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Magazine journalist David Smith dies aged 60

David Smith

David Smith  -  © Private

18 June 2013

Jenny Sims

David Smith, 60, former Father of the Chapel at Morgan Grampian publishers, has died of heart failure in a hospice in Exeter, following a six-month deterioration of his muscular dystrophy.

He is survived by his wife, Rebecca, a former art gallery administrator, who was his full time carer for more than 10 years.

Jenny Sims, NEC member, and former NUJ chapel member at Morgan Grampian, writes:

At his humanist funeral service in Exeter, followed by a champagne drinks celebration of his life, friends and former colleagues from far and wide paid tribute to a great guy with many gifts – not least among them, a gift for long-lasting and loyal friendship

Dave, who had the Becker strain of muscular dystrophy, always stood out physically, with his ginger hair and limping walk. But he never let his disability get in his way.He was invariably cheerful, enthusiastic, intelligent and funny, and always good company.

Born in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to school teachers Douglas and Dorothy, Dave was the middle of three children, having an older brother Anthony, and younger sister Rosalyn.

The family returned to England when David was 12 and settled in North Devon where he attended Barnstaple Grammar School. He studied town planning at Leeds Polytechnic before reading for a degree in geological geophysics at Reading University, where he cut his journalistic teeth, working for the student newspaper.

His first job was as a seismologist with an oil exploration firm based in Kent, then he went on to help launch Undercurrents, the radical science and technology magazine.

Colleague Pete Glass recalls:

"Dave was one of the stalwarts in the 'Undies' production team."

In 1978, he joined Morgan Grampian in Woolwich as assistant editor on What's New in Building. Richard Kruger, a former editorial colleague, recalls:

"When WNIB began there was an editorial team of three: Charles Knevitt, an architect turned marketing man who had been appointed editor, me, and the one 'experienced' journalist. Charles and I owe a great debt to Dave who saw us through thick and thin."

An NUJ member, in time, Dave succeeded Ben Kochan as Father of the Chapel for the group. Ben recalls:

"He was a meticulous sub, who set up and worked a failproof system for the production of the monthly magazine - who had little patience for anyone who did not come up to his high standards.
"As FoC, Dave was far more conscientious than me, particularly in collaring new staff to join the NUJ – at a time when we were struggling to retain formal recognition because membership was declining."

Popular with NUJ members, Dave was not so popular with management because of his union commitment.

He left in the early nineties to freelance, doing subbing shifts on journals including the New Scientist and Marketing; writing features for several property, building and local government journals; and compiling the Specifiers Handbook published with the monthly, Architecture Today.

As he increasingly required the use of a wheelchair, Dave had to work more from home and he and Rebecca decided to move to Devon for more space and a better quality of life. Following retirement at 52, he became a passionate advocate for rights for disabled people and became Vice-Chair of the Crediton and District Access group.

His last six months were difficult ones, mostly spent in hospital, but he was home for three weeks before going back into hospital and then into a hospice where he died peacefully.

Dave had time to chose his own funeral music - which brought smiles all round. Following a recording of Janacek's Sinfonieta playing quietly throughout the service, mourners left to the defiant blare of an orchestral version of the Internationale. A memorable exit for a respected journalist and valued friend who made a positive difference to a lot of people's lives. He will be greatly missed.

Tags: , magazines, Morgan Grampian, freelance