From Jean-Paul and Sandrine Viollet

Here are some of the pictures from the beautiful day we spent with Maggie in June. Although it should be sad to see these pictures now, she is so radiant that it is a pleasure to look at them.

We are sending you our best, and very sincere, thoughts in this very difficult time. Maggie is truly missed.

All the very best,

Letter from Sheila Feeney

Maggie was the heartbeat of the family, the conscience who reflexively thought of others before ever thinking of her self. She accomplished more in a day than other people accomplished in a lifetime and left the world an infinitely better place.

Rather than waste time kvetching about all the injustices in society, Maggie simply set to work as a stealth transformation agent on behalf of virtue. Quiet and self-effacing, she worked quietly but relentlessly to bring quality and conscience to medicine, to gardening and entertaining, to aviation and, most of all, her human relationships. Her efforts were an inspiring testament to the power one person has to change the world.

Cognizant that patient care was in steep deterioration, she went into academic medicine and helped to produce physicians who would be both compassionate and conscientious. I asked a young resident at her wake what she would remember most about Maggie. “She taught us to always ask what a person does for a living,” said the resident, not just to find out if their physical symptoms were occupationally induced, but to view the patient as a full person instead of just a case.

Pity, incidentally, the poor physician who took over her private practice when she went to head the residency program at St. Vincent’s Hospital. I worked for him for a week and spent virtually all my time trying to convince the patients he had inherited from Maggie to keep their appointments, even though she was no longer available. “I don’t want to see him; I want to see Maggie. She’s the only doctor I’ve ever had who really listens,” I was told by one patient after another. I was extremely chagrined to find that a one-week assignment of seemingly easy secretarial work was, in fact, the world’s most difficult sales job. I finally succeeded convincing the patients to give her successor a chance by telling them, “Look: You know Maggie. Do you really think she’d appoint a crappy doctor to take care of you?”

When working as a reporter on medical stories I often encountered doctors who had passed through her program. Any reticence and distrust they had about talking to a member of the press dissolved with the mere mention of her name. When I was interviewing a young Haitian physician working in Harlem on an AIDS-related story, he was diverted from talking about his caseload and its challenges by his desire to enthuse about the influence Maggie had on his vocation. “She was the best teacher I ever had,” he gushed. Her reach was long and I am comforted to know it lives on long after her.

Also aware that we should not look to medicine to solve all our self-created health problems, Maggie kept in tremendous shape despite a punishing professional schedule and infinite personal obligations. By completing the NY marathon several years ago, and continuing to look like a million bucks at the age of 70, Maggie provided a valuable model on how to age with vitality, and how important it is for physicians to take care of themselves so that they might take better care of others.

Maggie changed everyone she encountered, and, by extension, the world. My cousin, Matt Ferguson, despite being a physician himself, basically hued to a diet that was 6 parts meat and 12 parts protein before he married her. Maggie introduced into his menu exotic ingredients such as “vegetables.” Were it not for Maggie’s influence, Matt, a lifelong Republican and inveigher against all things considered liberal, would never have wound up voting for Barack Obama. Matt has always referred to Maggie as a saint, but I don’t know if he realizes that the biggest miracle I ever saw her perform was on his own transformation into a person with a wiser, wider and more compassionate understanding of people in less fortunate circumstances. You can’t imagine my delight to find in Maggie another advocate and ally for universal health care in the family.

All social justice activists would do well to follow Maggie’s example. She didn’t hector or lecture, but simply practiced constant giving, unconditional acceptance and an infectious love. This allowed others to relax and inspired them to do the same. I asked her once what prompted her to be so different from so many other doctors who seem to see patients as profit centers instead of people. How, for example, did she come to believe that health care was an inalienable human right? “It was my sister,” said Maggie. Marie, had prompted Maggie to ponder that classic ethics dilemma about a man who knows stealing is a sin, but lacks any money to buy medication for his dying, beloved wife. Is he still guilty of a sin if he acts in order to save a life?

Marie, she recounted, “really got me thinking,” about how society should be organized and medicine’s place within it. Only by taking equity and fairness into account could we alleviate unnecessary suffering and encourage people to behave well and achieve their potential, she explained. How I loved her willingness to question orthodoxy! She had a passion for compassion and knew that by expecting the best of people, you could almost always – eventually – get the best out of them. Her willingness to fight for every member of the human family, regardless of origin or circumstance, was magnificent. Many times when confronted with an infuriating situation or difficult person, I have consulted my own Maggie Eight Ball to ask, “What would Maggie do?” The answers that popped up were “give more” “act in love,” and “when in doubt, forgive.”

