Celebrating Dan Smith’s 50 Years in Journalism

BRBJ office
Dan in his office at the Blue Ridge Business Journal about 15 years ago.

(Dan Smith wrote this piece in late August and allowed me to publish it here.)

By Dan Smith

Copyright © Dan Smith. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Today marks my 50th year as a journalist. I walked into Asheville Citizen-Times Sports Editor Bob Terrell’s office Aug. 22, 1964 and asked for a job. My mama had told me to give it a try. I was working as a fry cook at King Arthur’s Roundtable.

I had no idea what the job would be, just that I wanted to work there, to become a sportswriter. He said, “Our copy boy left for the newsroom yesterday. Want that job?” I didn’t know what a copy boy did, but I lept at the opportunity and began work that night. The pay was $5 per shift. I was happy to get it.

1971 column pix
New to Roanoke, 1971.

It has been an often bumpy, always gratifying ride through embarrassing failure and soaring success and it has never been dull. I don’t consider myself to have been an exemplary journalist, or even an especially good one. When Casey Stengal was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he said something to the effect that his career was not a glorious one, but he always showed up and “when you do that, people notice.” I probably fall in there somewhere.

The fact is, however, that regardless of the quality of the journalism I have practiced over the years, I have loved the profession since that August day in Asheville. I have met and become friends with people who would never have been in my life without journalism. I have been presented opportunities to do some good, to influence the community, to help shape opinion.

Here’s how I remembered a day that would shape my entire life in my memoir Burning the Furniture:

“The first time I walked into a newsroom—a late August afternoon in 1964—I couldn’t see enough of it in my view shed. I turned around and looked at people and machines; listened to clattering, urgent noises; smelled cigarette smoke and coffee and paste and an asphalt- and oil-tinged breeze off the parking lot, as it wafted through open metal-framed windows. I wanted to touch something, and knew instinctively that a final level of stimulation would complete this sensual feast.

“As I sat in front of Bob Terrell’s editor’s chair in the sports department while he interviewed me for a copy boy job, my head continued to roam. His office had walls only rib high and above that I could see the activity at the city desk; I could watch reporters type and argue simultaneously on telephones; I saw the AP wire editor as he tore copy or watched AP Photos as they rolled out of their machine in magical fashion, making a screeching noise.

young sports writer
Front and dead center, covering a high school all-star basketball game in 1970s.

“At one point, I heard Bob say, ‘Dan, are you listening?’ and I realized I’d strayed from the interview. I said, ‘This looks like so much fun. I want to do it.’ I think the depth of sincerity of that innocent pronouncement from an 18-year-old who’d barely ever held a job got me a desk, a chair and a typewriter that I didn’t know how to use, starting that day, that hour, that minute.”

Third from right. Virginia Communications Hall of Fame induction in 2010.

Long-Awaited Bridge Opens Near Floyd

I drove across the new bridge this morning. Part of U.S. 221, it crosses Pine Creek about three miles northeast of Floyd. The new bridge is 46 feet across, nearly doubling the former width. It took more than a year to build.

I first heard it was completed on Facebook. Then I read about it in this week’s Floyd Press. (There was a large photo of the bridge on the front page.)

A friend on Facebook commented: “Citizens of Floyd County applaud the completion of the bridge at U.S. 221 and Shooting Creek Road. This project was completed in record time; they set a record for the longest time it has ever taken to build a two-lane bridge! We thank BOTH workers who labored to build it for us!”

Just about everything is slower in Floyd. We have slow food, slow talk, slow construction. And that’s OK, mostly.

The Safe Money Is in Floyd

I was writing in my office yesterday afternoon when my ears perked up. Was that the Bank of Floyd president on NPR’s All Things Considered?!?


Here’s the story link and teaser:

Amid Financial Turmoil, Small Banks Thrive
“Leon Moore, of the Bank of Floyd in Floyd, Va., says his bank hasn’t taken a federal loan in 10 years.”

I got cross-country calls from relatives who heard the report. First, my brother-in-law in Seattle. Then, my brother who lives in L.A. Our tiny town is a safe haven in more ways than one.