Faces Behind the Numbers: Dr. Mark Smith
Dr. Mark Smith was a 52-year-old beloved family practice physician in Ash Grove when he died of COVID-19 on August 5, 2021.
In 1993, Mark Smith was a lab instructor at Oklahoma State University while also taking classes. He noticed a student, Angie Short, was struggling with the work. He offered to tutor her.
“He told me, you know, ‘we can just meet on campus.’ So we just met outside of the student union," said Short. "He just rode his bike up there and we just sat under a tree and started talking about class. And I’m just like ‘gosh he is the nicest person, he’s so smart and intelligent and friendly and he doesn’t have to do this.'”
After more study sessions and getting to know each other, Angie realized how special Mark was to her. On his birthday at Eskimo Joe’s, she put on a brave face.
“I called him ‘Dr. Smith' because he was going for his doctorate. I’m like, ‘Dr. Smith, I want to buy you a drink.’ He’s like, ‘what are you doing?’ I’m like, ‘it’s your birthday. You told everyone it was your birthday.’ So, I bought him a drink and after that we started dating,” Short said.
Their time was cut short when Mark moved away to medical school, but they kept in touch through letters and long-distance phone calls but eventually lost touch all together.
Mark earned his medical degree from Mizzou and worked at various rural family medical clinics in southwest Missouri.
Mila Sly worked as a clinic manager with Dr. Smith at two different clinics. She felt lucky he was easy to work with.
“What was so great about him — he was caring and compassionate and he really exuded that he cared about his patients,” Sly said.
She also knew him as a patient.
“He was my mom’s doctor and just experiencing that from the patient side, my mom doesn’t speak English so I would translate for her or one of my siblings, but even for someone who doesn’t speak English, she could literally see how much he cared,” said Sly.
Amanda Anderson was his nurse at the Ash Grove Family Medical Center — the last place Dr. Smith worked — in Ash Grove, a rural town of about 1500 people. Amanda said his patients found him relatable.
“The patients here loved him because he spent time with them, said Anderson. "He wasn’t in and out, he didn’t try to rush you, he talked. It wasn’t always medical that he talked about, he talked hunting and fishing, he was an Oklahoma boy born and raised.”
She said this is important in health care for good relations, but it's also important for informing patients.
“He was an excellent teacher. We learned a lot," said Anderson. "I really felt like he would have probably done well as an educator because he would take the the time to teach us, the patients, all these intricate things.”
In 2018, Angie Short received a Facebook message from Mark Smith, who she hadn’t spoken with in twenty years. Mark had already married and divorced by this time.
After chatting online, they decided to meet up in Oklahoma where Angie still lives.
It was summertime, but Angie put on Mark’s OSU rugby sweatshirt she had kept all that time.
“I mean I was nervous. I was excited. He said he felt the same way," she said. "He just pulled up in his truck and got out of his truck and I went out there. And I was like, ‘oh my gosh I can’t believe you're actually here.’ We just hugged. We were both just so happy,. We just picked up where we left off.”
Mark showed Angie his love by visiting her every weekend in Oklahoma, by spending time with her family, by cooking her dinners and watching TV shows with her.
Angie also knew how dedicated Mark was to his patients. She said he never complained about work and was always on call. One Christmas in Oklahoma, a patient of Mark’s needed help quickly and no other doctor was available.
“I could tell he was just so upset about his patient," she said, "and he’s like, ‘is it okay if I leave?’ And I’m like, ‘absolutely.’ And he’s like, ‘I’m so sorry.’ And I’m like, ‘that’s why I love you.’”
Mark Smith is remembered by his patients.
“and they just let it out that he could relate to them.,” said Anderson.
By friends and co-workers.
“He counted everyone has his friend. That was just his personality you know,” said Sly.
By his best friend, who didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.
“I would have thanked him for loving me unconditionally. And for being my best friend and always being there for me no matter what. And just thanked him for being the best man I've ever known,” said Angie Short.
One day Angie was cleaning her closet when an old piece of paper fell out of a dusty box. It looked like a poem and the title read, “If you could read my mind.” She realized it was lyrics to a love song Mark wrote for her in college in 1993.
When they reconnected, she said, Mark hadn't forgotten the song.