Bernal E. Smith II, the president and publisher of the Memphis-based New Tri-State Defender and the Second Vice Chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, died at his home on Oct. 22. An employee at the newspaper told the AFRO that Smith died of natural causes.

Bernal Smith II was the president and publisher of the New Tri-State Defender. (Photo/NNPA)

Dorothy Leavell, the recently elected chairman of the NNPA Board of Directors, lamented the loss of the 45-year-old.

“I am personally saddened by Bernal’s death,” Leavell said in a statement. “We were optimistic about the many contributions he would make to the Fourth Estate. He was young, energetic and full of great ideas.

“We were looking forward to implementing some of those concepts through NNPA as we worked to strengthen and advance the Black Press. It’s a great loss to our institution and we will sorely miss him.

“We send our deepest condolences to his family, New Tri-State Defender staff, Black Media Properties, as well as the entire city of Memphis.”

The newspaper’s Associate Publisher Karanja Ajanaku and Calvin Anderson, president of Best Media Properties, the parent company issued a statement saying they were “devastated” with the loss of Smith.

“We learned that Mr. Smith had passed,” the statement said. “We extend our deepest and most heartfelt condolences to his family. We ask that all take note of the family’s request for privacy at this time.”

Smith was a true Memphian, growing up in the city and graduating from Rhodes College with a bachelor’s degree and getting his MBA from Union University. He worked in finance as a special assets manager of Bank of Barlett, a vice president of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce and vice president of community and economic development of Hope Community Credit Union before he bought the New Tri-State Defender in 2013 with a group of investors from Real Times Media.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) represents Memphis in the U.S. House of Representatives and expressed sorrow at Smith’s passing.

“Bernal Smith was a strong voice for African-American business and culture,” Cohen said. “Bernal published the historic New Tri-State Defender and carried on its tradition as a beacon for social and economic justice in Memphis and everywhere. His untimely death leaves a void in his family and the lives of his many friends.

“My thoughts are with his family in this most difficult time.”

Smith’s funeral will take place on Oct. 27 at the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westwood at noon. The visitation will take place on Oct. 26 from 4-7 p.m. and he will be buried at the New Park Cemetery.