Richard Norton Smith: An Ordinary Man
May 19, 2023
The Hauenstein Center and our partners at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum were excited to announce the long-awaited final stop for the premiere book tour celebrating the release of An Ordinary Man: The Surprising Life and Historic Presidency of Gerald R. Ford. Joining us for the closing keynote of the 9th annual Midwest History Conference, this event featured a deep and insightful conversation between two nationally renowned West Michigan historians. Together, author Richard Norton Smith and Hank Meijer, executive chairman of Meijer Inc. and vice-chairman and a trustee of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, explored Smith’s new book about our 38th President and Grand Rapids’ own, Gerald R. Ford.
Richard Norton Smith
Richard Norton Smith is a nationally recognized authority on the American presidency and a familiar face to viewers of C-SPAN, as well as The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Following graduation from Harvard in 1975, he worked as a White House intern and a speechwriter for Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke. In 1979 he went to work for Senator Bob Dole, with whom he collaborated on several volumes of autobiography and political humor.
Smith’s 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), Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation (1993), The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick, which received the prestigious Goldsmith Prize awarded by Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School, and has been described by Hilton Kramer as “the best book ever written about the press.” In October 2014 Random House published On His Own Terms, a monumental life of Nelson Rockefeller described by Douglas Brinkley as “one of the greatest cradle to grave biographies written in the past 50 years,” and was tagged in advance by Amazon as one of the fall’s Twenty Big Books in Biography and Memoir.
Between 1987 and 2001, Mr. Smith served as Director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa; the Dwight D. Eisenhower Center in Abilene, Kansas; the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and the Reagan Center for Public Affairs in Simi Valley, California; the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and Library in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, Michigan respectively.
In December 2001, Mr. Smith became director of the new Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. There he supervised the construction of the Institute’s $11.3 million permanent home and launched a Presidential Lecture Series and other high-profile programs. In October 2003, he was appointed the first Executive Director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, a four-building complex in Springfield, Illinois. The Library opened to the public in 2004 and the Museum opened the next year.
Much in demand as a speaker, in 2009 Smith was invited by Congress to be one of two historians addressing it on the two hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Earlier, millions of television viewers heard him deliver the final eulogy at Gerald Ford’s Michigan funeral, a role he repeated at Betty Ford’s request when she was laid to rest beside her husband in 2011. Twice a year he personally leads historical tours (www.presidentsandpatriots.com) emphasizing American presidents and history rarely found in the textbooks.
Hank Meijer is executive chairman of Meijer, Inc. in Grand Rapids. He joined the family retail business at the age of 11 as a grocery clerk.
After serving as a reporter for Detroit-area newspapers he became editor and later publisher of a weekly newspaper in Plymouth, Michigan. He rejoined Meijer in 1979 as assistant advertising director.
His first book, a biography of his grandfather, Hendrik Meijer, appeared in 1985. His second, a biography of Senator Arthur Vandenberg, was published in 2017 by University of Chicago Press.
Meijer, Inc. operates a chain of more than 260 combination supermarket-discount department stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin.
Hank is vice-chairman of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation. He also serves on the executive committees of the Food Marketing Institute and the National Constitution Center. He is a member of the University of Michigan President’s Advisory Group, the Ford School of Public Policy board of advisors, The Henry Ford board of directors, and the Mackinac Island State Parks Commission.