Susan F. Smith Remembered As Tireless Advocate for Women's Cancer Research and Care


Susan F. Smith, Dana-Farber trustee and founder of the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, died peacefully on July 30, 2016.

"Mrs. Smith was a true champion of research and care for women with breast and gynecologic cancers," said Dana-Farber President Edward Benz, Jr., MD. "Many of the advances we have today were made possible by her vision and resolve."

Mrs. Smith was a founding member of the Friends of the Dana-Farber, then spearheaded a pioneering effort that became the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers. With her husband, Richard, she was a long-time benefactor of Dana-Farber, including support for the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Research Laboratories.

As in all of her charitable endeavors, Mrs. Smith had a hands-on approach to research and clinical care. "I am doing this so that one day my grandchildren won't have to face this disease," she would often say.

"Susan Smith was the epitome of hope and action here at Dana-Farber and within the wider community," said Josh Bekenstein, chairman of the Dana-Farber Board of Trustees. "She led by example, encouraged others, and by extension, touched the lives of millions of patients and their families. For Anita and me, her passion for and contributions to Dana-Farber have always been an inspiration."

More than 20 years ago, Mrs. Smith focused on women's cancers at a time when these diseases received little attention. The idea of a center dedicated to studying and treating all women's cancers under one umbrella — and creating a natural alliance for better care and smarter science — captured her imagination during a conversation with basic scientist David Livingston, MD, who is now deputy director of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center.

"Dr. Livingston explained there was a great deal of research being done in breast and other women's cancers that would benefit from more coordination and collaboration among scientists," Mrs. Smith said. "The best way to create a strategic direction for women's cancers was to bring together all this research and the clinical care it supports."

In 1993 she formed a National Advisory Council of leaders in health, education, philanthropy, and the news media to make recommendations on the structure and composition of a new program. She brought the idea to David Nathan, MD, who was then president of Dana-Farber, and the Gillette Center for Women's Cancers opened at Dana-Farber in 1997, with programs to care for a woman's well-being — body and mind — as she went through treatment.

"Mrs. Smith was truly remarkable," said Eric Winer, MD, chief, Division of Women's Cancers, at what is now the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers. "She was a force of nature, an incredibly generous and insightful person, and the woman who really first thought of bringing together all of women’s cancers under one umbrella."

In 2001, a Presidential Visiting Committee was established, with Mrs. Smith as chair. The mission of the committee is to provide counsel and advice to the President, to serve as educated ambassadors to the community at large, and to help provide and secure the financial and intellectual resources that support the mission and core values of the Institute. Mrs. Smith was joined by Trustee Jane Jamieson as co-chair in 2008.

The committee sparked a range of innovations, including the formation of an Executive Council, which has mobilized thousands of women in Greater Boston to learn about and support research into women's health and women's cancers at Dana-Farber.

"I have been fortunate to know Sue Smith for over 40 years and have always respected and admired her for her passion, her sincerity, and her infectious enthusiasm for Dana-Farber and the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers," said Susan Paresky, Senior Vice President for Development and the Jimmy Fund. "Her vision and leadership enabled both the Friends of Dana-Farber and the Susan F. Smith Center to grow and thrive. We will greatly miss her."

The Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers at Dana-Farber opened in 2011 to further strengthen the connection between research and patient care. The clinical areas moved to adjacent floors on the newly opened Yawkey Center for Cancer Care, with a two-story bridge providing a direct link to researchers in the adjoining Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Research Laboratories.

"For more than 20 years, Mrs. Smith has been the driving force behind our program," said Ursula Matulonis, MD, interim director of the Susan F. Smith Center. "Her dedication to better research and care for women’s cancers, and collaboration among staff, never wavered."

Since Mrs. Smith's early advocacy, the collaboration between physician-scientists who specialize in breast cancer and those who focus on gynecologic cancers has always been the center's hallmark.

"I look back with pride at what we've accomplished, not only in the research area, but also in the compassion with which we've treated patients," Mrs. Smith once said. "I look forward to and hope for more and deeper collaboration between the research and clinical faculty to translate scientific findings into better and more effective treatments for patients."

Read more about Mrs. Smith’s legacy, including her life outside Dana-Farber.