Clifford C. Smith M.D. age 85 of Prairie du Chien passed away Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at the Prairie du Chien Memorial Hospital. He was born July 30, 1925,the only son, and first of four children, to his parents Clifford Clay Smith
and Lee Russell Smith in Waterloo, IA. He graduated from East High School, and
completed one year of college before he entered the U. S. Army Air
Corp. Dr. Smith of Prairie du Chien, known to many as “Doc,”
was widely respected for his compassion as a rural physician for over
40 years. It is a little known fact, however, that Dr. Smith was a
member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. He entered the Army in 1943 and initially
drove a 2-1/2 ton truck called a “deuce and a half.” The young
soldier learned that black men were being trained as pilots and
submitted an application for flight school. More than a year had
passed without having received word from the flight school, when
Smith happened to find himself in the adjutant’s office where he
knew the applications were filed. He found his application at the
bottom of a pile and moved it to the top. Shortly afterward, he
received notice of acceptance to flight school, and in 1945, joined
the ranks of other African American cadets being trained to become
World War II pilots. Although Smith’s favorite plane was the B-25
Mitchell bomber aircraft, he was assigned the Steerman biplane. In
only three months Smith mastered the Steerman, and qualified to fly
the AT-6 and multi-engine aircrafts. That achievement earned the
young pilot his notoriety among the ranks as the “90-day wonder”
in the class of ’46.
Dr. Smith returned to civilian life as a student at the University of
Iowa. Following graduation, he attended Meharry Medical College in
Nashville, interned in Binghamton, NY and became the first African
American medical resident at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital
in Iowa City. He began private practice with his mother-in-law, Dr.
Laura B. Harris, in Jersey City, NJ, where he became the first
African American emergency room director at the Jersey City Medical
Center. Nearly five years later, the young doctor with his wife and
two children moved from Jersey City to McGregor, Iowa. In 1998, Dr.
Smith was named National Rural Health Practitioner of the Year. He
was presented the University of Iowa Alumni Award in 2005.
Dr. Smith chose this area to establish his practice at the McGregor
Hospital. A year later, he moved his office to 626 Main Street in
McGregor. His courage never wavered, even when his initial years were
lean. His practice flourished. When fire razed the modest two-story
house that Dr. Smith converted into his first clinic, a new clinic
was built in 1979 on adjacent property that, in the winter in 1967,
he had transformed into a community ice-skating rink. Dr. Smith’s
patients were devoted to him, not only because he was a gifted
internist, but because of his great compassion. Dr. Smith would
accept bartering in exchange for patient care when a patient could
not afford to pay. He was known to accept items he didn’t
necessarily need in order to allow the patient to feel satisfied
about their debt.
For the first twenty-five years of his 41-year career in Iowa and
Wisconsin, Dr. Smith practiced independently as an internal and
family medicine physician. He also served for a number of years as
the Medical Examiner for Clayton County Iowa. In 1987 Smith began his
affiliation with Gundersen Lutheran of LaCrosse, and continued to
serve the communities of Northeast Iowa and Southwest Wisconsin until
his retirement in 2003. Dr. Smith was a member of Prairie du Chien
Memorial Hospital’s active medical staff for 36 years serving on
committees such as safety, credentials, utilization review, quality
assurance, and as Chief of Staff. For several years following his
retirement, Dr. Smith served as Medical Director of Prairie Maison
Nursing Home in Prairie du Chien.
Dr. Smith is survived by his wife Pat of Prairie du Chien, two children from his first marriage to Jacquelyn H. Smith: Shelley Smith of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin; and Clay (Rozalyn) Smith of Port Jefferson Station, NY; four grandchildren, two
surviving sisters, Betty (Billy) Lawton of Washington D.C. and Deanna Smith-Johnson of Tacoma Park, MD and their families, one brother-in-law, and a
number of nieces and nephews. His parents and a sister Yvonne Simms preceded him in death.
Funeral services will be Monday, May 16, 2011 at 11:00 AM at the MFL Mar-Mac McGregor Center Gymnasium in McGregor, IA with Rev. William Gentry officiating. The American Legion Post 108 of McGregor will accord military rites following the service. Interment will be in the Garden of Memories, Waterloo, IA on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 10:30 AM. Friends may call after 2:00 PM on Sunday, May 15, 2011 at the Garrity Funeral Home in Prairie du Chien and one hour prior to services on Monday, May 16, 2011 at the MFL Mar-Mac McGregor Center.