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Tributes to religion journalist who could ‘shoot from the hip’

 Frances S. Smith, a former editor of the Ecumenical Press Service – the predecessor of Ecumenical News International – has died at her home in Claremont, California, aged 87.

"Frances was one of the most respected of church journalists for her accuracy and her objectivity," said journalist Betty Thompson in a tribute quoted by the United Methodist News Service, where Smith held her final post before retirement in 1988.

Smith, who died on 30 December, was "known for her integrity, encyclopaedic knowledge of religious and international issues and ability to shoot from the hip", the UMNS noted.

Born in Austin, Texas, in 1922, Smith joined the St. Louis Star-Times during the Second World War as a reporter. When the men returned from the war and wanted their previously all-male jobs back, she moved to New York. There Smith worked for several years on the newspaper of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.

Smith began her career in religion journalism when she helped prepare coverage of the highest governing body of the World Council of Churches for its second assembly at Evanston, in the U.S. state of Illinois, in 1954.

She then served on the staff of magazines such as the United Church Herald, the journal of the United Church of Christ, and Presbyterian Survey, the official magazine of the Presbyterian Church (United States). She was also associate editor of Christianity and Crisis, a journal edited by John C. Bennett, president of New York’s Union Theological Seminary.

In 1966, Smith moved to the WCC’s headquarters in Geneva where she became editor of the Ecumenical Press Service, a post she held for 10 years and which included coverage of assemblies in Uppsala in 1968 and Nairobi in 1975.

Smith joined the New York office of the United Methodist News Service in 1976.

Garlinda Burton, who worked with Smith at UMNS, described her as a "pistol". She recalled a time when Smith scolded a bishop who had taken a cup of coffee from the Methodist general conference newsroom, UMNS reported. That coffee was for the press only, Smith told him.

She retired in 1988 but continued writing for various outlets.

Smith was the only daughter of W. A. "Block" Smith, general secretary of the Student YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) at the University of Texas for 37 years, and Charlotte Spence, a campaigner for women’s rights.

(c) Ecumenical News International