Smith Hempstone, former Times editor, Kenya ambassador dies at 77
Smith Hempstone, former editor inchiefofTheWashingtonTimesand one-timeambassadortoKenya,died Nov. 19 from diabetes. He was 77.
A Washington, D.C. native and career journalist, Mr. Hempstone was, by his own description, a “rogue” diplomatwhosecallingtothewriting lifeandAfricaitselfreceivedahearty nudge from Ernest Hemingway. As a young reporter on his honeymoon in 1954, Mr. Hempstone dropped by thelegendarywriter’shotelsuiteuninvited and received pivotal advice.
“BeentoAfrica?”Hemingwaydemanded. “You ought to go. Africa’s man’s country: fish, hunt, write. The best.”
By then, Mr. Hempstone was already knee-deep in hard news, having logged time as a rewrite man for theAssociatedPress,areporteratthe Louisville Times and a National Geographiccorrespondent.Forthenext decade,theformerU.S.Marinewrote fortheWashingtonStar,thenbecame a foreign correspondent for the ChicagoDailyNews,coveringAfrica, Asia, Europe and Latin America.
Mr. Hempstone returned to the Starinthemid-1960s,thistimeasan editor. Upon the paper’s demise, he became executive editor of The Washington Times in 1982, and editorinchieftwoyearslater.Mr.Hempstonewasalsoasyndicatedcolumnist from 1979 to 89 and wrote a number of books, articles and two novels as the years passed.
“I remember him as a fine jour- nalist and reporter, a good writer, good columnist and editor. Smith wentontobecomethemostvigorous diplomat that the State Department everhadoreverwanted—andmore. He was a colorful character, and I shall miss him,” said Brit Hume of Fox News.
“AsWashingtoneditorofReader’s Digest, I got to know him very well. He was one of the great journalists I have worked with regularly over 40 years,providingsomeofthemostinsightfulforeigncorrespondencethat we published. He was a tremendous reporter with great analytic powers. But he was also great fun to work with,” recalled William Schulz.
The first President Bush appointedMr.Hempstoneambassador to Kenya in 1989, just days after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Over four tumultuous years, the journalistturned-diplomat admonished PresidentDanielarapMoi,onceadvising the East African nation that Americaneconomicaidwenttothosewho “nourish democratic institutions, defend human rights and practice multiparty politics.”
He practiced “muscular diplomacy,” according to one account by Laurence Eagleberger, deputy secretary of state at the time. Mr. Moi himselfdenouncedMr.Hempstone as a “bulldozer,” and more than one death threat surfaced. Undaunted, Mr. Hempstone penned “Rogue Ambassador: An African Memoir,” a personal account published in 1997.
Mr. Hempstone graduated from the University of the South in 1950. He won foreign correspondent awardsfromSigmaDeltaChiandthe Overseas Press Club, and was a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs. Mr. Hempstone was a Bethesda,Md.residentatthetimeof his death.
HeissurvivedbyKathaleenFishbackHempstone,hiswifeof52years; a daughter, Katherine Hempstone of Baltimore; and a grandson.
Smith Hempstone became The Washington Times’ first executive editor in 1982, then became editor in chief two years later.