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ICON Awards 2022: R. Pete Smith, McDowell Rice Smith & Buchanan

R. Pete SmithWhen R. Pete Smith wanted to become a partner at his firm he sent a memo, but after some time without hearing back, he finally decided to take matters into his own hands.

He had cards printed and called a sign painter to re-letter his door. He decided he was a partner and no one ever told him otherwise.

“I’ve been here longer than anybody,” he jokes, “so there’s nobody that can get rid of me now.”

That’s true enough. Smith, 76, has been working for McDowell, Rice, Smith & Buchanan for nearly six decades. He started at the firm as a clerk in 1964 at age 18, which was not only before he was an attorney but before he even finished college.

By the mid-1970s, the UMKC graduate was running the firm.

Handling everything from contract disputes to commercial bankruptcies to tax audits, Smith has made a name for himself as a respected professional in the field. A senior fellow at the American College of Bankruptcy and 2010 KCMBA “Dean of the Trial Bar”, Smith loves the courtroom.

“Trial law for a lawyer is like going into the operating room for a doctor,” said Smith, the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the UMKC Foundation. “That’s where it is at.”

But that’s not the only place he’s been, having held a variety of roles in both the general and legal communities. He’s served as president of the Midwest Innocence Project of Kansas City and chair of the local Chamber of Commerce Board. He’s also been on the boards of the area’s Economic Development Council, the United Way, the YMCA and the Wyandotte County American Red Cross.

“He is eager, driven and has a tenacious spirit about him that makes others around him want to excel as well,” writes his nominator. “The best part is that he doesn’t mind mentoring and teaching others how to take the ball and run with it too.”

The first to graduate from college in his family, Smith finished first in his law school class. He has a simple philosophy about his job at which he still toils full-time after 58 years.

“I get up early, work hard and go to bed tired,” he noted. “I approach everything with a blank piece of paper in my imagination and I go from there.”

And he still loves a good trial.

“I have a movie I’m putting on and the other side has a movie they are putting on,” he said. “There are some common aspects but they are different movies. The question becomes which one does the jury like the best.”

Smith said that people sometimes ask him when he plans to call it quits.

“I say, ‘Why would I retire?’” he chuckled.

ICON Awards 2022