Robert Ellis Smith, 77

Thu, 08/02/2018 - 11:15pm

Robert Ellis Smith died unexpectedly on Wednesday, July 25. He was 77. He is survived by his sons Benjamin Elliott Smith, of Providence and Block Island, and David Ellis Smith of California, Marc Osgood Smith, of New York; his brother Ronald Smith of Michigan; sister Georgia Regnault of Holland; and many nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son Gregor Evans Smith of Block Island, and sister Jody Blish.

Born in 1940 in Providence, R.I., he was educated at Moses Brown School, Harvard University, and Georgetown University Law Center. After graduation and a military stint, Bob was the editor and manager of The Southern Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Montgomery, Alabama, where he would go on to work with seminal leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. 

Smith led an accomplished and self-driven career in journalism. He was a news reporter for and editor with the Detroit Free Press, Trenton Times, and Newsday. He began publishing Privacy Journal in 1974, a monthly newsletter on privacy in the computer age. Smith is also the author of several books including: “Workrights”; The Big Brother Book of Lists”; “Our Vanishing Privacy”: “Ben Franklin’s Website: Privacy and Curiosity from Plymouth Rock to the Internet” and “Privacy: How to Protect What’s Left of It” — a finalist for the National Nonfiction Book of the Year Award. He was a frequent writer, speaker and Congressional witness on privacy issues and was twice asked to write the definition of privacy by the World Book Encyclopedia. Additionally, he taught various courses at Brown University, the University of Maryland, Harvard College, and Roger Williams University Law School.

Smith was a fixture on Block Island for many years, serving as the President of the Block Island Conservancy in the 1990s, a term on the Town Council in the mid-2000s. He was a staple at the Farmers Market, where he would sell his book, “Block Island Trivia.”

A service will be held on Saturday, Aug. 4 at 11 a.m. at the Newman Congregational Church, 100 Newman Avenue, Rumford, R.I. 02916. Donations may be made to the Block Island Conservancy, PO Box 84, Block Island, RI 02807.