I blundered into the newspaper racket at a time when practically anybody with a pulse and a vocabulary in triple digits could get a job.
I barely could type my name, never had taken a journalism course, but I was willing to work for $120 a week (pretax) as long as they let me write news stories like novellas.
They did and I did and the rest was a happy tale interrupted periodically by a fit of principle—mine or theirs—or an offense-taking by a publisher or his wife.
—Jeff Smith, Tucson Citizen, Dec. 28, 2007
"Print the Truth and Raise Hell"
BY JIM NINTZEL, firstname.lastname@example.org
When I was a young paperboy folding my copies of the Tucson Citizen after I got home from Rincon High each day, I always scanned the paper for Jeff Smith's column. It was lightning in print, the kind of writing that leapt off the page and into your imagination. He was funny and irreverent and outrageous.
I never imagined back in those days that I'd one day have the privilege of working with Smith at the Tucson Weekly. And I certainly never imagined I'd one day be writing Smith's obit.
But here I am, saddened to report that one of Arizona's journalistic legends died last week at his home in Patagonia. He was 67.
Details on Smith's passing, much like some of his adventures in life, remain sketchy as I write this, but his ex-wife, Barbara Smith, told me last week that he "just sort of went to sleep. I think it was peaceful for him."
Peaceful was not a word that came to mind when thinking about Smith. He was the wild man of local journalism, gonzo before there was a gonzo. From his columns, you learned about the many things he loved in life: His kids, Liza and Caleb. His ex-wife, Barbara. Horses and dogs. Southern Arizona. Guns. Cormac McCarthy. And, of course, motorcycles—a moment of recklessness with one of those would sharply change the trajectory of his life by landing him in a wheelchair in 1981.
By the time I came to work at the Tucson Weekly, Smith was penning a column that led off the book. He'd drive some of his editors crazy with his subject matter. I can still remember Angela Somers rolling her eyes at Smith's suggestion that relations between men and women might be smoother if younger women were taught the ways of love by older men, who could then dump trade in the young women as they grew older. In turn, the older women could teach young men the ways of love, as only they could, after they were put out to pasture, as it were, by the older men. It sounds rather sexist when you put it that way, but Smith spun it as a pretty reasonable notion.
Smith was an inspiration to many journalists in this town. I'll never have his gift with words; he could turn and twist his sentences to the breaking point on the first pass and, from what I understand, never went back to rewrite anything.
But in the Weekly's 10th anniversary edition, he wrote that our then-young paper did what any respectable paper should do: Print the truth and raise hell.
I hope that, whatever else, I can at least follow that advice for as long as they let me keep banging the keyboards here.
"He Was Always Ready to Ride"
BY CHARLES BOWDEN
It's September as I recall and I am in the newsroom of the Tucson Citizen when a sudden stillness smothers everything. There's been a call—Jeff Smith, on vacation, has gone off his bike in New Mexico at a reported 100 miles an hour. It is like watching a reputation for mischief bleed into tragedy.
He'd had a long run as a bad boy. He'd been a columnist and raised hell and bounced around from paper to paper because while he might be fine for a newspaper, he was a little too frisky for people who say the word journalism with a straight face. After all, he once covered the Rodeo Parade without attending, filed long and fulsome coverage and only got tripped up by his description of the Budweiser Clydesdales—some mishap had delayed them and they'd not made the event. Well, shit happens.
Just as he had a habit of sneaking double entendres into his copy to the rage of desk and the publisher and I suspect to the delight of a lot of readers.
When the head-on plopped him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, there was a kind of circling of the wagons in the newsroom and the management looked out at a surly herd and decided they'd have to find a place for Jeff Smith and his battered body. They gave him the television beat. And this worked for a while.
But it was a hard go for Jeff. He put the bravest possible face on being a paraplegic. I never heard him complain, not once. There was a moment when I was in the men's room and he was maneuvering with his wheelchair and I helped a bit with the door.
I asked him how it was going.
He said OK, except that with the kind of impact he'd survived the pain never really ended.
