Legislative Feature: Representative Rita Smart
EKU Alumna, Now Kentucky Legislator
“A good public official listens more than they talk.” – Representative Rita Smart
By: Zach Holman
Rita Smart is the representative for Kentucky’s 81st District, which covers parts of Madison County. Originally from Nicholas County, Smart has spent her entire adult life in Richmond. Not only is Smart a Kentucky representative, she also runs the historic Bennett House Bed and Breakfast in Richmond, which was built in 1889 – 1890.
Smart was part of the Eastern Kentucky University class of 1971. She was a home economics and vocational education major. Smart said her favorite organization was Phi Upsilon Omicron, which was the home economics honorary society.
Although she did not major in any of the science fields Eastern offered, Smart says her favorite and most interesting class was chemistry.
“We didn’t have it in high school,” Smart said, referring to her chemistry class. “It was so interesting. We were able to make plastic, and this was 50 years ago. Things were much different. The Moore Building was just built and was brand new.”
One of her most memorable moments at Eastern was freshman orientation. A popular tradition at Eastern was for freshmen to wear beanies.
“I remember coming down for freshman orientation, and all the students were wearing their beanies,” Smart said. “Me, being from a small town, wasn’t aware of the tradition and thought it was so interesting and funny. I felt like Richmond and EKU was a big place, compared to home.”
During Smart’s time at Eastern, Keen Johnson Ballroom was used as the cafeteria.
“They had great food,” Smart said. “We all sat at little square tables there in the ballroom. Everyone would just stay around and talk. No one was in a hurry. It was fun time.”
Smart said she never dreamed of becoming a politician.
She did not take any political science classes while she was a student. The only political experience she had was helping out in small local county races with her parents.
After college, Smart became a federal employee, so she wasn’t able to participate in political activities.
She did not seek a political office until she had retired.
“The first time I ever ran was for city commissioner of Richmond, and I won,” Smart said. “When the current legislator for the district retired, they asked me to take over.”
Smart said the political process has changed a lot, even in local races, and advises students who want to pursue a career in politics to have lots of energy.
“Get involved early while in college,” Smart said. “Become an intern for a local politician. Get involved with grassroots programs. Read up and study about the issues, and work hard. Listen a lot. Remember, a good public official listens more than they talk.”
Smart said that she and her husband walk through Eastern’s campus often. She loves to see the new buildings going up because that means progress. She also loves to engage with the students.
Smart said that she is proud to be a Colonel and continues to promote the University.
“Eastern is a big part of my district,” Smart said. “As a state legislator I’ve worked on committees that focus on community, and stayed in constant contact with different colleges at the university.”
Smart said she is happy to be working with Eastern during its time of transition.
“Updating campus, making strategic plans and moving the University forward for the next generation of students is very important to me,” said Smart.
Rep. Smart won the Outstanding Alumni Award from EKU’s College of Health Sciences. She is a member of the Richmond and Berea Chamber of Commerce, the Richmond Area Arts Council, and other local organizations.
Published on February 12, 2016