Marion Hartzog “Joe” Smoak died May 4 in Palm Beach. The former chief of protocol for Richard Nixon was two months shy of his 104th birthday.
The Hon. Marion Hartzog “Joe” Smoak, a soldier, teacher, diplomat and public servant, died May 4, 2020, at his daughter’s home in Palm Beach.
He was two months shy of his 104th birthday and was the oldest living alumnus of The Citadel.
Born July 8, 1916, in Aiken, South Carolina, he was the son of William Moore Smoak and Marion, nee Hartzog, Smoak.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1938 from The Citadel, where he was regimental commander, and an LL.B degree for the University of South Carolina’s law school.
He also studied at the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia.
After law school, he was commissioned into the US Army and served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) in both the Pacific and European Theaters.
He also served as staff judge advocate for the 11th and 82nd Airborne Divisions and earned title of master paratrooper.
After his wartime assignment, he returned stateside to teach law at West Point, where his students included future Palm Beachers Al Haig and Jack Cassidy.
It was at West Point where Smoak christened “Joe.” The sobriquet derived from “Smokey Joe,” the nickname given to him by his teammates on the USMA polo team because of his skill as a horseman.
His other Army postings included postwar Berlin and the Pentagon.
On New Year’s Eve 1959, he and Mary Frances Meister Higgins were married at the Fort Myer Chapel in Arlington, Va., by the chief chaplain of the United States Army.
At the time of her death in 2015, they had been married 55 years. The couple had three children, two sons and a daughter.
Amb. Smoak retired from the Army in 1961 and with Mary Frances returned to Aiken to practice law.
At the urging of his friend and houseguest Barry Goldwater, he jumped into state politics.
In 1966, he was elected to the state senate, one of only five Republicans to serve in the South Carolina Senate since the Reconstruction era. His work in the State Constitutional Revision Commission during 1967-68 caught the attention of party leaders, and in 1969 he was called to Washington and appointed deputy chief of protocol at the State Department under President Richard Nixon.
He was soon named acting chief and then, in 1974, confirmed as chief of protocol, succeeding America’s Cup winner Emil “Bus” Mosbacher.
During his tenure he oversaw several major events including the state funerals of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson, along with state visits by Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev and England’s Prince Charles, who, Ambassador Smoak said “was so well-turned out I wanted to ask him who his tailor was.”
He retired from the State Department with the rank of ambassador but remained quietly active in politics, serving the Department of Defense as a member of the President’s Commission on National Security; as a member of the Transition Team for the Department of State; and as a co-chairman of the finance committee for presidential candidate Ronald Reagan.
The Smoaks eventually began to spend their winters in Palm Beach, where the ambassador served for years as chief of protocol and diplomatic chairman of the International Red Cross Ball.
“He was our chief of protocol for the 50th anniversary of the International Red Cross Ball, and then became our chief of protocol emeritus for the next two years,” said Nancy Rollnick, who with her husband, Bill, chaired the golden anniversary gala.
“We called him Twinkle Toes because he could dance anybody under the table. He was 90 years old when we first called him in Washington to ask him to be our chief of protocol. He was somewhat breathless when he got on the phone with Bill and apologized by saying he had just come in from a game of tennis and was somewhat rushed as he was riding with the hounds that afternoon. Tennis and fox hunting the same day at 90. That was Twinkle Toes!”
Ambassador Smoak swore that his secret to a long life was “one martini every evening” and when in D.C., often chose Georgetown’s haute watering hole Martin’s Tavern as the place for that martini.
He celebrated his 100th birthday there, and in his honor the tavern created a special martini in his honor called “The Ambassador.” (Dry vodka, straight up, three olives.)
“He was a South Carolinian, a Citadel graduate and Regimental Commander of the Class of 1938, a World War II veteran, a member of the Greatest Generation, a teacher at West Point, a master paratrooper, polo player, fox hunter, horse show rider, tennis player, the world’s best dancer, and the best dad, mentor, and friend anyone could ever be so lucky to have,” his daughter, Mary Frances Walde, wrote in a Facebook post. “Please keep enjoying your evening martini. Rest In Peace. We love you always.”
Ambassador Smoak is a former director of the Accokeek Foundation and the American Friends of Jamaica.
He was a member and former president of the Georgetown Club and the Fairfax Hunt; and was a member of the Chevy Chase Club and the Metropolitan Club of Washington.
Locally, he was a member of the Everglades Club and the Palm Beach Polo & Country Club.
Ambassador Smoak will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
A celebration of his life will take place at a later date, according to the family.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League, 3100/3200 N. Military Trail, West Palm Beach, FL 33409.
Posted in: Palm Beach Post
Posted on: 2020-05-23
Link to original obituary: https://www.palmbeachpost.com/obituaries/20200523/palm-beach-obituary-ambassador-marion-smoak-dies-at-103