TheGrio Interviews Judy Smith | The Woman Who Inspired Scandal

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May 22 2012, Published 11:35 p.m. ET

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ABC’s latest show scandal features a woman at the helm.  She’s a power woman in D.C. and the go to for crisis management and legal troubles.  Her name is Olivia Pope, but she’s based on a real life power woman–Judy Smith.

And while we dream of the day we can sit down with her in person for HerAgenda–TheGrio had the opportunity to interview this real life D.C. legend asking her about everything from her relationship with Presidents, to how she deals with power to balancing family.

Check out an excerpt from theGrio’s interview:

Long before ABC’s new hit series Scandal made it to network television this season, those of us who have lived and worked in Washington, D.C. for the past two decades have admired and respected Judy Smith.

A native Washingtonian, Judy is a true pioneer for women, and an outright trailblazer for black women. She is a consummate professional, and a perfectionist when it comes to her craft. Like her or not, there is noone better to have in your corner when you are in political hot water, an unfavorable media spotlight, or in legal trouble.

Known as a professional “fixer,” or in more formal terms as a “Crisis Management Expert,” Judy Smith is a unique black woman who didn’t just redefine the rules for women in power — she also defined them as the first of her kind. Her resume is impressive, ranging from her academic credentials as an attorney to her client list. Smith was the first black female Special Assistant to the President and Deputy White House Press Secretary for President George H. W. Bush. She has also managed crisis situations for Fortune 500 corporations (such as BP after the Gulf disaster), Supreme Court nominees (as in Justice Clarence Thomas), plus world figures, celebrities, and even a former White House intern (remember Monica Lewinsky?).

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What did all these disparate figures have in common? They were all in need of a savvy media spokesperson who could help them handle the heat of a national or international media firestorm. Judy Smith was their go-to woman.

When asked how she would describe herself, Smith offered this: “I think I am down to earth, hard working, someone who cares a lot about my work and about what I do for those I serve.” You’ll notice in her answer that she focuses keenly on “the work.” She takes her work ethic seriously — very — and she will tell you that work is a big part of her life.

A fact that is not widely known about Smith, however, is that she is married with two adult children. She is fiercely private and does not discuss her family, but she is the original “work/life balance” queen. Smith was doing it long before those of us in Generation X and beyond made it a term of art. If that isn’t enough, she holds a black belt in karate, too. Smith also loves to travel, and acquires a lot of frequent flier miles to do so through her various activities.

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We asked her how she balances it all: raising her family, and a marriage, with a very high profile, high risk career. “I think with anybody who has a lot of things going on in their life, you become great at multi-tasking,” Smith said. “You try to balance both work and life like everyone. Multi-tasking is key. You do the best that you can every day. It is important to have people around you that support you, like your family and friends. That makes all the difference.”

On being a master of crisis management

Next we asked Judy a series of questions to help us get to better know the woman who inspired the Scandal series that has just been renewed by ABC for a full second season. The lead character played by Kerry Washington is based on her.

Sophia A. Nelson: How did you get into the arena of crisis management and what exactly is it?

To read her response to this question and more head to

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By: Rhonesha Byng

Rhonesha Byng is the founder and CEO of Her Agenda— a digital media platform bridging the gap between ambition and achievement for millennial women. The site provides access to content and community that gives millennial women access to information and inspiration to help them get started or to move to the next level of their career. Rhonesha is an Emmy award-winning journalist and entrepreneur whose philosophy in life is established by her acronym of N.E.S.H.A. No one Ever Slows Her Agenda. This motto served as the inspiration for Her Agenda. Rhonesha was named to the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list and ESSENCE magazine named her among 50 Founders To Watch. Rhonesha is also the co-founder of the newly formed nonprofit org The Black Owned Media Equity and Sustainability Institute (BOMESI).

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