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Pepperdine School of Law Gala Celebrated the Life and Legacy of Attorney General William French Smith

Pepperdine University School of Law hosted A Celebration of the Life and Legacy of William French Smith on Friday, June 29, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. The 74th U.S. attorney general, Smith served on the School of Law's Board of Visitors, and was honored at the school's annual dinner in 1984. Tributes by former members of the Reagan cabinet and William French Smith Justice Department began at 4 p.m., followed by a 6 p.m. reception and gala dinner in Air Force One Pavilion. The dinner included remarks by special honored guests.

Invited speakers included Rudy Giuliani - former U.S. attorney, associate attorney general and mayor of New York; Theodore Olson - former assistant attorney general, solicitor general and currently a senior partner, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher; Edward Schmults - former deputy attorney general and former general counsel, G.T.E. Corporation; Carol Dinkins - former assistant attorney general and former deputy attorney general, currently a partner with Vincent Elkins in Houston, Texas; David Hiller - former special assistant to William French Smith and currently publisher, Los Angeles Times; Ken Starr - former counselor and chief of staff to William French Smith, former federal judge and solicitor general, currently dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law. First Lady Mrs. Nancy Reagan attended the event.

Other attendees included friends, associates, and others who wanted to honor the life and legacy of William French Smith, as well as supporters of President and Mrs. Reagan and the Reagan Library, and friends and supporters of Pepperdine University and the School of Law.

Dean Ken Starr noted that the gala dinner event marked the establishment of the Pepperdine School of Law William French Smith Memorial Lectures on Law and the Judiciary. Named in honor of the former attorney general, the annual lecture series will be an ongoing tribute to Smith. Current and retired judges and justices from around the country as well as prominent attorneys and law professors are expected to participate in the annual program. Says Starr, "The William French Smith Memorial Lectures will bring prominent speakers each year to focus on issues of law, the judiciary, and public policy so as to honor in perpetuity a singularly talented lawyer and public servant who, as President Reagan graciously put it, was 'always honest, always fair, always careful, and always motivated by a desire to do what was indisputably the right thing.'"

About William French Smith

William French Smith served as U.S. attorney general from 1981 to 1985. A longtime friend and confidant of President Ronald Reagan, Smith helped formulate the conservative policies that came to be identified with the Reagan administration.

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, Smith served in the U.S. Navy Reserve, reaching the rank of lieutenant.

In 1946 Smith joined the Los Angeles law firm of Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher, one of the largest and most prominent corporate firms in California. He specialized in labor law, eventually becoming a senior partner and head of the firm's labor department. He enjoyed a reputation as a tough but flexible negotiator. He served as a director of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles from 1963 to 1972.

During the 1960s Smith became active in conservative Republican party politics. Smith was impressed by Reagan's views and his political potential and was a member of a small group of southern California business leaders who urged Reagan to run for governor in 1966. After Reagan was elected governor, Smith became his personal lawyer and adviser. In 1968 Reagan appointed him to the University of California Board of Regents. Smith later served three terms as chairman of the board.

His business affiliations included service as director of the Pacific Lighting Corporation, the Jorgensen Steel Company, Pullman, Inc., RCA, and Crocker National Bank. He served on many nonprofit boards as well, including the U.S. Advisory Commission on International, Educational, and Cultural Affairs in Washington, DC; the Los Angeles World Affairs Council; the Los Angeles Committee on Foreign Relations; Harvard University; Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies; and the American Judicature Society. He also served as chairman of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation. In fact, he was instrumental in locating the present site of the Reagan Presidential Library.

Smith remained a close adviser to Reagan (a member of the "Kitchen Cabinet") after Reagan left the governorship and began his quest for the presidency. When Reagan was elected president in 1980, one of his first appointments was the naming of Smith as his attorney general.

During his tenure at the Justice Department, Smith was instrumental in the appointment of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. He was also responsible for developing a more tolerant policy toward mergers. This shift in the federal government's antitrust position has been credited with contributing to the wave of mergers and acquisitions that occurred during the 1980s.

In addition, Smith pursued a strong anticrime initiative, increasing the resources used to fight the distribution and sale of illegal narcotics by 100 percent. He also 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 three 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."