R.J. Smith – In Memoriam


The Competitive Enterprise Institute has lost a treasured friend and mentor, Robert J. Smith. All my thoughts about R.J. run to superlatives. He was a gifted lecturer, scholar, writer, and humorist. In any gathering of colleagues or friends, R.J.’s warmth, wit, and insight always made the occasion better.

Working in the first Reagan administration’s Council on Environmental Quality, R.J. wrote the original treatise on private voluntary stewardship as the humane and more effective alternative to punitive regulation.

For many years, R.J. directed CEI’s private conservation program. He was the 2011 recipient of CEI’s Julian Simon Memorial Award—a grateful thank you to R.J. for decades of work explaining how the institutions of liberty enable the “ultimate resource” of human ingenuity to conserve wildlife and scenic wonders.

Like many others, I marveled at R.J.’s ability to lecture impromptu without notes, speaking in well-organized, fully formed paragraphs for as long as the occasion required. R.J. once told me that he spent his childhood reading, not watching television. And it showed. He seemed to know something important about anything important.

A lifelong liberty advocate, R.J. had studied, collaborated, and mingled with the leading lights of Austrian economics and libertarianism since at least the early 1960s. He had stories to share about Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and the Ayn Rand circle. Whatever the topic, R.J. was a memorable and funny raconteur.

R.J.’s passions included bird watching, hiking, fine wines, home cooked meals, country music, Yiddish humor, and the camaraderie of friends united by shared dedication to liberty. He kept us in his thoughts, as we know from the items of interest or levity he frequently emailed right up to his last weeks.

I and many others here at CEI will miss him dearly.