Born on July 23, 1926, in Oklahoma City, James Vernon Smith was the son of Fred O. and Josephine Meder Smith. Educated in the Tuttle public schools, the future congressman attended the Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts at Chickasha. In 1946 Smith married Mary Belle Couch. The couple had three children, Jay, Sarah, and Lee Ann.
A farmer-cattleman and Republican, Smith was elected as a U.S. Representative to the Ninetieth Congress in 1966. The freshman solon served on the Armed Services Committee, an interesting assignment in light of the fact that he had been a conscientious objector during the Korean War. As an opponent of tax increases and a growing federal bureaucracy, he gave his first speech to Congress on the economic benefits to be gained from closing the Office of Economic Opportunity. Awarded the bulldog award of the National Associated Businessmen for guarding the treasury, he was also lauded for his efforts in agriculture and for veterans.
Following redistricting of the state in the late 1960s, Smith faced congressional colleague Tom Steed, who was seeking his eleventh term in his reelection bid in 1968. The venerable Steed won. The following year Pres. Richard Nixon nominated and the Senate confirmed Smith to head the Farmers Home Administration (FHA), a position he would hold until 1972. During his time as director of the FHA, the agency tripled its assistance to rural communities through farmer, housing, and community facilities programs. During Smith's tenure with the FHA more emphasis was placed on residential loans and water system development for rural areas. By the time of his resignation in 1972, the FHA was the largest direct lending agency in the federal government.
On June 23, 1973, while working in his wheat field near Chickasha, Smith was killed in an accidental fire. He was interred in Fairlawn Cemetery in Chickasha.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774-1996 (Alexandria, Va.: CQ Staff Directories, 1997). U.S. House of Representatives, Tributes to James V. Smith, Congressional Record (11 July 1973), Vol. 119, Pt.18.
Carolyn G. Hanneman
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