Vi Smith, 82; Times reporter became an aviation authority

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Times Staff Writer

Vi Smith, a former Los Angeles Times reporter and author so intertwined with Orange County’s aviation history that the concourse art gallery at John Wayne Airport was named in her honor, died Thursday. She was 82.

Smith, who lived in Santa Ana and for 15 years served on the airport’s arts commission, died of congestive heart failure, daughter Andrea Kastner said.

“This was a woman who was analytical, who was sharp, who loved a good story and asked a ton of questions,” Kastner said.


Smith joined The Times in 1963 and covered a variety of stories, including homicide and human interest, winning awards for photography as well as reporting.

Her 1974 book “From Jennies to Jets: The Aviation History of Orange County” traced the county’s flight path from ballooning to aerospace.

Orange County “must have looked like a land of great promise” to aviation pioneers, she told The Times in 1986.

Smith was also a radio news writer, president of the Orange County Press Club, the first female member of Orange County’s Society of Professional Journalists chapter, and a contributing writer for the book “From Goat Hill to City of the Arts: The History of Costa Mesa,” according to a family statement.

Smith was “the foremost authority on Orange County’s aviation history,” wrote Orange Coast magazine columnist Jerry Hicks, also a former Times reporter, last year. Her book “is the best local history book I’ve come across, on any subject. There isn’t even a close second.”

A Philadelphia native, Smith did editing work on “Just Call Me Eddie,” the autobiography of longtime friend Eddie Martin, who established what became John Wayne Airport. As an events coordinator at Martin Aviation, she oversaw the airport’s annual World War II heavy bomber display.


As an airport arts commission member, Smith sought “museum-quality” work for the concourse, said airport spokeswoman Jenny Wedge.

Orange County supervisors once named her volunteer of the year. Smith helped coordinate the airport’s current exhibit, “Orange County on Display.”

She also dreamed up A Basket Case, a company that put together gift baskets.

Smith, her family’s statement said, relished recorded jazz and classical music, basketball, gourmet dining and flying in “unusual airplanes.”

She is survived by her children Lawrence, Andrea and Christy Kastner; stepchildren Matthew, Michael and Janette Smith; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

A son, Gene Kastner, and her husband, Don Smith, who worked as a Times reporter and editor for three decades, are deceased.

Services are scheduled for noon May 11 at Waverly Chapel in Santa Ana.