Family, Friends, Community Mourn Passing Of ‘Newtown Bee’ Publisher R. Scudder Smith
Editor's Note: For those who are unable to attend the funeral service on Friday, August 19, the Smith family has arranged a livestream of the services that can be viewed beginning just before 10 am (EST) by clicking through the following link, or scrolling to the viewing pane at the bottom of this obituary.
The Smith family announces with sadness the passing of R. Scudder Smith on August 14, 2022. He was 87 years old.
Born on April 12, 1935, Robert Scudder Smith was the elder son of Paul Scudder Smith and Mary Starr Conger Smith, and older brother to Mary Starr Adams and Ted Smith.
He attended his father’s alma mater, Amherst College, briefly, in 1953, but in 1954, he enlisted for three years with the United States Marine Corps, and trained as a navigator at Cherry Point, N.C. On a night out with a friend he met Helen Willis. They were married in 1956, and settled the following year in upstate New York, where he began attending Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.
Scudder’s family has owned Bee Publishing Company Inc and published The Newtown Bee for 141 of its 145 years.
Scudder worked at the paper beginning in 1961; he succeeded his father Paul as editor in 1972.
On June 28, 2022 — the 145th anniversary of the first issue of The Newtown Bee’s publication — local luminaries, including Newtown’s First Selectman, Newtown’s delegation to the Connecticut Legislature, both of Connecticut’s US Senators, and the Fifth District US Congresswoman honored The Newtown Bee for its longevity, and celebrated Scudder and his family’s love for and dedication to the community.
Scudder’s passion for antiques manifested in The Newtown Bee sister paper, Antiques and The Arts Weekly, which he founded in June 1963 and began as four pages of antiques coverage in the local newspaper. Then, as now, the paper each week was finished and printed by midday Thursday, with the following day’s date. As written by Laura Beach for A&A — as the staff and many readers refer to it — in March 2006, “After finishing his editorial chores on Thursday, Scudder spent Fridays pounding on doors, talking to dealers and auctioneers and selling ads for the next antiques section.”
A&A received its own postal permit, and therefore became its own entity, in 1976. Its staff since then has covered antiques shows, auctions, museum exhibitions and related art-world events. In 2006, the Antiques Dealers Association of America (ADA) honored Scudder with its Award of Merit for his contribution to the industry that has been substantially shaped by Antiques and The Arts Weekly.
Scudder and Helen began buying antiques during their life in Schenectady, gradually gravitating to Americana and folk sculpture. Weathervanes, game boards, whirligigs and carousel figures formed the core of their collection.
His collection carried from his home to the office, turning the newspaper’s 5 Church Hill Road headquarters into an extended, ever-evolving showcase of his acquisitions. A passionate collector, Scudder built up a formidable still bank collection, adding to it even from his hospital bed in his final days.
Since 1981, Scudder enjoyed vacationing in Saint Barthelemy in the French West Indies, where he and Helen loved hosting family and friends.
When he wasn’t chasing antiques or the next story for the paper, Scudder enjoyed creating elaborate gardens designed with vintage structures and garden antiques. While his home was his private oasis, his work was enjoyed by the public by the creation and maintenance of The Pleasance, the privately-owned but open to the public garden at 1 Main Street. Scudder’s sense of style, design and humor could be seen in the precise landscaping done there, dotted with the familiar Dog Walker sculpture by Stephen Hunek, cast iron turtle and rooster sculptures, trails in sun and shade trails, and a cast iron antique Fiske fountain that years ago led Helen to suggest that become the centerpiece of the property.
Upon learning of Scudder’s death, Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal last weekend said he was “deeply saddened to learn of Scudder’s passing but with a sense of gratitude to have known him. It was only weeks ago that I had the privilege of gathering with Scudder, Helen, their family and extended Bee family to recognize and reflect on 145 years of our collective good fortune in having a local newspaper.
“We are a stronger and tighter knit community for Scudder’s efforts to shine a light on all areas of life in Newtown. Behind his iconic and colorful bow ties was a kind and unassuming man with a great and disarming wit, who will undoubtedly be missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing and loving him,” Rosenthal concluded. “My deepest sympathies to the Smith family and Scudder’s family at The Newtown Bee.”
State Senator Tony Hwang observed that “Newtown lost one of its best in R. Scudder Smith.”
“He dedicated his remarkable life to family, community and country,” Hwang added. “Words cannot express the indelible impact he has positively made to Newtown, and his remarkable legacy will be everlasting. I want to extend my sincerest condolences to his beautiful wife and best friend Helen, and his immediate family and also to his extended family at The Newtown Bee. God bless him.”
