Charlie Smith Obit

Here's the obit on former UPI newsman Charlie Smith from the Oct. 4, 1996 Tokyo Weekender. It was written by Bob Klaverkamp.


Legendary veteran newman Charlie Smith dies in Hong Kong

Charles R. Smith was a man for all seasons.

The present tense would be more appropriate. For those who had the good fortune of knowing him well, he will live in our thoughts as long as we continue to breathe the foul air of a bar or press club in Asia or the fresh air of a golf course. Charlie was at home wherever he presided with friends and colleagues.

He left this world, very poetically, at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong of a massive heart attack on Saturday, Sept. 14 (1996). He was 66. Charlie is survived by his widow Heja, or "Kim," as she was known to most, and a legion of old friends in Birmingham, Alabama, his home town-and throughout the world.

Charles was a legend in his own time, as a correspondent for UP and UPI in Seoul, Tokyo, Jakarta, Vietnam, Hong Kong and as UPI's first chief correspondent for China.

He continued as a journalist and owner of The Asia Letter publications, which included hard-hitting newsletters on Japan, the Philippines, Asia, China, Indonesia and ASEAN, plus Health and Agri-business news sheets.

When he chose to leave UPI rather than be assigned to its first bureau in Beijing, he had more than 50 employees working for him in Hong Kong, which was a larger workforce than UPI had at the time in all of Asia. Charles was not fond of the Communists and living in China held zero appeal. He was in hot water with dictatorial regimes wherever he went.

UPI received requests to have him expelled from Korea and Indonesia in the late '50s and early '60s because of his reporting. But UPI chief Earnest Hoberecht, who was normally only too willing to comply with government requests because of UPI business, had to stand behind Charlie because the U.S. ambassadors were asking for his expulsion as well.

The U.S. ambassador in Indonesia felt Charles was not setting a good U.S. image in Jakarta because he had hired an Indonesian boy to swat flies while he ate lunch at the Ambassador Restaurant next to a fly-infested canal. Charles declined to discharge his luncheon attendant even after entreaties from UPI and the U.S. government.

He left on one of the last planes during the fall of Saigon where he had covered nearly all the years of the Vietnam War.

Charles was a legend wherever newsmen friends got together. He very seldom minced words or pulled punches. If he tired of the company present, he disappeared into the night. This was another of his trademarks.

His capacity during "honourable luncheons" was limitless. Readers of this family newspaper would not be able to believe how some imbibing sessions continued from noon one day until 5 or 6 the next morning. But they did (as the editor of this paper will confirm), and the conversation was wide-ranging, maybe on the political situation in Singapore until 3 in the morning.

His generosity knew no bounds. He secretly helped finance many old friends down on their luck or in need. Charlie probably bought more rounds of good cheer than any other bon vivant in Asia. He enjoyed helping friends.

A lunch with Charles usually meant one to two hours of cocktails...and sometimes more...before a menu would be scanned. There was many a lunch when food never soiled the tablecloth. It was 5 or 6 p.m. and appetites had disappeared with the switch from gin to cognac.

Charles was received with open arms wherever he went, with the exceptions of wives who knew you were meeting Charlie. They realized then their husbands would be home late, if at all.

It would be impossible to start naming all of his close friends, but coming to mind are the late Richard Hughes, doyen of the Hong Kong press corps; the late Arnold Dibble, UPI's chief correspondent in Asia; Tony Paul, Ross Way, Ronnie Ling, Sing Sheng, John McDougall, Larry Allen, John Lenaghan, Bill Areson, Hugh van Es, Ray Cranbourn, the late Bert Okuley, Irene O'Shea, Bob Sanders, all the members of the Gee Bung Polo Club, the Foreign Correspondents Club (of both Tokyo and Hong Kong) and the many golf groups he belonged to.

We will toast him wherever we go...and we will always remember his soft, drawling southern Alabama accent.

He was/is a man for all seasons. He will always remain a living legend.