Georgia Lawmaker Richard Smith Dies from Flu


 Longtime state Rep. Richard Smith died suddenly overnight at the age of 78 after fighting the flu.

Smith, R-Columbus, was chairman of the House Rules Committee, the “traffic cop” that decides which bills make it to the floor of the chamber.

“This morning, the entire Kemp family is saddened by the news of Representative Smith’s passing,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in a prepared statement. “A longtime public servant and valued friend, he represented the Columbus area well and had an important impact on the entire state.”

After serving as a cooperative extension agent with the University of Georgia, Smith joined the Columbus’ consolidated government as interim city manager in 1989. A decade later, he was elected to the Columbus City Council.

Smith moved on to the state House of Representatives in 2004 and rose through the ranks to his appointment to chair the Rules Committee in 2020.

Members of the Columbus House delegation from both parties paid tribute to Smith Tuesday from the well of the House.

“Columbus has lost a giant of a man,” said Rep. Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus. “He always kept the city of Columbus before him.”

Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, said Smith had a “big heart” but could be tough on his legislative colleagues when it came to deciding whether to let bills reach the House floor.

“You better come to him with something great,” he said. “If not, it went in the trash.”

Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, sat beside Smith in the House chamber for years.

“He could act gruff, almost scary at times to prove a point, to share his feelings,” she said. “But underneath, he was a really good man.”

Smith was the third House Rules Committee chairman to die in office in recent years. Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun, died of stomach cancer in 2018 at the age of 74. Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, died unexpectedly a year later at the age of 67.

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