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Philip Angell Smith

November 11, 2023

Phil Smith was born in Syracuse, New York on August 5, 1944 to Minot Robert and Louise (Mathewson) Smith. He was raised in Pulaski, NY on Douglaston Manor Farm. He was valedictorian of his class at Pulaski Academy and Central School and entered Yale in September 1962 on a full scholarship. He was a member of Ezra Stiles and a history major.

Phil Smith was a longtime Washington Post reporter and editor, former press secretary for Virginia Senator John Warner, later serving roles at Powell Tate, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and U.S. Department of Treasury (Internal Revenue Service). Phil always thought of himself first as a writer and editor, and journalism did indeed play an integral role in his life, but there was so much more.

Phil had a wry but ofttimes sober view of our 1960s campus bringing an upstate New York dairy farm perspective. Although he gave Yale an “A” for opening our eyes and minds to the bigger world, and an “A” in the grounding in learning and logical thought, in terms of social skills and awareness Yale for him rated at best a C minus.

Phil was grooming himself for a career in journalism from his early childhood days, when he began typing a family newsletter which he made available at the dinner table and would occasionally read aloud. He was also a competitive athlete; a lover of baseball; top scorer on his high-school basketball team. At Yale, Phil’s keen interest in journalism took footing the first days of college. For many at Yale, “News” meant The Yale Daily, but Phil followed a different course, beginning with a bursary job at the Yale University News Bureau, following on as a Bureau regular and then expanding and extending that as the Yale Campus “stringer” for the New York Times and summer intern at the Washington Post. Along the way these offered small touches with journalism notables such as Henry Luce (Yale 1920), Peter Kihss, McCandlish Phillips, Jonathan Randel, Jack Devlin and eventually encountering Peter Braestrup (Y’51) of the Washington Post. By then, as Philip said, “the hook was set.”

Following graduation from Yale, Philip went to Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism (his vision of the perfect grounding for a journalist’s career). There he completed his Master’s in journalism in 1967 before enlisting in the Navy and graduating from Officer Candidate School with the rank of ensign. In the Navy, a Columbia J-School and Navy connection brought to the attention of senior brass Phil’s work for the Washington Post, and he was bumped up and away from a remote naval radio station post in Australia to public information officer on the newly commissioned aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy. There he completed his service term with Joe Krebs, later a longtime NBC4 news anchor in Washington, DC, and lifelong friend.

After a post-Navy position at the Ledger Star in Norfolk, Phil went to work for the Washington Post, where he remained for 17 years, including a long stint at the newly inaugurated Style section of the paper, later serving as an editor on the foreign desk. At the Post, Phil had a front row seat to the Watergate extravaganza along with colleagues Bob Woodward (a fellow Stiles graduate and former Navy communications officer), Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, publisher Katherine Graham, and the full gamut of the many Post writers and editors well known to readers and television viewers in the Capital area and nationally.

During Phil’s early years as an editor on the paper’s Style section, two personal events sparked particular attention for him but also for classmates in touch with him at that time: the first was the personal, professional and diplomatic challenge he faced caught between the fast rising, hard-charging celebrity Style writer Sally Quinn and the marginally discreet courting visits to Style by Washington Post Managing Editor, Ben Bradlee (Ben married Sally in 1978). Philip emerged from that minefield wiser, more agile and mostly unscathed. On the second, more personally important side, Phil met and worked with another Style celebrity reporter, Stephanie Mansfield. Their personal relationship developed and the couple married with the ultimate addition in 1985 of their son Andrew, upon whom Philip doted. Andrew is fond of telling the story about how his parents once asked Bradlee for his advice on raising children when so many demands were placed on their time. His taciturn response was, “staff.”

In 1988, Phil embarked on the next chapter: four years on Capitol Hill as the press secretary for Virginia Senator John Warner. His life in Washington, DC continued with positions at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the public affairs firm Powell Tate, and the IRS. Despite great highs, there were also deep lows, and Philip and Stephanie’s marriage ended in divorce.

Sunsets are followed by sunrises, and while vacationing in Paris in 2007, Phil proposed to public relations executive Julia Sutherland, whom he had met two years previously on Capitol Hill while she was the press secretary for Virginia Senator Chuck Robb. They married in February 2008. In 2020, after decades in the DC area and during the COVID epidemic, the couple moved to Richmond to be closer to family and friends. Phil died November 11, 2023 of complications of a hemorrhagic stroke. He was surrounded by his wife Julia, his son Andrew, brother George and other close relatives and friends. Phil Smith lived a fulfilling life of service to others, and he will be dearly missed by all whom he affected, and those who knew and loved him.