Having helped shape The Argonaut from its early days as a small Marina del Rey newspaper to a source of vast coverage of local communities, George Drury Smith has stepped down as a longtime staff member.

Smith, who first joined the Argonaut staff in the spring of 1972, has worked several positions over the years, including proofreader, senior copy editor, chief financial officer and associate publisher. While serving as senior copy editor in recent years, Smith remained dedicated to the newspaper’s production, sometimes working remotely during his travels to Europe.

Though he previously considered stepping down for a number of years, Smith says he has now decided to retire to allow more time to travel.

“I’m looking forward to having all of my own time,” he says of retirement. “I think of all the things I might want to do still. This will give me the freedom to travel a lot more.”

Smith first became an Argonaut employee only months after the newspaper was founded in November 1971, when he was also serving as director of the Beyond Baroque Foundation, which he founded in 1968. He recalled how he first met Argonaut founder David Asper Johnson when purchasing an advertisement for his printing business, and Johnson asked him to help proofread stories.

The two men then began a working relationship that spanned over three decades, during which The Argonaut expanded from a bi-monthly newspaper covering primarily Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey, to a weekly news source for eight communities. As longtime colleagues, Smith and Johnson also became friends, and Smith says he admired Johnson’s commitment to journalism.

“I saw Dave as a journalist — that was his training and his love,” Smith says. “It was his life really; he put his life into it and he got a great deal out of it. He was really out there in the community.”

Following Johnson’s death in 2006, Smith said it was important that he help carry on the paper’s standards that Johnson established.

“I felt that I had a responsibility to him because he had a strong editorial point of view as far as journalism is concerned, and I wanted to see that tradition continued,” Smith said.

Smith has left his own mark on the community with the Venice-based literary/arts center Beyond Baroque, which he founded as a literary magazine. The nonprofit organization, located in the old Venice City Hall building on Venice Boulevard, is an internationally known arts center offering various programs including public readings and free workshops.

Smith notes he is proud of Beyond Baroque’s success over the past 40 years and he credits much of the center’s progression to foundation executive director Fred Dewey.

“It’s a unique organization,” Smith calls the center. “It’s one of less than half a dozen such organizations in the country.”

Smith resigned as director of the Beyond Baroque Foundation in the early 1980s to work full time with The Argonaut. During his time with The Argonaut, Smith says the newspaper has experienced many changes, both technologically in how it is produced and with its influence in the local communities.

“I think certainly the quality of writing has improved a great deal and the professionalism has reached the standards that (Johnson) always wanted,” Smith says.

“As far as community service, it’s had a tremendous influence on the community. For many communities it’s really the only source of community news — that’s The Argonaut’s real contribution.”

As he leaves The Argonaut after 36 years, Smith notes he is looking forward to life outside the newsroom, which he hopes will involve living part time in Europe, traveling, writing and “learning Dutch.” While he is ready to move on, Smith says he has valued his time with the community newspaper and will most of all miss his interactions with fellow staff members.

“That’s been a real benefit for me,” he said.