A stealth, influential presence amongst Washington & Fortune 500’s most powerful, “professional fixer” Judy A. Smith has officially thrust herself from behind the scenes onto the main stage. Smith is not only the co-creator of ABC’s new hit show Scandal, but she’s the very inspiration behind the lead character Olivia Pope, portrayed by Kerry Washington.
In the Beginning…
Judy Smith’s reputation for being honest, forthright and extremely hard working was no doubt instilled in her from a tender age. She was born to William and Evelyn Smith in 1958. To provide for their 5 children, her mother worked as a secretary by day and an office cleaner at night, while her father spent his days as a heavy-equipment operator at Andrews Air Force Base and nights driving a taxi. Their sacrifices afforded young Judy the opportunity to attend Catholic school, and she eventually graduated from the Academy of Notre Dame. Smith showed signs of her calling at a young age, as she was prone to getting her mediation on at the school playground. After achieving her Bachelors at Boston University, she returned to her hometown to attend the American University Washington Law School where she became the first African American woman to serve as Executive Editor of the Law Review.
Even though it was clearly her destiny, Judy Smith didn’t become the crisis management queen over night. She built that remarkable reputation over the years as Deputy Director of Public Information and Associate Counsel in the Office of the Independent Counsel from 1987–1989. In 1989, Smith was appointed Special Counsel to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, serving as principal adviser to the U.S. Attorney on media relations and chief spokesperson.* Then in 1991, the DC native was appointed Special Assistant & Deputy Press Secretary of the Bush administration.
During her tenure at the White House, Smith found herself thrust in the middle of some of the most scandalous events of the time. Two names alone illustrate the magnitude: Clarence Thomas & Oliver North. Judy Smith was the woman to call when Pandora’s box came undone. “You need to be strategic in your thinking,” Smith spoke of her work. “You have to understand the problem, the issue and the landscape. It’s almost like a chess game. You want to stay several steps ahead and anticipate someone else’s position,” Ms. Smith told the LA Times. The fix-it pro is known also for her tranquil demeanor and ability to put many at ease.
The expertise with which young Judy extinguished fires for the White House solidified her status as an invaluable source of knowledge and innovation, not to mention an asset to the rich and powerful who found themselves in some of the most compromising positions (personally and professionally speaking). When her assignment at the White House ended, Smith became the Senior VP for Corporate Communications at NBC and helped to launch MSNBC. Judy then went on to found Smith & Company in DC, a consulting firm adept in crisis management and media relations – for when the ish hits the fan.
Shonda Rhimes knows a thing or two about good television, namely that everyone loves themselves some scandal. A meeting between the drama & fix-it queens in 2009 proved that a partnership was inevitable. “I was fascinated by a world in which someone swoops in on the worst day of a person’s life and takes over,” Rhimes said. ” I love the notion of a fixer. And I’m always in love with the idea that everyone has dirty little secrets, even the powerful, even our heroes.” Speaking to NPR recently, Smith admitted:
“Well, let me just say that I think Shonda Rhimes has done a terrific job at really dramatizing the sort of fast-paced, crisis-driven life that we lead every day. And, of course, it’s television, so it is much more sexier and exciting than my everyday life…. It is exciting in the sense that you have Kerry Washington – who’s African-American – myself and Shonda Rhimes. So it’s one of those unique situations that I think hasn’t happened since the ’60s.”
Breaking new ground is common practice for Ms. Smith. With the increasing challenges presented by the web’s viral nature, Smith & Co. virtually live on their toes, anticipating events and employing ninja-like skills when things eventually fall apart. Smith has been behind the scenes of some of the highest profile scandals involving the likes of Monica Lewinsky, Chandra Levy, Michael Vick, Wesley Snipes and NBA players Kobe Bryant, Donte Stallworth. Her expertise was at the disposal for companies such as Enron, Wal-Mart, BellSouth and BP (the Gulf oil disaster, naturally). Smith also aided in the crises surrounding former DC Mayor Marion Barry and the LA riots.
If you’re a fan of the new hit Scandal, you may have observed reality influencing fantasy at various points in the story line, but Smith insists that very little of the show reflects the intimate facts of her past dealings – especially when it comes to the POTUS. When asked if the sparks between the Prez. and Olivia Pope were inspired by real events, Smith declares an emphatic “no” on the matter. Really, really, really didn’t happen,” she laughs. “It’s television.”*
So what does the real life Olivia Pope do in her private life? Judy Smith says she likes to keep the chaos in the work place and peace on the home front (although the paparazzi has been known to stake out her home in the past). She’s married to TV writer & producer Bill Boulware; the two share adult sons Austin and Cody.
First she inspired the lead of a groundbreaking new show. Now Judy Smith is turning her skills in yet another direction. Her new book “Good Self Bad Self: Transforming Your Worst Qualities into Your Biggest Assets.” The title pretty much explains itself. In her words: “I think the most important advice I would offer is to have people own it. It’s one of the things I talk about in my book. Whatever the issue is or problem is, you have to own it and you have to face into it. If not, it will just really get worse, and it will get compounded.You know, I think sometimes when we face problems and issues in our life, we have a tendency to really deny that a problem exists. Or sometimes we say, oh, it’ll go away, or we can handle it. It’s – you know, don’t worry. I’ve got it covered. And a lot of times, that’s not the case.”
Judy Smith is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post & ABC’s blog “What Would Judy Do?”
Catch the “sexy” version of Ms. Smith & Co. tonight on Scandal @ 10pm on ABC