere, and my father recognized that,” agreed Clay.

Clay remembered his father most notably for his commitment to family
and then for his ability to communicate well both in the engineering and business realms. Mark, who grew up in Birmingham, won the Alabama state science fair at age 16. His prize was meeting the renowned rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, Ph.D., in Huntsville. Mark asked the scientist for a summer job, and his tenacity was rewarded.

After graduating from Georgia Tech as an electrical engineering major, he returned to Huntsville and later founded two companies. The first, Universal Data Systems, Alabama’s first data communications company, was eventually sold to Motorola. In 1986, he founded ADTRAN, a telecommunications company. He served as CEO from ADTRAN’s inception until his retirement as CEO in September 2005. He was board chairman at the time of his death.

Linda and Mark met through mutual friends during his last year at Georgia Tech and they married in 1962. “I was his sounding board,” she said. “He would talk out his ideas and I would listen.”

“Mark would be very proud of his children, his grandchildren and the fact that his legacy is living on through these works,” said Linda.

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