Tuesday, September 07, 2010

My mentor, Ralph Smeed has passed ... Godspeed

By Laird Maxwell

The late, great Ralph Smeed, 88, will be portrayed by the media as a good-natured libertarian; and rightly so.

This blog post is my simple tribute to Mr. Smeed who died of pancreatic cancer on Sept. 7, 2010.

I thought the best way to honor him was to tell some of the "Smeed" stories so those who are interested will hopefully have a fuller picture of this great man by piecing together the mosaic of these stories.

Before he passed, Ralph had the collection of his columns sent to the printers. His book titled: "No Wonder We Lose" will soon be available. And a special note of gratitude goes to Phil Hurley, who did the massive work to prepare Ralph's book for publication.

At My Age ...

Ralph and I were at a local eatery. Wherever we went, it was not unusual for the lasses to flirt with Ralph and this time was no exception.

After a good amount friendly banter, Ralph puts his arm around her and says, "I am most flattered young lady ... but at my age, I cannot take 'Yes' for an answer!"

I'm Working on That ...

We were on some project to "save the republic." This time we were working with the Idaho Christian Coalition. Ralph was grousing about the G-D statists and the G-D politicians, and the G-D businessmen that where slopping at the public trough.

The young female Christian activist who stood no taller than a stack of Bibles tugged on Ralph's sleeve.

"Ralph?" she said.

"Yes," he replied.


"Yes, what?"


"I hear you, what do you want to say?"

She replied, "Ralph, you have been calling God for some time now. He hears you. What do you want to say to Him?"

Ralph busted out in a joyous laugh. "I'm working on that."

Lightning ...

Ralph and I were proof-reading copy for our pamphlet "Proper Role of Government" by Ezra Taft Benson. (30,000 printed)

We both loved to spend hours fighting each other over wordsmith-ing.

Ralph's best line for this struggle was, "The difference between the right word and the not so right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug."

Listening ...

Ralph's mentor was FEE's founder, Leonard Reed. Just last August, Ralph was asking me about re-titling a column he penned many years ago on the topic of "Listening," inspired by a conversation with Reed. His original title was aptly named "The Art of Aggressive Listening."

After some spit-balling, we concluded that "The Aggressive Art of Listening" had more punch.

Dismal Polling …

At Ralph's urging, I began an extended survey that continues today. Whenever engaged in a meaningful conversation with a government educated college student(s) or aged thereabout, my two-part poll question is: 1. Have you heard or learned about Karl Marx in your school, and briefly what do you recall about him? 2. How about Adam Smith?

Try it. The results are more dismal than the dismal science. As Ralph would say, "No wonder we lose."

Better, Don't You Think? ...

Ralph and his long-time friend former Idaho State Senator Stan Hawkins were engaged in a wide-ranging discussion about saving the republic. Both of these freedom fighters understand that we are indeed "standing on the shoulders of giants." We draw upon their wisdom as we daily pursue the quest for liberty.

One of the giants is Lord Acton who is famously remembered for saying: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

It is not often that one can take such an historic quote and make it better. Stan mentioned a different quote that he had come across recently, Ralph and Stan combined the two by adding: "And, power attracts the corruptible."

Right Wings? …

Ralph helped arrange for William F. Buckley to speak in Idaho. Ralph presented Buckley with a top-notch model airplane modified with two right wings attached to the fuselage.

Ralph's Pledge of Allegiance

At many functions Ralph would recite the following, loud enough for those around him to hear:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to the DEMOCRACY for which it stands, one nation under G-A-A-A-W-W-D, indivisible, with liberty and justice for some."

The "In"Circle

Ralph frequently mentioned the Idaho GOP "insiders" like to form a circle so the can kiss each others butts and so nobody feels left out.


One of Ralph's best readerboard messages was:

Under Democrat Rule
Man Exploits Man
Under Republican Rule
It's Just the Reverse


NOTE: I spent some time talking with Ralph's close friend, former Idaho State Senator Stan Hawkins.

Following are the stories he told:

Old Fart ...

After hours at the Idaho Statehouse, on the Senate Floor, Ralph, Stan and I were huddled around Stan's desk discussing how the republic was chipped away during that day's session.

