Dennis Alan (Denny) Smith was born January 19, 1938 in Ontario, Oregon, the son of Elmo and Dorothy Smith. He attended public schools in Oregon, graduating from Grant Union High School in 1956. He graduated with a B.A. from Willamette University in 1961. Smith served in the United States Air Force from 1958 to 1960 and from 1962 to 1967 and in the Oregon Air National Guard from 1960 to 1962. He was awarded the Air Medal with six clusters during his Vietnam service (1965-1966) flying 180 missions. Smith was a co-pilot and flight engineer for Pan American World Airways from 1967 to 1977. He was first elected as a Republican to the Ninety-seventh Congress in 1980 to serve Oregon’s Second District. The 1980 census gave Oregon another congressional district and in 1982 Smith was elected as the first representative from Oregon’s Fifth Congressional District. Smith served in the United States House of Representatives from 1981 to 1991.
While in Congress Smith sat on the Budget Committee, the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee and the Veteran's Affairs Committee. He also chaired several committees, including the Military Reform Caucus, Oregonians Against Crime and the Republican Task Force on Crime. In the early 1980’s Smith focused on Pentagon spending. In January, 1984 he was successful in forcing further testing of the Aegis guided-missile cruiser. Later that year the Divad (division air defense) program was shut down because of Smith’s investigation into over-spending and poor test results.
After an unsuccessful campaign in 1990, he was succeeded by Democrat Mike Kopetski. In 1994 Smith was the Republican nominee for governor. He lost to Democrat John Kitzhaber. Since leaving Congress, Smith has served as chairman of Eagle Newspapers, a family owned newspaper business and remained active in local and national politics. Smith has six children, including a nephew and two nieces he and his first wife, Kathleen, raised after the death of the children’s parents. Smith lives in the Salem, Oregon area with his wife Deanna.
From the guide to the Dennis A. “Denny” Smith papers, 1979-1991, 1984-1990, (Willamette University University Archives and Special Collections)