Monday, March 19, 2001

Inducted into the Honolulu Press Club Hall of Fame in 1987
were, from left, George Chaplin, retired Honolulu Advertiser
editor-in-chief; Bob Sevey, former KGMB-TV news anchor,
and 'Bud' Smyser, retired editor of the Star-Bulletin.

newsman, had many
outstanding qualities

Star-Bulletin editor helped shape Hawaii

By Helen Altonn

CONSUMMATE NEWSMAN and gentleman. Articulate, loyal, honest, caring and lots of fun.

Those are only a few of the qualities that defined Bud Smyser, a special man who was boss, colleague and friend to many of us at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

His death is a loss felt, not only by those who worked with him, but the many community groups, programs and causes he championed and supported.

It's ironic that his last column in today's editorial page is about dying with dignity, an issue he strongly promoted.

Bud was the Star-Bulletin's city editor when I arrived in Hawaii on the Lurline, still green with just two years experience on a California newspaper. Our relationship as journalists and, eventually, as friends continued over 46 years.

He was a mentor to me and many others an example of the best in the news business.

His passion for covering matters of concern and importance to the community never wavered.

In his two-finger typing and squiggily writing style, he flooded his staff with little notes when he was city editor telling us to check this, check that, based on information he picked up the night before at community meetings, parties and other events.

"He was a fine boss, and a gentleman.
And he was ahead of his time on many issues,
such as women's rights to abortion."

Chuck Frankel,

Writing "Hawaii's World" as contributing editor, he continued to move about the community, ardently reporting on events, activities and controversies. He would still pass on news tips from his collection of information.

He had a private office on the third floor of the former Star-Bulletin quarters but chose to be among us in the second floor City Room, even though it meant working as an itinerant at different desks -- whatever happened to be available.

HE SELDOM MISSED writing his column, even when he had health problems. He was taking computer lessons to continue it from home after the sale to Oahu Publications.

While intense about his work, no one had more fun at staff parties and other social functions than Bud.

He and his wife, Dee, entertained frequently and were popular and active socially. They also traveled extensively and he was never at a loss for a tale to tell or an issue for discussion at a get-together.

We celebrated Bud's birthday the past two years, and had many in-between dinners, with an "old-timer" group that included former long-time Star-Bulletin journalists Chuck Frankel, Tomi Knaefler, Harriet Gee, Lyle Nelson and Shurei Hirozawa.

Young Bud Smyser

Knaefler noted that in Bud's column last week he wrote, "To me, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin is personified in just one person -- Riley Allen, who was editor from 1912 to 1960.

"For me, Bud was the Star-Bulletin," Knaefler said. "I grew up in the Smyser school of journalism from 1952-1978. In his school, you never graduated -- just as he never did. You just committed yourself to being the best you could be -- be it writing a plantation laborer's obit or exploring the sensitivity of the death with dignity issue which he long championed.

"As he did with all his cub reporters, Bud taught me to be fair, to dig hard for the truth, to be thorough and most of all, not to screw up -- and if I did, to correct it," Knaefler said. "Bud was a very significant person in my life. A decent, honorable and fun human being. I will miss him."

Frankel, who worked at the Star-Bulletin 28 years, also recalls "the flurry of yellow notes" when Bud was city editor. "He would go to a cocktail party and come back with 10 or 20 story ideas he wanted the staff to develop.

"Like Riley Allen before him, he went to all kinds of meetings to see what the community was thinking," said Frankel, former assistant city editor and news editor.

Bud also was receptive to opinions and arguments from reporters, Frankel said, recalling when he participated in an anti-Vietnam war rally. "People in the city room were surprised that I would take part in such a public demonstration. The only thing Bud said to me that day was, 'I see you got a lot of sunshine yesterday.'"

"For me, Bud was the Star-Bulletin.
I grew up in the Smyser school of journalism
from 1952-1978. In his school, you never
graduated -- just as he never did. You just
committed yourself to being the
best you could be."

Tomi Knaefler,

Bud supported the American action in Vietnam but "that did not color his covering the news," Frankel said.

"He only wanted to fire me once, as far as I know," Frankel continued. "That's when I was typing up a strike roster in 1963 and he said that should not be done on company time, and the union agreed, and now I agree it should not be done on company time."

BUT THOUGH HE WAS in management, moving up the ranks of editors, Bud was one of The Newspaper Guild's founders and was sympathetic to workers, Frankel said.

"He was a fine boss, and a gentleman. And he was ahead of his time on many issues, such as women's rights to abortion."

A Star-Bulletin reporter from 1949 to 1992, Gee said, "Bud carried on the tradition of his mentor, longtime Star-Bulletin editor Riley Allen, by staying in touch with just about every segment of the community."

His typical day after "retirement," she said, was to have an early breakfast meeting, a lunch meeting and a community event later in the evening. He met with retired journalists at a dim sum lunch about once a month.

"He was genuinely interested in what everybody was doing," Gee said. "He'd really take part in discussions and contribute. He was a very sociable, gregarious person. He loved parties. He really loved people."

"Towards his later years, he couldn't hear too well," Gee said, "but he wouldn't wear his hearing aid. He'd have to sit in the middle of the table where he could hear people, and he'd bring subjects up for discussion."

"Bud was a great editor," said Hirozawa, who was business and labor editor for all but two of his 20 years at the newspaper. " He didn't interfere with what you were doing: He let you do what you had to do."

Hirozawa not only learned a lot about reporting from Bud, he learned how to eat a papaya. He said his father always told him he should eat a papaya right down to the skin, where most nutrients are, but he never believed him.

"Then one day soon after I joined the paper, the beautiful Harriet Mun, who became Harriet Gee, asked if I'd like to join them upstairs for lunch. Bud was at the table, eating a papaya, right down to the skin," Hirozawa said. "From that day on I changed eating papaya the way my father and Bud did."

BUD WAS A STAUNCH supporter of Kaiser Permanente, which began when Henry Kaiser visited the newspaper office in the late 1950s, Hirozawa said. Kaiser was trying to establish his health program and "was having a tough time because the establishment was against his having that type of medical service. So Bud, with his strong sense of justice, backed Henry Kaiser and most of the staff joined the Kaiser plan."

Nelson, a Star-Bulletin reporter for 26 years, said Bud also took it upon himself to push statehood. "He wrote a lot about it and, whether politician or prize fighter, the question would be, 'How do you stand on statehood?'"

He also was "a real East-West Center nut" and served on many committees, Nelson noted.

HE LIVED DOWNTOWN at Harbor Square for a few years with his first wife, Betty, caring for her before she died of cancer, and he walked all over the neighborhood. "That led to a number of columns that were very pro-downtown," Nelson said.

His integrity and courage were reflected in his writings about hospice care and death with honor topics people didn't want to talk about, Nelson said. "He was very much against prolonged life without quality of life."

Bud was always loyal to his alma mater, Penn State, where he graduated in 1941.

"He introduced me to the Penn State football coach one day in the parking lot," Nelson said.

He worked for the Pittsburgh Press before coming here in 1946 after serving in the Navy. He thought he'd apply at the Honolulu Advertiser because of a Pittsburgh Press connection with an editor there, Nelson said.

Meanwhile, he went to see Riley Allen who offered him a job, asking, 'When can you start?' When Bud said, 'Any time,' Allen gave him an assignment.

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