The real ‘Olivia Pope,’ Judy Smith, talks about her non-traditional career path

D.C. insider Judy Smith, now one of the nation's top crisis managers and basis of the ABC drama "Scandal." (Photographer Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
D.C. insider Judy Smith, now one of the nation’s top crisis managers and basis of the ABC drama “Scandal.” (Photographer Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Judy Smith is an awesome story teller. Whether she’s talking about how she got started in the scandal business (a chance meeting with Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh after she told a friend that the investigation’s message “well, sucked”) or how her old boss, former president George H.W. Bush, reacted when she told him about the sexy premise of “Scandal,” the show loosely based on her career, (he joked that he might stoke the affair rumor flames because the young folks in his office said, “it would be good for my rep.”)

Thing is, Smith keeps the juiciest stories to herself.

“The majority of the work we do is behind the scenes. My job is to stop a crisis before you guys actually hear about it,” said the 55-year-old Smith. She was dressed in a tailored dark suit and banker’s button down–a very un-Olivia Pope outfit–when we caught up with her at the Women’s Bar Association and WBA Foundation’s annual dinner on Wednesday night. Later during her speech, the notoriously private Smith mentioned the talented women in the room she’d worked with, adding the caveat, “I won’t ask you to raise your hand or identify yourselves.”

While being honored as the WBA’s “Women Lawyer of the Year,” Smith thanked the crowd of about 400 women lawyers (and a light dusting of men) for highlighting her “non-traditional path” that zigzagged from law school to the U.S. Attorney’s office to the White House  to finally founding her own company with a pit stop in Hollywood. The sentence that kick-started her career? “Scandals don’t happen that often in Washington.”  

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Helena Andrews is the co-author of The Reliable Source. Follow her on Twitter @helena_andrews, and send your hot tips, sightings, and gossip to reliablesource@washpost.com.
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Helena Andrews · May 22