The Washington Post’s Executive Editor Len Downie just alerted Posties of the passing of J. Y. “Joe” Smith, a man who “transformed our obituaries staff” and who now, regrettably, will have his own obituary written.
J. Y. “Joe” Smith, an editor and reporter here for 31 years who transformed our obituaries staff during his 11 years as its chief, died last night of lung cancer at the age of 74. After he retired in 1996, Joe continued on contract to work on advance obituary stories, including those of Katharine Graham, Herblock and Pope John Paul II. Joe was also a foreign desk editor and Metro reporter here and a foreign correspondent for United Press International. In his appropriately eloquent obituary about Joe, to be published tomorrow, Adam Bernstein describes and cites examples of Joe’s biographical skill, graceful writing and old-school approach to journalism. He was sometimes gruff and difficult but always true to his craft. Those of us who worked with Joe over the decades will never forget him as the epitome of a newspaperman.