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Joe Dorsey Smith Jr.
Born (1922-04-06)April 6, 1922
Selma, Grant Parish, Louisiana, USA
Died March 20, 2008(2008-03-20) (aged 85)
Alexandria, Rapides Parish, Louisiana
Occupation Publisher of Alexandria Daily Town Talk (1962–1996)
Investor
Political party Registered Democrat, but large donor to Republicans
Spouse(s) (1) Jane Wilson Smith (1922–1992, married until her death)
(2) Bertie Murphy Deming Smith (born ca. 1925, married until his death)
Children Son Larry Dorsey Smith (born 1948) of Austin, Texas
Stepsons
John W. Deming Jr. of Palo Alto, California
Claiborne P. Deming of
El Dorado, Arkansas
Stepdaughters
Bertie Deming Heiner of Charlottesville, Virginia
Cathy Deming Pierson of New Orleans
Eleven grandchildren
Notes
(1) Smith said that a home-town newspaper has a special responsibility to try to improve the community that it serves, not just for business reasons, but for the general welfare of the citizens.

(2) Through his role as a newspaper publisher, Smith influenced the routing of I-Interstate 49 through Alexandria.

(3) Though he was a registered Democrat, Smith was a generous donor to Republican candidates.

(4) Smith went into the newsroom on November 22, 1963, to help in the production of a rare special edition newspaper on the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

Joe Dorsey Smith Jr. (April 6, 1922 – March 20, 2008), was the former general manager, president, publisher, and chairman of the board of the Alexandria Daily Town Talk in Alexandria, the largest newspaper (circulation 40,000) in central Louisiana. Smith became publisher in 1962. After a half century of service,[1] he retired from The Town Talk in March 1996, and the paper was sold for $62 million to Central Newspapers, Inc., of Indianapolis, Indiana.[2] Smith died suddenly at his Alexandria residence three days after the newspaper observed its 125th anniversary on March 17, 2008. He was a former chairman and president of the trade associations, the American Newspaper Publishers Association and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. He was a former officer of the Associated Press news-gathering organization. Known for his acute civic-mindedness, Smith advocated reform in state and local government. He was a former president of the Public Affairs Research Council, a "good government" research institution. He served on the boards of Tulane University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, LSU Manship School of Mass Communication and the Louisiana Board of Regents in Baton Rouge, the body which governs public higher education.[3]

Background

Smith was born to Joe Smith Sr. and Louise Lindsay Smith in the unincorporated community of Selma in northern Grant Parish, located south of Georgetown on U.S. Highway 165. His parents were originally from rural areas. Louise Smith was a native of Eros in northeastern Jackson Parish. Smith, Sr., was originally from Geneva in Sabine County, Texas, just west of the Sabine River Geneva is considered the oldest continuously occupied town in East Texas.[4] Smith, Sr., was a bookkeeper for the former Interurban Transportation Company, formed by Morgan W. Walker, Sr. The company was a forerunner of Continental Trailways Bus lines.[5]

Smith graduated from Bolton High School in Alexandria, at the time the only high school for white youngsters in the Alexandria-Pineville area. African Americans in the segregated system then attended historically black Peabody High School in south Alexandria.[6] Among Smith's Bolton classmates were future Mayors John K. Snyder and W. George Bowdon Jr., future U.S. Representative Gillis William Long, and the industrialist and philanthropist Roy O. Martin Jr.[7]

An Episcopalian, Smith graduated from Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College in Pineville. During World War II, he served in the United States Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the Air Force. On his release from the military in April 1946, he was first employed at The Town Talk. He married the former Jane Wilson (1922–1992), a Bolton classmate[8] whose family owned the newspaper. The couple had one son, Larry Dorsey Smith (born 1947), a business management graduate of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston and a retired Air Force officer who resides with his wife, Brenda Smith, in Austin, Texas. After Jane's death, Smith married Bertie Murphy Deming (born December 26, 1925),[9] the widow of his long-time friend, physician John W. Deming, Sr. (May 17, 1920 – November 5, 1996),[10] a former member of the Rapides Parish School Board, based in Alexandria. With the second marriage came four stepchildren, John W. Deming Jr. of Palo Alto, California, Claiborne P. Deming of El Dorado, Arkansas, Bertie Deming Heiner of Charlottesville, Virginia, and Cathy Deming Pierson of New Orleans.[11]

Smith as publisher

Tom J. Hardin, a cousin of Jane Smith and Smith's successor as Town Talk publisher through Central Newspapers, described his friend and associate as "a natural leader" and "a big supporter of newspapering" through his service in state and national organizations.[12]

Ira Wallace Anthony (1936–2010), the former copy editor at The Town Talk who worked at the newspaper from 1963 to 2007, described Smith as "a fairly stern person, but he had a soft interior, and he was always fair and an eminently good leader of the newsroom." Anthony, a native of Greenville, Mississippi, recalled that after 1 p.m. on November 22, 1963, Smith rushed into the newsroom to help produce a special edition. He even wrote the simple headline in the largest available type, two lines of 120 points, all capital letters: "PRESIDENT KENNEDY IS ".[12]

