Tributes pour in for hard-hitting former Herald editor Derek Smith

Derek Smith was a hard-SHARP NEWSMAN: Derek Smith, the former editor-in-chief of The Herald, Weekend Post and Evening Post, has died
Image: ARCHIVEShitting, no-nonsense editor, much needed during the peak of political turmoil and transition in SA.

Born in Kadoma, Zimbabwe, on March 24 1938, Smith came to SA in 1959 and started as a reporter on the Natal Witness, moving to the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg in 1963 and later to the Financial Mail.

Smith, 84, had been suffering from a spinal stroke in June, when his health quickly deteriorated.

According to his daughter, Sunday Times executive editor Samantha Smith, he died at home in the early hours of Tuesday.

Smith was the former editor-in-chief of The Herald, Weekend Post and Evening Post between 1987 and 1993.

Having spent  six years as an editor, in 1994 he took up the post of managing director of the then newly launched company Times Media’s Eastern Cape division, a position he held until his retirement in 2000.

His successor, Ric Wilson, having been roped in from the Sunday Times in January 1993 to take over from Smith, said the transition was smooth because his predecessor made things easy for him.

“He was a good publisher,” Wilson said.

“I worked with him for most of the 90s and he gave me a lot of freedom being a former editor himself.”

With political turmoil rife and the emergence of the digital era, Smith is credited for keeping the Eastern Cape titles relevant and introducing new features to keep up with the changing times.

“With him we took the Herald’s circulations to record highs.

“He produced a lot of good features and remember there were a lot of good competition,” Wilson said.

“He introduced some features that some publishers were a bit reluctant [about] but he went all the way.”

Bobby Cheetham, a former chief subeditor who worked closely with Smith, said he was a no-nonsense editor.

“He was very strict, he wouldn’t take nonsense and kept a very tight rein on The Herald,” Cheetham said.

Smith is survived by four sons and a daughter, nine grandchildren and close companion Barbara Jorgenson.

Samantha said her father had sparked her passion for journalism.

“My dad was a quintessential newshound.

“He always challenged me to question the status quo, speak for those who did not have a voice and separate the facts from the spin.

“He did not suffer fools and had a sharp, inquiring mind.

“Some of my strongest childhood memories are of him scouring newspapers and flicking between various news channels on TV each night, so he could get differing perspectives on the day’s news topics.

“He remained that way until his last days and most recently was consumed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, dedicating much of his time to researching the context and backdrop that gave rise to the war.

“He maintained his thirst and passion for news until his last days,” Samantha said.

Smith’s memorial service will  be held at the First Avenue Funeral Home on Tuesday, July 19.




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