Richard Alan Smith- Boston has lost a captain of industry and a leading light in philanthropy. Richard Alan (Dick) Smith, born November 1, 1924 to Philip and Marion Smith, died peacefully in his Chestnut Hill home surrounded by family, on Wednesday, September 9th.
Richard was raised in Brookline, MA. He attended the Runkle School, Browne & Nichols School, and graduated from Harvard College in 1946 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering in two and a half years as part of the naval program. Subsequently, he joined his father in the family business, Midwest Drive-in, later called General Drive-In. When his father died unexpectedly in 1961, Richard was thrust into the CEO role at the newly public company, which would be renamed General Cinema Corporation (GCC) in 1964. Richard guided the focus of the company toward movie theaters in shopping centers, which was then a novel idea. Under his leadership, General Cinema built the nation’s first shopping center theater in Framingham, Massachusetts. Sensing the opportunity, Richard built the company throughout the 60s and 70s into the nation’s largest chain of movie theaters, with over 400 locations and 1,200 screens.
In search of diversification from the theater business and having shed the company’s foray into fast food by the mid-1960s, Richard made a series of transformational investments, building what ultimately became three NYSE public companies: General Cinema Corp, the Neiman Marcus Group, and Harcourt General. His first important acquisition was in 1967, the American Beverage Corp. of Ohio. This Pepsi Cola bottling franchise became the cornerstone of 22 years acquiring and building the nation’s largest independent bottler of Pepsi, Dr Pepper and 7-Up, launching the Sunkist brand of soda along the way. In the 80s, in the spirit of further diversification, he led a series of significant investments in other public companies and ultimately acquired a position in Carter Hawley Hale. While profitably divesting his earlier stakes, it was the position in Carter Hawley Hale, acquired initially as a white knight in 1985, which was spun into the controlling interest in the newly created Neiman Marcus Group in 1987. After selling the beverage operations in the late 80s, Richard sought another large operating opportunity for his portfolio. In 1991, he acquired the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich publishing and information businesses.
Richard developed a well-deserved reputation for savvy timing and astute insight. He focused on strategy, acquisitions, and investments and led a talented team of executives. In the 90s, the holding company structure was split into three separate public companies. He then began a process to opportunistically take the family’s interests private. He proved to be an exceptional seller of businesses for record prices. The beverage business was sold in 1989, General Cinema in 2000, Harcourt in 2001, and Neiman’s in 2005. His record was extraordinary; he was recognized in the book “The Outsiders” for his exceptionalism. When he finally retired from active involvement in business, he said with a gleam in his eye, “we all just had so much fun.”
Richard was a leading figure in Boston philanthropy. As he stepped back from his active public company life, he concentrated more of his efforts on philanthropy. He was valued for his wisdom, acumen and mentorship as he served on several boards. Guided by a philosophy of engaged philanthropy, he led by example and gave generously of both his valuable time and financial capacity, leaving his community and family an extraordinary legacy. Among his proudest accomplishments is the gift he left to his children, grandchildren, and their families – the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation. Today, multiple generations work together on the foundation board, along with its professional staff, to guide the strategy and grant making of the foundation.
Richard was a lifelong believer in the power of biomedical research to transform the human condition. As an early supporter of Dr. Sidney Farber, he joined the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Board of Trustees in 1962. He would become a seminal leader in the Institute’s history as President and Chair of Dana-Farber’s board from 1973-1982. Along with his wife and partner in life Susan, he became Dana Farber’s largest individual donor. Additionally, he served on the Joslin Diabetes Center’s board from 2002 onward, the Beth Israel Hospital board as a Trustee and Honorary Trustee, and the United Cerebral Palsy Research and Educational Foundation. He was a significant supporter of leading institutions such as Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, and early career biomedical researchers throughout New England.
Richard believed fervently in the importance of America’s leading universities and their unique role in the country and the world, and first among these was his alma mater Harvard University. He served as a Fellow of the Harvard Corporation from 1991-2000 and on the Board of the Harvard Management Company and the Board of Overseers for many years prior. The Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center opened in 2018 and is a testament to his dedication and decades of service to the University as a whole. He also was a trustee at Buckingham, Browne, and Nichols, Beaver Country Day School and the Park School, and a supporter of Tufts University. He received honorary degrees from both Harvard and Boston College.
He gave generously to Jewish causes, chairing the CJP Board of Managers from 1989-1995 and serving as Vice Chair of Temple Israel in the early 70s. He joined the Facing History and Ourselves board in 1979, and chaired the organization from 1989-1995 as Facing History and Ourselves grew to national prominence.
He served on the Boston Symphony Orchestra board from 1972 until 1996, when he was made a Lifetime Trustee. In his later years he served on the board of Year-Up. While most of Richard’s civic leadership was in the not-for-profit sector, he also served on a few corporate boards, including as lead director for First National Bank of Boston from 1973-1982 and at Liberty Mutual Insurance Company from 1975-1997.
Richard is survived by his three children and spouses, Amy Smith Berylson and John Berylson, Robert A. Smith and Dana Smith, and Debra Smith Knez; eight grandchildren, Jennifer Berylson Block and Jonathan Block, James T. Berylson, Elizabeth Berylson Katz and Robert Katz, Jessica and Andrew Knez, Madeleine, Ryan, and Jackson Smith; six great-grandchildren, Benjamin, Zachary, and Alexander Block, Thomas, Sara, and William Katz; his sister Nancy Lurie Marks, and many nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his beautiful, devoted wife of 63 years, Susan Flax Smith in 2016 and son James A. Smith in 1970.