Vernon Starr Smith of Jackson, author, news journalist, photographer, raconteur and long-time Montgomery, Alabama public relations consultant, died of natural causes on Sunday, January 22, 2012 at The Orchard in Ridgeland, Mississippi. He was 94 years old, a strong-believing Christian and was affiliated with the Baptist Church.The family planned a private memorial service in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Wright and Ferguson Funeral Home was in charge of the arrangements in Jackson.
Family who survive Smith include his daughter, Starr Miller, her husband, Scott, their daughter Trenton Miller Milam and her husband, John Paul and their sons, Max and John Scott (known as the "yard birds"), all of Jackson; sister, Lois Clover of Madison; and nieces and nephews Jane Clover Alexander of Jackson and Chandler Clover Thompson of Boston, Massachusetts.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Rowan Smith of Mobile, AL, two brothers, Col. James Smith of Denver, CO and Jay C. Smith of Tuscaloosa, AL, and sister Vera Smith Hastings of Mobile, AL.
Smith called Scott Miller and the late Chandler Clover, his brother-in-law, "two treasured friendships he got by marriages". Miller said his father-in-law was "the most interesting, enthusiastic, charismatic person. We liked that about him."
Smith, the eldest of five children, was born in Kosciusko. His family lived there and in several other Mississippi towns before moving to Magnolia where Smith finished high school and began his career in journalism writing a column on school activities for the Magnolia Gazette.
In summers between his high school years, he signed on as a cabin boy on ships going to Europe and South America out of the Port of Mobile and began his lifelong love affair with faraway places. Eventually, his professional career and the "wish to see the world beyond" would take him to more than 100 countries on four continents.
Traveling was his passion and his favorite writing venture. Trenton Milam said, "Traveling with my grandfather was always a first class adventure in every way. My favorite quotes of his were, 'Always take a swimsuit and a sweater wherever you go - anything else can be bought when you get there.' And, 'Always save a few sips of your wine to enjoy with your dessert.' He told me these things on a trip to Ireland. I was 11 years old at the time."
Smith enrolled at Louisiana College in Pineville, LA, after graduating from high school in Magnolia. He paid his college costs through his first job in broadcasting - an announcer at a local radio station in Alexandria, LA. He had a distinctive voice that was recognized all over the South.
Smith joined the Army as a Private before Pearl Harbor. When World War II began, he was selected for Officer Candidate School and then assigned to the Army Air Corps which later became the U.S. Air Force. He spent most of the war years as a combat intelligence officer with the Eighth Air Force in England. He also served on General Dwight Eisenhower's press and intelligence staff at his London and Paris headquarters. In that capacity, he worked with and knew many of the celebrated war correspondents of the day - Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Ernie Pyle, as well as those whose names will always be associated with the war - General Jimmy Doolittle and Colonel Paul Tibbets.
After the war, Smith remained in the Air Force Reserve for 40 years. At retirement, he was a Colonel.
Smith became a political reporter for the Mobile Press Register and earned both Bachelor and Master's degrees at the University of Alabama where he studied and taught creative writing under Hudson Strode. His daughter, Starr Miller, remembers this time at the University of Alabama as being an interesting time in her life. Although being young, she remembers many important political men and news reporters coming to their home for dinner.
As his career moved forward, he was a reporter for NBC and ABC radio networks, a southern correspondent for Newsweek, a correspondent for a group of radio stations in California and Alabama and a contributing writer to numerous regional and national magazines. Three of his stories have been included in Congressional Records.
Smith's national assignments frequently made him witness to some of the historic events of the 20th century, such as the Bikini Atom Bomb Tests and the Civil Rights struggle in the South. Many of the latter are described in Only the Days Are Long, one of three books Smith wrote. The others are Starr Smith's Southern Scenes and Jimmy Stewart Bomber Pilot.
Stewart and Smith were in the same bomber group in England during World War II; Stewart was the group operations officer and Smith, the intelligence officer. They worked together throughout 1943-1944, putting together the next day's mission and then briefing the combat crews at dawn. Smith's book chronicles Stewart's military service from the time he entered the Army as a Private until he was discharged as a Colonel.
Smith lived in Montgomery, AL most of his life. He moved to Jackson in 2009 to be near his daughter and her family. In addition to his work as a journalist and public relations consultant, he was a frequent speaker on his travels for civic organizations across the South. Family and friends say he also was a wonderful story teller who always liked to have the last word, so these are his - from his Epilogue in Only the Days Are Long:
"All my life, I've been lucky - living in the greatest country in the world, living in the most momentous, historic and far-reaching age the world has ever known, being in the right place at the right time, seeing first-hand many of the great events of our time as they unfolded - and having hundreds of friends. Life is (was) a pleasure and a grand adventure."
Any memorial gifts may be sent to The MIND Center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, 2500 North State Street, Jackson, MS 39206-4505.