He said this calmly, as if mentioning the weather.
Then he went on with his life.
I think there's a lesson in all this.
He was always willing to ride.
And he didn't complain about the road.
Charles Bowden is the author of Blood Orchid: An Unnatural History of America and Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields (among others) and a former Tucson Citizen reporter
"A Writer of Immense Talent"
BY DOUGLAS BIGGERS
It was love at first sight. That brotherly kind love you feel when you meet a kindred spirit and it seems mighty likely that you've just encountered someone who will change the
course of your life.
Fortunately for the Tucson Weekly, we got the chance to hire Jeff Smith as a professional hell raiser. He embodied the maxim that the duty of a journalist is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. No one did it better than our Jeff and our readers loved him for it—except for the ones who hated him.
The first time Jeff Smith rolled into the Tucson Weekly office around 1987, I knew we were going to be friends. But first I had to get over my awe of the man, already a legend in Tucson journalism, who had survived a high speed motorcycle crash and come back to his craft as one of the fastest typists in the west (as Edward Abbey was fond of describing the act of writing). Here he was in our humble office and we were about to hire him as a columnist. It was one of the high points of my career at the Weekly and it raised the stakes for the newspaper at a critical juncture in its growth.
It was also the first time I heard him exclaim: "Fuck a goat!"
The crude phrase indicates a certain bemused incredulity bordering on outrage, and I can't remember what prompted Jeff to bellow it, but I laughed out loud and it burned into my personal lexicon. You have to say it with a certain enthused inflection, with ellipses and a bit of joie de vivre, emphasis on goat. As in: "Well, fuck...a...goat!"). I can hear him right now, slapping his knee for emphasis.
Although the man was capable of extreme eloquence bordering on the profound, his capacity for the joyfully profane and the cute colloquial phrase was as endearing as his wicked smile and his disdain of authority, injustice, and the just plain stupid.
Little did I know that day I met him that just a couple years later I'd rent for six months the house he built by his own hand—both before and after his accident—in a bucolic paradise in Adobe Canyon near Patagonia, where a broad watercourse flows down from the Santa Ritas, just below the gaze of Mt. Wrightson, and where the oaks grow thick. It's a place that is iconic in my mind: where I decided to resign as editor of the Weekly after founding the paper five years earlier, and then where I resolved to return just a week later to fight it out with my soon to be erstwhile partner, taking control of the paper for the next 11 years. That was the end of my time in Adobe Canyon, the duties of running a newspaper requiring my constant presence in the city. (It was also where, many years later, we convened with Tucson Weekly angel investor Sidney Brinckerhoff, his son Bill and some others I can't remember to shoot every conceivable form of personal firearm, including machine guns, off the roof of his garage, in a festival of firepower that left a vast cloud of gun smoke hanging over the canyon. As gentle as a lamb though he was, Jeff had a fondness for guns.)
And it was at that same house where I sat down with Jeff, after nearly a dozen years, and tearfully told him I had to let him go, in the summer of 1999. It was a time of epic struggle to keep the newspaper going, and every dollar we spent was problematic. It was the consensus of the editorial staff that Jeff had become bored with his column, was phoning it in, and it was time to make a change. I resisted for months, still a true believer that he was one of the most talented writers I'd ever publish, and I'd give him some more time, ask him to put in a little more effort. But I finally capitulated, and drove down to give him the bad news. He was gracious, but he was clearly hurt. And my business decision, such as it was, destroyed our friendship.
Just a few weeks ago when I was down in Patagonia on business, I impulsively turned off the highway at Adobe Canyon mid-way to Sonoita and drove back to Jeff's house at the end of the road. I should have gotten out of the truck and walked up to his front door. I'd wanted to take that turn-off for a few years, wanted to make amends.
But I gazed at his house for a while, turned around and left, not wanting to bother him unannounced and half worried he might just shoot me. The last time we'd spoken on the phone, years earlier, he'd been angry with me and we'd never reconciled. Damn it.
And it was in that same house that Jeff died alone a couple weeks later, apparently peacefully laying down his burden and taking our leave without a word.
