C. Fraser Smith was born February 1, 1938, in Rochester, New York, the son of Colin McKenzie Smith, a law book salesman originally from Georgia, and Mary Paddon Smith, a native Canadian. To be closer to his father’s sales territory–the Carolinas–the family moved to Pinehurst, North Carolina, in 1946. In 1956, he enrolled at the University of North Carolina, where he graduated with a B.A. in English. From 1960-1963, he served in the U.S. Air Force as a supply and logistics officer, and was based in Amarillo, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; and Japan.
In 1963, upon his return to the U.S., Smith began his reportorial career with the Jersey Journal, a daily newspaper in Jersey City, New Jersey. In 1965, he moved to the Providence Journal in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1969, Smith won a prestigious American Political Science Association Public Affairs Fellowship, which enabled him to devote a year to graduate study at Yale University. In 1977, Smith was hired away by The Baltimore Sun. A year later, his beat became Mayor William Donald Schaefer and Baltimore’s City Hall. In 1981, Smith moved to the newspaper’s Washington bureau, where his chief focus was policy problems and their everyday effect on Marylanders. In 1983, Smith became the Sun’s chief political reporter, and since then has covered the governor, the legislature, presidential races, and everything in-between.
During his 28-year career as a reporter, Smith was the recipient of numerous journalism awards: from UPI New England in 1973, from AP New England in 1974 and 1975, from Roy W. Howard in 1975, from Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association in 1981, and from Sigma Delta Chi in 1986. His Sun series on lead paint poisoning, which he wrote with his wife, Eileen Canzian, won first place and best of show honors in 1987 from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. Since approximately 1999, he has served as an editorial writer and columnist for the Sun.
Over the years, because of a desire to write longer, more analytical pieces, Smith has freelanced for a wide range of magazines. In 1971, he contributed to Sports Illustrated an article on a land developer’s takeover of the famous resort town of Pinehurst. He has also written for Change Magazine, the Rhode Islander, and Sunday Sun Magazine, among others. His book Lenny, Lefty, and the Chancellor began as an article for Regardie’s. In it, the focus was on Chancellor John Slaughter, who found himself and his college campus in deep trouble and was called upon to lean on his basic character traits to work his way out. Another Regardie’s article was about Governor Harry Hughes and Maryland’s mid-1980s savings and loan crisis. From his freelance contributions alone, Smith has earned a regional reputation as a well-rounded reporter who knows the world’s complexities, enjoys tackling important stories, and excels in telling them in clear, compelling, innovative ways.
In Maryland government circles, Smith is regarded as a thoughtful, incisive reporter. But he remains best known for an eight-part, 22-article series in 1980 on what he termed Baltimore’s shadow government–a little-known city-created, quasi-governmental development bank that helped finance Baltimore’s renaissance. Smith’s series demonstrated that, while the bank might be a good idea, its operation was highly undemocratic, and stricter controls were needed. Those accountability standards eventually were imposed, and partly because of the series, the bank became the model for other cities wanting to finance their downtown rejuvenation efforts.
In 1980, the series was a finalist in the Pulitzer Prize competition. Nine years before, Smith earned a Pulitzer nomination for a Providence Journal series. In 1971, while covering the city’s anti-poverty efforts, he wanted first-hand knowledge of the public housing program. He and his first wife spent a year in a Providence public housing project. His series confirmed the findings of others: that high rise public housing works well on a transitional basis for people who need the assistance to get on their feet. But, he concluded, it did not function well for those with more serious and longstanding problems who sought public housing as a permanent refuge.
Smith has lived in Baltimore since coming to the Sun. Since 1982, he has been married to Eileen Canzian, an editor (and former reporter) for The Baltimore Sun. They have twin daughters, Anna and Emily. Smith has three children from a previous marriage: Jennifer, Alexandra, and Jake. Smith remains a devoted basketball fan.