State Representative Mitch Bolinsky remembered Scudder Smith fondly and with a respectful smile, saying, “He was truly a remarkable man, with a quiet confidence and a gentle way of going about things.
“He put folks at ease and had this gift of uncovering what was important to others, and then, sharing it in a way that was honest and captivating,” Bolinsky said. “I’m grateful to have known him and blessed to have had the chance to be with him not long ago, at The Bee’s 145th birthday party.
“It was a celebration of him and the storied history of the Smith family. He was so happy and that’s how I’ll remember him,” Bolinsky added. “My loving condolences to his wife, Helen, the entire extended Smith family, his many friends, his work family at The Newtown Bee, Antiques and The Arts Weekly, and to all those in journalism and our community whose lives he touched.”
Longtime Newtown Bee Editor Curtiss Clark worked alongside Scudder for more than 40 years. He reflected that, “Those of us who knew Scudder over the years have lots of stories about him.”
“Now that he is gone, it is going to be hard to convince people he was not a fictional character,” Clark said. “I’m sure I’ve already embellished a lot of his idiosyncrasies in my own memory. It seems so improbable that one man could be such an old-school gentleman, such a whippersnapper, so traditional, so flamboyant, so unable to tell a joke properly, and yet so consistently hilarious as Scudder was day-in-day-out.
“He used to wear a T-shirt that said ‘An American Original’ on the back. It suited him perfectly,” Clark remembered. “I used to rib him about his odd mix of true generosity and persnickety parsimony, saying: They sure broke the mold before they made you! He loved a good laugh at his own expense.”
Clark concluded, recalling, “The incredible thing about Scudder was that he was not a fictional character, but a real man, with a real love of family and community, and a real sense of how to live an original life.”
Savoring Jokes, Saving Rhododendrons
Former Bee reporter and retired Editor Nancy Crevier fondly recalled how she “always used to joke that when I started at The Bee, for the first three years Scudder used to walk past my desk and give me a look like ‘Who is that girl?’ Eventually, he began to share his corny jokes with me and I knew that he finally accepted I was on the staff to stay!”
While Crevier said he may have remained a bit aloof, “one day in December 2012, as I stood on the corner of Main Street and Church Hill Road, crying as one of the funeral processions passed by for a child murdered on 12/14, Scudder appeared next to me. He put his arm around my shoulder and escorted me silently back to the office.”
When Crevier became editor, she recalled having “a little jest between us of who was in the office earlier: and no matter how early I stepped into the lobby, Scudder always had me beat, typing away and grumbling at his computer. I appreciated his critical eye in how he perceived each week’s issue and respected his thoughts on what he wanted the paper to convey to the public.”
“Those of us who worked with Scudder knew that though he could come across as dismissive,” she concluded, “behind his gruff exterior beat a kind heart.”
Thinking back on their relationship, longtime family friend, Selectman, and Village Cemetery President and Sexton Maureen Crick Owen reflected, “Sometimes it’s funny the things that remind me of him.”
“Last week the workers at the cemetery pulled the invasive vines out of the rhododendrons by the Hawley Memorial,” Crick Owen said. “That was a huge pet peeve of Scudder: he did not want the rhododendrons to die because of those vines.
“He would call me up, let me know about it and wanted me to take care of it. When I saw them doing the work, I said to them Scudder will be happy you are doing this,” she added. “Every time I see the yellow daffodils bloom along the fence in front of the cemetery, I think of Scudder. That was something I always wanted and Scudder made it happen.
“I miss him already. He was a very dear man. He provided guidance to me and had the best sense of humor,” Crick Owen concluded. “My sympathies to you and the Bee family.”
Scudder is survived by Helen, his wife of 66 years; son, David Smith, and daughter and son-in-law, Sherri Smith Baggett and Scott Baggett; grandsons Benjamin and Gregory Smith and their spouses, and Scudder and Judd Baggett and their spouses; and six great-grandchildren, as well as generations of friends and colleagues both local and around the world.
To honor him and to permit his family and staff to attend services, The Newtown Bee offices will be closed on Friday, August 19.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in his honor to one of the following organizations: Newtown Scholarship Association (PO Box 302, Newtown CT 06470 or NewtownScholarship.org); Town of Newtown Animal Control (21 Old Farm Road, Newtown CT 06470), or FAITH Food Pantry (PO Box 53, Newtown CT 06470 or newtownfoodpantry.org).
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