A Beloved Gatekeeper Remembered

By Helen Altonn

If an editor had been working at the Honolulu Advertiser one Saturday in 1946 when the young sailor wanted to inquire about a job , Adam A. (Bud) Smyser might have retired from there 55 years later instead of from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Bud was finishing his stint in the Navy and wanted to see about work here while his ship was on a two-day layover enroute to the West Coast from the South Pacific.

Fortunately, Riley Allen was available and immediately offered Bud a job. That was the start of a remarkable career that took him through all the newspaper's editor positions until he retired in 1983. He then became a columnist, writing "Hawaii's World." He was excited about the new Star-Bulletin after it was sold and broke away from the Honolulu Advertiser-Hawaii Newspaper Agency triage. However, his first column in the reorganized newspaper was his last. It appeared on March 19, last year, the day he died. It concerned one of his prime interests--dying with dignity.

His wife, Dee, said she asked him if he was sure he wanted his first column in the new Star-Bulletin to be on that subject and he said yes, that if he accomplished anything, it was to get people thinking about death and dying.

Of course he got people thinking about scores of other issues over the years, such as statehood for Hawaii, the treatment of Hansen's Disease patients at Kalaupapa, open government, globalization of Hawaii's economy, the East-West Center, and on and on.

He got all of us involved with statehood as reporters. Every time we interviewed someone from the mainland in pre-statehood days, we had to ask their position on Hawaii statehood.

Bud had an insatiable curiosity and seemingly boundless energy. Of all city editors we had over the years (and they were legion), he was the most community-minded, often going to breakfasts, lunches and dinners or community events at night, all in one day.

He would return from something and flood reporters with little notes telling us to check this and that. Under his watch, we blanketed the community as a "newspaper of record."

He definitely had his pulse on the city, even the state. I understand that he and Betty, his first wife, would drive to the other side of the island on weekends to see what was going on. He often visited the neighbor islands and traveled out of state.

After Betty, a noted TV personality, became ill with cancer, they moved from their Mott Smith home to Harbor Square where Bud cared for her and became a devout walker. You would see him walking all over town, returning to the office with story ideas--all about town.

When Betty died in 1983, he married Dee, a longtime family friend who had worked at the Star-Bulletin, and they continued to be active in the community. Dee told of one night around Christmas that Bud planned to attend three events -- at Sea Life Park, an admiral's house and the Pacific Club. She told him she would only go to two.

In recent years she tried to slow him down because of his health, telling him if he didn't go home at lunch or after lunch to rest, she wouldn't go out with him that night.

She said he had trouble relaxing; he didn't want to waste any time.

He loved parties and social gatherings. Ironically, his last event was at the East-West Center (where the SPJ is honoring him), to hear a speaker sponsored by the Media Council. Dee said he enjoyed the speaker and the reception where she noticed he had a couple glasses of wine he wasnÕt supposed to have.

Bud was having trouble with his sight and hearing in his last years but one wouldn't know it. He continued to pound out his column (with two fingers), preferring to look for an empty desk and work in the city room with the staff than remain in his private third floor office.

He was a great story-teller and loved to discuss issues at small gatherings. We formed a sort of "oldtimers" group of former Star-Bulletin writers and editors (Bud and I were the only two still working) and met for dinner every few months. We had memorable times talking about newspapers, journalism and news events and laughing a lot.

An associate mentioned once that Bud "wasn't colorful." Not in the sense of Frank Fasi, maybe, but he was fun and entertaining, as well as solid and intense about his profession.

As a boss, he was fair and calm, treating everyone equally. Women had the same breaks as the men _ in fact, more, because there were more of us. I never heard him raise his voice. He made us strive for accuracy and objectivity; his integrity was unquestioned.

He was loyal to his newspaper, associates, his state and his alma mater, Pennsylvania State College. He was the first editor of its paper, now a daily.

About a week before he died, Bud took 55 years of source materials, notes and other paperwork home and filled many file cabinets. When he died, four Star-Bulletin "oldtimers" helped Dee sort it all out. Some military material went to Greg Kakesako and political notes to Richard Borreca. The rest of the collection went to Hamilton Library where it will continue to be useful to students and others.

For 18 years, Bud had been throwing his columns in a cupboard. The team compiled them into 19 categories and they also went to Hamilton Library, as well as Star-Bulletin historical files.

Bud won many honors and awards over the years but I doubt that he realized what a prominent role he played in the history of the Star-Bulletin and of Hawaii.

He left a legacy of accomplishments through his writings and courage in pursuing sensitive and vital issues.

He also was a man of vision. Just recently, Dee was looking for a note card in the file cabinets (she said Bud would buy multiple boxes of something that he liked) and she happened upon a box in the back of a drawer.

It was a beautiful necklace from the Honolulu Academy of Arts that Bud had purchased and tucked away for some occasion. She doesn't know what he had in mind but suspects it might have been for their anniversary in April.

Hawaii SPJ