Jeff Smith was a whip smart ornery sweetheart of a compassionate and creative human and a writer of immense talent. Thank you, Jeff, and please forgive me for being one of the reviled publishers who did you wrong. I'll catch up with you somewhere down the open road.
Douglas Biggers co-founded the Tucson Weekly and is currently editor and publisher of Edible Baja Arizona.
"Jeff Packed More Living Into His 67 Years Than Anyone Else I Know"
BY MARK KIMBLE
No single story—or series of stories—can adequately capture the persona of Jeff Smith.
Jeff was an outsized character who packed more living into his 67 years than anyone else I know. He bounced from absolute joy to unspeakable tragedy and back again in a way that surprised all of us who knew and loved him.
He was one of the most talented observers and gifted essayists of life in Southern Arizona; he confounded editors one day and enchanted them the next.
I was his editor and I was his colleague. I worked with Jeff at the Tucson Citizen and also when he was a columnist for the Tucson Weekly, and we both appeared for years together on KUAT Channel 6 on the weekly Reporter's Roundtable.
The TV people told Jeff they would like him to wear a sports coat—which was as out of place as eyeglasses on a cat.
But Jeff complied, leaving a ratty tweed jacket wadded up on the bottom shelf of a monitor cart in the TV studio where he could grab it every Friday. It may still be there for all I know.
Working with Jeff was never boring.
Jeff one time was sent on a two- or three-day trip to Houston for some story.
The details of the trip were never fully explained, but it involved a flight during which Jeff became acquainted with several of the flight attendants. There also was a rental car that Jeff picked up at the airport, and a trip to an airport-area bar with some or all of the flight attendants.
After a day or so, when Jeff was done with his assignment in Houston, he returned to the airport rental car counter—but without the car. He told them he had no idea where it was.
We have the car, the rental car people told Jeff. Several hours after he had rented it, the car was found at the airport—not in a parking lot, but in an area normally reserved for airplanes: an apron or tarmac or something.
The circumstances were never entirely clear—to Jeff or anyone. But it apparently had something to do with the bar and the flight attendants.
The tale of Jeff's coverage of one edition of the Tucson Rodeo Parade has been told several times—especially his reportorial gushing over the Budweiser Clydesdales, who never actually made it to the parade.
Less well-known from the same parade was Jeff's fascinating and touching—but apocryphal—reporting on the journey of a New Jersey garbageman.
The man, as Jeff reported it, made a cross-country trip to Tucson with his handicapped son for the specific purpose of seeing the Rodeo Parade.
Jeff spotted the man holding his son on his shoulders. "I wanted him to see a horse face-to-face, ya know what I mean?" Jeff quoted the man as saying.
Jeff tacked this touching story on the end of his parade coverage. But an alert editor, knowing that this was the most readable part of an otherwise predictable annual event, moved it to the top of the story.
Some time later, Jeff 'fessed up that this New Jersey garbageman did not exist. The editor was enraged, but Jeff proffered an interesting explanation:
"I put it at the end for your entertainment," Jeff told the editor. "No one could ever believe that. It was your fault for believing it."
Which explained why Jeff's relationship with his editors over the years was much like that between oft-fired Yankees manager Billy Martin and team owner George Steinbrenner: We couldn't live with him, but we found out we couldn't live without him, either.
I may have been the last editor to tell Jeff his services were no longer required. But if I were to ever run a newspaper, he would have been the first person I'd hire.
Mark Kimble, a former associate editor of the Tucson Citizen, is a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Ron Barber.
"Unlike a Lot of Reporters, Smith Had a Lively Life Outside of the Newsroom"
BY DAN SORENSON
When I was hired at the Tucson Citizen in May 1980, the main thing I knew about Tucson's afternoon newspaper was that Jeff Smith worked there. And working at the same newspaper meant he would no longer be ruining my life.
I had been a reporter and photographer at the Sierra Vista Herald-Dispatch for two years before getting hired at the Citizen. During much of that time Smith was covering Cochise County. He regularly rubbed our hick town noses in his wild reporting, whether it was features on crusty local cowboys or hard news from the wild border just south of town or our whacked-out local government down Fry Boulevard. Whatever he was writing, it was bad news for us.
