- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 20, 2007

MIAMI (AP) — Former Sen. George A. Smathers, a polished, dashing politician who forged friendships with presidents, waged war against communism, resisted civil rights legislation and was an early voice cautioning about Fidel Castro’s rise to power, died yesterday. He was 93.

The Florida Democrat, who served two terms in the House and three in the Senate, suffered a stroke Monday, said his son, Bruce. He lived in Indian Creek Village, an exclusive island community outside Miami.

Mr. Smathers was among a new breed of congressmen — along with John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon — who arrived on Capitol Hill in the late 1940s with a worldliness that few before them had brought. Shaped by World War II duty in the Marines, Mr. Smathers used his more than two decades in Washington to focus on international issues and fight the spread of communism.

Charming and so handsome in his tailored suits that his opponents called him “Gorgeous George,” Mr. Smathers seemed to win friends wherever he went.

At Mr. Kennedy’s wedding rehearsal dinner, Mr. Smathers spoke on behalf of the groom. When Lyndon B. Johnson suffered his first heart attack, Mr. Smathers was at his side. And when Mr. Nixon sought a refuge from the White House, it was Mr. Smathers who sold him his Key Biscayne home.

Like other Southern Democrats, he supported voting rights for blacks but sought to weaken other equal rights measures or simply vote against them, as he did with the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. He said such matters were better left in the hands of the people.

“I don’t like bigotry and intolerance, but they do exist and I don’t think you’re going to get them out by passing laws,” Mr. Smathers said, according to Brian Lewis Crispell’s 1999 biography “Testing the Limits: George Armistead Smathers and Cold War America.”

He opposed Thurgood Marshall’s nomination to the Supreme Court. He called the Brown v. Board of Education decision a “clear abuse of judicial power.” And when Martin Luther King was jailed in St. Augustine, Mr. Smathers offered to pay the minister’s bail, but only if he left the state.

His expertise on Latin America made him an early advocate for the people of that region. He pushed the Alliance for Progress, which pumped billions of dollars in additional aid to the region, and was among the earliest and loudest voices cautioning about Mr. Castro’s communist leanings, urging a hard-line approach to Cuba and a total embargo on its goods.

“We have a moral as well as a legal responsibility to pursue a policy that will lead to Castro’s downfall,” Mr. Smathers once told the New York Times.

Mr. Smathers was born Nov. 13, 1913, in Atlantic City, N.J. His father was a federal judge; his uncle a U.S. senator. His family moved to Miami when he was 6. After earning undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida, Mr. Smathers served as an assistant U.S. district attorney, then entered the Marines. After his discharge, he served a short stint in the U.S. Attorney General’s Office before pursuing politics.

Mr. Smathers’ first marriage, to the former Rosemary Townley, ended in divorce shortly after his departure from politics; she died in 2002. He is survived by his second wife, the former Carolyn Hyder, to whom he’d been married since the early 1970s; his son Bruce, a former secretary of state in Florida who lives in Jacksonville; another son, John, of Arlington; a sister, Virginia Myers, of Coral Gables; and three grandchildren.

A funeral service is scheduled for Jan. 29 in Bal Harbour.

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