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Media leader Carolyn Calkins Smith remembered

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Posted: Friday, January 3, 2014 1:42 pm | Updated: 8:22 am, Mon Jan 6, 2014.

She gave.

Carolyn Calkins Smith was among the first donors to step forward to help build the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA where she served as chairwoman for several years.

She believed.

As a co-owner of Calkins Media, ABC 7's parent company, her commitment to community journalism never wavered, as Smith and her sisters, Shirley C. Ellis and Sandra C. Hardy, invested in the company’s vision to become the best source of local news.

She loved.

Her biggest joy was derived from family, especially her sons, Charles and Timothy, and her sisters, who shared her passion for delivering community news that does more than inform, but also inspires involvement and public service.

After a long battle with cancer, Carolyn Calkins Smith died Thursday. She was 74.

"I remember so vividly when she was born and so many of the moments we spent together," said Shirley C. Ellis. "And I will miss her. Knowing she was there when I needed her, as a sister and as a friend, was very important to me."

Stanley M. Ellis, Smith's nephew, said his aunt "had a unique blend of compassion and strength that helped guide Calkins Media and our family for many years."

"She provided great leadership, especially when we faced our toughest challenges," he said.

He said he'll remember how much she cared for others, both on a personal and a professional level.

"Her family, her friends, and the employees of our company were very important to her," he said. "Carolyn wanted to understand how they were feeling, what they thought, and what they aspired to as individuals."

Mark G. Contreras, chief executive officer, credited Smith with helping to pave the way for the organization's success. 

"The story of Calkins Media — our private ownership, our continued dedication to community service and committed family stewardship was made possible because of Carolyn's life and the example she set," Contreras said. "During several discussions with her over the years, it was clear to me that her passion about the news business still burned bright. Any discussion about what our newspapers or television stations were doing to develop promising new ways to reach members of our communities brought a wide smile and a discernible twinkle to her eyes. We will miss her dearly."

Her son Charles said his mother was drawn to the newsroom in her teenage years when she wrote social columns and trained to become a proofreader at the Bucks County Courier Times. A few years later, she worked as a reporter and later as a copy editor.

“Carolyn Smith was a real newsperson who was dedicated to her community and her family,” said Ed Birch, a longtime former Calkins executive. “I worked with and around her for more than 52 years. Carolyn always loved the newsroom; she was a stickler for accuracy. If there was any misspelling or poor grammar, it really bugged her. She was considered a supporter of the Fourth Estate.”

Though it was her late husband, Chuck Smith, who served as The Intelligencer’s publisher for 27 years, Carolyn worked behind the scenes, “paying close attention to the company’s products. It was in her blood,” Birch said.

During Birch's time with Calkins, he said Carolyn Smith insisted the company allocate enough resources to the newsroom. She also had a big role in the success and expansion of WWSB-TV, the broadcast station in Sarasota, Fla.

“She was the president and hands-on manager of the station,” he said. “She went down there and represented the family in the early days. Her news days at the Courier Times gave her a leg up. The quality greatly improved from her being there so much.

“The company is going to miss Carolyn,” Birch said.

Carolyn Calkins Smith was the daughter of Stanley Willis Calkins Sr., who started the company in Uniontown in 1937. Calkins Media Inc. continues to be a family owned business based in Levittown, PA.

Calkins Media owns The Intelligencer in Doylestown, Pa., the Bucks County Courier Times in Tullytown, Pa., the Burlington County Times in Willingboro, N.J., the Beaver County Times in Beaver, Pa., the Herald-Standard in Uniontown, Pa., the South Dade News Leader in Homestead, Fla., WAAY-TV, ABC 31, in Huntsville, Ala., WTXL-TV, ABC 27, in Tallahassee, Fla., WWSB-TV, ABC-7, in Sarasota, Fla. and ShaleReporter.com.

Though the company’s influence was broad, she felt a deep attachment to Doylestown.

“Doylestown was always where she wanted to live,” said her sister, Sandra C. Hardy.

Carolyn Calkins Smith lived in Doylestown for more than 50 years, serving on more than a dozen community organizations, including the Fanny Chapman Pool's Board of Directors and Meals on Wheels. In recent years, she devoted her charitable efforts to fighting poverty across the United States, her son Charles said.

Charles said she was a talented singer, a great swimmer and “an excellent marksman.” She shared stories with him of her time as a lifeguard, of her early days in the newsroom and of a historic moment at a World Series game.

“She was at game seven of the 1960 World Series when the Pirates beat the Yankees,” he said. “It was the only seventh-game walk-off home run in World Series history.”

While his mother led a fascinating life, Charles said she left behind a legacy of quiet successes.

“She would always tell us that her first and most important job was as a mother, but from the time I could remember, she was at meetings, activities and calling people to raise money – especially for the Michener Museum. When she devoted herself to something, she was tenacious, and her success pattern repeated itself time and time again – in whatever she did. Yet, she did it in a quietly effective way.”

She was not one to bask in the limelight, he said. While she was a great communicator, she didn’t like public speaking.

“She would say: 'These are just things I do' and she would give credit to others who helped her work,” Charles said. “If you knew her, though, you might come to another conclusion.”

Bruce Katsiff, a friend and former longtime director of the James A. Michener Art Museum, said Carolyn Smith was a "remarkable lady" and will be missed. She was an integral part of the creation of the museum. 

"Carolyn chaired the museum's first major fundraising effort at a time when the Michener Arts Center wanted to change its persona and become a museum, meeting national standards," said Katsiff, adding that she served as board president from 1991 to 1998. "And we were successful. In 1993, we opened the expanded facility and she helped create an institution that would be respected nationally. The Michener would not have achieved what it accomplished without Carolyn's presence." 

Lisa Tremper Hanover, CEO and director of the James A. Michener Art Museum, said: "The entire Michener Art Museum family is saddened by the passing of one of its dynamic founders. She was a driving force in the success of this institution. We are grateful for her many contributions to this museum and to Bucks County, as a leader and advocate."

She is survived by her sons, Charles Smith Jr. of Brooklyn, N.Y., and his wife, Allison Oakes, and Timothy Smith of Arlington, Va., and his wife, Kathryn Smith; and grandchildren Owen Smith, Eva Smith, Josephine Smith and Paul Smith; her sisters, Shirley C. Ellis and Sandra C. Hardy; and her brother, Stanley W. Calkins of Washington Crossing, Pa.

She was the longtime companion of the late Dale Ihnat, also of Doylestown, Pa. 

Funeral services are open to the public and are scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday at the James A. Michener Museum at 138 S. Pine St., Doylestown, Pa. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that any contributions be made to Oxfam America, 5th floor, 226 Causeway St., Boston, MA 02114.

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