It wasn't bad enough that he was kicking our butts on our hometown turf, it was that he did it so well—and he was so damned loud about it.
I remember once having someone on the Herald's staff, maybe my city editor, tell me, "Jeff Smith just tore through town on an orange motorcycle doing at least 80 mph. Something must be up."
I didn't know what he was up to, but I knew one thing for sure. I was going to be spending the rest of my day, and maybe the night, trying to figure out what the hell he was up to and probably having a miserable time trying to duplicate it. It'd probably be read-him-and-weep time again tomorrow when the next day's edition of the Citizen plopped down at the Herald. Damn, what an ominous sound that was.
One of those Smith-on-a-motorcycle-tearing-through-town warnings, in July 1978, was a false alarm. But even that one was memorable. It was, indeed, Smith. But he was, for once, on a wild goose chase. The murderous Tison gang had escaped from the state prison in a Florence a day or two earlier, and Smith was following up on a tip that they were in Cochise County. They weren't, but Smith tearing down Fry Boulevard on an orange BMW café racer (the one he'd later sell to me so he could buy a much faster silver and blue Ducati) was enough to get us up and stirring in the Herald's newsroom.
A few days later, after the rest of the gang had been killed or arrested, Smith was there on his motorcycle taking notes when the cops found leader Gary Tison's "stinking corpse" in the desert outside Casa Grande. Smith didn't believe that straight news had to be dead boring. (According to stories I heard, he also thought it was OK for a reporter to show up at a crime scene on a badass motorcycle with a .357 shoved into his waistband.) You could almost smell the dead killer's body and feel the late July heat in Smith's description. There was none of the typical copspeak quotes about how "at this point in time the location of the deceased suspect's remains were ascertained and the aforementioned suspect blah, blah, blah. . ." No, if Smith didn't find a description interesting, screw the quotes, he'd describe it himself. In this case, it was Tison's "stinking corpse," or something equally colorful that a police public information officer would have never uttered in front of a reporter.
Working with Smith was a lot more fun that working after him. He was a joyous character, always ready for a discussion or a three-beer lunch. He, with editors Dick Vonier, David Mitchell and Deborah Block (all gifted writers themselves), championed strong writing and spirited reporting. It was a good time to be a young reporter at the Citizen. Those of us who were a few years younger than Jeff took his joyous and sometimes wild writing as a sign that we could, and probably ought to, do a bit more than just filling in those Who, What, When, Why, Where and How blanks we'd learned in journalism school. Turned out that action verbs and lively adjectives and adverbs were free.
Unlike a lot of reporters, Smith had a lively life outside of the newsroom, too. He signed me up for the annual fall ride to Ruidoso, N.M., the first year I was there. I said my motorcycle was a bit small and slow compared to what he and his friends—the McCardle brothers, Mick Frew, Mike Kreppel and Pat Palmer—rode. His solution? He sold me that orange motorcycle he used to terrorize us with when I worked in Sierra Vista. I went, that year, and the next, when he ran his Ducati off the road into a tree near Reserve, N.M.
Smith's after-work persona wasn't that different. He enjoyed poking the world in the ribs. I remember hearing how he showed up at an art gallery opening, probably for his wife, Barbara, who is a talented and now well-known watercolorist, wearing a red Smith & Wesson T-shirt. That was, no doubt just as he wished, a hit with the quiche and chardonnay crowd.
I can't say that he slowed down, literally or figuratively, after the crash. He made the Ruidoso ride on a new motorcycle with a sidecar. It had custom hand-activated controls and, in typical Smith fashion, the thing was fast.
He'd heard I had worked construction in my pre-newspaper days and Tom Sawyered my ass into helping him build his adobe and block house in a canyon outside Sonoita. He'd show up at my house on Saturday mornings way too early and lay on his old pickup's horn until I came out and joined him for the ride down to Sonoita and a day of nail bending. I remember that he did every bit as much work as I did, memorably, at times, hanging from a beam by one arm while swinging a hammer with the other.
