Colorful Knox Countians: Guy L. Smith, Jr.

Colorful Knox Countians: Guy L. Smith, Jr.

 

By Ray Hill

“Cry Aloud and Spare Not”

That was the motto of the notorious “Parson” William G. Brownlow’s Whig newspaper. That same motto was adopted by the Parson and his partner, Captain William Rule, when they published the Knoxville Chronicle and Whig. Captain Rule sold the Chronicle and Whig in 1882 and was not content until he returned to the newspaper business by starting the Knoxville Journal in 1885 with Samuel Marfield. Rule faithfully supported Republicans on the national level, although he maintained a curious neutrality on the local level. In 1928 Luke Lea, former United States senator and owner and publisher of the Nashville Tennessean, bought the Journal. Colonel Lea owned newspapers in all three of Tennessee’s Grand Divisions: The Knoxville Journal, The Tennessean, and the Memphis Press Scimitar. Lea’s publishing empire gave him a platform to support or punish political candidates, but he never had the requisite time to effectively use that hammer before he was beset by financial woes brought on by the Great Depression. The Knoxville Journal went into receivership in 1930.

Roy Lotspeich, a local textile mill owner, bought the Journal in 1936 and the following year Guy Lincoln Smith, Jr. became the editor. It was a post Smith held until his death in 1968. Guy Smith had a deep history in the newspaper business, having started as a reporter and editorial writer for the Journal in 1920. Smith left for greener pastures in 1921 where he founded the Johnson City Chronicle, a newspaper which he edited and published. Guy Smith also started the Bristol Bulletin in 1925, whose lineage can be traced back from today’s Bristol, Tennessee newspapers.

Like most upper East Tennesseans, Guy Smith was a devout Republican. For the next thirty years, the cantankerous Smith’s personality helped to propel the Knoxville Journal into a force to be reckoned with; not surprisingly, the Journal became the voice of Republicanism in East Tennessee. To say that Guy Smith was a Republican doesn’t quite suffice; Smith served as Chairman of the Tennessee Republican State Executive Committee for a period. Then as now, East Tennessee had two GOP congressmen, Dayton Phillips, who represented the First Congressional District and John Jennings, Jr. who represented the Second District. By 1950, Guy Smith was strongly pushing East Tennessee Republicans to beat their congressmen. Carroll Reece, an institution inside Tennessee’s First Congressional District, announced he would seek to reclaim his seat in the House of Representatives while Howard Baker, a former district attorney general, set out to challenge Congressman Jennings in the Republican primary in the Second District.

Guy Smith used his newspaper adroitly to help promote the candidacies of both Reece and Baker, whose campaign was managed by his young son, Howard H. Baker, Jr., who would become the first Republican ever to be popularly elected to the United States Senate from Tennessee. Smith hammered Congressman Jennings, who was a lawyer by trade and a good one at that, but the Journal insisted Jennings had accepted a $5,000 fee for legal work he never performed for a local businessman. Keep in mind, in 1950 $5,000 was the equivalent of over $58,000 today.

At the time Guy Smith was waging his political war against Tennessee’s incumbent Republican congressmen, he was also the state chairman of the Republican Executive Committee. While controversial as a more liberal Republican inside Tennessee’s First Congressional District, Dayton Phillips was a good campaigner and popular with a good many folks. Quite likely Reece was the only man who could have beaten the congressman and that he did. Howard Baker, aided by the Journal and the fact John Jennings had never quite made his seat secure, won in a landslide. It was Guy Smith who managed the presidential campaign of General Dwight D. Eisenhower in Tennessee in 1952. That year Eisenhower carried the Volunteer State, the first time the GOP presidential nominee had won Tennessee since Herbert Hoover in 1928. Smith likewise managed Eisenhower’s reelection campaign in 1956, which saw Tennessee’s own U.S. senator Estes Kefauver on the Democratic ticket. Kefauver was highly embarrassed when Tennessee supported President Eisenhower yet again. Smith was also a delegate to every Republican national convention from 1944 until his death in 1968.

Unlike his predecessor William Rule, Guy Smith was anything but neutral in local politics. Smith had a flair that the other paper, the Knoxville News-Sentinel, simply did not have. When a local woman was murdered inside her home and Knox County Sheriff C.W. “Buddy” Jones foolishly, albeit innocently, bragged he wasn’t going to bed until he solved the crime, Guy Smith’s Journal promptly followed the activities of “Sleepless” Jones. Jones lost the next election to his predecessor, Austin Cate, and the case remains unsolved to this day.

I recall my friend Jimmy Duncan telling me the story of how he had been gifted with a brand new pen and pencil set by the editor of the Knoxville Journal. Duncan proudly showed his father John the pen and pencil set and was puzzled when his father burst out laughing. The elder Duncan had given Smith the pen and pencil set originally as a gift.

Yet Guy Smith did much good with the Knoxville Journal. Smith and his newspaper kept up a steady drumbeat on behalf of the editor’s pet causes which included insisting the City of Knoxville better control smoke emissions and boosting industrial parks to help attract bigger and better businesses to Knox County. There were two causes that were perhaps those the closest to the editor’s heart; the first was Smith’s insistence that redistricting and apportionment be accomplished on one basis and one alone: population. Guy Smith fervently believed in one-man, one-vote. At the time, Tennessee was largely dominated in the state legislature by rural interests. When unsuccessful, Smith joined the Baker v. Carr lawsuit that brought about the change nationally. Not coincidentally, it caused more Republicans to be elected to office. To put it into perspective, East and West Tennessee’s representation in the General Assembly doubled due to apportioning legislative seats on the basis of population.

