NESMITH, Hollis Jefferson "Jeff"
Hollis Jefferson "Jeff" Nesmith, Jr., a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author, passed away on January 13, 2023, after a brief illness. He was 82 and had lived a life full of exciting adventures, great stories and a lot of laughter.
Born outside of Plant City, Florida, in 1940, Jeff attended "strawberry schools" in Hillsborough County, with his early education scheduled around the winter strawberry harvest. He earned his degree in journalism from the University of Florida and spent most of his career as a reporter. He began at the Atlanta Constitution, where he met Achsah Posey Nesmith, his wife of 56 years, a former journalist and speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and Senator Sam Nunn. Jeff worked for the Philadelphia Bulletin from 1975 to 1977 and in the Washington Bureau of Cox Newspapers from 1977 until he retired in 2007.
In 1998, Jeff won the Pulitzer Prize in the national reporting category with Russell Carollo, of the Dayton Daily News, for a series on the U.S. military's mismanagement of the medical care of service men and women and their dependents. He covered the first moon landing in 1969 and he was in the stands with Hank Aaron's family when Aaron broke Babe Ruth's homerun record. He wrote about mafia dons and corrupt politicians in Philadelphia, white supremacists in the Georgia legislature, and CDC directors fighting to banish smallpox from the earth. Jeff's reporting spanned from human rights abuses of Latin American dictatorships in the 1980s, the reconstruction of Kuwait after the Gulf War, and national science and medicine topics. He received the World Hunger Media Award in 1986, Harvard's Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting in 1996, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer in National Reporting the same year. In 2001, Jeff and Ralph Haurwitz, of the Austin American Statesman, wrote a series on deadly pipeline disasters which won the Thomas L. Stokes Award for Best Energy and Environment Reporting and the Society for Environmental Reporting Award in 2002.
In 1999, Jeff wrote No Higher Honor, a book about the sinking of the USS Yorktown in World War II. His uncle, Joe Wetherington, survived the Battle of Midway aboard the Yorktown. When Jeff was growing up, his mother referred to the Yorktown as "your Uncle Joe's Ship," leading him to think of the USS Yorktown as the family aircraft carrier.
When he wasn't exposing the incompetence of small-town sheriffs in rural Georgia, the corruption of big city officials in Philadelphia, or the misdeeds of bureaucrats at all levels in Washington D.C., Jeff was raising a family and traveling the world. He loved to visit places less traveled, where nature's mark was still visible from the Amazon rainforest to the Serengeti.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughter, Susannah Nesmith (Charles Rabin), of Miami, Florida; his son, Jeff Nesmith III (Tara Ronzetti) of Arlington, Virginia; several nieces and nephews; including his sister's devoted daughter, Deborah Middleton (David Van de Houten), of San Diego, California; and his beloved grandchildren, Siena Kaya Ronzetti Nesmith and Dominic Jefferson Ronzetti Nesmith. He was predeceased by his sister, Roberta "Bunny" Middleton; and his parents, Thetis Wetherington Nesmith and Hollis Jefferson Nesmith, Sr.
In remembrance of Jeff Nesmith and his lifelong pursuit of truth and human rights, the family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be directed toward The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, where Jeff was on the steering committee, or The Carter Center, to which Jeff and Achsah have been longtime donors.
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Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com
Credit: UNIVERSAL STUDIOS/AMBLIN ENTERTAINMENT