Talbot Smith was born on October 11, 1899, in Fayette, Missouri. His early education was received in various parishes in the western portions of the United States. In 1917, Smith entered the United States Naval Academy. Following his graduation, he began his 14-year Naval career.
Smith was graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1934 and practiced law in Detroit and Ann Arbor. In addition, he taught law at the University of California at Berkeley and at the University of Missouri. During World War II, Smith served with the Office of Price Administration. He was in charge of civil litigation, as well as serving as a hearing administrator.
Smith was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1955, was subsequently elected in 1956, and served until 1961. He contributed to various legal periodicals and authored a volume in a Career Book Series on the “Lawyer” in 1961. His writing skills and the use of plain (and somewhat humorous) language can be seen in the way he handed down some of his opinions. When commenting on a child neglect case, Smith wrote, “All of this is straight from outer space. It is pure fantasy. It is unrelated to life on this earth. It requires no treatise on child development to tell us that a child 2 years 8 months of age is as inquisitive as a hornet and as slippery as an eel.” (Michigan Supreme Court. Michigan Reports: Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of Michigan. Rochester, N.Y., Lawyers Co-operative Publishing Co., 1949 – 1998, Vol. 437.)
One of Smith’s former law clerks, Wallace Riley, stated that, “Talbot had the infinite patience of a great teacher. He had the forgiveness of a minister. He had the sternness of a Naval officer. And he had the inspiration of a saint.”
In 1921, Smith married Lola Hamlen and had two children. In addition to his professional life, Smith was involved in many other community activities. He was on the board of inquiry that investigated the South Michigan Prison Riot. (Michigan Manual: Ed. 1997 – 1998. Legislative Council, State of Michigan: Lansing, Michigan.)
Portrait presented on: (Click link to read transcript)
May 8, 1991
Oil on canvas
39 1/2″ X 29 1/2″
State of Michigan
Michigan Supreme Court – Detroit
Portrait photo by:
Douglas Elbinger – June 1996