Obituary: Newspaper executive James H. Smith, 91, was former Bee general manager

04/09/2014 6:16 PM

04/09/2014 6:17 PM

James H. Smith, a former Sacramento Bee general manager who was an executive at newspapers around the country, died March 31 at 91, his family said.

Mr. Smith was known in the industry for his expertise in personnel issues and turning around financially troubled newspapers. He started in 1953 as labor relations manager at the San Diego Union-Tribune and spent four years at the paper’s corporate parent, Copley Newspapers in La Jolla. He was a consultant for the Christian Science Monitor and served as personnel director for the Christian Science Church.

He was president of the San Antonio Express-News in Texas before joining The Bee in 1974. He left in 1977 and spent about a year as publisher of the Washington Star, once the leading newspaper in the nation’s capital. After working at a newspaper in Fort Wayne, Ind., he went on to lead local business journals in the West, including in San Jose and Orange County.

Mr. Smith returned to Sacramento in 1990 and spent less than two years as publisher of the Sacramento Union, which folded in 1994. He helped establish the Western Journalism Center, a conservative advocacy group, and was publisher of a resurrected version of the Union as a magazine. He retired in 2005.

“Jim was very devoted to newspapers,” said his wife, Audrey. “He knew so many people and had so many longtime friends in newspapers.”

James Hewitt Smith was born May 10, 1922, in Elyria, Ohio. He joined the Army and transferred to the Marine Corps in World War II, rose to lieutenant and trained Marines as a tank officer at Camp Pendleton. He earned a degree in industrial labor relations from Cornell University in 1948 and worked in the steel industry before going into newspapers.

Mr. Smith had two sons with his first wife, Mardella, who died in 1987. He belonged to the Sacramento Rotary Club and was a reader at First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Carmichael. He was active in the church since his twin brother, Jack, who fell ill as a baby, was successfully treated with prayer by a neighbor who was a Christian Scientist.

In addition to his wife, survivors include his sons Mark and Jeffrey; stepchildren J. Craig Courtney, Clark Courtney and Camille Huntley Courtney; sisters Mary Jane Beltrano, Sarah Louise Wright and Charlotte Ann Hovencamp; and 10 grandchildren.

A private service is planned.

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