By Anthony Fenech
They were two journalists sitting inside of a boardroom in Cincinnati, talking about life, journalism and the future.
Smith saw how the award-winning WCPO-TV investigative reporter had resurrected a chapter that was once breathing its last breath.
He knew that SPJ needed someone to step into the secretary-treasurer role. He thought Hagit Limor (Hah-‘GEET LEE-more), 50, was the woman for the job.
“She’s amazing,” Smith said. “What a fantastic job she did of taking that chapter and making it viable again. That really stood out.”
And so, in town that day as a congratulatory gesture, Smith told Limor she had done a great job. He told her she’d make an excellent addition to the board of directors and asked her to think about it. He told her she should give it a shot.
“Now I’m here,” Limor said Thursday, days before becoming president of SPJ, the nation’s largest journalism organization, with about 9,000 members. “I have to give credit to him.”
Limor will take the presidential reins from Smith on Wednesday.
“It’s the biggest honor I can imagine,” Limor said. “To think about the tens of thousands of people in this country working to get the truth out to their communities, I’m deeply honored.”
Her journey to the top of SPJ began as a student at Northwestern University in the 1980s, as part of Sigma Delta Chi. That journey was put on hold during the two decades that followed as she moved from Bristol, Va., to Asheville, N.C., to Tampa, Fla. in pursuit of a broadcasting career.
That all changed in 2006 when she took over the Cincinnati Pro Chapter, which – with not a lot of money in the bank and not a lot of members in the fold – was on the verge of extinction.
Things began to change quickly under Limor’s watchful eye.
Membership increased. Bankroll exploded. According to Smith, the once-crippled chapter became one of the country’s best.
“We were able to show that you can take a chapter from nowhere and quickly ramp it up if you get excited about the mission at hand,” Limor said. “I think people on the national level took notice of that.”
And they did.
“What she did there showed a lot of character and a lot about her leadership abilities,” Smith said. “I think it was perfect training to give her the kind of perspective to be a leader.”
Smith said he told Limor, a native of Israel, all the right things and that, these days, he tells her something else.
“I tease her,” he said, laughing, “And I let her know that she owes everything she’s earned in SPJ to me.
“I’m happy because she’s marvelous, energetic and will be a fantastic president,” Smith said.