Vernon Starr Smith
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Starr Smith

Jackson

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.




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Published in Clarion Ledger on Feb. 5, 2012.
Memories & Condolences
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6 entries
January 30, 2020
My Uncle. One of the greatest men I ever met.
Years ago he escorted myself and my best friend to a restaurant in Denver called The Top of the Rockies. I had never felt so much like a princess.
I wish we hadn't moved so far away.
Sherry (Smith) Kanzler.
Sherry Smith
Family
January 30, 2019
Star left a lasting impression on me and I still think of him often.
Bill Voliva
Friend
February 26, 2012
I met Starr on a couple of occasions here in Florida. Stone and Associates worked with the Daytona Beach CVB and the same with St.Petersburg,Fl. They invited writers, photographers, and others to their respective areas for a promotional tour. Starr was a delightful gentleman and full of stories. He and I got along great as I was the bus driver and he usually sat right behind me. I must share this one episode we all shared on the bus. In Daytona, after hearing him speak of his many experiences, we began to wonder just how old he was. We asked him and he was evasive and never really told us. So, we got him a birthday card, sighed it, and presinted it to him along with singing Happy Birthday.
He was an interesting man and I am saddened to hear of his passing. He made a lasting impression on me and I'll always remember him.
Bill Voliva
February 22, 2012
Dearest Sandra, I am so sad to hear about Uncle Starr. I last spoke to him in 2007 when mom passed away and we talked for the good part of an hour. He was by far my favorite uncle and I am so sorry that the Jim (Buddy)Smith children lost contact with all of you. I have so many good memories of Uncle Starr. One of my all time favorite was in 1969, he came to Denver and treated my girlfriend and me to an exquisite dinner at the Brown Palace Hotel.
You are all in my thoughts and hope to hear from you sometime. cheronak@comcast.net.
With great sadness
Your Cousin, Sherry Smith
Sherry Smith
February 20, 2012
Dear Family: Annette & I only learned yesterday of Starr's passing. He was a great personal friend & that of The Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum as well. I was privileged to work with him on his book "Jimmy Stewart - Bomber Pilot". We were disappointed to lose contact with Starr after we moved to Columbia, SC & he moved to MS. He was a guest in our home on Lake Martin a number of times & he treated us to dinner at his club in Montgomery several times. Starr was one of the "founders" of the Eighth Air Force from the greatest generation. We miss him & are so pleased he was a part of our lives. Annette & I send our sincerest condolences to all of the family. With fondest memories.
Annette & Buck Shuler

E.G. "Buck" Shuler, Jr.
Lt. General, USAF, Retired
Former Commander of Eighth Air Force
February 5, 2012
Starr was an exquisite gentleman and a stellar writer. He will long be remembered.
Lynne Jeter
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