Over the years, I've heard a lot of people talk about Jeff being bitter after the motorcycle-versus-tree crash that paralyzed him. I didn't see him that way. He was sometimes depressed after the crash, dealing with wave after wave of health issues that came with being a paraplegic. But, after all, he had raced bicycles and motorcycles and was a body builder, and was somewhat vain, to put it mildly. Why wouldn't that get him down, at least occasionally? He mostly kept that to himself. The only times, before or after the crash, that I ever thought he might be truly angry was when he was dealing with certain editors. But, even with most of his editors, his bluster was good-natured sparring. It was usually a gross mismatch, especially editing Smith on deadline. It was an editor's nightmare to have a Smith column dumped on their desk on deadline, suspecting that the thing might be mined with Smith word mischief. But, hey, that was their problem, he figured. If they were taking the big bucks to be his boss, well, then damn it, they'd better be as smart or smarter than he was. If editors couldn't find those double entendres and risqué references that peppered his copy (sometimes in French or Latin), well, then they weren't doing their jobs.
Sometimes the beef was that he just made writing look too easy. Smith would be making the rounds of the Citizen newsroom, gabbing with reporters and editors who were working on deadline—his own editor looking at his or her watch and thinking "he's got a column due in 45 minutes." Smith would continue his kibitzing, and I just knew he knew that his editor was watching—and he was relishing it. Then, about 30 minutes, sometimes 20 minutes, before deadline, he'd sit down and pound out a column that might or might not be good enough to win some kind of a contest, but it would most certainly be the first thing a lot of Citizen subscribers would read the next day. And he would never read it after he wrote it. Never. He'd type that last line, hit the "SEND" button, push himself away from the desk with a Cheshire Cat grin, and it would electronically plop down in that stressed-out editor's green terminal. Tick tock.
I was in a few bar "situations" with him, usually on motorcycle trips to New Mexico, where the things he said, or did—sometimes because of the women he chatted up—could have ended in flying fists or, possibly, lead. My best guess is that the reason these situations never went that way was because Smith had that twinkle in his eye that said, "Ain't life grand? Aren't we having a hell of a time here?" Well, that and maybe the sneaking suspicion that he just might use those weightlifter's muscles to stuff someone's face into a bar, but I think it was mostly his contagious joy for life.
His columns often went the same way. He'd do his job: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, especially the latter, taking a bully, crooked politician or bureaucrat down to size. But even after 18 column inches (or sometimes 50) of clever dissection, insults launched and landed, Smith's drubbings were usually, ultimately respectful of the flawed human. It was a form of tough civility from another era, agreeing to disagree—at least Smith was agreeing to disagree. But nearly always you'd get the feeling that Smith and the just-skinned victim could eventually be able to sit down and talk about it over a glass of something strong.
The way I saw it, then and now, was that Smith was channeling Mark Twain, Will Rogers and a bunch of other clever rascals who were worth reading and usually made the world a better place.
Dan Sorenson has been a journalist and musician in Southern Arizona for 35 years.
"There Was Another Story, Another Lead to Bury, Another Cranky Editor Compelled to Smirk"
BY MICHAEL CHIHAK
Jeff Smith always buried the lead.
His rationale was simple: What he wrote and the way he wrote it were always more entertaining and often more enlightening than the "news." Many times, he was right, and newspaper readers relished it.
One of those times, in the days when typewriters and carbon paper were newsroom indispensables, Smith's nonroutine story on a routine event came into the hands of a cranky, old-school editor right out of the black and white movies.
The editor read aloud the first page and the first paragraph of the second page of Smith's story. Smirking, he dropped the first page into the trash and sent the rest to the back shop for printing. It ran that way, the news being on the second page.
Well, hell, one could hear Smith muttering. But he got over it. There was another story, another lead to bury, another cranky editor compelled to smirk. There were many more, especially in his latter years of newspapering, when Smith wrote a weekly column on the Tucson Citizen's op-ed page. Not so much wrote as emoted on newsprint.
