William French Smith served as U.S. Attorney General from 1981 to 1985. A longtime friend and confidant of President Ronald Reagan, Bill Smith helped formulate the vital policies that came to be identified with the Reagan administration.
Bill Smith was born on August 26, 1917, in Wilton, New Hampshire. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1939 and from the Harvard Law School in 1942. From 1942 to 1946, he served in the U.S. Navy Reserve, reaching the rank of lieutenant.
In 1946, Bill Smith joined the Los Angeles law firm of Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher, where he specialized in labor law. He eventually became head of the firm's labor department. Bill enjoyed a reputation as a tough but flexible negotiator. He was a member of a small group of southern California business leaders who urged Ronald Reagan to run for governor in 1966. After Governor Reagan was elected, Bill Smith served as his personal lawyer and a close adviser. In 1968, Governor Reagan appointed him to the University of California Board of Regents. He later served three terms as chairman.
The future Attorney General's wide-ranging activities included service as a director of the Pacific Lighting Corporation, the Jorgensen Steel Company, Pullman, Inc., RCA, and Crocker National Bank. Bill served on numerous non-profit boards, including: the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles; the
U.S. Advisory Commission on International, Educational and Cultural Affairs; the Los Angeles World Affairs Council; the Los Angeles Committee on Foreign Relations; Harvard University; Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies; the American Judicature Society; and as Chairman of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation. Bill was instrumental in locating the present site for the Reagan Presidential Library.
When Governor Reagan was elected president in 1980, one of his first appointments was Bill Smith as the 74th Attorney General of the United States. During his tenure, Bill Smith was instrumental in the appointment of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. He was also responsible for developing a more economically sensible antitrust policy, including mergers and acquisitions, and he pursued a strong anticrime initiative, increasing the resources used to fight the distribution and sale of illegal narcotics by 100 percent. Furthermore, he successfully lobbied for the establishment of a commission to create new federal sentencing guidelines.
In January 1984, Smith announced his resignation in order to work on President Reagan's reelection campaign and to return to private life.
Smith died on October 29, 1990, in Los Angeles, and is survived by his wife, Jean Smith. His children all live in California and two of his grandchildren graduated from Pepperdine University's Seaver College.
Bill Smith is remembered as a quiet, yet effective statesman. In the words of National Review, "Smith seldom spoke, but when he did, he was always worth hearing. No one had an ill word to say about him, so great was his decency - the quality he had most in common, perhaps, with the man he served so long."