By Don Eriksson
TOWNSEND — North Middlesex Regional High School class of 1971 graduate Richard Norton Smith will share the honor of being grand marshal of the 275th Anniversary Parade on Sept. 23, along with School Street resident Pearl Russell, 97.
Smith currently lives in Washington, D.C., a fitting locale for his profession as a presidential historian and biographer, past director of several presidential libraries, teacher and television personality.
He is a nationally-recognized authority on the American presidency and is familiar to viewers of C-SPAN as well as The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, where he appears regularly as part of the show’s roundtable of historians, according to a biographical sketch on the White House Web site.
“It’s a great honor and not least of all to share the honor with Pearl Russell, who is far more deserving than I,” Smith said this week, just before flying to Oregon for a meeting.
According to the biographies, Smith was born in Leominster.
“That’s correct,” said his widowed mother, Ruth. “I worked at Leominster Hospital but we lived on Adams Road in Townsend Center.”
Ruth Smith is now a Warren Road resident, having moved back in 2002.
Ironically, Pearl Russell had been Ruth’s Townsend High School algebra teacher as well as teaching Richard as she finished her final 10 years at North Middlesex Regional High School. Ruth takes Pearl to the doctor’s office and lunches with her.
She remembers her son wanting to finish his senior year at North Middlesex when the family moved to Leominster in 1970, and an English teacher, Mr. Tremblay, driving him to and from the school.
According to Smith’s official biography (www.whitehouse.gov/government/smith-bio.html), he was born in 1953 and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1975 with a degree in government. He worked as a White House intern and as a freelance writer for The Washington Post.
In 1977, Smith became a speech writer for Massachusetts Sen. Edward Brooke.
Two years later he went to work for Sen. Bob Dole, collaborating with the Doles on their joint autobiography, “Unlimited Partners” (1988; revised 1996). He assisted Dole on the senator’s 1998 book of political humor, “Laughing (Almost) All the Way to the White House,” and a sequel, “Great Presidential Wit,” published early in 2001.
Perhaps best-known as a historian and biographer, Smith has written about the life of Nelson A. Rockefeller, based on extensive original research and interviews with Rockefeller associates. His first major book, “Thomas E. Dewey and His Times,” was a finalist for the 1983 Pulitzer Prize.
He has also written “An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover (1984),” “The Harvard Century: The Making of a University to a Nation (1986),” and “Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation (1993).”
His June 1997 work “The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick,” received the Goldsmith Prize, awarded by Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and has been described as the best book ever written about the press.
Smith has served as director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Center in Abilene, Kan., the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and the Reagan Center for Public Affairs in Simi Valley, Calif., and the Gerald R. Ford Museum and Library in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, Mich., respectively.
He became director of the new Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He supervised construction of the Institute’s $11.3 million permanent home and launched a presidential lecture series and other high-profile programs. He has been appointed the first executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, a four-building complex in Springfield, Ill.
“He has done many things, and coming from a small town it’s special,” Ruth Smith said. “I’m so proud of him. He’s done way more than I’ve dreamed of, and, he’s gotten us out to presidential libraries.”
Norton Smith was unavailable for comment as of press time.
He has three sisters, Marcia Arsenault of the weekly paper “The Messenger,” and Laure and Charlene Smith of Denver, who drive light rail vehicles for the city.