His masterful use of language—never mind his nonchalance about the facts—is what led many former colleagues and fans to mourn his death as a loss to Tucson's reading public. And that it is, a superior talent gone, too quickly, too quietly.
Yet Smith himself would have insisted he wasn't even the most talented writer in his family. That distinction, he said, fell to another.
In his March 6, 2002, column in the Citizen, Smith pulled out all linguistic stops in 850 sculpted words on the life and death of one Dave Smith, an ex-Los Angeles Times writer. In what was a most memorable and effective burying of the lead, he ended the column:
"Dave was my brother."
Michael Chihak is the former publisher of the Tucson Citizen and the host of Arizona Week, airing Fridays on KUAT Channel 6.
"Fearless, Feisty, Funny and Extraordinarily Talented"
BY BILLE STANTON
As a shy, 13-year-old freshman at Palo Verde High back in the '60s, I'd catch the evening bus to 22nd and Sarnoff for the trek to our home on East Kenyon Drive. On that corner was a Circle K where I could plunk 15 cents into a rack to get the Tucson Citizen—a "Republican rag" my father didn't allow in our house. I bought it every Wednesday (or was it Thursday?) to read Jeff Smith's column. Then I'd toss it in a Dumpster before I got home. (I should have saved 'em.)
Thirty-seven years later, working for Mark Kimble on the Tucson Citizen editorial board, I was assigned to edit Jeff's weekly freelance column. It was as if I were being asked to rewrite Molly Ivins: inconceivable.
But edit Jeff I did. "Goddamnit Stanton," our conversations would begin. "What do you mean I can't say 'f***' in print?" And so it would go, my weekly search for Jeff's blatant or faintly veiled profanities and unacceptably irreverent references. "The African-American in the fuel supply," for example.
Eat your hearts out, Tucson. I got paid to massage the paragraphs of the Old Pueblo's brilliant, literary iconoclast, keeping his lyrical language intact between the surgical incisions that had to be made.
I loved Smith. And I loved and envied the gossamers he unfurled time after time, weaving his sharp perspectives into such fun romps that I couldn't wait to unwrap that gift each week.
I was still new, catching hell as the paper's first liberal staff columnist, when we opened our doors for our centennial celebration. Excited throngs stampeded over me to encircle Jeff's wheelchair, thrilled to meet the handsome, scruffy Westerner in his faded denims, delighting in his warmth and wit.
So when Gannett decided to hatchet our two finest and most popular columnists—Jeff Smith and Corky Simpson—I knew the end was near.
When the paper's demise arrived in May 2009, though, it didn't end my bond with Jeff. Of all the Arizona journalists I'd befriended, it was that wheelchair-bound dude outside of Patagonia who would call to check in, to cheer on the terrified, newly unemployed single mom, to ensure me that despite all the times editors had fired him, he always found a way to "keep on keepin' on." And I would, too, Jeff promised.
He didn't answer my calls over the past year. I suspect that while he was happy to share the joy of life, he wasn't hip on sharing the downside.
The last time we talked was after Gabby and Judge Roll and little Christina and too many others were gunned down in that parking lot. Like Gabby, Jeff had a love affair with guns. But also like Gabby, he had wisdom and compassion. Human kindness and compassion that were deep and wide.
Jeff was as original and authentic a character as any of us will meet. Neither liberal nor conservative, he was steeped in contradictions that were as straight and true as the arrows he fired through the hearts of his foes. He was fearless, feisty, funny and inordinately talented. He also could be a pain in the ass—but oh, wasn't it worth it. Thanks for the privilege, Jeff. And one last time: Adios.
Billie Stanton is managing editor of the Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho.
"As Entertaining in Person as He Was in Print"
BY TOM LEE
Jeff was always as entertaining in person as he was in print. Several of us from the old Tucson Citizen newsroom were at a Mexican restaurant having a farewell luncheon for a reporter. One of our co-workers had a tendency to wear his food as he ate. In this case, it was enchiladas with lots of red sauce. The guy pretty much had a full beard of red sauce on his face as he started talking. No one said anything, but people were giggling and elbowing each other. Finally, Jeff spoke up.
