Nancy Smith has such a bright disposition it’s hard to believe she began her career at The Dallas Morning News by writing obituaries.
“The Sparkman-Hillcrest person would come in every afternoon – this man in black – and give me all the obituaries,” she remembers. “Sometimes I’d be there until 8 o’clock at night writing … After I did that for about three months they promoted me to weddings.”
She poured herself into the work and quickly became society editor, which she says was commonly thought to be “the fluff job of all time.” But Smith wasn’t interested in writing about “what color dress someone wore to a party.”
“It was never like that with me,” she explains. “I was always zeroing in on whatever news value there was in any event I covered.”
She once spotted William Masters and Virginia Johnson at a fundraiser for the Junior League of Dallas. For those who don’t watch the fictionalized Showtime series about their life, “Masters of Sex,” Masters and Johnson conducted some of our country’s first research into human sexuality. They also had a torrid love affair, making them great media fodder.
“I spent half the party interviewing them,” Smith laughs.
Her eye for interesting news paid off. In the early 1990s she leveraged her connections and began publishing a paper of her own called High Society. Contributors included big names in the Dallas social scene, like Caroline Rose Hunt, Julia Sweeney and Wendy Reeves, who had just donated several impressionist paintings to The Dallas Museum of Art. These days Smith prefers to write books. She’s penned five, including “Dallas Celebrity in the Glamorous 1980s Era of Ronald and Nancy Reagan,” which came out earlier this year. The book is hefty – 778 pages to be exact – and includes chapters on everything from the development of the Dallas Arts District to the revitalization of the Adolphus Hotel to the 1984 Republican Convention.
“This is the generation that made Dallas an international city,” Smith says, explaining why she chose to write about this decade over any other. “I feel like I’m kind of a cheerleader for the whole generation.”
History is a passion of the author’s – her other books explore life in mid-19th century France. She also appraises and deals antiques. Her shop, Preston Royal Consignments & Appraisals, opened recently in the Preston Royal Southwest Shopping Center, where she showcases her favorite heirlooms.
“We’re very future-oriented [as a society],” Smith says. “We should honor and revere the past.”