by Jim Nintzel
Author Chuck Bowden shares some memories of journalist Jeff Smith, who passed away over the weekend:
It’s September as I recall and I am in the newsroom of the Tucson Citizen when a sudden stillness smothers everything. There’s been a call—Jeff Smith on vacation has gone off his bike in New Mexico at a reported hundred miles an hour. It is like watching a reputation for mischief bleed into tragedy.
He’d had a long run as a bad boy. He’d been a columnist and raised hell and bounced around from paper to paper because while he might be fine for a newspaper, he was a little too frisky for people who say the word journalism with a straight face. After all, he once covered the Rodeo Parade without attending, filed long and fulsome coverage and only got tripped up by his description of the Budweiser Clydesdales—some mishap had delayed them and they’d not made the event. Well, shit happens.
Just as he had a habit of sneaking double entendre into his copy to the rage of desk and the publisher and I suspect to the delight of a lot of readers.
After the crash when the head-on plopped him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, there was a kind of circling of the wagons in the newsroom and the management looked out at a surly herd and decided they’d have to find a place for Jeff Smith and his battered body. They gave him the television beat. And this worked for a while.
But it was a hard go for Jeff. He put the bravest possible face on being a paraplegic. I never heard him complain, not once. There was a moment, I was in the men’s room, he was maneuvering with his wheelchair and I helped a bit with the door.
I asked him how it was going.
He said okay except that with the kind of impact he’d survived the pain never really ended.
He said this calmly, as if mentioning the weather.
Then he went on with his life.
I think there’s a lesson in all this.
He was always willing to ride.
And he didn’t complain about the road.