Robert E. Smylie was born Oct. 31, 1914 in Marcus, Iowa, as the Great War changed the world as we know it. And as this year marks the 100th anniversary of his birth, The College of Idaho looks back at a great man, a great governor and a great Yote who made significant contributions to the State of Idaho.
Before he became the 24th Governor of Idaho—and the only Idaho governor to serve three consecutive terms—Robert E. Smylie was introduced to the Gem State as a freshman on The College of Idaho campus. He came on a football scholarship, but also participated in debate, the Trail yearbook, and was elected student body president.
"He was the sort of person that just wanted to get things done,” said son Steve Smylie, adding his father was interested in solving problems and not in being an idealist.
Smylie had an incredible sense of service and felt it was his job to give back, Steve said. And Smylie did give back to his alma mater.
After graduating from the C of I in 1938, he became a trustee of the College in 1966, serving as its chairman from 1973 to 1980. Smylie also served as interim president in 1974 during the vacancy between Presidents Knox and Cassell.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Smylie taught courses at the C of I in the department of political science. He also received the C of I’s Distinguished Alumni Service Award in 1984. At the time of his death on July 20, 2004, he was one of only two individuals to be named Lifetime Trustee of The College of Idaho.
Today, the Smylie name christens the Robert E. Smylie Archives on the C of I campus. Also, the Lucille C. Smylie Great Lady Scholarship Fund at The College of Idaho, named after his wife, was established on Jan. 5, 2001. The scholarship is awarded to three female students, one sophomore, one junior and one senior. The students must be enrolled full time in good standing, maintaining a 2.0 grade point average, preferably involved in campus leadership activities.
“Nobody loved The College of Idaho more than Robert Smylie,” said Dr. Howard Berger, C of I American History professor. “He was a man known for his decency, political shrewdness and he played a major role in increasing education funding for the state.”
Smylie is best known for his time spent in the governor’s office. As a student in 1936, Smylie wrote a paper on how a person should go about getting elected governor. The two key steps were a burning desire to be governor and a knowledge of what to do once elected, the Idaho Statesman reported in 1983.
In an article written by the Times-News, Smylie was rated as the best Idaho governor by 10 Idaho historians, journalists and political scientists. Smylie ranked high for his influence in getting the state legislature to pass a state sales tax, and getting Idaho voters to endorse it — a move that transformed the state tax structure, but also caused him to lose the 1966 Republican primary election.
During his time in office, Smylie also formed the Idaho state parks system, tripled funding for Idaho education and reopened Lewis-Clark State College.
In 2002, the Smylies were presented the Governor’s Idaho Arts Award Special Commendation, for a lifetime of devotion to the arts. In 1965, Smylie created the Idaho Commission on the Arts, in order to get a piece of $3 million that was distributed through the National Endowment of the Arts.
Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. It has a century-old tradition of educating some of the most accomplished graduates in Idaho, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, and another 11 Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College is located on a beautiful campus in Caldwell, Idaho. Its distinctive PEAK curriculum challenges students to attain competencies in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field, enabling them to graduate with an academic major and three minors in four years. For more information on The College of Idaho, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.