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William French Smith was a Senior Partner of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and a member of the RCA Board of Directors during some of the years the CED system was on the market.
LOS ANGELES (UPI) -- Former President Ronald Reagan said he has lost a trusted friend and adviser and the nation has lost a patriot with the death of former Attorney General William French Smith.
Smith, who went to Washington with Reagan in 1981 and helped the new president carry out his conservative agenda, died October 29, 1990 of cancer. He was 73.
Smith died at the Kenneth Norris Jr. Cancer Treatment Center at the University of Southern California, his son-in-law, Jerry Dunn, said. Funeral services were pending.
"More than a colleague, Bill was a valued and trusted friend and adviser," Reagan said in a statement. "I often sought his wise counsel throughout my years in public life and I was fortunate to have him at my side. Nancy and I are deeply saddened. We have lost a dear friend, who we will always remember with the greatest respect and affection.
"William French Smith served his country with the greatest dedication and distinction," Reagan said. "As attorney general, he brought talent, wisdom and the highest integrity to the Department of Justice. Our nation was indeed fortunate to have a person of his excellence and patriotism in the Cabinet, and we were made better as a country because of Bill's work.
Dunn said Smith was "... proudest of the fact that he found (Supreme Court Justice) Sandra Day O'Connor. He was proud of his immigration bill and the crime bill of 1984. He also was the one who got the FBI into drug enforcement."
The wealthy, white-haired Smith concentrated on getting more money for his department, beefing up federal efforts against drug trafficking and pursuing a policy with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to bring the nation's borders under control.
He also altered some Justice Department policies more sharply than any other attorney general, moving the department in controversial new directions in crime fighting, civil rights and antitrust enforcement.
The most controversial aspects of his tenure were attempts by the Justice Department to bring policies on civil rights, abortion and women's issues more into line with Reagan's conservative views.
He emphasized judicial restraint, noting that he had used his office as a kind of "minibully pulpit" in an effort to talk the courts into practicing a less activist social and political role.
Smith resigned in January 1984, saying he wanted to return to private law practice and help Reagan's re-election campaign.
But his departure was delayed for months while a special prosecutor investigated and subsequently cleared Edwin Meese -- the man nominated to succeed him -- of allegations he received financial help from friends who got government jobs.
After leaving office, Smith rejoined the powerful law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles. He also served on the boards of major corporations and was named chairman of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation.
While Smith was known for a low-key corporate lawyer image, he also ran into controversy over some of his personal affairs, including disclosures about his investments in two oil and gas drilling tax shelters and his acceptance of a $50,000 severance payment when he left the board of directors of Jorgensen Steel Co. shortly before taking office.
Smith defused the criticism by returning the severance check and limiting his tax deductions from the shelters to the amount of his actual cash investment.
Smith also drew fire for foreign trips that cost taxpayers more than $1 million, including a 1982 trip around the world with his wife and an entourage of aides that cost more than $700,000. Smith said the trips were necessary to convince foreign governments that the United States was serious about cracking down on drug trafficking.
Under Smith's direction, the Justice Department implemented often controversial civil rights policies, tried new antitrust policies favoring business and worked toward major reforms of immigration and criminal law.
Smith enraged civil rights organizations by opposing mandatory busing for school desegregation and hiring quotas for employment discrimination -- changes in direction endorsed by Reagan.
But he also played a key role in the selection process that led to the appointment of O'Connor as the first woman on the Supreme Court.
Smith was born in Wilton, N.H., Aug. 26, 1917. He graduated summa cum laude from UCLA in 1939 and from Harvard Law School three years later. After wartime service as a Navy officer, Smith began private practice at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and became a partner, specializing in management operations in labor relations. As Reagan's personal attorney, he helped guide the investments that made the former actor and California governor a millionaire.
Smith was president of the California Chamber of Commerce from 1974-75 and was a director of Pacific Telephone and Telegraph of San Francisco; Crocker National Bank; Pacific Mutual Life Insurance; Pacific Lighting Corp.; Jorgensen Steel Corp.; and Pullman Inc. of Chicago.
He was a member of the board of governors of the Performing Arts Council, Los Angeles Music Center, and in 1974-75 was a member of the Stanton Panel on International Information, Education and Cultural Relations.
Smith had three sons and one daughter with his first wife, Marion, and married the former Jean Webb in 1964.
- 1990 UPI News Release
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