Ever the innovator, The Town Talk was the first Louisiana newspaper to move from typewriters to computers. He reached out to the African American community, as the paper hired its first black reporter, Cleo Joffrion. Smith was a member of the Rapides Parish Bi-Racial Commission. He was a friend of many black leaders, including the Reverend C.J. Bell of the Progressive Baptist Church.[13] Helen Derr (1918–2011), a Nebraska native reared in Iowa who worked for The Town Talk from 1955 to 1977 and was the newspaper religion editor, recalled that Smith never wavered from principle. She remembered that Smith once rejected a judge's request to keep certain information out of the newspaper. According to Derr, Smith "didn't pay any attention to the politicians" whose policies the newspaper frequently opposed.[12] The United States Supreme Court had ruled in 1976 in Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart that anything brought forth in a trial is public information and can therefore be published.[14]

Smith developed close ties with many of his employees. Richard Powell Sharkey, Helen Derr's son-in-law, started as a reporter and became The Town Talk managing editor. Smith stood by the bedside of his friend and former managing editor, Adras P. LaBorde, prior to LaBorde's sudden death of stomach cancer in 1993.[15] Another Smith associate, Nelder Dawson, the former Town Talk advertising manager and personnel director, also spent a half century at the paper.[16] Cecil Williams, formerly assistant managing editor, became business editor in the early 1970s and won numerous awards from that position.[17]

A number of journalists started at The Town Talk under Smith's tenure and advanced in the newsroom or went to other publications. Jeff Cowart[18] and Len Sanderson Jr. became consultants based in the Washington, D.C., area. Sanderson was inducted in 2007 into the Douglas Manship Communications Hall of Fame at LSU.[19]

Plugging civic improvement

In civic affairs, Smith acted with others to establish England Airpark when the United States Congress closed England Air Force Base. Alexandria businessman Rodney V. Noles, a pallbearer at Smith's funeral, recalled in an interview with The Town Talk that his friend "cared about the community... and influenced things from an unselfish standpoint." Businessman Harry B. Silver (born January 19, 1922), an Alexandria City Council member and an honorary pallbearer, said that Smith helped Alexandria to progress and then "graduated to state level, where he was an inestimable value as consultant in governmental affairs. He was a philanthropist in the educational field as well as the cultural field." Each Christmas season, he led The Town Talk annual Doll and Toy Fund to raise money for gifts for needy children.[20] Smith was a past president of the Alexandria-Pineville Chamber of Commerce.[21]

Smith advocated a revitalized downtown Alexandria and fought to keep Rapides Regional Medical Center from moving when the hospital needed to expand. He moved The Town Talk into a nearby renovated downtown building on Third Street once occupied by J.C. Penney. He successfully argued for I-Interstate 49 to pass through the downtown. Ed Humphrey, the Town Talk president and publisher at the time of Smith's death, said that he was "always impressed with [Smith]'s business knowledge and experience. He was a leader, not just in the newspaper industry, but in helping build the local business economy."[22]

Active in banking too, Smith was a board member of the former Guaranty Bank and Trust Company in Alexandria and its reorganized company, Hibernia Bank in New Orleans.[23]

Generous political donor

Smith was a registered Democrat.[24] He and his wife Bertie, who listed their occupations as "retired investors", donated to numerous political campaigns, mostly those of Republicans. In 2003, each gave the $2,000 maximum contribution permitted to U.S. President George W. Bush's reelection campaign. Each donated $3,000 to State Treasurer John Neely Kennedy's then Democratic campaign for the United States Senate. Kennedy switched parties in 2007 and was reelected treasurer as a Republican. In 2004, Smith gave $2,000 directly to the Republican National Committee, and Mrs. Smith has given similar amounts to the RNC in recent years too.[25] The couple also gave $2,000 each in 2004 to the unsuccessful Fifth Congressional District campaign of the Alexandria Republican Jock Scott, who lost to the Democrat-turned-Republican incumbent, Rodney Alexander. Smith himself gave $2,500 to current Governor Bobby Jindal, who was elected in 2004 to the United States House of Representatives in the New Orleans suburbs.[25] In 2003, he gave $2,000 to Republican U.S. Representative (later U.S. Senator) David Vitter of New Orleans and $1,250 to Republican Representative Jim McCrery, of Shreveport, who has since announced his retirement from Congress effective in 2009.[26]

Smith's legacy

Grave of Joe D. Smith Jr., in Greenwood Memorial Park in Pineville, Louisiana

Services for Smith were held on March 24, 2008, at St. James Episcopal Church in Alexandria, with the Reverend Fred H. Tinsley Jr. officiating. Interment was beside his first wife in Section 7 of Greenwood Memorial Park in Pineville.

In 2000, Louisiana College honored Smith as a distinguished alumnus at its Founders Day chapel service. Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge presented him with an honorary doctorate for his service to the institution. Smith was a strong advocate of the since obtained four-year status for Louisiana State University at Alexandria. In 2001, Smith was inducted into the Manship Hall of Fame. At the time, he described his newspaper philosophy accordingly: "This is more than just a business. You have to be concerned about the world and where it's going, about your country and where it's going, about your city and your state and where they're going -- how you can influence what you think should be done.... There are far more concerns, far more rewards than in most careers or businesses." Smith said that "a home-owned newspaper has a responsibility to try to improve the community, not for business reasons alone, but also for the welfare of the citizens."[27] Central Newspapers, originally held by Eugene S. Pulliam, the uncle of former Vice President Dan Quayle, held The Town Talk for only four years; the company itself was sold in 2000 to the Virginia-based Gannett Company.[2]

References

External links

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