We broke from our liberty huddle and Ralph headed for the main door, passing audible gas sequenced with every step.

"Ralph," Stan called, "was that a motion?"

"No," Ralph replied without missing an audible step, "that was a call of the Senate!"

How are things ...

Again, after hours at the Idaho Statehouse, Ralph Stan, myself and a few others were huddling around Stan's desk on the Senate Floor.

This night, however, seated at his desk was uber-liberal and environmentalist whacko, long-serving RINO Republican Senator Laird Noh.

Ralph walks over to Noh's desk, slaps his hand down on the desk then asks, "Laird Noh! How are things in Leningrad?"

Buying or Selling ...

Former Senator Stan Hawkins recounts the first time he laid eyes on Ralph. Stan, at the time was serving in the Idaho House. He walked across the rotunda to the Senate side and there was Ralph in the foyer waiting for someone.

In walks the lead lobbyist for the now-defunct construction giant Morrison-Knudson, Dick Chastain.

Ralph bellows, "Chastain, you old son-of-a-bitch," as he gathers the lobbyist into an arm-around-the-shoulder hearty handshake, "Are you down here buying influence or selling it?"

Prepared by the spirit ...

Ralph was a young man attending the University of Idaho in Moscow, ID, commonly referred to these days as the People's Republic of Moscow by Ralph and especially his good friend and rare free-market economics professor there, Jack Wenders.

Ralph's father was quite sick with what appeared to be a heart condition.

One night, Ralph couldn't sleep and was overwhelmed with the feelings that something grave was wrong at home.

He ran to the nearest phone. And, remember in the '40's phones were not commonplace. The phone had no dial tone.

Ralph went to the next place where he knew a phone was located. No tone there, either.

He went to a private residence where they had a phone. Woke them up and asked to use it. Again, no tone. Ralph thought the phones must be turned off at night.

At daybreak, Ralph ran the telephone trap line again, with no luck.

Someone got through and called up to the university to leave a message for Ralph that his father has passed last night.

As Ralph told Stan this story, they knew Ralph had been spiritually prepared for that sad news.

It Would Be Up ...

Ralph replaced his "world-famous" manually letter-change readerboard with an electronic message center.

He gave the readboard to Stan who hauled it across Southern Idaho to Ucon which is just north of Idaho Falls.

Stan still, after years, awaits issuance of his government allowed free-speech permit before erecting the readerboard in its new location.

Stan went to visit while Ralph was in the hospital.

Ralph told Stan, "I made a mistake. If I sold you that sign instead of giving it to you ... it would be up already."

Made Me Feel Clean ...

The Smeed's were a successful, prominent pioneer family in southwestern Idaho. After Ralph's dad passed, he operated the family business which was a livestock sale yard. There were a good number of employees.

One such cowboy who worked for Ralph, his father had worked for Ralph's father.

One evening, this cowboy came home and caught his wife in bed with a local Indian man.

A fight broke out and the Indian kicked the crap out of the cowboy. The cowboy went to his truck, pulled out a shotgun and killed the Indian. He was promptly arrested and charged with 1st degree murder.

Hardscrabble with nowhere to turn and limited knowledge of such legal matters, the cowboy's next of kin showed up at Ralph's doorstep asking for help.

Obviously, this put Ralph in a bad spot. The man was clearly guilty. Ralph counseled that the cowboy needed a proper attorney. As the case developed the prosecutor was willing to accept 2nd degree murder for a guilty plea. But what did that mean? Should they accept the deal or go to trial and maybe get manslaughter. They ask Ralph what they should do?

Ralph, with the next of kin in tow, met with the prosecutor to flesh out the details. The prosecutor agreed to 2nd degree murder with 10 years to life, with the possibility of parole if he conducted himself well.

He was a model prisoner. He was granted parole after serving 10 years. He was promptly hired by the very prison to run the prison farms.

"It made me feel clean, for the first time in my life," said Ralph to Stan.

Ralph had gone beyond the call of duty to see with his own eyes a man redeemed.

I hate coffee ...