"Somebody hose that boy down!" he bellowed.
Tom Lee is the publisher of the Tucson Weekly.
"Always Unpredictable, Never Dull"
By PEGGY JOHNSON
Jeff Smith must have been one of the first people I met after I moved to Tucson in 1975.
I can't remember when or how I met him, but I knew him pretty well by the time he ran for county supervisor in 1976 and I have strong memories of being with him as colleagues and friends over the years.
Jeff was smart, funny, passionate—and a unique, spontaneous, irreverent writer.
I remember when I heard about his accident and the first time I saw him after. He never wanted pity and worked hard to keep it from changing his life any more than it had to. I have a vague memory of a fundraiser for him at The Loft, with Linda Ronstadt and, for some reason, Susan Anspach, who must have been in town making a film. I'm pretty sure it happened but maybe it was some kind of weird dream.
The years that Jeff spent on the roundtable on KUAT's Arizona Illustrated during my years as moderator were always unpredictable and never dull. He had one rather sad sports coat that he left at the station because it was the only time he ever wore it, or anything else he considered the least bit formal.
When Jeff stopped being on the roundtable (and so, eventually, did I) our paths didn't cross much. But he is large in my heart and my memories.
Peggy Johnson is the executive director of the Loft Cinema Foundation and the former political correspondent for KUAT Channel 6.
"Jeff Never Quit"
BY EMIL FRANZI
He was fired more times than me. Hell, he was fired more times than some of his guns.
Jeff Smith was a reporter/columnist/bomb thrower for about every local publication—the Star, the Citizen, the Weekly and the Phoenix New Times come to mind. He was canned from all of them, usually for petty journalistic indiscretions.
I first met him in 1976 when he was running in the Democratic primary for Pima County supervisor against the late Bud Walker. Jeff got within a couple of hundred votes of winning that race. He was always convinced he'd really won it but that it was stolen by the process of removing ballots for him.
This illustrates one of Jeff's biggest problems: jumping to conclusions with insufficient evidence. I can tell you with near certainty that no one ever dumped any ballots in a local election—because it was much easier to just add more for the right candidates.
Jeff was introduced to me by another old friend who just died, Priscilla Robinson. Priscilla was a Democrat leader in liberal causes such as the environment and Planned Parenthood and was always a pretty good street fighter and campaign strategist, with a career that spanned several decades.
Jeff and I got on cross purposes sometime in the 1980s, when he started whacking on the guy who did beat Walker in a Democrat primary, Ed Moore. Having been responsible for Moore's election in 1984, I took exception and we snarled at each other for about a decade or more. The situation thawed somewhat when I helped replace Moore, who had run as a Democrat and a Republican, and who in 1996 sought a fourth term as an independent.
Copping a great copout from the late Murray Rothbard, Jeff was just "prematurely" anti-Moore. Meaning he figured it out first.
The actual moment of my conversion to a Jeff Smith fan was about that time. We were both writing for the Tucson Weekly and I was growling at editor Dan Huff about Smith's latest BS when he silently handed me Jeff's next column. It was a glowing defense of gun owners and the Second Amendment.
I read it and handed it back to Dan with the comment, "Who is there who would malign the character of this great patriot?"
Jeff and I warmed to each from then on, particularly when I discovered he had actually completed a school in gunsmithing. I have several pieces that he worked on for me and was ready to call him about a couple others when the news of his passing came.
Jeff was an advocate for handicapped shooters and helped set up and attend numerous matches in his personal specialty, black powder long arms. He had a great collection of single-shot, 19th-century rifles and, if you ever visited his Patagonia home, you'd see that it had sufficient acreage for 300- and 500-yard ranges against a mountain. He fired from the patio outside his second-floor bedroom/reloading site. He had an elevator to get him between floors. Jeff would ride his specially outfitted truck out to post his targets. He often traveled many miles alone in that truck.
