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At fundraising time, we remember a stalwart champion of public media: WPSU's Pat Smith

Pat Smith in a kilt
Michele Chernega
Pat Smith, although somewhat hesitant to wear a kilt for on-air fundraising during a Scottish-themed public TV show, cuts a dashing figure on the set nonetheless. He was heard to say, about the outfit, "It's drafty!"

We're taking a moment now to remember a friend and former colleague who played a crucial part in the success of W PSU. Over the years. If you've been listening to WPSU for a long time, you've probably heard this voice urging you to support public radio:


“Whatever life brings you next year, WPSU will be right here with you. We'll take you around the world every day keeping you informed and inspired.”

Pat Smith, former membership director of WPSU, retired in 2018. After some long-term health issues, he passed away unexpectedly on July 31, at the age of 62. Pat worked with us here at WPSU for 11 years. And for many years before that he was a volunteer host for our fundraising drives. Rob Butler, Director of station development at WPSU was struck by how deeply Pat believed in public media's mission of community service.

“I think that's why he volunteered in the first place and why he came to work here as well. He saw WPSU doing something important for his community and for people across the region.”

“He was a huge consumer of public media. I mean, he watched and listened all the time,” said

Michele Chernega of our membership department. She says Pat was devoted to his work.

“He was probably the first in the building in the last leave often. He was a really good boss. He was patient, incredibly patient than amazing father, and he was a good gardener too.”

“Pat was a hard worker, as we all know,” said Scott Geesey, a volunteer fundraising host for WPSU. He was a longtime friend of Pat and his family.

“He was absolutely 100% invested. And I know that a lot of success that WPSU has had in recent years, of course is tied to Pat.”

One thing that stands out about Pat just as much as his passion for public broadcasting is the way he made everyone laugh. Michelle remembers a time when Pat wore a kilt to fundraise during a Scottish-themed show on WPSU-TV.

“I never forget that night because he was like, ‘Now I know how women feel. It’s quite drafty!” (LAUGHTER). So of course, that would be a Pat-ism.”

“He was very quick with a one liner,” according to Pat’s friend, Scott. “And sometimes he and I would almost have a competition kind of going back and forth. And we'd always end up with some laughter like, ‘Okay, that was a good session. Let’s do it again sometime. I’m gonna miss that. I’m gonna miss that a lot.”

“Meetings with Pat were always productive, said former WPSU station manager Greg Petersen, “except for the times when we both got off track with some bad puns and dad jokes, which unfortunately was often.”

The two were often seen sitting together in meetings, wearing Pat’s famous fashion trademark: the sweater vest. Greg would ask Pat how he was, “And he would respond with his usual ‘Perfectly adequate. And you?’”

“Everyone that knows him from our fundraisers knows he has a great sense of humor,” Michele said. “But he was also very persuasive because he believed in it and hoped that you would, too.”

And Pat had some colorful ways of being persuasive. Like when he’d parrot that fundraising phone number:


“Ahk! Call 1-877-420-9778.”

Or channel Star Wars characters:


“Appreciate your pledge, we do.”

Or unleash his inner pirate:


“Aye, that’s what’s needed to keep WPSU’s ship afloat this fall. Set your course now for and make your gift today. Tell them Hook sent ya!”

Rob Butler said when Pat worked at Penn State's admissions office, he put that sense of humor to good use:

“I am told that when the university had somebody really important, like a really high level athlete recruit Pat was the guy they brought in to do the introduction to Penn State and said you behind closed doors and you just hear laughter pouring through the door.”

Our current membership director, Jessica Peters, said Pat was the one who got her into fundraising:

“He's the one who pulled me into this world. And then he became truly, truly a mentor and a good friend.”

Pat was always generous with his time she says even when he was working on something very important.

“You would have never known that, because he would just say, ’Yeah, sure, let's chat.’ And by the end of it, you'd end up feeling better because you were allowed to vent. And he would inevitably say something wacky and off the wall and make you smile. And I'm really going to miss hearing that laugh come through our hallways.”

“I really enjoyed his sense of humor,” said Rob Butler. “A true sense of humor is a sign of real intelligence. And I think Pat is a very intelligent person and a very thoughtful person and a very caring person. He cared about people.”

Pat’s caring nature came through in all sorts of ways. Once, when I had to go to the emergency room, he offered to drive me, waited there for me and drove me back. He looked in on me from time to time for days afterward to make sure I was okay. Pat took care of colleagues like they were his family members. That's just who he was caring, kind and patient.

“Patience is such an underrated trait,” said Michele Chernega. “But it's probably one of the most valuable and most wonderful things. And he had it in spades. He's just was a good man. He had a lot to give to the world. And we were lucky we had him as long as we did.”

To Jessica Peters, Pat was central to WPSU, even after his retirement.

“You know, I look to Him as our North Star, he was our guiding light. And it's something that really is going to be hard to not be able to look to him for that.”

Greg Petersen said “I will miss his humor, his dedication, his friendship, and his always caring attitude.”

And Pat Smith didn't just care about his friends and the people he met and worked with, wherever you are right now, I know that he cared about you, too. He wants to WPSU listeners and viewers to know just how wonderful you are for supporting this station.

As Pat put it:


“You know, the fact that you're tuned to WPSU right now says a lot about you. It says you're intelligent, analytical, and that you care about your community and the world in which you live. you recycle your paper and your plastic, you donate blood, and you fight crime under cover of darkness. You also support your local public radio station. You do those things, because you know they help make many lives better. Thank you for all the heroic things that you do.”

We've been so very lucky here at WPSU to know and work with this amazing man. And we'll continue the mission that was so important to Pat. We'll work with you, every day, to help keep public media strong for the future.