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Capital staffer remembered as ‘smart, beautiful, talented’

July 9, 2018
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The family of Rebecca Smith, a sales assistant at the Capital Gazette who died in the June 28 attack on the Annapolis newsroom., receive family and friends at the Duda-Ruck Funeral Home, in Dundalk, Md., Sunday, July 8, 2018. Smith's family held a visitation Sunday afternoon at the funeral home. A memorial will be held in the evening. (Algerina Perna /The Baltimore Sun via AP)

Capital Gazette staffer Rebecca Smith was sweet and quiet, a good person with a beautiful smile. Editor Gerald Fischman, friends said, was a shy but gifted writer who expressed his brilliant intellect through his editorials.

Both victims of the June 28 newsroom shooting that killed five people in Maryland’s capital were remembered Sunday for how they lived, not how they died.

Grieving relatives and colleagues also attended memorial services recently for community reporter and editor Wendi Winters and assistant editor and columnist Rob Hiaasen. A service for sports reporter John McNamara is scheduled for Tuesday on the University of Maryland’s campus.

Smith, 34, had joined The Capital as an advertising sales assistant in November.

“Smart, beautiful, talented, everything you want in a daughter,” Smith’s mother, Beth Rittenour, of Warren, Ohio, said through tears after the visitation in Dundalk, where Smith had lived. After she was born, Rittenour recalled, “I showed her to everybody. She was beautiful. My beautiful baby.”

Smith acted in community theater during middle school, her cousin, Tammy Kaskel, told The Baltimore Sun.

“She had such a great voice, was very supportive, and wanted to see others succeed,” Kaskel said.

Smith would always accompany her fiance, Dewayne Poling Jr., on trips he took to play softball, including visits to North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. Over the weekend, Poling’s team, Beast Mode, organized a benefit softball tournament in her memory, the Carroll County Times reported.

The team also showed up at Poling’s house in T-shirts with Smith’s nickname, Becca, printed on the back, according to a Facebook post.

“I literally broke down in tears,” Poling wrote. “Happy tears. Tears because through this crazy time I have my blood family who have done EVERYTHING to make this horrible time a little easier, I also have my softball family. This ... This is why Rebecca Smith and I were so into this game. For this family. We miss you baby, and even though this is the toughest time in my life ... I am surrounded by the people we loved.”

On Facebook, Smith had called Poling her “softball fiance,” and called his daughter from an earlier relationship “the best kid ever.”

Bonnie Carson, great-grandmother to Poling’s daughter, described Smith as “the sweetest person.”

Smith graduated from Villa Julie College with a degree in marketing, becoming the first person in the family to go to college, Kaskel said.

“I found her to be a person of tremendous potential, and it is sad that we will never see her live up to that,” Marty Padden, the newspaper’s advertising director, told The Baltimore Sun. “We’re just heartbroken.”

Fischman wrote hundreds of thousands of words for the Capital Gazette during his 26 years at the newspaper’s editorial page editor.

The newspaper’s editor, Rick Hutzell, wiped away tears Sunday as he read aloud some of Fischman’s words for more than 150 relatives, friends and co-workers who gathered for his funeral service and burial at Olney’s Judean Memorial Gardens cemetery.

Hutzell said his 61-year-old friend dedicated his life to telling “hard truths,” no matter the topic. And the small-town editorial page editor tackled a broad range of subjects, from local politics and civil rights to annual takes on Mother’s Day and high school graduations.

“His voice as a writer will be greatly missed. His wisdom cannot be replaced,” Hutzell said.

Fischman, a 1979 graduate of the University of Maryland’s journalism school, joined the Capital Gazette after 15 years at the Carroll County Times.

Longtime Capital Gazette sportswriter Bill Wagner called Fischman a stickler for accuracy who, instead of emailing colleagues, would print out drafts of his editorials and leave copies on colleagues’ desks for them to proofread.

“His intellect was beyond par,” Wagner said. “He was one of the most intelligent people I’ve encountered in my life.”

Wagner said Fischman also used to prefer working overnight shifts, starting after most of his co-workers had gone home.

“He chose to do it that way,” Wagner said.

Rabbi Larry Shor, who led the funeral service, was a classmate of Fischman’s from kindergarten through high school. Audience members laughed when Shor recalled how his childhood friend would bring an adult briefcase to elementary school.

“Gerald was, as a child, the same person that he was an adult: quiet and introverted but extraordinarily highly intelligent,” he said. “He marched to the beat of his own drummer and was quite happy to do so.”

Fischman is survived by his wife, Saran, and stepdaughter, Uka, who read aloud poems he wrote for her and her mother. Fischman was 50 when he married Saran, an opera singer from Mongolia. She said she learned after the shooting that his last purchase was a birthday card for her.

“I never would have thought that he would leave us so sudden and so soon,” she said. “We were so happy together.”

Glenn Mazis, one of Fischman’s cousins, described him as a talented writer with boundless curiosity, especially about history, politics and music.

“He was fascinated by life,” he said. “He met every assignment with enthusiasm and creativity.”

Jarrod Ramos remains jailed on five counts of first-degree murder.

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