Smiley, James Anderson (1907–88), physician, was born 20 April 1907 at Castlewellan, Co. Down, the eldest of the four sons and one daughter of Samuel John Smiley, apothecary, and Mary Emma Smiley (née Anderson) of Lurgan. There was a strong medical tradition in the family, and of James's four siblings one became a surgeon, two dentists, and one a pharmacist. Having been educated at the Methodist College, Belfast (1920–24), Smiley studied medicine at QUB; he was active in various college societies, president of the literary and scientific society (1927–8), and won the Dufferin and Ava medal for oratory (1928). He graduated MB, B.Ch., BAO in 1930 and for several years was a general practitioner in Cleethorps and East Belfast, where he was concerned by the large number of his patients presenting with symptoms of preventable diseases associated with their employment.
Under the appointed factory doctor system, Smiley was the certifying factory doctor in East Belfast. When in 1936 Short Brothers located a new aircraft factory there as Short Brothers and Harland, he was originally invited to train first aid workers. He became involved in the air raid precaution organisation and was soon a part-time member of staff within the fledgling company (1939), where he established a comprehensive in-house medical service for the workforce (among the first in Ireland). Later he was involved in organising a casualty service in Belfast and the surrounding area. His general practice continued during the war years. After being appointed as half-time industrial medical officer at Short Brothers and Harland (sometime after 1943), he gave up general practice (1946) to concentrate full-time on occupational medicine. By this time he was medical adviser to Harland and Wolff, as well as to other large employers in Belfast, including the Belfast Ropework Co., the Sirocco Works, and several Belfast linen mills. In 1952 he became attached to QUB as a part-time demonstrator in pharmacology, then lecturer in industrial toxicology (1952–6) and industrial medicine (1959–72). In 1965 he was appointed medical officer to BP Refinery Ireland as their first member of staff in Belfast.
Although Smiley was the first industrial health specialist in Ireland, along with Jack Eustace, the research he pursued was not abundant, but included some seminal work. His major research, undertaken in 1945, was a clinical study of accident-prone workers, for which he was awarded an MD from QUB with high commendation (1946). His views were controversial at the time because he speculated that the hypothalamus was involved in causing the condition and that accident-proneness was a constant condition, not variable, as some hypothesised. Later research included the occurrence of byssinosis in flax- and rope-workers (early 1950s) and absenteeism (late 1950s). Since he came from a medical background, Smiley disliked it when statistical analysis started to become as important as clinical observation in occupational health studies. He obtained his diploma in industrial health (1948) from the conjoint board of the Royal Colleges and the Society of Apothecaries. Adding to his original observations on accident-proneness, he delivered the Milroy lectures to the RCP in London (1955). Formal recognition of his contribution to industry came when he was made an OBE (1953).
The failure of university medical faculties to recognise industrial health medicine as a speciality or to provide for the educational needs of professionals interested in this area was a source of annoyance to Smiley. These needs were met by the Association of Industrial Medical Officers, which he joined in 1947. For many years he was a council member of the association (renamed the Society of Occupational Medicine in 1963): he organised a successful meeting in Belfast (1963) and later served as president (1966). In Ireland he became a leading figure in occupational medicine and had a clear vision of how the discipline should develop. Due to his efforts (along with those of Jack Eustace and Leo McElearney), the RCPI was the first in Europe to recognise occupational medicine as a discrete profession, with the formation in 1976 of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine. Smiley was made a founding fellow of the new faculty, and later served as its dean (1981–3). After the RCP in London founded a Faculty of Occupational Medicine (1978) he was elected an honorary fellow (1982).
Smiley was a recognised authority on byssinosis, and the results of his work formed the core of his presentation for the inaugural Scott–Heron lecture to the Royal Victoria Hospital in 1960 and the Mackenzie lecture in 1970 to the British Medical Association. After 1960 the linen industry in Ulster went into decline and he became more interested in recording the historical aspects of industrial medicine, which he did with some flair, dealing with issues rather than just facts about people and places. Further recognition of his contributions to occupational medicine came when he was elected a member of the exclusive Ramazzini Society (1984), a society limited to fifty of the most distinguished health physicians in Europe, and QUB awarded him an honorary MD (1986).
Though he lectured and consulted extensively throughout Ireland, Smiley did not publish many academic papers. Froggatt (1991) lists thirteen in journals and a chapter on the flax-spinning industry in a government report, Byssinosis in flax workers in Northern Ireland (1965).
Known to his friends as ‘Jim’, Smiley was a shrewd and able doctor who made up for a lack of formal training in research with an ability to ask the right questions and adopt new techniques. Although he was apparently reserved and austere, those who came close to him remember other qualities, such as integrity, intelligence, breadth of culture, deep learning, sincere conviction, warm personality, and a quiet sense of humour. He retained an attachment to his old school and was its doctor for twenty-six years; he was also involved with the rugby team and the Old Boys’ Association (president, 1958). In addition he enjoyed playing golf. Much of his work was motivated by strong Christian principles, and he was deeply involved in methodism, being a trustee of his methodist church in Belfast. He was a founder member of the Protestant and Catholic Encounter group (PACE) and revived the Methodist Newsletter. In 1933 he married Elizabeth McCaghey, whom he met at Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, while he was a house officer and she was training as a nurse. They had five children, two daughters and three sons. He died 31 March 1988.
In an assessment of Smiley's work, Sir Peter Froggatt called him ‘the most important and eminent occupational medical specialist Ulster produced in the 20th century’ (Froggatt, 219). An endowment from the Smiley family enabled the Faculty of Occupational medicine of the RCPI to inaugurate an annual Smiley lecture and gold medal in his honour. The first lecture, ‘James Smiley: his life and work’, was given by Jack Eustace (1988). Froggatt, a former student and colleague of Smiley, gave the second lecture (1989), ‘The scholarly work of James Smiley’.