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Wendell Smothers, former Chicago Tribune security guard, dies at age 52

Wendell Smothers

Wendell Smothers

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Updated: December 19, 2012 1:11PM

Wendell Smothers was the longtime security guard and gatekeeper of the Chicago Tribune newsroom whose watchful eye and Hershey’s Kisses greeted everyone on the editorial staff when they got off the elevator on the fourth floor.

His thick-lensed glasses, cardigan sweaters, once-he-got-to-know-you sense of humor and command of the online football pool (password: “funky”) made Mr. Smothers’ desk a regular spot for chitchat.

Mr. Smothers, 52, was found dead Monday in his room at a North Side hotel he called home for more than a year.

He died from heart disease, according to the medical examiner’s office.

“He was a quiet man until you got to know him and even then he was a quiet man,” said former Tribune journalist Charlie Meyerson. “But on occasion he would shoot off some surprisingly irreverent remarks that would make you feel welcome.”

Mr. Smothers kept a close eye on his Bulls, Bears and White Sox — his prize possession was a photo of himself holding the White Sox 2005 World Series trophy — but his true love was his 22-year-old son, Kyle, who lives in Georgia.

“He just adored that boy,” said his cousin, Mel Smothers.

For years, before getting laid off in March during cuts at the Tribune, Mr. Smothers would leave his desk and walk down Michigan Avenue to his second job at the Gap, his cousin added.

Mr. Smothers held several South Side addresses while growing up, including one at the former Robert Taylor Homes along South State Street.

“He was steadfast, reliable, always cheerful and always had something nice to say to everyone, no matter who they were,” said Tribune employee Maggie Gentilcore.

Pat Saiger, the manager of the Lake View neighborhood hotel where Mr. Smothers was found dead, looked forward to her regular chats with him.

“We talked about perception,” Saiger said. “How 10 people can look at or read or watch something and all have different views on it. We talked about books . . . schooling, politics and a whole range of subjects. He had a good sense of humor but he really kept to himself. I am glad to know he had a job where he was liked and well thought of. . . . He was the kind of person who deserved that and more. He really was a decent guy.”

Mr. Smothers was one of four children, all of whom preceded him in death.

Aside from his son, Mr. Smothers had no other immediate family.

Services are pending.

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