Bernadette Carey Smith: Barrier-Breaking Reporter

From a Washington Post obit by Adam Bernstein headlined “Bernadette Carey Smith, barrier-breaking reporter, dies at 83”:

Bernadette Carey Smith, a journalist who in the 1960s became one of the first Black reporters at the New York Times and The Washington Post, where she wrote for the women’s news sections, died in Tuckahoe, N.Y.

Under the byline Bernadette Carey, Mrs. Smith profiled women in the arts, and covered fashion and society events at the Times for about two years before joining The Post in 1967 and getting a chance to write about hard news in addition to lighter fare.

In Washington, she wrote feature stories about events including the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, a demonstration by civil rights activists seeking new federal programs for the impoverished. She also interviewed inmates at the District’s women’s detention center, detailing the depths of boredom as well as tactics used to obtain drugs by feigning illness.

Beyond her work in journalism, Mrs. Smith was known for a vibrant social life.

With an impeccable sense of fashion and dazzling looks — columnist Walter Winchell once declared her “gorgeous” — Mrs. Smith cut a memorable profile in newsrooms where slovenly, ink- and coffee-stained attire was more the norm. A half-century later, her colleague Judith Martin, later known as the columnist Miss Manners, recalled Mrs. Smith as a stunning presence.

In the late 1960s, Mrs. Smith dated British TV host David Frost, whom she met at a party. “David had a network show in America by then and was the toast of New York,” she later recalled to the Daily Mail after his death in 2013. “He’d taken a house in the Hamptons. I didn’t look too bad and I had a fairly decent wardrobe, which David liked.”

For a time, she circulated in a crowd that included former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and her shipping-magnate husband, Aristotle. Movie stars James Garner and Steve McQueen also squired her, according to Taylor.

After leaving The Post in 1969, Mrs. Smith was briefly hired as top editor at Essence magazine but left before the first issue came out and after she was denied a 5 percent stake in the company.

She subsequently was a reporter and editor at Vogue magazine, an associate producer at ABC News in New York and publicity director for Fashion Fair, a cosmetics company affiliated with Johnson Publishing that catered to African American clients.

In the late 1970s, she was president of her own advertising and public relations firm in Chicago and later worked in residential real estate sales in Bronxville.

Alice Bernadette Carey was born in Manhattan and grew up in Mount Vernon, N.Y. In 1961, she received a bachelor’s degree in history from the all-women’s Smith College in Northampton, Mass.

Mrs. Smith was a secretary at Esquire magazine, then a researcher at Look magazine before joining the Times.

She was married to Bruce Smith, who worked for gaming industry trade publications, from 1980 until his death in 2015.

In 1979, shortly before her nuptials, the Chicago Sun-Times included Mrs. Smith in a story about successful career women who have remained single by choice.

“I’ve grown accustomed to the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want, and I cannot give that up easily,” she said. “I also believe I am a woman who is still changing. I think people mature and come at things at different times in their lives.”

Adam Bernstein has spent his career putting the “post” in The Washington Post, first as an obituary writer and then as editor. The American Society of Newspaper Editors recognized Bernstein’s ability to exhume “the small details and anecdotes that get at the essence of the person.” He joined The Post in 1999.

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