Published: July 12, 2022
By John Voket, Newtown Bee
NEWTOWN, CONN. — Momentarily overwhelmed by the excitement and emotional impact of the moment as family, staff and local officials surrounded him on the occasion of the 145th anniversary of The Newtown Bee, Publisher R. Scudder Smith found himself in an uncommon situation Tuesday afternoon: speechless.
Smith, who still spends time at the local newspaper’s Church Hill Road offices typically reviewing and sorting through the countless papers, notes, books and memorabilia in his office, arrived on the morning of June 28 as the guest of honor for a celebration not only heralding The Bee’s longevity as a legacy Newtown business and media institution, but also a celebration of his and his family’s love for and dedication to the community.
After Smith settled into a chair in The Bee’s cozy front lobby area, First Selectman Dan Rosenthal conveyed letters and certificates of recognition from Connecticut’s two US Senators, Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, and 5th District US Congresswoman Jahana Hayes.
In his letter, Blumenthal recalled his visits to the newspaper’s office, “fittingly situated right in the heart of Newtown,” where the senator said he “enjoyed substantive and challenging conversations with you…and the rest of your talented staff.
“Publications like yours provide depth and specificity of coverage, which larger papers simply cannot rival,” Blumenthal added. “Local independent papers like The Bee are a tremendous boon to democracy, for which I am deeply grateful.”
Murphy reflected, “When the Smith family bought the paper in 1881, they began the tradition of consistent, weekly publications, and have published over 7,500 weekly editions since.”
While The Bee, as it was then called, was established in 1877, it operated under its first four years under John Pearce. The Smith family purchased the business in 1881 and has owned and operated it since.
Recognizing the many state, regional and national journalism and design awards The Bee has amassed over the years, the senator noted, “It’s a rare accomplishment for a newspaper to not only survive, but prosper for 145 years. It’s even rarer for that local newspaper to still be owned by the same family, but under R. Scudder Smith’s leadership, The Newtown Bee has achieved this impressive feat.
“The Newtown Bee reminds us that local newspapers matter,” Murphy added. “The Newtown Bee is a prime example of the importance and power of local news.”
Hayes, in a Congressional Proclamation, praised The Bee as “a staple of influence and pride for Newtown and all reaches of its readers.” And in a personal note to Smith and the staff, she wrote, “The rich history of The Newtown Bee and the dedication of your staff are examples of what is possible when service to others is placed in the forefront of our work.”
Hayes pointed out how The Bee played an important role in “Connecticut’s journalism history, serving as a pioneer by way of printing technology and internet presence,” she wrote, reflecting on the fact that The Newtown Bee was the state’s first newspaper to create an internet website for readers. She also recognized The Bee’s distinction among New England Newspaper Hall of Fame honorees for its three separate inductions — the first for former publisher Paul Smith, the second for R. Scudder Smith, and the latest for retired editor Curtiss Clark.
“These are accomplishments that truly make our district proud,” Hayes concluded.
Having refined dozens of historic milestones he asked to review ahead of the celebration, Rosenthal then recited the text of a Town of Newtown proclamation that touched upon nearly two dozen points across the nearly century and a half of the newspaper’s presence.
Rosenthal recalled the many times he appeared as a child in the paper for sports, school and community activities, including his excitement each time he won the “Bee’s Buck” contest that is still popular today.
“Being a kid, and looking at the paper and seeing my name was a big part of my life,” he said. “And with local newspapers going away everywhere, the fact that The Bee has withstood the test of time and is still very much a cornerstone of our community, I’m grateful to you, your family, and everybody who works here and contributes to it. Certainly, it wasn’t a day we could let go by without making a big deal out of it.”
Rosenthal then turned the floor over to State Senator Tony Hwang and State Representative Mitch Bolinsky; each of the lawmakers also reflected on how the locally owned family newspaper has become unique across Connecticut, while reflecting on how many of the company’s staff have grown to become extended family members of the Smiths.
Calling The Bee “a bellwether, generationally, of over 145 years of community cohesiveness and communication,” Bolinsky also noted how the paper has helped unite the community.
Hwang observed that no proclamation language or words of praise could overshadow the gathering of four generations of Smith family members, and Bee staff members, including some who have been part of the newspaper for their entire working careers spanning decades.
“You are the epitome of what a family is,” the senator said. “And what a difference the family made through the paper, through your philanthropy, extending what it means to be in Newtown.”
Hwang, too, pointed to the unique position The Bee holds as a dedicated community hometown newspaper.
“Nowhere else in the state of Connecticut, or anywhere else, are you going to see a paper that devotes so much to being a voice and representative of what this community is all about,” he said, adding that Smith reflected self-determination, and that the paper “is an extension of you and your family.”
“All this recognition is appropriate,” Hwang added. “This is the epitome of what Newtown is all about.”
Concluding his remarks, Bolinsky displayed a Connecticut General Assembly Official Citation on behalf of the entire Newtown delegation that included himself, Hwang, Rep Raghib Allie-Brennan, and Rep Tony Scott. The first selectman then presented Smith and The Bee and Smith family with an etched glass award marking the 145 years of continuous publishing.
As all eyes turned to Scudder Smith, the publisher, collector, philanthropist and community business leader wiped his eyes, gathered his thoughts, and quietly acknowledged the many guests and proceedings that temporarily rendered him speechless.
“It took us a long time to get here, and I didn’t think we’d get this far,” Smith said, “but it’s nice that we have.”
Saying he was looking forward to looking over the letters and proclamations he received, Smith closed saying, “It’s been a long, long run…”
“And a successful one,” his daughter Sherri Baggett added, putting a fine point on her dad’s observation.
[Editor’s note: R. Scudder Smith founded Antiques And The Arts Weekly, a Newtown Bee imprint, in 1963.]
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