Longtime Detroit News writer ‘ahead of her time’
Corinne Smith traveled the world, launched a notable journalism career and even flew in a jet at a time when few women could say the same.
“She was a trailblazer,” said Gayle Good, a former colleague at The Detroit News. “She was ahead of her time, as far as I was concerned. She was a wonderful role model, a wonderful mentor.”
Miss Smith died Sunday, April 12, 2015, after health issues. She was 94.
The journalist began her career while still attending Wayne State University. After short stints at the Detroit Free Press and Wyandotte Tribune, she joined the Detroit Times as a society reporter in 1943, relatives said.
Miss Smith eventually pursued travel writing and headed overseas, including to Russia, said her niece, Nancy Corsetti.
Another marvel arrived in 1952, when she became “one of the few women ever to ride in a jet plane,” according to a Detroit Times article.
For the piece titled “Dream Becomes Reality: Girl Reporter Rides in Jet,” the writer detailed the thrill of accompanying a veteran pilot “gliding smoothly along at 340 miles an hour,” wearing a helmet and blue coveralls. The aviator also let her take over the controls, she wrote. “A bare touch to the right or left brought the plane hard in that direction. A firm push or pull resulted in a turn, smooth and easy as a bird’s flight. It was frightening and awesome that such a tiny gesture could control such a powerful monster.”
Miss Smith’s reputation as a fine writer and intrepid reporter preceded her. As family legend has it, when the Times’ owners ended the paper in late 1960 and sold the assets to the parent company of The Detroit News, she was among staffers filling out job applications there. A senior editor familiar with her career spotted the reporter in the crowd, tapped a shoulder and “hired her on the spot,” Corsetti said.
Joining the women’s department as a general assignment reporter, Miss Smith went on to cover everything from tax breaks to Detroit Tigers’ wives, colleagues said.
“She was kind of a Jill-of-all-trades,” said Sarah Rickman, a former reporter who sat near her for years. “She could handle anything — and did. She was thorough, the absolute professional. If you wanted a story done right, you gave it to Corinne.”
Later in her tenure, Miss Smith penned “Voices,” a regular column on family and many other subjects. “People really enjoyed that column back in the day,” her niece said. “She was always able to weave a nice story.”
Storytelling was just one interest. During leaves of absence in the 1940s and 1950s, Miss Smith served with the American Red Cross overseas — including in India, China, Japan, Korea and northern Africa, relatives said. “That was quite a move at that time,” said Len Corsetti, her niece’s husband.
Miss Smith also traveled extensively, often collecting mementos and chronicling experiences with her camera, Nancy Corsetti said. “It was really quite a life.”
After retiring in 1986, she remained active: volunteering at the Detroit Institute of Arts and Cottage Hospital in Grosse Pointe Farms; reading with a group; serving friends produce from her garden. “She was very involved,” Good said. “She did not just sit around.”
Even as her health declined, Miss Smith resolved to live with as little assistance as possible.
“She was very independent and strong,” her niece said. “I think she came from a long line of independent, strong, capable women and she carried that on throughout her life.”
Other survivors include nephews William Smith and James Smith; eight grandnieces and grandnephews; five great-grand nieces and great-grand nephews. A brother, James G. Smith, predeceased her.
Visitation is 9:30-11:30 a.m. Monday at Chas. Verheyden, 16300 Mack, Grosse Pointe Park. A funeral Mass follows at noon in St. Clare of Montefalco, 1401 Whittier, Grosse Pointe Park.
Donations may be made to the Capuchin Monastery via www.thecapuchins.org/donate or to the Michigan Humane Society.