Drake University mourns the loss of former U.S. Congressman and distinguished alumnus Neal E. Smith, LW’50, who passed away on Nov. 2, 2021. Congressman Smith and his wife Bea generously supported Drake University throughout their lives, the impact of which is felt today by Drake University students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Smith was 101 years old.
Smith was born in Hedrick, Iowa, in 1920. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he put aside his college plans and joined the Army Air Force, serving for three-and-a-half years and earning a Purple Heart, nine Battle stars, and the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters.
With support from the G.I. Bill, Smith earned his undergraduate degree and enrolled at Drake Law School with his wife, Bea. While at Drake, he formed a Young Democrats Club and campaigned for President Harry S Truman. He later served as president of the National Young Democrats Organization.
The couple graduated in 1950 and went into private practice together. In 1958, Smith was elected to Congress. Called “the quintessential problem solver,” Smith worked within and across party lines to address the critical issues of his time in both domestic and foreign affairs. He authored or worked on landmark legislation, especially in the areas of agriculture, education, and small business. He was a member of Congress until 1995, becoming the longest-serving Iowan in the U.S. House of Representatives.
While in Congress, Smith sponsored legislation leading to the establishment of the Drake Constitutional Law Center in 1989. The center continues to host lectures bringing the nation’s leading experts in constitutional law to campus.
In addition, Smith was instrumental in helping the Law School receive congressional appropriations to support clinical programs. The appropriations also helped endow a 40,000-square-foot building—aptly named the Neal & Bea Smith Law Center—to house the legal clinic as well as Drake’s on-campus courtroom. In recognition of their support and public service, Neal and Bea Smith were named Drake Law Alumni of the Year in 1987.
Smith’s legacy also includes support for Iowa’s state universities and development of projects such as Saylorville Lake and a National Wildlife Refuge, which bear his name.
“Congressman Smith was the epitome of someone who devoted his all to transforming lives and strengthening communities,” said Drake University President Marty Martin. “He served the people of Iowa and the nation with humility and hard work for nearly four decades and created real, positive change. We are honored to carry on his distinguished legacy through the important work of the Neal & Bea Smith Law Center and the collection of his congressional papers archived at the Cowles Library.”