About Utah: Deseret News' photographer extraordinaire leaving 'the best job in the world'

Published: Sunday, March 6 2016 7:20 p.m. MST

After being kidnapped for over nine months, Elizabeth Smart is reunited with her grandfather, Charles Smart, March 13, 2003.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — There have been plenty of stories about the problems the newspaper business is facing. But it’s about to get worse.

Tom Smart is leaving the profession.

Tuesday night, after the Utah Jazz finish their game against the Atlanta Hawks in Vivint Arena, Tom will pack up his camera gear, turn it back into the newspaper that hired him 45 years ago and call it a career.

At 62, he still has his energy, his knees and his common sense; he also has his horses, his snowmobile, his skis, his windsurfer, his wife Heidi, his beautiful daughters, his 11 grandchildren, his guitar and his Dennis Lehane books. All things being equal, he should get bored in about 50 years.

Still, the Deseret News without Tom Smart?

In the history of Utah journalism, has anyone covered the bases as well, or been a better ambassador, or won more awards, or consistently looked like they’re having the most fun?

(Photo below by Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

For decades, Tom has crossed all the borders — on assignment with the education editor one day, shooting the governor the next, doing the Ute game the next — and he’s done it all with a kind of bartender’s aplomb. He knows everything and everyone, inside the staff and out, and everyone knows him. His friendships and respect extend from the State Capitol to the symphony to the sidelines of every football field and basketball court in Utah to the Salt Lake Tribune.

It all began when he was hired as a copyboy at the Deseret News in 1971, fresh out of East High School and all of 17 years old. He got his foot in the door of the photo department by volunteering to take pictures with his own camera on his own time. Before long he made it onto the bottom rung of the photo staff, assigned as baby photographer — back in the pre-Instagram era when parents brought in their newborns so they could get their picture in the paper.

He worked off and on for the D-News for the next 10 years, while getting his degree from the University of Utah (in political science) and also shooting for the Associated Press. The AP liked his work so much they dispatched him to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and the 1980 Games in Moscow and Lake Placid.

Back from Moscow in 1980, deciding it was time to get serious about a career, he asked a history professor he admired at the U., Jim Clayton, for a recommendation to law school. Clayton’s response: “What in the world do you want to be a lawyer for? You have the best job in the world.”

(Photo below courtesy Tom Smart, Deseret News)

When numerous friends also looked at him like he was daft, “I kind of had this epiphany,” says Tom.

He was hired full-time by the Deseret News in 1981. In 1984, just after he turned 30, the paper promoted him to chief photographer. He managed the department for the next 18 years until he had another epiphany — “I realized a bad assignment was better than a good meeting” — and demoted himself.

His deft touch at hiring prodigious talents award-winning shooters Jeff Allred, Laura Seitz, Scott Winterton, chief photographer Ravell “Flash” Call and director of photography Chuck Wing are all Tom Smart hires — remains to this day.

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