Written by Dulcy B. Hooper

To do justice to the life of Marion “Joe” Smoak would take a book . . . or two. As described by his daughter, Mary Frances Walde, Joe Smoak was “. . . a South Carolinian, a Citadel graduate and Regimental Commander of the class of 1938, a World War II veteran, a member of the ‘Greatest Generation,’ a teacher at West Point, a master paratrooper, polo player, horse show rider, and tennis player.” He was a lawyer and an ambassador, and the list goes on.

Smoak grew up in Aiken, South Carolina, where he rode horses and played polo and tennis. After graduating from The Citadel in Charleston and completing law school at the University of South Carolina, Smoak was commissioned into the U.S. Army. He served as staff judge advocate of the 11th and 82nd Airborne Divisions and the Berlin Command, Germany, as well as in the Department of the Army’s International Affairs Division. 

“During World War II, my father was on the first troop convoy that went into the South Pacific,” Walde said. “He was a tennis player and took his tennis racket with him. He was photographed getting off the troop carrier and was featured on the cover of Stars and Stripes with the caption, ‘Soldier goes to war with gun and tennis racket.’”

Marion “Joe” Smoak on handsome Harold at Fairfax Hunt Hunter Trials. 

He was in Berlin a few years after the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics, and many of the Olympic horses were there, along with the German riding instructors. He rode under the German riding instructors and participated in many horse shoes while there. 

“He was to leave Berlin and return to the United States on the same day he rode in a horse show,” Walde said. “He left the horse show and went straight to the plane, wearing his riding breeches and boots. The horse showed the military uniform jacket over the breeches and boots.”

Competing with handsome Harold in local hunter class at Upperville Horse Show.

Smoak returned to the United States and began his career as an instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, teaching law to cadets. There, he hunted with the Millbrook Hunt and played polo in Central Park. It was during his time at West Point when Smoak acquired the moniker “Smokey Joe” because of his skill as a horseman.

When Smoak retired from the Army, he returned to Aiken to practice law and, at the urging of friends, became involved in state politics and was elected as a member of South Carolina’s Senate. Upon completing his term, Smoak went on to the state department, serving as deputy chief of protocol and chief of protocol, where he participated in numerous significant events. When he retired from the state department, he was given the title of ambassador. 

The Smoak family remained in D.C., where Ambassador Smoak continued to be active in politics and later went on to practice international law at Shipley, Smoak, and Henry. 

Marion “Joe” Smoak at the races.

During those years, Smoak spent a great deal of time in the Middleburg area and hunted with Piedmont Foxhounds. Juliet Graham, well-known local equestrian, kept Smoak’s horse, Harold, for several years. 

“Joe Smoak was truly one of the kindest, easiest guys to get to know,” she said. “He would come out once or twice a week to ride Harold, and he was well into his 70s then.”

Graham, who hunted with Piedmont Foxhounds for many years and continues to teach local eventers and fox hunters, described Harold as “a very large quarter horse cross and the strongest horse I have ever hunted. He had just one speed, and he was not an easy horse to ride.” Graham has three world championships and one Olympics Games “under her mane.” 

Marion “Joe” Smoak with Big Foot at Paper Chase Farm.

“My father was the best dad, mentor, and friend anyone could ever be so lucky to have,” Walde said. “When my husband Bill and I bought a property on Coon Tree Road in The Plains in 2007, we named it Alibi Farm after my father’s farm in South Carolina outside Aiken.” That farm had been named after Smoak’s favorite polo pony, Alibi.” When the Waldes sold Alibi Farm and bought a farm on Landmark School Road, they built a lake named after her father: Lake Marion.

According to Walde, her father swore that his secret to a long life was “one martini every evening.” In fact, Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown created a special martini in his honor: “The Ambassador.” 

After a short illness, Smoak died in Palm Beach on May 4, 2020, just two months shy of his 104th birthday. Smoak’s family includes his late wife, Mary Frances Meister Smoak, children Pat (deceased), Fred, and Mary Frances; five grandchildren and two great grandchildren. ML

Published in the October 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.