Syracuse (WSYR-TV) -- Longtime Syracuse journalist Sandra Smokes died after a sudden illness on Wednesday. She was 57 years old.
Syracuse.com reports that Smokes had battled diabetes for several years and collapsed in her Eastwood home Monday. She died Wednesday morning of cardiac arrest.
Smokes began her career at what was then the Herald-Journal in 1977. She held a variety of positions at the paper becoming the first black woman in the history of Syracuse newspapers to sit on the Herald-Journal’s editorial board in 1985. She left the paper for a time, to work as a nationally syndicated columnist. In 2004 she was honored with a plaque on the Syracuse Press Club's Wall of Distinction. She accepted a buyout at the paper in 2009.
Smokes’ most recent endeavors included a radio show on WHEN Power 620 Radio and was serving as one of the Post-Standard’s community columnists.
Smokes won numerous honors and awards as her career moved her in many directions from 1977 through 2009.
Her series titled: “Taxpayers Held Hostage” won a first place community service award from the New York State Publishers Association in 2003. Sandi (as she was known by friends) was also honored with commentary awards from the Associated Press in 1993 and 1994.
Smokes attended the University of Buffalo and worked her way up from “copy kid,” someone who does all sorts of jobs in the newsroom, to reporter and later became a copy editor.
Smokes’ awards include:
- 1998 Urban League Harriet Tubman Award
- Ann Felton Memorial Award and Community Service Award from the Syracuse Chapter of the NAACP Citizen of the Year from Omega Psi Phi fraternity at Syracuse University
- The Great Leader Award from the Onondaga County Political Women’s Caucus
- The Marjorie Dowdell Fortitude Award from Delta Sigma Theta fraternity at SU
- The Pit Bull Award from the Greater Syracuse Communications Group
- She also received the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Stands Award.
“She brought a voice and a perspective into the community’s conversation that it had never heard publicly,” said Post-Standard Executive Editor Michael J. Connor in an article posted on Syracuse.com. “And she did it with power and integrity and great passion. I think it changed the way people talked about race and the community and changed the conversations that many people could have with each other.”
Funeral arrangements have not yet been set.