MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Bernal E. Smith II, publisher of The New Tri-State Defender, died at his home Sunday afternoon.
Smith was just 45. His cause of death is unclear at this time.
"Nobody ever saw this coming," Anthony Sledge, Smith's fraternity brother, said.
A joint statement from Associate Publisher Karanja A. Ajanaku and Calvin Anderson, president of Best Media Properties - TSD's parent company, acknowledged Smith's passing.
"I'll just miss my friend. I'll miss my friend," Nina Allen-Johnson of the New Tri-State Defender said. "It's just difficult. It's a tough day."
Smith was best-known recently as the publisher of the New Tri-State Defender newspaper, and he had big plans to keep it going. It's among the country's oldest African American newspapers.
"Now we have extra stimulation to make it so," Ajanaku said.
Smith was also a drum major for economic growth in the city of Memphis and exposed black excellence through his annual Best in Black Awards. He's hosted town hall meetings, mayoral debates, and wasn't shy when it came to police wrongdoings.
"He meant so much and had his hands in so many initiatives," Earle Fisher, Smith's fraternity brother, said. "All around good guy. He just was that guy."
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland also spoke out on Smith's passing.
The visitation for Smith will be Thursday, Oct. 26 at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church from 4 to 7 p.m. The funeral will be the following day at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church at noon.
Meanwhile, the Memphis Association of Black Journalists has set up a scholarship fund in Smith's honor. If you would like to contribute to the fund, click here. You can also send a check to: MABJ, P.O. Box 42176, Memphis, TN 38104