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Obituaries

Seymour S. Smith, who rose from being a copyboy to assistant sports editor of The Sun where he became a much beloved and cherished figure, dies

Seymour S. Smith was 16 when he started his career at The Sun as a copyboy.

Seymour S. Smith, who rose from copyboy to the longtime assistant sports editor of The Baltimore Sun where he became a beloved and cherished newsroom figure, died Tuesday at the Springwell Senior Living Community in Mount Washington. The former Pikesville resident was 93.

No cause of death was available, family members said.

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”Seymour was a true gentleman and a wealth of knowledge about sports, particularly the NBA. He never looked like the typical disheveled sports writers. He wore a tie every day,” Baltimore Sun managing editor Samuel C. Davis, who worked with Mr. Smith for a decade, wrote in an email.

“Every Monday afternoon he’d buy everyone in the department a soda or a coffee at the start of the afternoon shift,” wrote Mr. Davis, who began at The Sun in 1980 as a sports clerk, became a reporter in 1985 and was named assistant sports editor in 1992.

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“At the end of the year you would get a handwritten note from Seymour thanking you for your contributions that year. If you were assigned a beat, you would regularly get a clip package from Seymour with stories he cut out from newspapers across the country with any stories related to your beat,” he wrote. “When he laid out the paper, he always found a way not to cut your story. He was a player’s coach.”

Molly Dunham Glassman came to The Evening Sun in 1984, and covered University of Maryland basketball. She was later promoted to assistant sports editor, and later was The Sun’s sports editor.

“I really admired Seymour because he was one of those guys who put out a daily section, and they never get a lot of attention or glory, but he was always so calm and focused on deadline and kept everyone on an even keel,” Ms. Glassman recalled. “Seymour was the calm in the storm, and you learned from his example and especially after I moved up as an editor.”

John Eisenberg, who came to The Sun in 1984 as a sports writer and later became a columnist, worked closely with Mr. Smith.

“Seymour was just what you remembered him to be. He was a wonderful guy, kind and generous,” Mr. Eisenberg said. “You’d come back from a road trip and there was a handwritten note from him in your mailbox telling you that he had liked what you had written. He was always thinking of others, and when you run across people like him in your life, you realize they’re very special.”

Seymour Stanley Smith, son of Irvin Smith, a Russian immigrant tailor, and Mary Greenberg Smith, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and was raised on Charles Street in South Baltimore.

While a student at Southern High School, Mr. Smith played basketball and covered sports for the school newspaper. In 1944, when he was 16, he began working at The Sun as a $17-a-week copyboy at the newspaper’s old Sun Square Building at Baltimore and Charles streets.

“Maybe it’s because I’m older, but it was romantic in the old days. It was like something out of an Edward G. Robinson movie. Gin bottles in the desks,” Mr. Smith told The Sun at his 1990 retirement. “I don’t remember hearing anyone say, ‘Stop the presses,’ but it was like that.”

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“He loved it and decided this is what he wanted to do,” his brother, Dr. Morton Smith, who lives in St. Louis, said.

In 1947, Mr. Smith graduated from copyboy to sports writer, and before long was covering the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA.

“It was the major leagues,” he explained in The Sun article. “Not that anyone cared about them. But still the major leagues.”

In 1952, Mr. Smith was drafted into the Army, and after having served stateside as public relations specialist, returned to the newspaper.

Jim Henneman covered the Bullets for The News American and later became an Evening Sun sports writer. While a competitor on the beat, he and Mr. Smith became lifelong close friends.

“Seymour cared passionately about the game at a time newspapers when were treating it like the ultimate stepchild,” Mr. Henneman said.

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The 1990 Sun article said Mr. Smith “saw the modern-day NBA in its nascent stages, and that was plenty. He saw the young Bob Cousy and George Mikan and the early giants. There were train rides to Philadelphia and New York, and, for the playoffs, his first plane ride, was to Chicago.”

Mr. Smith saw one “Bullets team die and another reborn,” the newspaper reported, but by 1965, he was promoted to an assistant sports editor, where he was responsible for putting out the daily sports section. He developed a reputation for “bad puns and long stories and for never losing his temper,” according to the 1990 article.

Other good friends from those years included Gus Johnson, Harry “Buddy” Jeannette and Wes Unseld, who played for the Bullets and eventually made it to the Hall of Fame.

Mr. Smith, in writing about Mr. Unseld, said: “Cold statistics do him an injustice. They tell only a part of what he does on court ... a great knack for picking out — not the open man but the MOST open man — as he flings the hardest, fastest outlet pass in the league. When Unseld goes up for a rebound he is all motion. His legs go wide, his elbows are out and it is perilous to be too close. Every move has six or seven years of work behind it. He has an almost unerring instinct for where a missed shot will go.”

No Sun sports writer ever had a better advocate than Mr. Smith.

“If you’ve ever thought the front page of the sports section seemed overcrowded, that was because Smith hated to leave anyone’s story off Page One. Every office should have someone like him,” observed the newspaper.

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In 1971, during his high school years, Michael T. Reeb worked as a sports department clerk.

“He taught me a great deal and I’ll always be grateful to him. Seymour was a man of great wisdom, but the most valuable thing I learned from him was how to treat people, and that was with dignity,” said Mr. Reeb, who later became a sports copy editor and wrote The Sun’s running column. ”From the maintenance people to the publisher, he treated them all with kindness.”

Mr. Smith, who worked to 4 p.m. to midnight shift and often much later, was always carrying a printer’s ruler.

“He used to call a short [a brief] a ‘one head,’” Mr. Reeb recalled. “He’d answer the phone when sports reporters called in from beats and was a refreshing voice. He could do it all.”

“They sent me all over the world, so when I called in and Seymour picked up the phone, it was wonderful to know that he was on the other end of the line,” Mr. Eisenberg said. “And the first thing he’d say was, ‘Can I do anything for you?’ and you knew you weren’t alone. Youjust can’t put a value on a thing like that. And you knew that Seymour had your back.”

Ms. Glassman said: “When I was covering Maryland basketball for The Evening Sun, I’d come into the office late and our deadline was 4 a.m. Seymour was always the last to leave on the morning side, but if I had a basketball question, he was always very generous with his knowledge even though we were competitors. It was camaraderie and I really admired him.”

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Gerry Jackson, who recently retired as The Sun’s sports editor, was the son of the late Jimmy Jackson, a longtime sports writer who was known for his lacrosse coverage.

He recalled when he and five or six of his siblings went into the office while their father was busy filing his story. Mr. Smith would make time for the children, no matter what deadline pressure was looming.

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“He was such a gentleman and I had never met anyone nicer than him,” Mr. Jackson recalled.

“I look back on it now and how unflappable he was. He was content and one smooth cookie,” he said. “Seymour always looked like he was having so much fun.”

The former longtime Pikesville resident, who moved to Springwell in 2020, enjoyed reading about sports and military history.

His wife of 68 years, the former Eunice Silverman, died in 2018, and their son, Steven Terry Smith, died in 2019.

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Private services were held Friday at Beth Tfiloh Cemetery.

Plans for “Mr. Basketball: A Tribute to Seymour Smith” are incomplete, his brother said.

He is also survived by several nieces and nephews.


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