Dillon Smith remembered for service to Medill, broadcast fame in Chicago

Medill Board of Advisers member and award-winning broadcast journalist Dillon Smith passed away Friday. A memorial mass will be held Thursday in Chicago.

Courtesy of Chicago Sun-Times

Medill Board of Advisers member and award-winning broadcast journalist Dillon Smith passed away Friday. A memorial mass will be held Thursday in Chicago.

Jillian Sandler, Campus Editor

Award-winning broadcaster and Medill Board of Advisers member Dillon Smith (BSJ ’63, MSJ ’64) was a well-known editorial director at NBC Chicago, but according to longtime friend Robert Feder (BSJ ’78), there was much more to Smith than his job.

“Even after he retired, he remained so active and so interested in what was going on here,” said Feder, a media critic at Time Out Chicago. “He really was a pillar of the journalism community.”

Smith, 71, passed away Friday at his home in Naples, Fla. A memorial mass will be held 10 a.m. Thursday at Old St. Patrick’s Church, 700 W. Adams St., in Chicago, according to a Medill news release.

Smith’s 15 years of work at NBC Chicago earned him the Chicago Emmy Award for outstanding achievement in editorials for five consecutive years, Feder wrote in his media blog Tuesday on Time Out Chicago. His presentations on issues on behalf of NBC Chicago in the 1970s, resulted in changes in various laws, including one prohibiting supermarkets from selling meat after 6 p.m. or on Sundays and another banning right turns on red lights, Feder’s post said.

Feder said Smith’s success in editorials stemmed from the combination of his education in law and the research he put into his pieces.

“He built the case the way a lawyer would, piece by piece and step by step,” Feder said. “By the time he reached his conclusion, he made a very persuasive argument.”

During his 15 years at NBC Chicago, Smith also served as program director. According to the Medill news release, he was instrumental in the development of the station’s “On Stage on 5,” a series of theatrical productions, and the “You” magazine program, which won Emmy awards three years in a row. Smith also established Dillon Smith Communications in 1984, which produced television programming, the release said.

In addition to his work in Chicago, Smith gave time to the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications after his graduation from its undergraduate and graduate programs. He served as the second president of the Medill Alumni Association and was the first editor of Medill Magazine, then known as The Medillian, said Medill Prof. Roger Boye. Smith also helped start the Ben Baldwin Scholarship Fund, which gives students going on Journalism Residency the option to apply for a grant to aid in their finances. He was also a member of the Medill Hall of Achievement.

“I think he’ll be remembered best through his involvement with Medill and his great generosity in so many ways,” Boye said. “There’s a lot of things we still have going here at Medill that he got started.”

Medill Dean Brad Hamm praised Smith’s dedication to Medill and Northwestern in an email.

“I just met with Dillon a month ago in Naples, and we spent much of the day together,” Hamm wrote. “His devotion to Medill and Northwestern was incredible. Those of us who are part of the Medill family will miss spending time with Dillon on his many visits back to campus and witnessing his great love for the school and the University.”

Smith’s fellow board member and Medill classmate Bob Eaton (BSJ ’63) said Smith was very influential during the board’s meetings.

“He was very secure in who he was and what he had done and not afraid to speak up or to challenge things, and I think that that’s sometimes too rare in meetings,” Eaton said.

Feder said Smith had a lifelong passion for journalism, which drew him to do so much work on behalf of Medill.

“He remained plugged into everything,” Feder said. “He really loved it. He lived it and breathed it and it was a part of his life right up to the end.”