Bernard Paley’s obituary originally appeared in the Jan. 6, 2022, editions of The Smithtown News and The Observer in Northport. It is republished with permission from The Smithtown News.
Bernard “Bernie” Paley, 92, the long-time publisher of The Smithtown News died after a brief illness Jan. 1 at the home he loved and lived in for over 60 years.
During his 66-year award-winning journalism career, Paley was entrenched in the community, active in many service organizations and once a candidate for public office.
“Bernie was an extraordinary man,” said David Ambro, editor of The Smithtown News and The Observer and also Paley’s son-in-law. “His approach to local journalism was always to promote a sense of community, which is what he loved most about Smithtown.”
“His passion was the newsroom,” Ambro said. “He was a fair, concise news reporter and a smart, studious, and forward-thinking editorial and column writer. Outside of the office he was a kind and caring family man, a loving husband, who delighted in spending time with his children and grandchildren. We loved him dearly and he will be sorely missed.”
A hard worker throughout his life, he also made sure to make time outside the office ‘working hard’ at the things he loved. An avid skier who spent winters in Vermont and was still on the slopes at age 86, Paley enjoyed playing golf, his weekly tennis games, spending summers on Fire Island and traveling the world.
One of Paley’s notable attributes, to which his friends and family can attest, was his love of telling stories, but “his greatest attribute was his personal contact with people,” Ambro said. His subject matters ranged from his days playing hooky from school to playing basketball on the streets of New York City. He would recount stories from the trenches of local politics, his travels, including a month-long trip to communist Russia, and Smithtown Rotary Club lore.
“He had a vast institutional knowledge of Smithtown government and politics that spanned more than half a century and he loved sharing those stories. He could be funny at times, serious at others, and what was remarkable was his ability to remember the names of the characters involved, some dating back to the 1950s. I could listen to him for hours,” Ambro said.
Paley was the last remaining charter member of the Rotary Club of Smithtown, an organization that was such an important part of his life. A past president of the club, many life-long friends were made through his involvement in Rotary and he still looked forward to attending weekly club meetings.
Nissequogue Village Mayor Richard Smith was a longtime friend of Paley. They first met on the Smithtown campaign trail when Smith’s father was involved in Democratic Party politics in the 1960s and Paley was a local journalist covering local campaigns. They solidified their relationship in 2006 when Smith joined the Smithtown Rotary Club, now serving as its president.
“He was highly intelligent, kind, and with a very sharp sense of humor,” Smith said about Paley. “The thing that always impressed me about Bernie though, was that as successful as he was and as smart as he was, he was just a very humble guy. I think that’s what people found most attractive about him. He never put on airs. He just was the most decent person and friendly to all. He was just a very kind man.”
After learning about Paley’s death, Smith said he spoke with many Rotary Club members about him and he will be deeply missed. “He was an imminently likable guy and he had that very rare combination — very intelligent and humorous, but very humble. We are all poorer today because he is gone,” Smith concluded.
Another Smithtown Rotarian and dear friend, Glenn Williams, said he first met Paley as a young man when his father, Bud Williams, and Paley played tennis together. He recalled sitting at the bar at Old Street Pub in Smithtown one afternoon when Paley, who ate lunch there almost every workday, came into the restaurant. Williams invited Paley to join him for lunch but he didn’t like sitting at the bar to eat. Instead, Paley preferred the backroom of the restaurant where he always ate at the same four-top table.
They became fast friends and Williams said that table at Old Street Pub was frequented by local officials, business people and area folks who would share stories with Paley over lunch.
“Guys would come in there and chew the fat for an hour or two, and sometimes he and I would stay way too long,” Williams said. “His friendship always meant so much to me. He was a great guy and he was a mentor to me in a few ways about life.”
“I loved the stories he would share and he was a great listener. His sense of humor, of course, was unsurpassed. It is a big loss for me and I am going to really miss him,” Williams said. “I loved him and I really valued him. Everybody I talk to agrees it is such a big loss.”
Paley was a past president of the Smithtown Township Arts Council (STAC) and personally guaranteed financing for the arts organization to ensure it would continue to serve the community when it was on the brink of closing down. Paley also served as a member of the Smithtown Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors in the 1960s, was active in the New York Press Association where he served as president for two terms, and was appointed a member of the New York State Judicial Nominating Committee by Gov. Hugh Carey. Paley also served on the New York State Free Press Trial Committee for many years.
