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Smiths Come Down From the Summit

March 04, 1985|MARY LOU LOPER | Times Staff Writer

It was a fairly dismal situation. Oh, there were two dozen pink tulips from the Austin Pecks on the coffee table and the peppermint tea was hot and fragrant, but the silver teapot was nowhere to be found.

More than 20 boxes of books were stacked in the library. The furniture was swaddled in plastic. Where was the living room lamp--missing? lost? misplaced? The floors were dusty. Paintings leaned against walls. The dining room table had strange wax imprints, as if someone had ironed on it.

On the patio, a skeleton of what might have been a geranium pleaded for burial. Ants--big ones--scurried along the brick wall.

And, inside, the phone rang and rang and rang. And a bee buzzed in the living room. From the fireplace, unmistakably, there was a hum and a hive.

Were they glad to be home?

Said Jean Smith, looking at her garden through the French doors of their gracious home in San Marino: "It's a mixed blessing, I mean mixed emotions. Everything looks so green here."

Atty. Gen. William French Smith (now succeeded by Edwin Meese) said several days ago: "I certainly am, but, as everyone says, always, with mixed feelings. Because that is a very traumatic experience in Washington. Active public service has an attraction, a fascination and a satisfaction that cannot be duplicated anywhere."

The return from the summit to private life has been known to drive some people to the ragged edge. Withdrawal from the nation's on-the-scene power structure means giving up territorial domain. Will this be an adjustment, after the heights?

"Oh, I am sure it is going to be a severe adjustment," said the 67-year-old and white-haired but athletically trim Smith. "But, in my case, it's too early to tell. With all the nuts and bolts, you don't have too much time to reflect. The standard term is decompression, and I don't know yet what that means, but this kind of transition will have its minuses and pluses. Of course, any change from one activity to another involves some trauma."

Like deciding on jobs, buying cars, selling a '79 VW Rabbit, finding a live-in housekeeper and deciding where to place the contents of another 23 barrels (much of them with memorabilia from his last four years as head of the Department of Justice) arriving next week.

Smith is returning to his post with Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, the prestigious law firm, where he was a managing partner before he left for Washington.

This week the President appointed Smith to the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which oversees the intelligence community of the federal government.

And politics? "I haven't planned anything in that area. I was even asked to run (for senator), but . . . I have said absolutely no." Absolutely no? "Absolutely no."

"But I will undoubtedly go on some boards of directors. I am sure I will do some speaking."

But first, reminded Jean, "You have to unpack all those books. Only Bill can do that. They were his dowry . They have to be just so."

After living at the Jefferson Hotel four years and always being able to ring up the hotel desk on any problem, Jean Smith looked about the chaos and moaned, "I wish I had a desk." She wasn't taking about a writing table. "I don't know where this is all going to go," she said. "We thought about moving to a smaller place, but, no way, with all this . . . and (the area of) Pasadena is very sane and serene."

Pre-Washington, the much-in-demand William French Smiths led the Los Angeles social scene. Jean was a prize director on Red Cross and Salvation Army boards (neither of which would permit her to resign when she went to Washington). She worked ceaselessly for United Way. In the capital, she was on the board of the National Symphony, chairman of the Opera Ball fund-raiser in 1981.

Now what?

Continuing Commitments

"I'll stay on the President's Commission on White House Fellowships, helping interview the 30 finalists in the spring. And I'll probably stay on the board of VOLUNTEER, the National Center, a clearinghouse for volunteers."

She'll also return to both the Red Cross and the Salvation Army: "I owe it to them for awhile. But I think you reach a point when it's time to step down for someone else."

And he will continue to serve as a University of California Regent and as a trustee of the Huntington Library.

His tenure in office altered his earlier opinion that government is populated by people who sit on their hands--"at least at the Department of Justice. I have been comforted by the caliber of people government can attract at both the career level and what is referred to as the political-appointee level. Another thing that impressed me was that almost everyone I talked with, including Chief Justice (Warren) Burger, said that service in the Department of Justice had been one of the most rewarding experiences of their careers."

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