I was awed by Maggie’s accomplishments: A loving mother of three, stepmother to six, grand mother to seemingly millions, a marathon runner, charity worker, academician, international traveler and professional pilot . . . . . How was she able to achieve so much and give so much? It was not, she affirmed, through multi-tasking. Maggie found it infinitely more efficient to give her full and unconditional attention to each person she encountered and every task she took on. To be the recipient of her undiluted, non-judgmental concentration was a pleasure beyond compare. If multi-tasking was not her secret, how, I asked her years ago, how did she manage to do so many things, and all of them so well?

“It’s not so hard,” she shrugged. “I just always ask myself, ‘what do I most need to be doing right now?'”

I can’t thank her enough for all she taught me. I’ll miss Maggie more than I can express, but I am also grateful. Thank, you, Maggie. Thank you so much for all the beauty, happiness and wisdom you shared with everyone you touched.

Obituary in the New York Times – July 9, 2010 – Maggie’s Family

In Loving Memory of Dr. Margaret Smith, beloved wife, mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, physician. She was magnificent; a super-sized soul in a size-small body who lit up absolutely everything she touched. She loved deeply and gave generously, filling the world with life and beauty. Words cannot express how much she will be missed. Please join her family in celebrating her extraordinary life.

Vigil Prayer Service
5pm – 8pm
Friday, July 9
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church
46 West 16th Street, NY, NY 10011

Funeral Mass
Saturday, July 10
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church

Funeral reception to be held immediately following mass at St. Francis Xavier.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made in her honor to Medecins Sans Frontieres or the Arthritis Foundation

Obituary in the New York Times – July 8, 2010 – Medical Staff of St. Vincent’s Hospital

Smith- Dr. Margaret Dennis.
The Organized Medical Staff of St. Vincent’s Hospital mourns the tragic loss of Dr. Margaret Dennis Smith, an extraordinary member of our staff since 1993. This accomplished physician and educator served as: Program Director of Internal Medicine, Professor of Clinical Medicine and Senior Associate Dean of the New York Medical College at St. Vincent’s Manhattan and Chairperson of the GME Committee. The Medical Staff sends its deepest condolences to Dr. Smith’s husband, Dr. Matthew Ferguson and to their children. She will be deeply missed.

Armand Cacciarelli
MD for the Officers and Members of the Medical Staff of St. Vincent’s Hospital

Obituary New York Times – July 8, 2010 – New York Medical College

Smith, Margaret D.
New York Medical College is shocked and saddened by the tragic death of our friend and colleague, Dr. Margaret D. Smith, senior associate dean and professor of clinical medicine. A respected rheumatologist and skilled educator, she headed the program in internal medicine at St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan for many years, demonstrating a deep commitment to medical residents and students. We extend heartfelt condolences to her family and especially to her husband, Dr. Matthew Ferguson, a retired member of our faculty.

Ronald F. Poe, Chairman, Board of Trustees
Karl P. Adler, M.D., President and CEO
Ralph A. O’Connell, M.D., Provost and Dean, School of Medicine

Obituary in the New York Times – July 7, 2010 – Mutual of America

SMITH – Margaret D., M.D. Mutual of America and its Board of Directors, together with all of its officers and employees, mourn the passing of Margaret D. Smith. Dr. “Maggie” Smith has served for over ten years as Mutual of America’s medical consultant. Her extraordinary kindness and professionalism have been a great benefit to the health and well-being of our employees. Our sincere condolences to her husband, Dr. Matthew J. Ferguson, their children and families.

Thomas J. Moran
Chairman of the Board
President and CEO
Mutual of America
Life Insurance Company

From Lynda Schoenstein

My name is Lynda Schoenstein & I am a former resident of your Mom’s. But, much more than that, I considered her a great friend & like a second mother to me. Several times she took my husband Ed flying in her plane & I even went along twice. I think Ed has already sent you a few pictures of us but I wanted to send some more. The pictures cannot do justice to the incredible person she was but I really loved looking at all the ones you’ve posted so far & look forward to seeing many more. A piece of me died with her on Monday & I can only imagine how much greater your loss is than mine. I will continue to pray for you & all your family for your loss.

Much love,

Med-Dept end of year party 2005

More To Come

Submit your letters, stories and pictures to be posted here by sending an email to todd@toddsmithphotography.com. If you don’t have pictures, you can simply leave a comment below.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lynda Schoenstein July 9, 2010 at 1:56 am

I can’t believe she’s gone. She was like a mother to me & so many of her residents, or her “kids” as she liked to say. None of us will be the same without her but we wouldn’t be the people, & the doctors, we are today without her either. Each one of us is so blessed to have known such a wonderful teacher & friend.


Ed Schoenstein July 9, 2010 at 2:10 am

Lynda has definitely expressed our sorrow regarding this tragedy. As a fellow aviator I would like to express the loss of Maggie in the following way:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

[Author is John G. Magee, Jr., a 19-year-old American serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force in Britain, late 1941 ]


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