Dick Smith’s first exposure to rugby was on a famous football field - Stagg Field at the University of Chicago. It was March, 1964, and thanks to an ad in the Chicago Tribune sports section, inviting interested parties to check out the then-unfamiliar sport of rugby, Smith, a 25 year-old stockbroker recently relocated from the east coast, decided to spend that Saturday at a rugby match. It was to be the first of many.
Born in 1939 in Jersey City, NJ, Smith grew up in humble circumstances on the New Jersey shore. His father, “Big” Ed, was an ironworker, his mother Rita, a homemaker; Dick was the eldest of three siblings. Possessed of all-American good looks, he was poster boy for the Ocean County Boy Scouts, as well as a fine athlete who excelled in multiple sports in high school, including football and track. A graduate at 17, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps; by the time he had served his three year commitment, he was husband to Madalenne, and father to a baby girl named Kim.
After four years commuting two hours each way to Wall Street during the week, and running his light hauling business every weekend, Smith moved the family to Chicago, where he would work on LaSalle Street for the next fourteen years. A second daughter, Paige, was born in 1964, around the same time that her father was being introduced to rugby. As Paige likes to tell it, two legends were born that year.
After that first fateful rugby match, during which he was pressed into service at halftime with the sage advice to “Follow that big guy, and tackle anyone with the ball,” Smith was smitten. The speed, the fluidity, the controlled violence, and the post-game camaraderie made rugby the ideal sport for him, and he would spend the next decade building one of the great clubs in American rugby, the Chicago Lions.
As one of the founders of the club, and as Player/President for seven years, Smith led the Lions to a dominant position in Midwest rugby. Many others would build on this foundation, most notably Tyke Nollman, Ed Kane, and Keith Brown, guiding the Lions to their current position as one of the premier clubs in the country, but no one loomed larger in the early history of the Chicago Lions than Dick Smith. Whether lining the fields, playing on the first XV, hosting their first international tourists, (Richmond RFC), or winging their way to Europe for their own first tour, he was a driving force, always working to make the Lions a first-class organization.
In 1970, he was the first recipient of the Club’s “Lowry Lion,” awarded annually to the team member selected by the Club as having made the greatest contribution both on and off the playing field. During his tenure as Lions President, Smith also made time to help organize the second Special Olympics, held in Chicago in 1970. Needless to say, many Lions were pressed into service for the event. Both the Lowry Lion, and a letter from Special Olympics founder, Eunice Shriver, thanking him for his service on behalf of Special Olympians, remain treasured possessions.
When his only son, Richard, was born in 1974, there was much jubilation, and the team joined Dick at Durkin's Tavern to celebrate the occasion. Rumor has it that a future president of the club arrived at the party wearing a diaper and little else, but no photographic evidence has been presented to support this (admittedly delightful) tale.
Smith served two terms as President of the Midwest Union and, in that capacity, facilitated the formation of the United States Rugby Football Union (USARFU), now known as USA Rugby, proudly affixing his signature to the Union’s Charter on June 7th, 1975. A year later, he served as Manager for the second international played by the Eagles, against France, devoting countless hours to the planning and organization of the match. So many hours, in fact, that it became necessary to find new employment when all was said and done. A small price to pay for a first-class test match, most ruggers would agree. Ten years later, he managed the Eagles 7’s team that won the Plate in the 1986 Hong Kong Sevens – the best showing by a North American team to that date.
After relocating to Seattle in 1977, Smith served two terms as President of the Old Puget Sound Beach RFC; he also helped form the Pacific Northwest Union, and was a selector for their representative side, the Loggers. As the glory days of his playing career faded into memory, he put together a touring side of old boys, the USA Owls; the team played social matches while supporting the US Eagles on their international tours. The first Owls tour, to London in ‘77, lives on in oral history and song (or at least it should) – future media mogul Jon Prusmack was captain of that Owls team, and several members of the squad made international news by rescuing a handful of Londoners from a restaurant fire. When the Owls played domestically, they called themselves the “Olde Peculiars,” a name that was perhaps more apt than one might imagine.
In 1985, Dick married Carolie, and became a father for a fourth time, welcoming daughter Callan in 1986. She would one day, quite fittingly, work for the USRFF, proving that the love of rugby runs deep in the Smith family.
As a US rugby supporter, few can rival Smith’s mileage and passport stamps. Be it the old Inter-Territorial Tournaments, Golden Oldies, Rugby World Cup, Hong Kong Sevens, USA Sevens, or the World Rugby Classic in Bermuda, he was, and is, a constant presence at the sport’s preeminent events. But time and energy were not the only things he contributed to the sport; he has made significant financial investments as well. A longtime sponsor of Team America (now the Classic Eagles), Smith also provided much of the seed money for the development of the IRB-sanctioned pitch in Seattle. He continues to contribute financially to both the Chicago Lions and Seattle/OPSB to assist in their continued growth and success, as well as to USA Rugby and the USRFF. He has personally hosted countless itinerant rugby players, providing food, shelter, employment, and the occasional libation.
While seemingly all rugby, all the time, Smith has, in fact, spent over fifty years in the securities industry, starting on Wall Street in 1959. He opened his own firm, R.W. Smith & Associates, in 1985, a municipal bond inter-dealer broker, now with 7 offices across the country. He currently serves as Chairman of the company now known simply as RW Smith. Dick also has four grandchildren who bring him almost as much joy as rugby.
As is the case with so many of his co-inductees, this profile barely scratches the surface of his influence on US rugby. Suffice it to say that to peruse the list of Dick Smith’s accomplishments is to know the story of US rugby in the latter half of the 20th century, but, as he would tell you, it was not for the accolades or recognition that he did what he did, but simply for love of the game. Rugby has been the great joy and passion of his life; the friendships formed and the memories made over a lifetime in the sport are his true rewards. As he is inducted into the Hall of Fame, he takes with him every one of those mates, “souls,” as Tennyson wrote, “That ever with a frolic welcome took the thunder and the sunshine,” whose fierceness on the pitch, and bonhomie off, made these last fifty years the best of times.