An integral member of the Citizen Tribune’s early years died Thursday in Lebanon, Missouri.
A Newport native, Robert ‘Bob’ Burnett Smith III joined the Tribune advertising department a few months after the paper opened, became advertising director and worked with the paper until 1980 when he left to pursue a career as a publisher.
“He worked for me for 14 years,” said Tribune founder and president of Lakeway Publishers, Inc. R. Jack Fishman. We became very close friends. He was a great newspaperman and a wonderful friend.”
Smith was born March 19, 1939 and grew up in Newport before attending high school in Oak Ridge. He matriculated to Walton Community College and studied communications at the University of Tennessee.
His career in newspapers became in 1955 as classified advertising manager of The Oak Ridger until 1963.
He was working for a paper in Kingsport when he saw the ad for the upstart Citizen Tribune. He drove for a night meeting in January with Fishman and advertising director Paul Miller.
The trio spent some time hammering out the details as a snow storm rolled in. By the time he left, he had the classifieds director job and had to deal with a drive back to Kingsport with a couple of inches of snow on the ground at night.
It wasn’t long into the job that Smith was promoted to advertising director, a role in which he proved very successful.
He left in 1980 to become publisher of the Tri-Lakes Newspapers in Branson, Missouri.
“Jack and I had a very long tenure and we became life-long friends,” Smith told the Tribune in 2016. “Leaving there was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
Smith served as publisher in Branson until 1988 before moving to Lebanon, Missouri to publish The Daily Record newspaper. He left Lebanon and was the owner/publisher of Senior Living newspaper in Springfield and Joplin, Missouri from 1995 to 1998.
An active member of the Missouri Press Association, he served as president of the organization in 1991 and was inducted into the Missouri Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2005.
He played a key role working with the Missouri Division of Tourism, serving as the organization’s chair for 5 years. After leaving the commission, he worked for the Department of Tourism until his retirement in 2010.
In post-retirement years, he worked with the MPA and various newspapers, reuniting with his old friend R. Jack Fishman to work with some of Lakeway’s papers in Missouri. He returned to Morristown for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Citizen Tribune.
“It was a long, hard road,” said Smith in 2016. “It didn’t happen overnight … We really made the paper grow during my tenure. We went through the first year I was there and we lost every single department head we had. All of us long term department heads were on the second tenure.
“The business was hard … It was just hard work. Jack and I and some of the other department heads were very demanding and we were working 12, 14 hours a day.”