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Harry Smith: man with a mission.

A letter from Harry Smith soliciting a contribution for Central College in Iowa piqued my curiosity. Why was my favorite "CBS This Morning" co-host raising money for this little Iowa college? My goodness! As I read further, the letter explained that he's an alum. But why had this urbane, sophisticated, man-of-theworld fellow named Smith chosen little Central College in the middle of Iowa? When I went to school there, most of the out-of-state students had long Dutch-sounding names.

The school, long supported by the Reformed Church of America (Dutch Reformed as in Marble Collegiate Church and West End Collegiate Church in Manhattan), attracted trustees' children from New Jersey, New York, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other spotty Dutch enclaves where the early Dutch Reformed Churches had survived. Central's president recruited Dutch Reformed Church members' children with generous scholarships and work grants. Many of them were preministerial or premed students with missionary service in mind.

Harry Smith just didn't look like your typical Central College alum... and with a name like Smith, how had he been recruited for Central College?

I visited him at the CBS studios to find out.

"This is the newsroom, and we keep in touch with all of our foreign bureaus over there," said Harry, who was a most gracious host, welcoming us to his on-camera workplace where he labors from 7 to 9 o'clock five mornings a week to bring us the news. "And this is where Dan Rather comes from every night."

Although his day began at 4 a.m., he was now relaxed and chipper as we settled down to talk on the sofa in his small, rather Spartan office.

First question: A Smith goes to Central in Iowa? How did that happen?

He surprised me by saying, "I am a Dutch kid. All of my grandparents are of Dutch ancestry. I grew up in the Reformed Church, and I played football in high school. I had a lot of scholarship offers but decided to go to Central because it seemed small and safe. I1 was great, the perfect place. I was there for four years. I majored in communications and theater and social science. I really thought I was going to the seminary or maybe to graduate school. But I didn't have the money to do either. So I worked for years in radio instead. From radio I went to public television and from there to the CBS affiliate in Denver. Then the network hired me to work as a correspondent for the 'Evening News.' After a couple of years, they brought me to New York to do this show, which as of today, I have been doing for five years."

After congratulating him on this milestone, I wanted to know how, with all the Dutch grandparents, he became a Smith?

"Easy," he said. "When greatgrandfather Smit, S-M-I-T, landed at Ellis Island and they asked his name, he said Smit, and they put an 'H' on it, and it has been Smith ever since."

"Now you were thinking of becoming a minister and you went to Central because you knew of it through your church?"

"Yes, and I knew about you long before you knew about me, because people who did well at Central--we sort of put those people on a pedestal. And gosh, I've known about you forever."

"Because of The Saturday Evening Post and the children's magazines?"

"Oh, absolutely," he responded. I was glad we had sent complimentary subscriptions to Central's library.

"Tell me about your days at Central. You're out front helping the school... I'm impressed."

"Well, let's just say the best thing about it was for me to go there. I remember the premium they placed on learning. Here's the place ... have the run of it .... You can learn and sing and act and play football and all those things. So I tried everything I could get my hands on. I even went to Taiwan one summer to teach English.

"Kids come to me now wanting to know how to become a journalist or how to get into the news business. I always tell them to get a liberal arts education, because it gives you a taste of a lot of different things. And that's what ultimately serves you well."

Post: I remember there was no smoking on campus at Central.. But when then-Princess Julianna came during the war, she smoked--a long cigarette. And everyone in the girls' dormitory was shocked she was smoking. Of'course, we didn't dance, either. Do they still not dance?

Smith: They danced when I was there.

Post: That's good.

Smith: Yes, we found all kinds of sins to commit when I was there.

Post: Having gone to Central and being of Dutch Reformed background, you must have some pretty strong convictions about how to make this world a better place before you go on.

Smith: I do. I'm now into my third year of volunteering in the New York public schools. Every Tuesday, I go up to 92nd Street, climb three flights of stairs to Ms. Anne Chase's first- and second-grade classes, where I am a reading tutor for her students. Mostly second graders who really need help.

I didn't want to do something symbolic. I wanted to do some of the real hands-on, make-a-difference kind of work. I said I want to work with little kids because so many of the older kids are gone by the time they are in junior high school. The things that have affected their lives are so dramatic, I don't have the expertise to help turn that around.

Post: You went through an orientation process?

Smith: Four long, drawn-out seminars, and then they assigned me a school. And it's really great. Any of us can make a difference with only a couple of hours a week. I can sit with these kids, 20 or 30 minutes each, and they are better readers by the time they are at the end of their second year. Only because I am with them as their coach, their cheerleader, their giant piece of reinforcement that walks through the door once a week. They know I'm going to be there, that I'm going to cheer them on, that I'm going to be so unbelievably excited.

Post: And they probably watch you every morning.

Smith: Well, you know what! When I first started doing it, none of these kids had a clue. They didn't know anything about who I was or what I did. It was interesting because at first I think there was an attitude among a lot of them like: "Who is this guy?" "Why is he here?"

But when they saw that I was there week after week, they really began to warm up and to work hard. Especially at that age, these kids are so hungry, so hungry for direction, so hungry for information.

I asked the teacher about it. She said [that] so often with many of these children, there's so little consistency in their lives, and when you continue to show up and show up, they'll respond to it. It's really, really great. We're not creating geniuses here. We're just helping some kids read a little bit better than they would otherwise. Post: Is this mostly a minority class in Harlem?

