SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed today world-renowned presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, who has served as director of four presidential libraries, to head the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum being built in Springfield, Illinois.
“No one has more experience in successfully leading presidential libraries than Richard Norton Smith,” said Governor Blagojevich. “He was my first choice to head the Library and Museum we are building to honor Abraham Lincoln, and I am ecstatic that he has accepted.”
Smith has been director of the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas since December 2001. He was director of the Gerald R. Ford Museum and Library in Lansing, Michigan from 1996 through 2001, and was named the first executive director of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation in 2000. From 1993 to 1996 Smith was director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and the Reagan Center for Public Affairs in Simi Valley, California. Smith was director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa from 1987 to 1993, and during most of 1990 did double duty as director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Center in Abilene, Kansas.
“I am profoundly grateful to Governor Blagojevich for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Smith, “and a chance to be part of an institution without equal.”
Perhaps best known as a historian and biographer, Smith is currently working on a biography of Nelson A. Rockefeller to be published in 2006. His first major book, Thomas E. Dewey and His Times, was a finalist for the 1983 Pulitzer Prize. Smith has also written An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover (1984); The Harvard Century: The Making of a University to a Nation (1986); Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation (1993); and The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick (1997), a book about the Chicago Tribune publisher which received the prestigious Goldsmith Prize awarded by Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School.
Smith, 49, graduated from Harvard University in 1975 with a degree in government. Following graduation 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 Senator Edward Brooke and two years later went to work for Senator Bob Dole, with whom he has been closely associated ever since. He collaborated with Robert and Elizabeth Dole on their joint autobiography, Unlimited Partners (1998, revised 1996); assisted Dole on his 1998 book of political humor, Laughing (Almost) All the Way to the White House; and a sequel, Great Presidential Wit (2001).
Smith will oversee the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum now under construction in Springfield, Illinois. It will be staffed and operated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, a government agency that currently safeguards the state’s Lincoln collection and operates more than 60 historic sites and memorials, many with ties to Lincoln. The complex, which features separate library and museum buildings as well as a welcome center and parking deck, will showcase the State of Illinois’ 47,000-item Abraham Lincoln collection. The library building is scheduled to open in spring 2004 with the museum open by late 2004. The restored 1890 Union Station, directly across the street from the museum, will be rehabilitated for use as a visitor welcome center and a 500-car parking deck will be constructed to serve the complex. The project is being funded by the State of Illinois, the federal government and the City of Springfield.