Robert H. Smith dead: Son of the builder who helped inspire the Solomon character

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Update, 2:05 p.m., Dec. 31, 2009: Just-posted commentary on the Washington Post’s less-than-complete obit of Robert Smith. – D.R.

imageRobert H. Smith, a Washington philanthropist and developer, died yesterday, and the Washington Business Journal already has run his obituary, with another coming shortly from the Washington Post. He will be most remembered for the Crystal City complex and his charities.

So how does this connect up with The Solomon Scandals? Neither Robert nor his father, Charles Smith, was Sy Solomon the builder. Charles did come as close as anyone. But it was Robert’s signature that appeared on a lease involving the late Sen. Abraham Ribicoff, a hidden investor in a CIA-occupied building in Arlington, Virginia.

The novel is just that—fiction. A mix of the Ribicoff investment, however, and the Skyline high-rise collapse, along with other history, inspired the book. And the Smiths had connections with both events. Did they cause the collapse directly or indirectly? That is a question I’ll leave to other to answer.

What can be said, in fairness to the Smith family, is that the Washington area is much better off from their millions in philanthropic contributions to George Washington University, the University of Maryland (the Robert H. Smith School of Business) and others, including the Newseum and important Jewish charities such as the Community Center, the Hebrew Home and a day school.

Charles Smith died at 94, on Dec. 30, 1995, and Robert Smith died at 81 on Dec. 29, 2009, following a stroke—14 years later, short of a day.

Related: Charles E. Smith’s obituary (PDF) and a review of Conversations with Papa Charlie, David Bruce Smith’s book about his grandfather.

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