It is with profound shock and sadness that I absorbed the news of the death of Chuck Smith, news editor of the Great Bend Tribune.
He was 56, just five scant years older than I, but a lot can be shoehorned into a five-year span.
Especially in the field of journalism, where the bright eyes of altruism by graduates leaving journalism school are quickly replaced by the thick skin needed to cover three decades of community government.
I had just arrived in Larned, first job out of J-school in 1985, when I first became aware of Chuck. I didnt meet him personally, right away, but in those days, it was my job to scan the Trib to see what Chuck had seen and reported (and I had missed), rewrite it, and present it in paraphrase the next day.
It wasnt a practice that I had learned about in J-school, but as I said, you learn a lot on the job.
The first time I actually met him, he was dressed in the blue-and-piping of an 1860s calvary officer, out at Fort Larned. I had been given a privates uniform. Puffing on his ever-present bentwood, he began to set me to, and somehow I sensed that was the sort of relationship that we were to have in the coming years.
When I arrived at the Tribune to fit into the sports department some two years later, Chuck was there. With the current AP stylebook and a host of other journalistic mnemonic accoutrements still fresh in my mind, Chuck gave me my first lesson. Why would I bother memorizing all that, when I have it right here? he said, pointing to a row of books on his desk. That way, I know its right.
Many lessons later, all delivered with a soft-voiced acerbic wit, I was being edited for the days work. I had been up all night, working on the coverage of the termination of a Great Bend High School football coach, for the front page. As line after green line scrolled up the old MycroTec 1100 Plus screen, Chuck read my every word. The story practically filled the front, and leaked over into the sports section. Chucks comment to me was, Well, I think you have it covered.
Still another lesson involved the purchase of a set of ties, because for reasons best not remembered, were made a requirement for all males in the newsroom. Chuck took me down to his favorite tie place, a second-hand store, where you could get a fistful for a buck. They weren’t the most fashionable. On Chuck they looked good. They were part of his distinctive style, but on me they looked like I was trying out for Blackwoods worst-dressed list. I still have them (and wear some, occasionally).
After leaving the Tribune in 1992, life took me down a different path, but then brought me back. Chucks stories and editorials were still going strong, as they had throughout my extended vacation from journalism.
How fitting Chucks last editorial concerned an admonition to the younger generation on following the rules. It fits his role of community mentor to a T.
Chucks passing calls to mind a short story, written by George Orwell in 1931, concerning the cutting short of a mans life just as it is in full stride. Its last line reinforces the notion that the loss of one member of the journalistic fraternity affects not just the immediate family, or even the field of journalism, but the community at large.
He and we were a party of men walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and in two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone, one mind less, one world less.
Chuck, his pipe, his hat, ties and most importantly, his words will always be a part of me. I wouldn’t normally close with a clich: he will be missed. But, as Chuck would point out, I guess I just did.
Michael A. Gilmore
Hi! Neighbor Newspapers