Former Idaho State Senator Stan Hawkins and his lovely wife, Linn, are practicing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Ralph and the Hawkins frequently dined together at the local Boise restaurants during the legislative sessions.

More often than not, as they were sliding and getting situated into the booth, the waitress would approach and ask, "Coffee, anyone?"

"Coffee? I hate coffee," Ralph would snort. "But, I'll have a cup anyway. I like to strike a blow against the Mormons!"

The Great Smeed/Wenders Debate Egad! ...

Ralph and his good friend Jack Wenders had a decades long debate. The question posed: "If you could change only one educational institution to free-market/liberty studies, which would have the most profound effect ... K-12 schools or institutions of higher learning."

Wenders, a free-market economics professor at the University of Idaho argued that K-12 is the best approach since the formative years will inoculate young minds from the socialist influences of the higher institutions.

Ralph argues that it can't be accomplished since it is the higher institutions that teach the K-12 teachers.

Anyway, like two dogs fighting over a bone, this debate never let up. It is hypothetical and likely irreconcilable. They both would phone all of us in the liberty movement and notify us of the fine points they made the other day in pursuit of intellectual victory while trying to suck us into taking sides. And, it never ended.

If one could pull back afterlife's curtain, in the distance one might hear them still arguing ... jovially.

The Great Smeed/Hawkins Debate Egad, again …

Running concurrently with the Smeed/Wenders debate was the Smeed/Hawkins debate. Their argument related to the best way to effect public policy. Hawkins insisted that in order to best effect public policy the liberty movement needed to hold power in order to round up the necessary votes to change public policy.

Ralph vehemently disagreed. He argued that information and education would be the most powerful way to instill freedom and liberty into policy which was headed hell-bent in the wrong direction of statism.

Stan in retrospect and after being out of the legislature for some years has conceeded the debate. “Ralph was right,” Hawkins said.

Quotes (some from Smeed's readerboard):

1. If you don't believe in Christmas ... Don't take the day off.

2. Liberals want to change the world. Conservatives want to be left alone. Guess who'll win?

3. Celebrate Christmas this year ... Next year it might be illegal.

4. Libertarians communicate the way old people make love.

5. The problem with our side is we don't give moral support to those with whom we agree.

6. What have you done today to save the republic?

7. Don't just stand there ... UNDO something!

8. Aren’t you glad you don’t get all the government you pay for?

9. I'm against any monopoly of which I'm not a member.

10. A taxpayer voting for Barack Hussein Obama is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders.


1. Long before it was fashionable, Ralph believed it was strategically advantageous to: "Attack the Media." He was a friend of Reed Irvine who started Accuracy In Media, who was exposing Dan Rather long before Rather's fall from grace.

2. Ralph has spent decades supplying free-market/liberty literature to the Compass Collection Library housed on the College of Idaho campus. He was the moving force behind its establishment.

Godspeed, Ralph Smeed

(I'll keep adding more stories, so check back if you like)


Halli said...

Laird, thank you so much for these reminiscences. I knew and loved Ralph, but wasn't able to spend time with him as you were. Thank you for the wonderful stories. And what a great man.

Gale Pooley said...

Great words for our Great Friend of Liberty. Ralph and Jack can now resume their debate. Perhaps God will serve as moderator.

Aaron said...

Thanks for sharing, Laird. I know how much Mr. Smeed meant to you. With his determination and sense of humor, I'm sure he would want us to keep up the fight for liberty!

punchie said...

Laird - Your stories have saved the day for me. Knowing Ralph is gone - and realizing the huge void in conservative wisdom his passing leaves - depresses me no end. There are many good men and women, even a few truly amazing ones, to help take up the slack. But no one else is Ralph! On the other hand, there are so many great Ralph stories to remind us and buoy us up that it's hard not to be everlastingly grateful to have known the man. And I think Ralph would be pleased at the laughter your remembrances have evoked. I'll never forget Ralph, or lose my admiration for him. Thank you for sharing.

Curmudgeon said...

I had many enjoyable conversations with Ralph over the years especially after my father died. I will always be grateful for his generous support of AIM and for his great love for this country.

We have lost a true patriot and friend.

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