This is the Deseret News Faith section, so let me begin here:
Many religious souls have great faith in their God, but not so much in other people. They trust the Lord with their lives but won’t trust the neighbor with a ladder.
William B. Smart, however, trusts people.
As editor of the Deseret News, he took a chance on several sketchy characters while I was there. And the result was what old-timers call the Glory Days of local journalism.
I know. I was a long-shot Bill put his money on.
But more on that in a moment.
Smart is in the news today because he has just self-published his memoirs, titled “Words & Action.” Now in his 90s, he still writes with youthful bounce. His sentences are still crisp and elegant (and I won’t even add, “for a journalist”).
Bill was and remains a pro.
At the heart of the book are the late 1970s and early ’80s when Smart was chief at the Deseret News. Back then, I played Jimmy Olsen to his demanding Perry White and I remember him tipping sacred cows and upending apple carts. He kept everyone above and below him loose. And he produced a paper the locals loved to read.
It was a heckuva ride.
Now, despite a heart attack, he has lived long enough to tell the tale.
And, despite a heart attack, I've lived to tell about him telling it.
There's something poetic in that.
Fortunately, Bill's book is a keeper. If it weren’t, you’d probably be reading about something else today. I could never submarine him. He kept me from drowning.
And that brings us to the part about me.
In 1976, I was married and living in my parents’ basement. I had a master's degree in Spanish literature, which is to say I had a pocket full of fairy dust. With no future and nothing to lose, I told my horrified wife I’d decided to be a full-time writer.
The Davis County Clipper turned me away. Salt Lake Tribune turned me away. The Big Nickel said they’d think about it.
That’s when I walked into the Deseret News.
For reasons only known to the angels, Bill agreed to meet with me.
I’d never studied journalism. I thought “copy desk” was where they kept the Xerox machine. And the only clippings to my name were two college book reviews and a short story.
I handed my meager folder to Bill and sat down.
“You should know,” I said, “I cut my teeth on Isaiah and Hack Miller’s column.”
I didn’t know then that Bill and Hack had been crossing swords daily. He probably hated Isaiah, as well.
“What’s your opinion of newspaper people?” he asked.
“I find them a bit abrasive,” I said.
He scowled at that. “Well," he said, "you need to meet Tammy Smith, the reporter handling our Gary Gilmore coverage.”
He thumbed through my short story.
“What do you see yourself doing for us?” he asked.
“I want to be the next Hack Miller,” I said.
Again with Hack Miller.
He smiled, shook my hand, and told me he’d be in touch.
I walked out, crossed the street and sat on a bench by the ZCMI Mall. Idiot, I thought. I’m like the high school jock who thinks he can dunk on Wilt Chamberlain.
I drove home and told my wife we’d be going to Plan B — as soon as I thought of Plan B.
Two days later, Bill called.
A day after that, sports editor George Ferguson called.
The following week, I was a Deseret News sports writer with a desk wait for it next to Hack Miller.
I have no idea what Bill saw, heard or felt to make him bring me on. I wouldn't have hired me. And I know he took some heat for it. (I beat out Lee Benson’s good buddy for the job.) But Bill’s faith in me slowly shaped my life. It has shaped the lives of my kids and grandkids.
There’s much more to the man’s memoirs than just those newspaper years, of course. We learn about his idyllic childhood and time at Reed College. There are the environmental battles he fought after retirement and, needless to say, church work.
And there are travels, lots of travels — China, Cuba, India, all laid before the reader with ease and precision.
Does the book have problems? All do. I found a few typos, a couple of jumbled names and some small redundancies (the man’s in his 90s), but nothing of real concern.
When I finished reading and set the book aside, I thought of something Dr. Margaret Murray said on her 100th birthday in the 1960s.
I looked it up.
“At my age I stand, as it were, on a high peak alone," she wrote. "It is true the far distance is shrouded in cloud and mist, but every here and there the fog thins a little and one can see clearly the advance of mankind.”
Keep hiking, Bill, and you'll get to that peak.
Just be sure to keep us informed along the way.