In 1969, Paley was the Democratic candidate for Smithtown Town Supervisor. He ran against Republican candidate Paul Fitzpatrick for a seat left open when Smithtown Supervisor John V.N. Klein was elected county executive. Although Paley was endorsed by a dissident faction of Republicans from Kings Park who were upset with the ‘bossism’ in the Smithtown GOP, Fitzpatrick won in a year when Republicans swept town races in Smithtown. A testament to his strong ethical character, Paley invited Fitzpatrick to write his own endorsement, which he ran side by side along his own.
Perhaps ahead of his time, one of the key campaign issues on Paley’s platform was to update the town’s comprehensive master plan, which had not been done in more than a decade since first enacted in 1957. More than half a century later, the town is just nearing completion of a master plan update.
Paley was born on Nov. 23, 1929, in the Bronx to Max and Anna Paley. He grew up in Far Rockaway, Queens, and was a graduate of Brooklyn College. There, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and more significantly met his wife, Suzanne, who he married in 1951. Mr. and Mrs. Paley headed to the suburbs where they purchased their first home in Kings Park.
While his wife had secured a teaching position in the Kings Park School District, Paley’s love of sports led him to the two local newspapers in town, The Smithtown News and The Smithtown Messenger, where he hoped perhaps he could get a job as a sports reporter. The Smithtown News publisher Robert James Malone, who had just finished up his term as Smithtown Supervisor, hired him on the spot (The Smithtown Messenger offered him a position the next day.) In 1955, Paley became the managing editor of The Smithtown News and vice president of The North Shore News Group with The Smithtown News as its flagship publication. In the 1970s, Paley purchased The Observer newspaper in Northport and in 1990 the newspaper chain began publishing The Huntington News under Paley’s leadership.
In his early days at The News, Paley worked as a general assignment reporter writing about politics, crime, human interest and feature stories in Smithtown and Suffolk County. And he had a passion for high school sports, even managing to find time to cover a big game or sporting event. In 1964 he was named Outstanding Young Editor of the Year by the International Society of Weekly Newspapers headquartered in Ireland and Illinois.
“My dad lived such a wonderful life,” said daughter Jennifer Paley Ambro. “In addition to running award-winning newspapers for decades, he and my mom made sure to create wonderful memories for our entire family … whether it was in Vermont, camping in Montauk, or traveling across country in a camper, he knew how to make the most of life. He never missed a beat. It was his dedication to this community that drew me back to Smithtown to join him in running the newspapers. His stories of sitting around the round table in the back of Howard Johnson’s having lunch with local politicians and business people, early morning breakfasts at Florence’s Hilltop Diner with local law enforcement, to always running into someone he knew at Old Street Pub, instilled in me the importance of local journalism and its critical role in a community.”
At 92, Paley would still come into the office just about every day.
“He’d come in with an egg sandwich, coffee, and his newspapers and we would sit and talk about anything and everything. He was just a wonderful dad who gave us a wonderful life and I will miss having him by my side,” Jennifer Paley Ambro said.
Daughter Elizabeth Paley echoed similar sentiments about her father. “I have so many happy memories of my dad. He taught me how to skim a rock at Short Beach, chaperoned Smithtown Elementary field trips when I was little, and gave my high school friends part-time jobs inserting newspapers so we could all work together at The News,” Paley said. “Later in life, after my mom died, he and I would take monthly day trips to Robert Moses and Captree State Park, even in the middle of winter and he was over 90 years old. He always had an adventurous spirit! Most importantly though, my dad taught me to find purpose in serving others, and that family is everything.”
Paley also relished his role as a grandfather.
“My grandfather lived his life to the fullest,” said granddaughter Anna Jewell of Concord, Massachusetts. “Whether it was traveling to Vermont, Fire Island, or to Massachusetts for my high school grandparent’s days, he always made sure to spend his time doing the things he loved with the people he loved. But regardless of all his experiences, when I asked him recently what his favorite trip was, he didn’t hesitate to say his honeymoon.”
The Paleys moved to their home in Smithtown with their daughters in 1966 where Paley lived until his death. He was predeceased by his devoted wife, Suzanne, who died in 2016. Paley is survived by his daughter Elizabeth Paley and her daughters Lily and Anna Jewell; daughter Jennifer Paley Ambro and husband David Ambro, and their children Brady and Sophie Ambro; granddaughter Morgan Ambro and great-grandson Joshua Simmons.
Donations in memory of Bernard Paley can be made to the Rotary Club of Smithtown Charitable Fund, P.O. Box 501, Smithtown, New York, 11787. The family will also be setting up two yearly scholarships in Paley’s memory through the Rotary Club of Smithtown and the New York Press Association. A celebration of Paley’s life will be held at a future date.