Charles Smith, a 26-year veteran of Eastman Kodak and considered by many to be the quintessential public relations executive, died at home in Rochester, NY on Nov. 7 after a three-year battle with cancer.
‘Charlie’ retired from Kodak on June 1 to deal with his health issues after serving for 26 years in a variety of communications responsibilities. In his last position he was director of Communications for the Film Products Group and at various times was Corporate Media Relations director, director of Public Relations for Consumer Imaging, and director of Communications for the Kodak Health Group.
Charlie worked at the highest executive level within Kodak and was often the firm’s spokesman in the national media on matters of corporate policy or breaking news events. At the time of his retirement Charlie said he was involved in two key Kodak events that provided him his greatest satisfaction: spreading the word to the trade, investors and the public that while digital photography was important to Kodak, conventional films were still a vital part of Kodak; and, his work with then-CEO George Fisher on the divestiture of Sterling Drug by Kodak.
Charlie was also a key player at the time of the launch of the APS program developed by Kodak in the early 1990s. It was a difficult role for him as there was considerable resistance on the part of the trade to the introduction of a new format.
While in his position, Kodak earned several prestigious national awards for excellence in public relations.
Charlie was hired by Kodak from a public relations firm where he served on the Kodak account. Prior to that, he was a PR representative for General Electric.
Ben Rand, who worked as a reporter for the business section of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and is now a corporate PR director, covered Kodak and frequently interfaced with Charlie, sometimes on contentious matters. He made this observation: “Charlie has had a major impact on my new career. I have tried to treat journalists in the same way he treated me—with the utmost respect.”
Ben also recalled the retirement party that was held for Charlie in June. In lieu of gifts Charlie asked attendees to “buy Kodak products.”
Mitch Goldstone, 30-Minute Photos Etc., Irvine, CA, had a long relationship with Charlie as they coordinated a number of activities involving the two firms. “I knew Charlie as a mentor and role model. His professionalism, kindness and non-stop 24/7 passion for Kodak and the industry will be missed.”
Due to his dedication to the PR industry and involvement in mentoring young professionals, the Charles S. Smith Scholarship Fund was established at the time of his retirement. Contributions may be made to: Heather Johnson, PRSA Treasurer, Attn: St. John Fisher College. 3690 East Avenue, Rochester, NY 14618.