On October 22, 2020, Donald Ray Smith of Washington, D.C., passed away at the age of 79. Former spouse of Patricia Durkin for 29 years and the late Flora Ellen Smith for 18 years; beloved brother of Kendall Smith; father to Hillary J. Smith, and Jessica S. Knoll; and loving grandfather of Sydney J. and Samantha I. Knoll. He was predeceased by his parents Ray and Ellen Smith.
Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Don grew up in Alexandria, Virginia with his parents and brother, Kendall. He was a graduate of Annandale High School, class of 1956. Following high school, Don joined the U.S. Army and served as a Public Affairs Specialist stationed in West Germany. Following the Army, he earned his B.A. degree in English with a double minor in Journalism and Government from the University of Maryland College Park in 1966. He was hired at The Washington Star where he worked as a Reporter/Editor, then as an award winning Staff Writer. From 1971-1973, he was the Managing Editor for The Washington Post Magazine. In 1978, he founded and served as Editor and Publisher of The Washington Tribune, a small DC-based newspaper focusing on local arts, entertainment and politics. The Tribune ran until 1984. Don was the Host of "Report on Congress," an acclaimed daily radio report on congressional activities, which ran on WGMS 103.5 from 1978-2000. During this time, Don also worked at Congressional Quarterly (CQ) from 1973-1981, and 1984-1987 as a Writer/Editor and as a credentialed White House and congressional correspondent, covering the Presidential terms of Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan. He was also a freelance writer and was published in Esquire, The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, The Rolling Stone, and other national publications. In 1987 he signed on as Senior Staff Writer for National Geographic News Service where he traveled the world writing and editing news features on scientific, geopolitical and general interest articles for distribution through Associated Press to 900 US newspapers. He traveled throughout the US, Caribbean, Latin America, Europe and Asia. Even to the North Pole.
As executive co-producer of Radio Expeditions, an award-winning National Geographic - National Public Radio production heard on NPR's Morning Edition, Don was Editorial Director and Chief Writer for the special weekly Radio Expeditions series "The Geographic Century" - great moments of exploration and discovery during the 20th century. The show aired weekly on NPR stations in the early 2000's.
When Don purchased his house on Logan Circle, NW, DC in 1974, it was a run-down 7 apartment building. He and Ellen Smith restored the house to its single family full Victorian splendor, and were instrumental in working with police and community activists to clean up the neighborhood, helping it become the premier neighborhood in Washington, DC that it is today. He ran the Chester A. Arthur House Bed and Breakfast from the house on Logan Circle from 1986-2020, always retaining top marks from TripAdvisor. He loved history, sailing, traveling the world, training in Chinese martial arts, and was a talented singer and instrumentalist (piano, guitar, banjo & lap dulcimer).
Don wrote three books, and did many special writing projects during his career. He co-authored (with Bradford Washburn) On High: The Adventures of Legendary Mountaineer, Photographer, and Scientist Brad Washburn (National Geographic Books, 2002); and (with aviator Linda Finch) of No Limits, a biography of Amelia Earhart (1997, World Flight, Inc.), and The Constable's Tale, a murder mystery set in colonial-era North Carolina.
He was married to Ellen Smith for 18 years, and together raised their two daughters, Hillary and Jessica. He was married to Patricia Durkin, also a journalist by trade, from 1988-2017.
Due to COVID concerns, a memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to WAMU/NPR (FM 88.5) in honor of Donald Smith.
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