Her Call to Duty

Terri R. Smooke sat at a table at Starbucks on Beverly Drive catching up on her letter writing.

“It’s been so hectic the last few weeks, I’ve got to use every spare moment,” she explained.

Smooke’s appointment calendar started overflowing a month ago, when she took a call from Sharon Davis, wife of California Gov. Gray Davis.

Would Terri accept a professional position as liaison between the governor and the nearly 1 million-strong Jewish community of the state, Mrs. Davis asked on her husband’s behalf.

Smooke said yes and has been on the go ever since, setting up offices in Sacramento and Los Angeles, meeting with state officials and Jewish organizations and doing a lot of listening.

Her job officially began Sept. 1, but she got her first public exposure as the governor’s special assistant two weeks earlier when she represented Davis at the unity rally at Cal State Northridge, following the shooting attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center.

The call from the governor’s mansion came as a surprise to the 50-year-old Beverly Hills resident. She had briefly met the Davises on a United Jewish Appeal mission to Israel in 1992, but neither Smooke nor her husband, Michael, an attorney, have been particularly active in Democratic Party affairs or been large contributors to political campaigns.

“I think the governor asked me because of my long involvement with the Jewish community, going back to 1972,” Smooke said.

She has been particularly active in the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and recently completed four-year terms as both vice president and chair of the Human Resources Department, after serving earlier as women’s campaign chair for the United Jewish Fund.

Nationally, she has filled a number of major positions with the United Jewish Appeal and has been honored with leadership awards by the Jewish Federation and Hillcrest Country Club.

She has also been a fund-raiser and council member for the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art. Alongside her volunteer positions, she has been owner since 1974 of TRS Designs, an interior design company.

In Smooke’s first meeting with the governor after her appointment, she asked him why he had selected her, and he replied, “I think you’re the best person for the job.”

The parameters of her assignment have not been fully defined yet. But in broad terms, she said, it is to familiarize Davis with the interests and concerns of the Jewish community, monitor legislation in Sacramento and Washington, convey special messages from the governor and represent him at Jewish functions.

Additional duties may evolve later. During the administration of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, policy adviser Rosalie Zalis began as his Jewish liaison, but later added responsibilities for contact with women’s groups, the entertainment industry and California-Israel trade relations, and also served as state protocol officer.

Smooke acknowledged that she is a bit scared as she embarks on her new job, “but as they say, if you’re not a little nervous, you’re not trying hard enough.”

Her own immediate family “is very supportive and proud of me,” she said, and vice versa. Fulfilling a Jewish mother’s time-honored dream, her two daughters, both Yale graduates, are heading for careers as a lawyer and doctor, respectively.

Until she organizes her own offices in Sacramento and Los Angeles, Smooke can be reached locally at the state office building in downtown Los Angeles, (213) 897-0322.

Terri R. Smooke