J Lawton Smith Award Recipient

J Lawton Smith was one of the original founders of the COS.  He was globally well known as a neuroophthalmologist who was charismatic in practice and his faith!

The J Lawton Smith Award is given out each year at the COS Annual Meeting to an ophthalmologist who has shown a lifetime commmitment to serving the Lord through their personal practice of excellence in medicine, academic influence, and/or missionary dedication.


First Class Medicine




Award Year:

Trust Jesus Christ today – you will never regret it . . .

– J Lawton Smith

“He’s a living legend.  A tall lanky southern gentleman—once you’ve met him you wouldn’t forget him.  Not at all pretentious and a good sense of humor– an outstanding person.”  These are the words of a peer and recipient of the J. Lawton Smith Award.

            J. Lawton Smith was born in Greenville, South Carolina to Dr. and Mrs. Hugh Smith.  He was born in 1929, one of three boys in this small family.  The family had always attended church and he was baptized at age 12.  He states the only change this baptism produced was that he came up “wet”!  His real conversion to Christianity and a living faith in Jesus Christ occurred in November, 1963 at age 34 after he witnessed the change in his friend Jack Cooper.  I guess you could say he read this living epistle for himself.  Other circumstances also confirmed that God was drawing him into relationship with him, and so he became born again according to the scripture in John Chapter 3.

            Dr. Smith wass not only passionate about his work as a doctor of neuro-ophthamology , but his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  In his book, “A Physician’s Faith,” it is clear that he has a fascination, keen understanding, and passion for the Bible.  He appreciates the parallels of human anatomy and spiritual principles that only one could as seeing through eyes of faith.  Though a highly intellectual man, he wrote in a manner that anyone could digest and grow from. 

            From his own words, in the most updated edition (2007) of A Physician’s Faith, and his last chapter appropriately entitled “Progress Notes,” one can find what Dr. Smith had been doing after his retirement in 1994.  He was 78 at the time of the updated edition.  Here are some quotes from page 202, in the second paragraph:

“Many asked me whether I wanted to work part time, or continue a bit in some medical capacity, but my experience has been that if one retires from medicine, which is an extremely interesting and challenging profession, that he should have another field of interest to replace the former occupation to avoid boredom or a feeling of being generally useless.  Fortunately when I turned 64 years of age, the Lord quickened to me the following verse-Acts 6:4-‘But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”  That verse has been my goal now for 13 years since retirement from the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. 

            The Smith’s held a weekly Bible study in their home for over 30 years and attended Upper Room Assembly of God in Miami, Florida.

            The Christian Ophthamology Society meetings began in 1977 and continue to this day.  He was the president of COS from 1977-1990. 

            Dr. Smith and his wife Elisabeth for over 52 years, have three children, and three granddaughters. 

            Again quoting from his most recent edition of his book, on page 204, the last paragraph:

            “Medically speaking, my age is certainly telling.  I have mild Parkinsonism on my left side, but this has done well with Sinement and the wonderful care of Dr. Ray Lopez, my neurologist.  My voice becomes weak, my balance is also weak, and my memory is poorer as I age, but by clinging to Jesus and reading the Bible, God has never let me down and I am looking forward to that wonderful day of seeing the glory of God manifested in the face of my Lord Jesus Christ.  May God bless you and yours—trust Jesus Christ today—you will never regret it.”  

Founder J. Lawton Smith was famous for stirring up folks with the way he phrased things.  He certainly got right to the point but with very catchy and witty phrases.  (see more about the Legend of Lawton here.)

Though Lawton never used the phrase “practicing first class medicine in a spirit of love”, this is what he challenged the doctors around him to do at all times.  It is for this reason that the J. Lawton Smith award has been given to a physician who demonstrates this type of attitude and excellence in their practice of medicine.

To see the physicians who have been honored with this award, please click here.

JLS Award Recipients

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