Frank Van Dyne Smith III died August 23rd, 2019, in Camden County, MO. He was born November 25th, 1947, in Fort Wayne, IN, the only child of Frank and Katherine Burkhardt Smith.
He grew up in Louisville, KY, with summers spent in Kansas City following his parents’ divorce. Frank was educated at Catholic boys’ schools and Saint Louis University, religious instruction that may well have influenced his decision to get married while still a junior in college. He majored in philosophy with a minor in art history, then served in the National Guard while earning his law degree from Washington University.
After clerking for Judge Solbert Wasserstrom of the Missouri Court of Appeals, Frank went to work for the Office of the General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. While still a young attorney, he led the government’s effort to integrate Kansas City’s public schools, a complex, multi-year case that more senior lawyers in the office had declined to take on personally. His team successfully demonstrated the city’s persistent de facto segregation and diversion of resources to white schools, resulting in a series of court-ordered remedies, important steps in the still unfinished business of desegregation.
In the mid-70s, after the end of his first marriage, Frank formed a close friendship with a colleague in his office, Connie Barclay, another young attorney recently divorced. Around this time he also lost a little weight and grew a cool ’70s beard. Despite a first date in which Frank managed to knock a full scoop of ice cream off two successive cones, Frank and Connie fell in love. They married in 1978 and had three children, Frank IV, Danny, and Sarah.
Frank had a natural skill with people and a gift for organizational leadership, and he quickly rose within the federal ranks, serving as Regional Chief Counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services in New York and Dallas. He was a member of both the Texas and Missouri Bar Associations. After a brief stint at a private firm, he returned to public service for the duration of his career. When the Social Security Administration was re-established as an independent agency in 1995, Frank became the Regional Chief Counsel for its Region VII, headquartered in Kansas City, and played a key role in establishing a capable legal organization for the new agency.
He continuously mentored both new and seasoned attorneys and also stepped in to lead several of SSA’s regional General Counsel offices, including in New York, Denver, Dallas, and Seattle, before being called to Washington to serve in the second-in-command role as Social Security’s Acting Deputy General Counsel. He used to joke that he’d held so many positions that it looked like he couldn’t keep a job. Prior to retiring, Frank took on the role of Assistant Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, where his innovative and progressive leadership had a direct effect on the lives of many disabled Americans and their families.
Frank was a loving and dedicated father to his kids, serving as Cubmaster for their Cub Scout pack, encouraging their creative pursuits, tirelessly answering their questions and listening to their stories, always ready to offer a joke or slightly off-key song. He and Connie were best friends and their marriage a true partnership of equals. He had a warm smile, an infectious laugh, and could engage in a lively, but never pedantic, conversation about nearly any topic. He had the kind of inclusive intelligence that made you feel smarter by proximity.
As a teenager, he spent weekends in quiet contemplation at a Trappist monastery and wondered if he might become a priest. As an adult, he drifted away from religion, but maintained a deeply humanist sense of morality and profound curiosity about the world and cosmos. He modeled for his children an undying appetite to learn and grow, a willingness to admit mistakes, and compassion and responsibility for other people.
He believed for decades that health care is a basic human right. He was appalled at the corruption and cruelty of our current administration but maintained a pragmatic sense of optimism for America’s future. He was inspired by growing movements for environmental, social, and economic justice.
Frank and Connie left Kansas City when they retired in 2009, and thereafter divided their time between La Quinta, CA, near their adult children, and the Lake of the Ozarks, near Connie’s relatives. Frank continued to work part-time reviewing discrimination cases for the U.S. Postal Service, then in the last few years dedicated himself fully to enjoying retirement.
He worked on many home projects, read voraciously, completed hundreds of crosswords, savored movies and TV, traveled with Connie to Europe, the Mediterranean, Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii, and relished lots of time with his family, including his grandkids. He died suddenly and quickly with Connie, his partner of 41 years, at his side. He is survived by his wife, their children, daughters-in-law Katherine and Lauren, and grandchildren Harper and Declan.
Frank was cremated in accordance with his wishes. There will be no formal memorial ceremony, but a lifetime’s worth of treasured memories. In lieu of flowers, the family encourages contributions be made in Frank’s honor to one of his favorite nonprofit organizations: the Sierra Club, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, or the International Rescue Committee. Cremation rites were accorded under the care and direction of the Cantlon Otterness & Viets Funeral Home of Buffalo.