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Retiring reporter Raymond Smith’s work ethic hard to replace

After nearly 40 years in the business, writing and journalism is the only line of work reporter Raymond Smith says he really has known.

It all started when he wrote for his high school yearbook. It further developed during the five years he served in the U.S. Army. Afterwards, he went on to study communication at Cleveland State University and wrote for his college newspaper. Thereafter, he began writing professionally at the Call & Post in Columbus before joining the Tribune Chronicle staff in early 1993.

My friend and longtime co-worker bid our newsroom and his full-time journalism career adieu last week. Ray’s departure, after nearly 30 years on our staff, was a happy occasion for him. The rest of us are left contemplating what we will do without him.

We’ll miss his work ethic, assertiveness and tenacity. Likewise, we also will miss his friendly nature, punctuated by a familiar hearty laugh that echoes through the newsroom multiple times every day. If you’ve ever met Ray, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

During his tenure here, Ray, 65, has covered nearly every beat in Trumbull County and some in Mahoning County, as well. That has ranged from Trumbull County courts and crime to county government, politics, business and Mahoning County courts and crime. For a very, very long time Ray covered Warren City government and, most recently, education.

When prompted, Ray told me Friday — his last day — that he especially enjoyed working with longtime Business Editor Larry Ringler, also now a Tribune Chronicle retiree.

When pressed for particulars, he said he especially liked covering the unpredictability of steelworker strikes. Then he added his characteristic laugh.

That’s exactly the kind of answer I’d expect from a true newsman like Ray Smith.

Without hesitation, Ray always jumps into stories with both feet, even — or especially — when it requires asking hard questions that would have a lesser reporter backing down.

One Warren city councilman told me recently that he’s seen elected officials flinch when Ray heads their way.

In my eyes, that’s a pretty good sign that Ray never was afraid to ask the questions that needed to be asked. And that laugh? It also would ring out during one of those interviews when a source was sharing a story that just wasn’t adding up.

But in doing his job — and in life — Ray also has been the consummate gentleman, always respectful and, as long as I’ve known him, nary a complaint from him.

It could easily be argued that Ray’s work ethic is among the strongest in my newsroom. That’s saying a lot because everyone here works hard to complete their tasks well — even when it means staying late or starting very early.

That’s saying even more for Ray because, for his entire 30 years here, Ray has been commuting from his home in Cleveland. He rarely missed work, and he never complained about long hours followed by hourlong commutes each direction.

In his waning days, Ray was overheard offering excellent guidance to a young, new reporter.

“Listen to your editors,” Ray said. “Be fair, be accurate.”

Metro Editor Tom Wills also said it well as Ray wrapped up with celebratory cake in the newsroom conference room.

“Journalism is an honorable profession. That’s why it attracts honorable people — like you,” Wills told Ray.

I couldn’t agree more.

Friday evening, I strolled by the traditionally messy newsroom corner that Ray called home for many years. That’s when his departure really struck me. The towering stacks of newspapers and unruly piles of notebooks, files and binders that always surrounded his work space suddenly were gone.

Still, I’m not giving up hope that, after taking some time to travel with his wife, Vernice, and savor this moment with his family, that he still makes good on a plan to return to the newsroom for a “retirement job” as a part-time reporter.

So, if you happen to see his byline return to these news pages, drop him an email and welcome him back.

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