C. Fraser Smith, A Consummate Professional
C. Fraser Smith, who chronicled much of Baltimore and Maryland politics for decades, passed away Sunday after a massive stroke. He was 83. For someone who was held in such high regard by his colleagues and the people he covered, Fraser may have been the most unlikely newspaperman ever.
Fresh out of the Air Force with a degree from the University of North Carolina and not knowing much about the newspaper business, he walked into the offices of the New York Times looking for his first job. Fortunately for us, an editor there sent him across the river to Jersey City, where an editor at the Jersey Journal agreed to take a chance on him.
Two years later Fraser was at the Providence Journal in Rhode Island, where he lived in public housing to report on conditions there. And in the mid-70’s, the Baltimore Sun. He had been hired to write about neighborhoods, but instead wound up covering the federal government for a short time, then Baltimore City Hall and the Maryland State House.
While covering city hall, he uncovered what came to be known as The Shadow Government, then Mayor William Donald Schaefer’s cantankerous way of getting around the rules and regulations that drove him nuts. It was around that time Mr. Schaefer called Fraser a “liar” and a “nitwit.” No, he was one smart reporter who knew how to dig to get the truth and to write about it with flair and elegance.
In the State House, Fraser knew how everything worked, who pulled whose strings, where to go to find out what really was going on behind the scenes. And he was always kind to young reporters, generous with his time and advice.
After leaving The Sun, he landed in WYPR’s nascent news department and told the tiny staff, “Well, let’s set a damn agenda for this little news department.” He delivered weekly essays and anchored “Inside Maryland Politics,” where he often knew more about what was going on inside Maryland politics than his guests.
He had probably forgotten more about Maryland politics than the rest of us will ever learn.
Fraser also found time to write books. He chronicled the overdose death of University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias in “Lenny, Lefty and the Chancellor: The Len Bias Tragedy and the Search for Reform in Big-Time College Basketball,” and wrote the definitive book on the late Mr. Schaefer, “William Donald Schaefer: A Political Biography.”
There was “Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland,” and “The Daily Miracle: a Memoir of Newspapering.” That was his love letter to the business he and I shared for so many years.
Since word of Fraser’s passing got out, so many of us who knew him and worked with him have so often used the same words to describe him, an “elegant writer,” a “consummate professional,” a “gentleman” who was interested in the work of others, always ready to help.
That’s how I’ll remember him as well.