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What can you tell me about newspaper editor Lamont Smith?

Ben Steelman

Smith — who worked for the old Wilmington Morning Star and Sunday Star-News from the early 1920s to 1939 — would likely have faded into obscurity except for one salient act. He gave a high school kid named David Brinkley his first news job.

In his 1995 memoir, Brinkley noted that his English teacher at New Hanover High School, Mrs. Burrows Smith, told him, “David, I think you ought to be a journalist.” (It’s unclear if she and Lamont Smith were related.) The teacher arranged for Brinkley to work as a part-time intern for credit under the school’s Cooperative Education program.

Brinkley turned in an amusing story of a century plant blooming (and the uproar it caused in the neighborhood. “… to everyone’s astonishment, it was picked and carried across the country by the Associated Press, even getting three column inches in the Los Angeles Times,” Brinkley wrote. “Lamont Smith, the editor, called me in and said when I got out of school, I could have a job at the paper if I wanted it.”

Brinkley would work for the Star continuously — with brief interruptions to attend Chapel Hill and serve in the U.S. Army before being discharged for disability — until joining the United Press in Atlanta during World War II.

Lamont Smith was born in New Hanover County on May 22, 1893, the son of W.C. and Flora Patterson Smith. By 1922, he was city editor for the Morning Star, rising to editor a few years later.

He married Ruby L. Duncan of Rocky Point (1898-1941), and the couple had two children. Ruby Smith worked for many years with the city-county health department.

In the 1920s, Smith was living in the Audubon subdivision, apparently in a house his father had bought. By the 1930s, however, the family was living at a series of addresses on the 13oo and 1400 blocks of Grace Street.

In 1932, Smith was named exalted ruler of Elks Lodge No. 532, succeeding John J. Burney; in 1937, he was named chairman of Wilmington’s Civil Service Commission. On Nov. 13, 1939, however, publisher R.B. Page ran a terse announcement that Smith had been “terminated” as editor.

From there, the trail grows cold. The Smiths moved to Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1940. Mrs. Smith died the following year in a Washington hospital, of what her obituary described as a brief illness.

According to Ancestry.com, Lamont Smith died on March 5, 1955 in Baton Rouge, La.


How did the Star-News get its name? Was it ever called anything else?

How do I find old newspaper articles?


User-contributed question by:
Carroll Pearsall

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