- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

There are good newspapermen and there are worthy ambassadors. Smith Hempstone was both, and then some. Mr. Hempstone died last month at the age of 77. To borrow from Ernest Hemingway, whom he admired and resembled in certain ways: The world is a fine place and worth fighting for, and we hate very much for him to leave it.

Mr. Hempstone, the executive editor of this newspaper from its founding in 1982 until 1985 and who was President George H.W. Bush’s ambassador to Kenya from 1989-1993, cut a large figure in American journalism and politics. It wasn’t just his professional accomplishments, though these were legion. Son of a sailor, a Marine, and veteran of the Korean War, Mr. Hempstone made his name as Africa correspondent for the old Chicago Daily News, later became editorial-page editor of the Washington Evening Star and wrote a column remarkable for its fine writing, which appeared in nearly a hundred newspapers. Once in Kenya he advocated so fiercely for democracy that he earned death threats, official demands for his recall and even a rebuke in a Nairobi newspaper headlined, “Shut Up, Mr. Ambassador.” Smith was bemused by them all. Multiparty elections took place shortly after his departure.

The man himself is described in these offices as brash, loyal, pugnacious, fair, forthright, in possession of an unmistakable swagger, bound to an uncommon sense of honor, and less than willing to suffer fools.

Here’s a flavor of that: We asked our cartoonist, Bill Garner, a longtime friend of Mr. Hempstone, for a recollection. The first time Bill visited Mr. Hempstone’s home in Bethesda he noticed a pair of sizable elephant tusks, one with a noticeable gouge. The story, Bill says, first showed him the measure of man. On safari in Africa, with locals beating the bushes for elephants, Mr. Hempstone saw a giant specimen charge from the brush and race up a hillside. As it clawed futilely seeking an escape, Mr. Hempstone rejected calls to shoot the creature in its, umm, hindquarters. So he waited until the elephant charged down the hill, directly at him. The shot, riskier than the one he declined, ricocheted off the tusks and into the mammal’s head. There’s a code of honor in all things. Smith Hempstone will be missed.

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