William A. Smith, 73, award-winning photographer for Associated Press

November 18, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

William A. Smith, a retired Associated Press photographer whose career with the news service spanned 48 years, died Monday at his home in Daytona, Fla., of pneumonia after a long illness. He was 73 and formerly lived in Bowie.

"Smitty," as he was known to co-workers and friends, was considered an ebullient and likable personality who pursued his craft aggressively, and in doing so was an eyewitness to some of the most important events and personalities of the 20th century.

Mr. Smith covered Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon and Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, who later became a close personal friend. He spent seven weeks aboard the Britannia, the British royal yacht, covering Queen Elizabeth II as she cruised the Caribbean.

He photographed the Olympics and Pan-American games, rocket launches at Cape Canaveral and the racial unrest of the 1960s in Maryland and the South.

One of his most memorable images is of a jubilant airborne Brooks Robinson after the Orioles won the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966.

"He was one hell of a photographer who would give The Sun fits at times. Even though they would have two photographers working a story, they sometimes had to use one of Smitty's pictures. He could get pictures no one else could," said John Woodfield, former AP bureau chief in Baltimore.

"He'd barrel right in there and would do all kinds of crazy things, even standing on people's shoulders to get what he wanted," he said, laughing.

In 1963, Mr. Woodfield and Mr. Smith were sent to the Eastern Shore to cover the Cambridge riots.

"We were shot at a couple of times, nothing really serious," recalled Mr. Woodfield, who retired from AP in 1991 and lives in Forest Hill. "Smitty would hold the camera on the roof and we'd leave on the dome light as we drove through neighborhoods so they knew we were journalists," he said.

He also handled assignments covering the civil rights struggle in Birmingham and Montgomery, Ala., during the 1960s.

"He could get anything he or anybody else wanted. If you asked Smitty for something, you got it, you just didn't ask where it came from," said Mr. Woodfield.

In a raging January blizzard in 1964, a B-52 carrying two nuclear bombs crashed in Grantsville, near the Savage River in Garrett County, killing three people. Because of the severity of the storm and the high-security nature of the cargo aboard the plane, officials closed roads.

"We took a B&O train from Camden Station to get to Grantsville. Don't ask me how or why, somehow or other Smitty got an Army jeep and a driver who took us to the site," said Mr. Woodfield, laughing.

Mr. Smith who was born in Manhattan and raised in Woodside, Queens, attended St. Francis Xavier High School.

He was in his teens when he began working in 1945 as a clerk after school at AP's New York bureau.

He became a wire photo operator and later was trained as a photographer.

He was sent to the AP's Baltimore bureau in 1958, and he retired in 1993.

As long as Mr. Smith lived in Baltimore, he never lost his New York accent or his love of travel.

Clarence "Curly" Garrett, a Sun staff photographer from 1943 to 1983, described Mr. Smith as a "very likable guy who was very conscientious in his work."

"He'd go out of his way to help a fellow photographer and had a real knack at getting just the right picture," he said.

Mr. Smith's work earned him many awards, including one for his picture of Olympic pole vaulter Bob Seagren taken during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

He was a former member of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Bowie, and after moving to Naples, Fla., in the 1990s, became an active member of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church.

Since 1999, Mr. Smith had lived in Daytona Beach and had been a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church.

Plans for a memorial service in Baltimore were incomplete yesterday.

He is survived by his wife of many years, the former Jean Wood.

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