Sunday, January 21, 2007

Senator Smathers Died. When I started practising law in Miami 1972, it was with the firm of Smathers & Thompson, the senior member of which was George A. Smathers. I first met him on the steps of the Capitol, when in the sixth grade I visited Washington DC with a group of patrol boys and girls from South Florida. (We traveled there by train to a national convention of "patrols". It was a great trip.) The Senator had came to greet the Miami contingent, and I have a photo someone snapped of the Senator, Dante Fascell, the member of the House of Representatives from Miami, and me.

He was very well known in our household as I grew up, and had a TV show every Saturday at Noon \n, right after the cartoons, Captain Midnight, and Sky King, and I always hung around to watch it. He was simply a "talking head" in those filmed programs, sitting at a desk with a picture of the Capitol in the bacgroun, the US flag on one side of the desk, the Florida flag on the other, but he described simply and intelligently what was happening in Washington and how it affected the country in general and Florida in particular. I was fascinated.

During the summer of 1970, after my second year of law school, I worked as a law clerk at Smathers and Thompson and met him again. By this time, he had retired from the Senate and divided his time between his Miami firm, composed of about 22 or 23 lawyers, and a separate firm in Washington, with only a couple of lawyers who were mainly his assistants, from which he did his lobbying. (It was a mattere of great disappointment to the partners in the Miami office that he shared no fees from the Washington firm. But he was clearly the rain-maker for the Miami office.) At the end of my summer with his firm, he took me to lunch and offered me a full-time job when I graduated from law school. I took a detour to NY to clerk for a federal judge, but after that year, I came back and went to work for the firm.

I started out as a litigator at the firm in 1972. That is what most of the lawyers did at the firm, but in the mid 70s the firm began to diversify seriously and had hired a Wall Street lawyer to come down and develop a trusts and estates practice. But in late 1979, this high draft pick, who had always been a free agent, went to a larger Miami firm with a well established T&E practice. He had become weary of the litigators at Smathers & Thompson, who were not sure that someone who practiced T&E really practiced law. By that time I was a partner, and the firm asked me to be on a search committee to go to NY and find another one like the one who had just left. After a couple of months of unsuccessful interviews, I said I would take the job, and made a "lateral move" into trusts & estates. (There is more to that story.)

As the new T&E lawyer, I immediately obtained a new client, Senator Smathers, whom I had already gotten to know some, but who became a friend over the next 20 years. He was the most charismatic man I have ever met. Think of John Wayne without the swagger, and you have the sort of charisma I mean. He was utterly charming. His charm and good looks were unusual in that they captivated both men and women. The Senator actively promoted my praactice and sent me many important clients, many of whom to this day I continue to serve.

During the 80s, the Miami firm and the Washington firm prospered. (Those were boom years for law firms.) For several years, the Senator and his wife would host the annual Christmas party for the lawyers and their spouses. They lived on Key Biscayne, and so they would have the parties at the Key Biscayne Hotel. Those fetes were beautiful, sort of Florida-elegant. At one of them, the Senator stood up during dinner to greet everyone and to say that he had a special guest to present. At that point, Billy Graham walked in and gave a short message about what Christmas meant. What a magic moment that was for everyone. I think even our Jewish partners were transfixed.

I would often go to lunch with the Senator at the Miami Club. We would have great talks and the talk frequently included religion. His mother had been a Christian Scientist, and I think that accounted in part for his positive outlook (not that having gifts of good looks and a great mind didn't help). He was not sold on evangelical Christianity, although he was a great friend of Graham. At one of those lunches he said that someone on a recent visit had told him that he needed to kneel down on his knees, ask God to forgive him for all of his many sins, and accept Jesus Christ as his savior. That really annoyed him. He said he thought that he was a Christian and believed in Jesus.

I remember asking him what he thought of Ronald Reagan. At that time Reagan was running for the Republican nomination for President a second time. (The first time he lost the race to Ford.) He told me that Reagan had a "good gut". I asked him what that meant, and he said that it meant that Reagan had good instincts. He admired Reagan even then.

The Senator of course was not a perfect man and made many mistakes, and I was privileged to know him well enough to become acquainted with him in all his imperfection. But I celebrate his life today and I thank God for the privilege of knowing him and for the blessing of being his partner and his lawyer.

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