Smith Bagley, 74

Smith Bagley dies at 74; Democratic fundraiser, socialite

Smith Bagley led foundations for issues of social justice.
Smith Bagley led foundations for issues of social justice. (Family Photo - Family Photo)
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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 4, 2010

Smith Bagley, 74, a prominent Democratic fundraiser, activist and Georgetown socialite, died Jan. 2 at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda of complications from a stroke he suffered Christmas Eve while vacationing in St. Simons Island, Ga.

Mr. Bagley, an heir to the R.J. Reynolds fortune, first came to Washington as an early supporter of Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign and was later national finance vice chairman for the Democratic National Committee. His wife, Elizabeth Bagley, was the U.S. ambassador to Portugal in the Clinton administration, and together they raised the maximum $600,000 for President Obama's inauguration events last year.

Mr. Bagley was chief executive of SBI, an Arizona-based cellular company he founded in 1989, but he devoted most of his time to philanthropy and social justice causes, his family said. He was also president of the Arca Foundation, which advocates social equity and normalizing relations with Cuba, and founder of the Brenn Foundation, which focuses on public policy. In Washington, he served on the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and was chairman of the board of regents at Catholic University.

"He was much more than a fundraiser," said Terry McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "Smith had more ideas than anyone else in the party. He always had a positive attitude and was great on strategic advice." Mr. Bagley worked under McAuliffe as they got the Democrats out of debt and established the party's first database of members, McAuliffe said. "He was so generous, always in good humor and full of positive energy."

Mr. Bagley was a frequent host for policy dinners and fundraisers for presidential and senatorial candidates at his homes in Georgetown and Nantucket, Mass. His family estate, Musgrove, on St. Simons Island was the site of Carter's first pre-inauguration Cabinet meeting and was used as a regular retreat for Democratic policymakers and activists.

He was born April 1, 1935, in New York, the grandson of Richard Joshua Reynolds, who founded the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. He graduated from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., and served as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve.

His arrival in Washington in 1977 drew 240 of Washington's most fashionable guests to a black-tie dinner at the International Club, purportedly to honor the Hollywood cast and crew of the Washington-based film "Twilight's Last Gleaming"; in fact, the dinner signaled his D.C. debut as a hospitable philanthropist, The Washington Post's Style section reported.

Within a few years, the headlines were less flattering. In 1980, Mr. Bagley settled a civil suit with the Securities and Exchange Commission over government charges that he and others artificially inflated the price of the stock of the Washington Group, a North Carolina textile and food conglomerate he led.

Months earlier, a U.S. District Court jury in Richmond had found Mr. Bagley and four other defendants innocent of all criminal charges in a related stock manipulation and conspiracy case. The company went bankrupt in June 1977. Both the judge and Mr. Bagley accused the Justice Department of overzealous prosecution.

His marriages to Sandra Peabody Robinson and Vicki Bagley ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 26 years, Elizabeth Frawley Bagley of Washington; a son from his first marriage, Walker Bagley of Lexington, Ky.; three children from his second marriage, Nancy Reynolds Bagley and Nicole Ladmer Bagley, both of Washington, and Brett Dylan Bagley of New York; two children from his third marriage, Vaughan Elizabeth Bagley and Conor Reynolds Bagley, both of Washington; a sister, Susan Bagley Bloom of Vancouver, Canada; and five grandchildren.

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