Doug Smith, a longtime journalist who wrote principally for the old Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Times, died Wednesday night at a Little Rock hospice. He was 74.
Plagued by heart trouble, he had retired at the end of 2013 as a reporter, columnist and editorial writer for the Arkansas Times.
Smith, whose full name was Paul Douglas Smith, was born Feb. 7, 1940, at Ione in Logan County. He graduated from Searcy High School and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he was associate editor of the Arkansas Traveler, the campus newspaper, and editor of the Razorback, the school yearbook. He was one of three children. An older brother, Mike, was killed when his plane crashed in North Vietnam. His body was never recovered. Doug was an implacable foe of the Vietnam War and subsequent American wars.
He went to work for the Gazette in 1963 as a reporter and in about 1970 he became a political and state government reporter. His last eight years or so were with the paper’s editorial page. His spare and mordant literary style flourished in the latitudes of the editorial page. The Gazette’s ponderous editorials, typically long and heavy with argument, were leavened by Smith’s often mock-serious pieces on such subjects as the social disorders of cats, which often consumed no more than four inches of the editorial columns. On matters of gravity, his editorials were equally spare but caustic. He believed persuasion was a pointless exercise, a self-
delusion of editorial writers, and he went straight to the point.
When it was reported that President Ronald Reagan kept diaries, Smith wrote a spoof under the headline “Are these the Reagan Diaries?” about a day’s entries by the president. Imitating the classical diary entries of Samuel Pepys, the 17th British naval administrator, Smith adapted Pepys to what he imagined was the style of the 40th president.
When the Gazette closed in 1991, Doug went to work for the Arkansas Times, which converted from a monthly magazine to a weekly newspaper. He wrote in-depth articles and nearly all the paper’s editorials from 1992 through 2013. At the Gazette, he wrote a humorous weekly column on English usage that was rich with wordplay, and he continued the column at the Times after retiring, until the spring of 2014 when he became too ill to write. It was called “Words.”
Doug was an autodidact of deep knowledge, especially in history, biography and sports. He was cherished by his friends as a man of quick wit and keen perception. A conversation with him was always rewarding, refreshing and often brought tears of laughter. An unapologetic liberal, Doug fired off withering ripostes to conservative gibes that his editorials often brought. He made no secret of his disdain for disingenuous, sanctimonious, uninformed and self-absorbed opinion writers.
Wednesday morning Governor Beebe, who is from Searcy, Smith’s hometown, sent him a letter at the hospice expressing his concerns.
“I want you to know how much I’ve admired your tenacity, independence, and commitment to journalistic excellence over the many years we’ve known each other. You’ve been a legend for a long time, from your days as reporter and editorial writer at the Arkansas Gazette to becoming the words and language guru, among other work, at the Arkansas Times. Thanks for your many thought-provoking contributions to the world of journalism, and thank you for your friendship.”
As the son of clothiers, he prided himself on being a well-dressed man, wearing a suit and tie (or sometimes a sports coat and tie) to the office nearly every day, long after the lamentable trend of “casual office wear” had taken hold. It’s doubtful Doug ever wore a pair of blue jeans in his adult life.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Paul and Madge Ward Smith, and a brother, William W. “Mike” Smith. He is survived by a sister, Ann Fair of Memphis; three nieces, Bobbie Andrews and Necia Cuesta of Memphis and Valerie Canepa of Searcy; a nephew, Doug Fair of Southhaven, Miss.; four great-nieces; and a great nephew.
Funeral arrangements are by Ruebel Funeral Home.