April 10, 1943 ~ November 7, 2023
With his characteristic quiet dignity and grace, Dr. J. R. M. (Dick) Smith died at home in Winnipeg, MB, at age 80.
John Richard Middleton Smith, the eldest of three, was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and spent his early years in Egypt and Cyprus, prior to moving to England as a boy. He attended Bromsgrove School.
Dick graduated with degrees in medicine and surgery from The London Hospital Medical School, University of London, in 1967. He worked for five years in general practice in the London area.
He immigrated to Canada in 1972 and practiced in Neepawa, Birtle, and Shoal Lake, MB, before moving to Winnipeg in 1976 as internal medicine resident at Health Sciences Centre.
During clinical observerships in San Francisco in the late 1970s, Dick saw the first effects of what later became known as HIV/AIDS and knew that it was a matter of time before the frightening, little-understood disease presented in Manitoba.
With such invaluable advance knowledge and as Manitoba’s first openly gay physician, Dick devoted his career to the full spectrum of understanding, advocacy, prevention, and care of HIV infection. His unshakeable mission was to provide front-line, non-judgmental, compassionate, harm reduction-centred care to those who were so often dehumanized and vilified.
Dick was the first Manitoba physician to detect HIV/AIDS and organized the first Manitoba AIDS forum in 1983 to alert and educate the 2SLGBTQ+ community. He worked tirelessly to erode the stigma and fear of AIDS. Dick spoke out in the media, wrote policy and Manitoba’s first safer-sex literature, and was instrumental in developing the province’s confidential AIDS testing code.
Dick opened The Fort Rouge Medical Clinic (1979-1997), Manitoba’s first clinic to specialize in the health care of gay men and lesbians. He also helped to found The Winnipeg Gay Community Health Centre (later The Village Clinic, now Nine Circles Community Health Centre), where he was medical director from 1989-2008.
Dick was a staff physician at Misericordia Hospital (1980-1999) and served on its medical executive as secretary and president.
From 2007 until retirement in 2019 at age 76, Dick was the founding physician/medical director of The Gay Men’s Health Clinic (now Our Own Health Centre). He remained on the OOHC board until his death.
Dick was a fellow and life member of the College of Family Physicians of Canada and, for a term, was president of the Manitoba chapter.
He attended the world’s first medical HIV meeting, spoke at the first Manitoba Gay Coalition Forum (1977), and served on provincial and national committees for infectious diseases. Dick testified as an authority on AIDS, most notably for the Royal Commission on the Blood System in Canada.
While Dick enjoyed extensive world travel, Canada became his home. He received his Canadian citizenship in 2015. Dick’s irrepressibly curious mind led him into much intellectual exploration. He was a concerned environmentalist, an ardent gardener and a student of literature and history.
Over the past two years, as Dick lived with pancreatic cancer, he was truly grateful to receive a tremendous outpouring of love and appreciation. He enjoyed spending time at the cottage in Ontario and in his and Doug’s beautiful yard overlooking the Assiniboine River, as well as recording his memoirs, gathering his archives, and having a last visit to England. Dick’s contributions were recognized in many ways, most notably with the Red River College Polytech honourary diploma in community development, and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee medal in 2022. Dick was deeply moved to be inducted into the Order of Manitoba in 2023. He often remarked at how fortunate he felt at having the help of many along the way.
Dick was an amalgamation of tender-heartedness, kindness, integrity, warmth, generosity, tenacity, and empathy. A gentle soul with a ready smile and twinkle in his eyes, he had a keen interest in all people.
Dick is survived by Douglas Arrell, his partner since 1977 and husband since 2009, as well as brothers William (Brian) and Mark (Jackie), brother-in-law Kenner (Kathryn), nephews Russell (Laurene) and Tyler, cousins, friends, chosen family Amir, Shayan, and Arezoo, as well as dog Bella. Dick was predeceased by his parents, Helen Jessiman Wilson (1909-2010) and Oliver Henry Middleton Smith (1910-1973).
Heartfelt appreciation is extended to the angels of MAiD, Dr. Benjamin Goldenberg, the staff of CancerCare, Dr. Allen Kimelman, Quinn of Hunter Funerals, and the many friends and patients who comforted Dick.
A Celebration of Life will be held in Winnipeg in early 2024. Interment has taken place in St. Vital Cemetery.
Should anyone so desire, donations may be made to Our Own Health Centre (ourownhealth.ca) or to The Winnipeg Foundation for “The Dick Smith Fund for the Health and Well-Being of Sexual Minorities” (wpgfdn.org).