For all you inside shooting gunner types, Jeff was a strong advocate for 40-65 out of the many cartridges from this era, claiming it had the best ballistics of all of them.
What should impress most about these vignettes is that Jeff never quit. He lived his life as strongly as he could both before and after his motorcycle accident, and his courage and determination should make him a role model to anyone with similar challenges.
His politics were mostly to the left, with a strong libertarian streak, which is where we met and agreed about more than we once imagined possible. He was a genuine Arizona product. I will miss him.
Emil Franzi is a local political consultant, radio talk-show host and editor and publisher of the online Southern Arizona News-Examiner.
"There Will Never Be Another Jeff Smith"
BY A.J. FLICK
Like many of my colleagues, I admired Jeff Smith's writing long before I met him. Back in the day, the Tucson Citizen was famous for having a stable of talented writers—Jeff not the least among them—which is why I wanted to work there. Jeff was very supportive of me and my writing. When I got discouraged, he would be there with his don't-let-the-bastards-get-you-down attitude, which basically describes the way he lived his life.
There will never be another Jeff Smith. He is an unforgettable character, and I use the verb tense "is" on purpose. Those of us lucky enough to have met him or enjoy his writing will remember him with as much verve as he put into his life. You either loved Jeff or you hated him, and I imagine he liked it that way. I think the one thing that Jeff wouldn't want someone to feel about him would be neutral. Many of us were especially saddened when the Citizen axed him for the last time because it wasn't just our friend who got the boot, but also a style of no-regrets reportage that can't be taught and is wholly unappreciated in the world of corporate journalism. Jeff, you kicked ass. Good for you.
A.J. Flick worked at the Tucson Citizen from 1993-2009. Unlike Jeff Smith, Flick got fired only once from the Citizen.
"Your Tongue Should Be Able to Run Ungoverned"
BY LIZA SMITH
Scattered throughout my house are little scraps of paper on which I've written clever quotes in the midst of conversation. My friends call me "the log" for this archiving tendency. As those of you who knew him or followed his column might well guess, my dad is the author of quite a few of them.
"When your mind is clear, your conscience is clear and your tongue should be able to run ungoverned." Words he lived by, and I'm so glad, despite the toes he occasionally rolled over. For better or worse, it's a torch I intend to carry.
On that magic day that most of us lucky Americans get to experience, he actually bragged to me about his first colonoscopy. "Since I can't feel it, they didn't have to knock me out, I even got to watch it live on video!" And a few days later when the biopsy results came in, I came home to find this brilliant bit of poetry on my answering machine:
From stem to stern,
from asshole to appetite,
not a polyp in sight.
He later claimed he hadn't even intended to rhyme, which I think is bullshit. One thing I'm sure of, though, is that it was unscripted. He just opened his mouth and out it came. Ungoverned.
I miss you so much, Dad. I'm so glad I have your words to tide me through the rest of my life.
Liza Smith is Jeff Smith's daughter.
"Funny as Hell, Stubborn as a Mule"
BY CALEB SMITH
I couldn't have asked for a better dad. He was a true friend. Funny as hell, stubborn as a mule. He could drive me bat-shit crazy and make me piss myself laughing with one sentence. He had the biggest, most generous heart and he was never stingy sharing his love with me or the rest of the family. We talked about everything. That's something I take great comfort in. There is nothing left unsaid between us. That is a rare thing.
This is the hard part. I'm just so sad and I miss him so much. I'm still in shock and I know it's gonna get harder before it gets easier. I'm very lucky to be a part of this family. There's a lot of love here. My mom, Barbara, my sister Liza, and my brother-in-law, Jeff, mean everything to me. We're going to need each other now more than ever to get through this. I'm scared, honestly, but if I have one 10th of my dad's strength I know I'll be all right. He taught me through his actions how to tackle adversity head-on. Seeing the way he dealt with his disability was the strongest lesson I've ever had in how to be a man. I'm doing my best to honor that.
The world lost one of the good ones.
I love you, Dad.
Caleb Smith is Jeff Smith's son.