Colin Smailes was born in Yorkshire, England, and became a fourth-generation physician of the Smailes family. Educated at the Leys School and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, he later qualified from the Royal London Hospital.
Colin arrived in Vancouver in 1960 and the following year set up his practice in Surrey, with staff privileges at Surrey Memorial Hospital. He quickly established his practice providing surgical, obstetric, and emergency room care to young families. His quiet, calm demeanor made him popular, especially with children. A busy practice did not prevent him from involving himself in hospital administration, leading to his appointment in the late 1960s as chief of staff.
He chaired the hospital’s first medical audit committee, which led to his interest in and commitment to doctors’ accountability for not only the care they provided, but also for the cost of that care. Later his colleagues showed their confidence in him by electing him to the BCMA Board of Directors, representing District 6. It was the time of the introduction of medicare in the late 1960s, and politically sensitive. When Premier W.A.C. Bennett published the incomes of individual doctors and then moved to prorate the payments to the high-income earners, there was a political explosion and Colin Smailes was at the centre of it.
In 1968 Euan Horniman started the reform group, a small group of Lower Mainland doctors who felt that any agreement between the BCMA and the provincial government must be ratified by the membership by mail ballot. Out of this determination the BCMA politically became a two-party organization, establishment and reform, as it addressed the changes that government proposed regarding the provision of health care to British Columbians and the payments to doctors for the services they provided. Initially the reform message was sent across the province by the aggressive, hard-hitting District 6 newsletter edited by Horniman and Smailes. With the establishment of reform dominance in the BCMA, Colin Smailes left the political arena to promote the issue of physician accountability through local medical audit committees and conjoint MSP–BCMA Patterns of Practice review. Subsequently the College initiated audit of aberrant practice patterns in cooperation with the Medical Services Plan. Colin Smailes was the pioneer in doctors accounting for the care they provided to British Columbians.
In the evening of his career, Colin joined Dr Ching Lau in developing Surrey’s day-care programs for the elderly, and together they set up and ran the transitional care unit, providing 1 month’s active post-op care and rehabilitation to joint-replacement patients.
As a teenager he began a lifelong love affair with boats. As a medical student in London he lived on a houseboat on the Thames. In his home in Surrey he built a 33-foot wooden trimarin, having first built the barn in which the boat was to be constructed. He and his wife, Catherine, spent countless happy hours with their three children sailing the San Juan and Gulf Islands. He not only sailed the trimarin, he was a gourmet cook and entertained his family and friends with creative meals.
Without fanfare or fuss Colin Smailes was unique and significant, not only to his family friends and his patients, but also to his profession, to governments, and to British Columbians.
—John O’Brien-Bell, MB Surrey
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