H.L. Mencken once observed that newspapers, by nature, are bellicose and do not speak in support of anyone or anything unless they absolutely can't help it. There are any number of public figures in Maryland and beyond who would attest to this.
But on rare occasion, we have the good fortune to encounter someone who merits words of praise, and so exceptions have to be made. To leave such thoughts to obituary writers alone would, at the very least, deny the living the potentially defibrillating shock of reading them in this forum.
Recently, Ron Smith, who was diagnosed this fall with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, announced that he has opted for palliative care and will no longer be receiving chemotherapy. In his final column for The Sun, which appeared on these pages one week ago today, he explained his decision, thanked his many well-wishers, and expressed disappointment in the loss of a "cohesive society," asking readers to "live as sane and decent a life as you can, love your family and friends and understand that everybody is in this together."
It was a classic example of how the longtime radio talk-show host has approached most subjects — thoughtful, straightforward, civil and unflinching. That he has been so honest and revealing about his own health under these difficult circumstances can be viewed as nothing short of courageous.
It is fair to say that The Sun's editorial board is not often in agreement with Mr. Smith in matters of politics and governance, nor has it been for the 27 years the "Voice of Reason" has been heard on Baltimore's airwaves. Had the newspaper received a modest remuneration each time its editorials were lambasted on his show, we would be writing these words from the comfort of the Smith Employee Spa or perhaps the Smith Library Annex and Squash Courts on Calvert Street.
But that does not diminish the respect we hold for a fellow "talking head" who has always demonstrated far greater intellectual curiosity and independence than so many of his peers, particularly in the Rush Limbaugh and Fox News era. Mr. Smith's views might be generally classified as conservative and libertarian, but he was no captive of dogma or of any political party's talking points.
Perhaps the best example of this has been the strong positions the onetime Marine has taken on the use of U.S. military power. He was no supporter of the 2003 Iraq invasion, and his failure to fall in line lock-step with the Bush administration and its amen corner in the media brought him no shortage of grief from Republican listeners.
Yet he did not back down and remained steadfast in his views, not because they were necessarily a ratings winner on the politically conservative-leaning radio station but because they were developed from experience, study and critical thinking. He refused to be anything but sincere in his beliefs and did not pander to his audience.
Baltimoreans of a certain age will fondly recall those days when Mr. Smith used to debate a newsworthy topic with liberal talk show host Allan Prell on TV each week. Their clashes might be pointed at times, but one could also detect a respect and mutual admiration beneath the surface.
At age 69, Mr. Smith remains a beloved institution in this city. We are pleased that so many have taken a moment to remind him of this. No doubt these are difficult days for him and his family, and heart-lifting thoughts might otherwise be in limited supply.
Make no mistake, this won't cause the editorial board to tomorrow reverse its course and advocate for relaxing standards for concealed-weapon permits or suddenly decide that the Bush tax cuts for the richest 1 percent of Americans should be made permanent. Hey, we respect the guy, but we never said we were slavishly devoted to him.
Consider this instead a lamentation on the mortality of "Talk Show Man," particularly as an example of that all-too-rare breed called an "independent thinker." As another famous Baltimorean, Ken Mehlman of GOP fame, observed, it's good to remember that political rivals are not enemies. Mr. Smith is neither rival nor enemy but simply someone we continue to respect and admire greatly.