Son of working class parents, Richard Smith grew up in Danbury, Conn., where he “learned the value of hard work and helping those in need.”
Throughout high school and college, Smith worked with his father, who had a plumbing business, on weekends and during the summer, earning money to help defray the cost of his education while he was obtaining his BA degree in political science and, later, his law degree at the University of Bridgeport School of Law.
He’s quick to deflect attention from his own initiative, though. “What impressed me most was the way my father and mother took on extra work, days and nights, to help pay for my education,” he says. “I’ll never forget that.”
Smith enrolled in UNH’s highly regarded criminal justice program intent on a career in law enforcement, specifically with the FBI. But when he took a required course in constitutional law, it changed everything. “Before the course ended I knew I wanted to become a lawyer,” he remembers, “and from that point on I focused all my efforts on doing so.”
He became active in UNH Day Student Government, where he met other UNH students, many of whom became members of his professional network and lifelong friends. A lot of them were heading to law school after UNH. So, with the help of his advisor, political science professor Natalie Farringer, whom he credits for “the guidance she provided in helping me accomplish my goals,” he applied to the University of Bridgeport School of Law.
Though law school gave him the tools he needed for the career he had chosen, he is quick to acknowledge the role UNH had in shaping him as a young man. “UNH ‘formed’ me as a student,” he says. “It offered many significant advantages over other schools. The classes were small, and that created an environment for personal attention. There was a very diverse international student population as well, which created additional learning opportunities. And there were many great professors who often enhanced their classroom teaching with ‘real world’ experiences and cases.” Smith cites professor Austin McGuigan as a good example. A former attorney general of the state of Connecticut, McGuigan frequently shared cases from his practice with the students and encouraged lively classroom dialogue.
“UNH was also the place where I learned how to write with purpose,” Smith says. “It’s a skill that has been extremely important in my practice.”
He was admitted to the Connecticut Bar in 1983 and has been in private practice ever since. Currently he owns and runs his own law firm in New Fairfield, Conn., specializing in real estate transactions, litigation and estate matters. Smith has served as the president of the Danbury Bar Association and currently chairs its real estate section.
Though he has enjoyed a successful legal career, he has never forgotten the lessons about sacrifice, devotion and hard work that his parents instilled in him when he was growing up. Nor has he lost his interest in politics. He and his wife, the former Elizabeth Simmons ’82, whom he met at UNH, are very active within their community. Smith has served on his local board of education and as a director on the board of the youth baseball program.
When his state representative informed him she would not run for reelection after 11 years in the General Assembly, he threw his hat in the ring. In November 2010, he was elected. “I’m really excited about this opportunity,” he says. “We desperately need to align state spending with economic reality.”
For all the success he has enjoyed, he is acutely aware of the importance of his UNH education. “The University gave me the base and the opportunity to be where I am today,” he says. Reflecting on that formative experience, he advises current students to “get involved with the UNH community. Whether it is clubs or activities, your involvement will allow you to meet people you may not otherwise encounter. College is not only about academics, it’s also about learning and growing through experience that will form you as a person.”
Smith lives by his words. He is an active member of the New Fairfield Lions Club and a Melvin Jones Fellow, and recently he agreed to become more involved with UNH by joining the College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board.
Posted Winter 2012