Jack Prescott Smith
Specialist 5, United states Army
Jack Smith, an Emmy Award-winning former correspondent for ABC News, died yesterday of complications of cancer. He was 58 and lived in Mill Valley.
Smith was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last August, said his wife, Pamela Peffer Smith. He died at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae.
"It's been a very long day for me," she said.
The couple moved to Mill Valley three years ago after Smith's retirement from ABC News. Smith then worked as a media consultant at the San Francisco office of Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm.
Smith also founded the Jack Smith Media Group, a Mill Valley-based firm that coached corporate executives on public affairs and internal communications.
"Jack was a true gentleman," said Keith Harmon, a media executive at Burson-Marsteller. "He was a man who seemed to be without any self-awareness about his stature. If you could get him to start to talk about himself, he could rivet everyone in the room. But he was a very modest person. It was hard to get him to open up."
Smith, the son of broadcast news pioneer Howard K. Smith, spent 26 years with ABC News. After stints in Paris and the Middle East, he spent most of his career at the network's bureau in Washington, D.C.
For nine years, Smith was the principal correspondent for "This Week with David Brinkley." He also contributed reporting for "Good Morning America" and covered technology for "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings."
Smith won two national Emmys, a Peabody award and other broadcast journalism honors. He also was host to, or provided narration for, documentaries on the Discovery Channel, the Learning Channel and the A&E cable series "Biography."
"Jack knew how to communicate as few others do and did it with eloquence, wit and grace," ABC News President David Westin said in a statement. "He made an invaluable contribution to ABC News, and we mourn his loss."
Smith held a bachelor's degree from Carnegie-Mellon University and a master's degree from Oxford. He also served in the 1st Air Cavalry Division during the Vietnam War, receiving the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for combat injuries in 1965.
Long after the war, Smith continued to be a forceful advocate for its veterans.
In a speech in 2002 before the Marin Breakfast Club, Smith criticized the nation's treatment of Vietnam veterans, saying they were "pushed under the rug along with the unpopular and divisive war we served in."
"I was wounded. But I was lucky," he said. "I was not crippled. I am well-employed. I have adjusted. However, for many years I shared the same bitterness as those veterans who were less fortunate than I toward the country that we all served so well, but which afterwards served us so poorly."
In addition to his wife, Smith is survived by his son, Alexander Kingsbury Smith, a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz; his mother, Benedicte Smith of Marco Island, Fla.; and a sister, Catherine H. Smith of Los Angeles.
News Correspondent, Consultant Jack Smith
By Adam Bernstein
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Thursday, April 8, 2004
Jack Smith, 58, a Washington-based reporter for ABC News who retired in 2000 after covering the White House and government agencies and starting the technology beat, died April 7, 2004, at a hospital in Greenbrea, California. He had pancreatic cancer and a stroke.
Mr. Smith was the son of the late broadcaster Howard K. Smith, one of the famed CBS correspondents who worked closely with Edward R. Murrow during World War II. Howard K. Smith later became a newsman and analyst for ABC.
Jack Smith spent his early adulthood in the Army, serving in one of the earliest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War -- the fight for Ia Drang Valley. His father, known for his hawkish stand on the war, then interviewed his son for a program called "A Father, a Son and War."
Jack Smith joined ABC in the mid-1970s. As a Paris correspondent, he covered the invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War and the Iran hostage crisis.
He joined the Washington bureau in 1980 and contributed to "World News Tonight" and "Nightline." He was a principal correspondent for "This Week With David Brinkley" and a White House and State Department correspondent for "Good Morning America." On the technology beat, he focused on developments in Silicon Valley.
He told USA Today that he left ABC because the city had "lost its allure" since the days of the Cold War.
"I now have the front seat to the stains on Monica's dress or the agonies of Elian," he said, referring to the Clinton administration scandal involving intern Monica Lewinsky and the custody fate of the Cuban boy Elian Gonzales.
Over the years, he hosted shows for A&E network's "Biography" series and for the Learning Channel, notably its six-part documentary "Vietnam: the Soldiers' Story," in which he incorporated his own experiences in the war.
Jack Prescott Smith was born in Paris and raised in London and Washington. He joined the Army in 1964 at his father's suggestion.
"I was flunking out of Georgia Tech, and even the dean told me to get out of his school," he told Veterans of Foreign Wars Magazine in 1997. "My father said to make something of myself, so I enlisted in the service to grow up."
He saw brutal combat while serving with the Army's 7th Cavalry during the Vietnam War. He was injured in November 1965 during the battle of Ia Drang Valley, one of the first fights between U.S. combat forces and the North Vietnamese army.
He described the experiences in a 1967 Saturday Evening Post article. He said that 20 soldiers around him fell dead within seconds, followed by a series of little horrors as enemy bullets suddenly transformed sturdy commanding officers into desperate men crying in agony about toes that had been shot off.
As the North Vietnamese rushed the Americans, Mr. Smith said, he fired right into an enemy soldier's face -- ripping it away.
But the Vietnamese rush was relentless, and soon the Americans were overwhelmed. Mr. Smith pretended to be dead. One enemy solider used Mr. Smith as a sandbag for his machine gun, later earning him the nickname "Sandbag" Smith.
When American forces moved to repel the enemy, they hit their intended targets but also Mr. Smith. He said his unit suffered 93 percent casualties in the battle, which the U.S. troops won.
His decorations included the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
He was a 1971 history graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, went to work for ABC as an intern and then did graduate work in history at Oxford University. The former Cabin John resident moved to Mill Valley, Calif., in 2000 and started Jack Smith Media Group, a consulting business that helped clients prepare for television appearances.
His marriage to Riasa Scriabine ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of three years,
Pamela Peffer of Mill Valley; a son from his first marriage, Alexander
Smith of Mill Valley; two stepchildren, Aidan McTighe and Matthew McTighe,
both of Rockville; his mother, Benedicte Smith of Marco Island, Florida;
and a sister.