Ralph N. Smith, Union, a former Franklin County presiding commissioner who later served on the staff of Govs. Kit Bond and John Ashcroft, passed away Sunday.
His career in local and state government spanned nearly 50 years. He was 88 years old.
Former U.S. Attorney General, Governor and U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft said Smith was “a marvelous human being.”
Starting out as a county official, Ashcroft said, gave Smith a special awareness of service to human beings, individuals and communities that was unique.
“He took to heart every situation and treated it with care as if it were related to his own family or neighbors,” Ashcroft said.
Smith was chairman of the State Tax Commission for a number of years.
When there was a significant backlog of unresolved issues at the tax commission, Ashcroft said he sent Smith to reduce the backlog.
“He did a wonderful job there and was commended and acclaimed by a variety of groups and individuals for setting that entire agency on a solid, service-based footing for prompt resolution of disputed issues,” he said.
In addition to outstanding service, Ashcroft said he and Smith became close friends.
“He was not a friend of mine who I brought into government. This was a person I learned to know while I was in government and I began to respect him at the highest level possible and we became very good friends,” he said. “My friendship with him was a very important part of my life.
“His later years found him afflicted with an impaired capacity for memory, but when I last went to see him, we still rejoiced in the things we had done together as friends.”
Former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Kit Bond said Smith came in after Bond had a “very tumultuous first term in the governor’s office.”
“Ralph turned it all around,” Bond said. “We started getting along well with other people and the Legislature, even though the Legislature was more than 70 percent opposed to me.
“They got everything done that they wanted and I got everything I wanted done, and it was no small achievement given the political differences and the problems I had in the past.”
Bond said Smith was a great local leader, a very efficient chief of staff and a close personal friend.
“He made a great contribution to me, the people of Franklin County and to the state,” he said.
Smith, served as Franklin County’s deputy county clerk from 1950-58, and then served two terms as county clerk from 1959-66.
He was elected presiding judge of the county’s administrative court (now known as the county commission) in 1966, and served two terms in that office, stepping down in 1975, following an unsuccessful bid for the Missouri Senate in 1974.
Smith was a leader in bringing planning and zoning to the county and in the adoption of other codes and regulations for building, subdivisions and mobile home parks.
After giving 25 years of service in county government, Smith worked for Gov. Christopher “Kit” Bond as executive assistant of operations from 1975-77.
In 1977, Smith became director of state and local government affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, a position he held until 1986.
He then served four years as chairman of the Missouri State Tax Commission from 1986-90.
In 1990, Gov. John Ashcroft appointed Smith to his staff as senior director of legislative affairs.
When Ashcroft left the governor’s office, Smith was named to the Commission on the Retirement, Removal and Discipline of Judges. He served on that board until 1998.
He was the leader in the establishment of the Missouri Association of Counties.
He also was a U.S. Army veteran.
In 2004, Smith received a resolution honoring him as an “Outstanding Missourian” from the Missouri House of Representatives. The award was given in honor of Smith’s longtime dedication as a public servant at both the county and statewide levels.
The same year, he was presented with the Long Haul Award, which is given to a citizen of the Union area, who is over the age of 65, and who has served the community throughout his or her life. The award is for direct, outstanding service.
Bill Miller Sr. of The Missourian, who covered county government for more than 40 years, said Smith was the “right man in Franklin County at the right time.
“He saw that changes were needed in Franklin County Planning and Zoning. He saw the growth coming and need for regulations. He had the vision to get these regulations started and was able to show voters the need for them,” Miller said.
“I learned more about county government from Ralph than anyone else,” Miller said. “He was one of the outstanding leaders in Franklin County government in the last half century,” Miller added.
Smith also served on the advisory board of St. John’s Mercy Hospital, Washington.
Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer didn’t work directly with Smith but met him when he ran for state representative in 1992, when Smith was chief of staff for Gov. Ashcroft.
“He was very well respected, not only in Franklin County, but by everyone who knew him,” Griesheimer said. “He was very well respected and well thought of in the Capitol.”
Griesheimer said there “were very few people who knew county government better than Ralph Smith.”
“He carried a lot of clout,” he added.
Another local official, County Clerk Bill D. Miller, said that while he didn’t have the pleasure or honor of working with Smith, he knew him for many years.
“He understood the workings of local and state government and politics. He was quite the statesman,” Bill D. Miller said.
All of those who worked with Smith said he will be missed.
“There’s no question about the fact that he will be missed, almost as much as he was appreciated,” Ashcroft said. “Everyone understood and appreciated him while he was alive. He had an understanding as how much we loved him. We are all better because he’s the guy he was.”
Funeral services will be held Saturday, Jan. 20, at 1 p.m. at Oltmann Funeral Home in Union. Burial will follow in Zion Cemetery, Union.
Visitation will be prior to the service, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the funeral home.
Smith and his wife, the former Lorraine Hemker, were married for more than 60 years before she passed away in 2013.
He is survived by one son, Kim Smith and wife Kathy, Frotenac; one daughter, Amy Johnston and husband Scott, Wentzville; five grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, other relatives and many friends.