Smith used the Knoxville Journal to raise money for what he considered to be good causes; East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and Old Diamond, the elephant at the Knoxville Zoo were two such causes. Smith’s son and namesake later helped to keep the Knoxville Zoo going and prospering. The elder Smith’s efforts on behalf of building a new facility for Children’s Hospital raised quite nearly $3 million over a two-year period.

Old Diamond was the star attraction for some time at the Knoxville Zoo and the first African elephant born in the Western Hemisphere was his daughter, Little Diamond. Just a couple of months following the birth of Little Diamond, another daughter of Old Diamond was born, Hillary.

Perhaps the most notable charitable endeavor undertaken by Guy Smith and his newspaper was the Knoxville Journal’s Milk Fund. That fundraised money for underprivileged children to have milk to drink and nourishing food to eat.

Guy Smith also ignited the flames in a war of words between Knoxville’s two daily newspapers. The Journal and the News-Sentinel, like The Tennessean and the Banner in Nashville, could usually be found on opposing sides. The News-Sentinel was even then a more Democratic/liberal newspaper while the Knoxville Journal was more conservative and favored Republicans and GOP causes.

Guy Smith did have his own bête noirs, one being the Tennessee Valley Authority, which he considered to be nothing less than the government sliding “toward socialism.” Smith was also a vehement opponent of the United Nations.

One of Smith’s many feuds involved colorful millionaire grocer Cas Walker, who was a Knoxville city councilman in 1943. The Journal regularly published the “Cas Walker Says” column and the grocer used one such article to complain about Smith and the newspaper. Cas noted the owner of the Knoxville Journal gave Guy Smith the right to edit Walker’s column however the editor wished. Walker complained not only was Smith the editor of the Journal but also was its “censor.” “Will miracles never cease?” one Walker column bawled. “Four days have passed without a single front page comic strip concerning Cas Walker appearing on the front page of The Knoxville Journal.” Walker wrote he hoped that change had occurred through the intervention of the owner and publisher of the Journal, Roy Lotspeich. Cas Walker speculated Lotspeich had been “thoroughly disgusted with the last front-page story that Mr. Guy Smith ran concerning the $1061 that Cas Walker spent getting re-elected and helping his friends to get elected to City Council.” Walker wrote Roy Lotspeich liked getting results, which the grocer boasted he got, while Guy Smith “got absolutely nothing” although the editor, according to Walker, “wasted many thousands of dollars worth of space.” Walker, writing in the third person, broke it down so anyone could understand it, crowing, “In other words, Cas Walker and Cas Walkers’ friends were winners and Mr. Guy Smith, was a big loser.” Walker paid for his column through his grocery business and each article bore the legend at the bottom it had been provided by the “Cas Walker Family of Stores.”

Another frequent target of Guy Smith and the Knoxville Journal was George Roby Dempster, the millionaire inventor of the dumpster of the same name, and sometime mayor of Knoxville. Dempster and his brothers operated a very successful construction and road-building company before George become city manager of Knoxville. Cas Walker and Guy Smith both frequently fought with Dempster.

Guy Smith was ailing when he went to the old Presbyterian Hospital in Knoxville and had an operation for a hernia. When Guy Smith died suddenly on November 21, 1968, the tributes from Republicans and friends across the country began pouring in from the likes of Senator Howard Baker, as well as Baker’s father-in-law, the honey-voiced Senator Everett Dirksen, Minority Leader of the United States Senate. Claude Robertson, a successor of Smith as Republican State Chairman, remembered the late editor as “the most loyal man I ever knew.” “He was loyal to his principles and, above all, loyal to his friends,” Robertson said. “He was an institution among newspapermen in this part of the country and will be very greatly missed.”

Congressman John Duncan was vacationing in Puerto Rico when Smith died. Duncan, who knew Smith as well as anyone, said the editor “was a man who would not yield or compromise his convictions.”

Another tribute came from Richard Nixon, president-elect, who expressed his personal sadness at the longtime editor’s passing and said he had “treasured” Smith’s personal friendship. Smith had certainly supported Nixon in both 1960 and 1968 and was quite pleased when Tennessee voted Republican both times.

The Nashville Tennessean was the voice of the Democratic Party in Tennessee and when Guy Smith died, the newspaper described the late editor as having been “Mr. Republican” in Tennessee. Certainly, Guy Smith did much to create and foster Republicanism in the State of Tennessee. When Smith died, Tennessee was still a Democratic state, but things were changing in the Volunteer State. Bill Brock had picked off a seat in Congress and Howard Baker had won a seat in the United States Senate. Richard Nixon had just carried Tennessee in the 1968 presidential election. Had he lived another two years, Guy Smith would have seen Winfield Dunn elected as the first GOP governor in fifty years, as well as witnessing Congressman Bill Brock beat Senator Albert Gore, Sr. Guy Smith understood as well as anyone for Republicans to be elected in Tennessee at the time, the GOP needed to maximize its own votes, as well as to win votes from Independents and more conservative Democrats. The fact Tennessee is a “red” state today is largely because of men like Carroll Reece, Guy Smith, Howard Baker, Winfield Dunn, and Bill Brock as well as those young businessmen who helped to finance the campaigns like Jim Haslam and Ted Welch. Nobody would have been more pleased than Guy Lincoln Smith.

 

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