Smith: It's a mixed school. Some kids are from the neighborhood, and some are bused in from H--, basically. A lot of the kids' lives bear no resemblance to anything most of us could possibly imagine.

Post: If we wanted to ship our magazines--you know we publish seven children's health magazines, U.S. Kids, a Weekly Reader magazine-and include a stethoscope and instructions on how to take blood pressure, would it be okay? We have taught third graders to take blood pressure.

Smith: Oh, sure. Just send them to me in care of CBS News. That would be good. Absolutely.

Post: Do you want to stick with second graders?

Smith: Yes. I don't want to move up with the class. I've seen everything there is to see just by sitting in that hallway for two years and more.

Post: I would like to have pictures of you with the second graders. Could we do that? Smith: Yes.

Post: It might cause more people to do the same thing.

Smith: You never know. It certainly wouldn't hurt. For a long time, people were saying you've got to tell others about it. But this is what I need to do and want to do. I'm not doing it for anybody else, I'm doing it for me. I'm doing it for the city I live in.

Oh, I've mentioned once or twice what I am doing. I guess I'm changing my attitudes about it a little, just because people say "gee, you must be the busiest person in the world and blah blab blah... If you can find time, maybe I could."

Post: How often do you do this?

Smith: Once a week, on Tuesday, 12:30 to 3:00.

Post: Do other classes come to see what you are doing?

Smith: No, no. It's just me, a little chair, a little kid, and away we go. We build sentences. We take five words off the work board and we put them down on an empty desk and we talk about what we can make out of these five words. We build sentences and we learn how to read books. It's all basic stuff.

Post: While you are doing it, you could also teach them about their body: pulse, heart, learn the word, how to spell, so that when it comes to drugs, they will know the physiology. Doctors don't take time to get out and do what you are doing.

Smith: Yes, I hear what you are saying.

Post: Is there anyone you have not had the opportunity to interview on the morning show that you would really like to interview? And what would you ask him or her?

Smith: Johnny Carson. I'd ask him what it cost him personally to stay so good for so long.

Post: How' do you prepare for a morning broadcast, and how is it determined who will interview various guests?

Smith: I'm always in preparation. Sometimes it seems all I do is read. The more information I'm able to ingest, the better I am at my job. The producers of the show determine who interviews whom.

Post: What do you consider your worst and best interviews?

Smith: Five years ago when the show first started, I interviewed Yasir Arafat, head of the PLO. I wasn't ready for the big leagues. He's never an easy interview in the first place. But my lack of seasoning really showed.

On the other hand, I've never been completely satisfied with any interview I've done. If there is a best interview, it was the time I sat down with Andrew Young, Julian Bond, Ralph Abernathy, and Joseph Lowry in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to talk about Martin Luther King, Jr.

Post: Do you feel that the national news media are doing any better at focusing on substance, or will it continue to [focus on] cats on the White House lawn and gays in the military? Do you think the media are part of the problem?

Smith: Sometimes we get obsessed with the minutia of the day, but on the whole I think we do a good job.

Post: Our magazine is very much oriented toward physical fitness and preventive medicine. We'd like to know how you, as an ex-athlete, and your family stay fit, and if diet plays a part.

Smith: Andrea goes to a gym. I jog. Our eating habits have changed dramatically in the past few years. We're always looking for new health cookbooks. Graham Kerr's new books are great. The recipes are easy and the meals delicious.

Post: How do you feel about the women in media you work with (and, in your case, live with)9. How have women progressed in this area in your experience?

Smith: I've been lucky. I've had a lot of women bosses through the years. I like working for women. There are still not enough women in management in most news organizations.

Post: Where do you want to be in 10 years or 20 years? What are your goals?

Smith: I don't know. I have a perfect job now, we have a three-year-old son--and would like to have more-- and I'm home almost every day. Sure, I get called away. I went to the Persian Gulf for a month, and there are times when I've got to leave and cover a story. But on a day-to-day basis, I'm home a lot. Post: Great.

Smith: So I see my son and play with him and read stories to him. Well, actually Andrea and I have a deal where we switch every night because that's one of the best times of the night. All calmed down, and we go to the bedroom and read our stories, and we tell stories. Post: You walk to work?

Smith: Not at five in the morning. But there's a big part of me that says I will ultimately go back to the field full time. There's a part of me that has to see more and do more and go more places and write.

Post: Have you written any books?

Smith: No, no.

Post: But you will.

Smith: Everybody says that. Maybe one day I'll wake up. There are plenty of people who write that didn't begin until they were 50 or 60. Look at Norman McLean, A River Runs Through It. He didn't feel that he had the courage until he was close to retirement.

Post: You see so much life up here that you could write about. Smith: Yes. But that's the reason I was hired by CBS News. They liked my writing ability. They didn't say, gee, you've got a lot of hair.

On this light note, we reclaimed our coats and headed for the elevator, leaving our time-generous host free to return home to play with Jake.

But this being Tuesday, first he would stop off at 92nd Street, climb three flights of stairs, and sit on a little chair at a little desk in the hallway encouraging second-grade kids to read and make sentences.
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Title Annotation:co-host of 'CBS This Morning' television program
Author:SerVaas, Cory
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:May 1, 1993
Previous Article:A passing fancy: transferring a family business at less cost.
Next Article:Subject to change - without notice.

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