Entertaining with Gail Smart, Missouri State University's First Lady
In her role as MSU’s First Lady, Smart has welcomed an array of students, teachers, donors, professionals and friends through her doorway. She finds value in keeping good company through hosting gatherings, luncheons and celebrations inside her home.
By Haley Phillips
417 Home: What has been one of the most memorable events you’ve hosted?
Gail Smart: A favorite event we had was when we hosted about 30 teachers from Brazil who had come here for six weeks to increase their English skills and learn more about teaching English. One of the teachers went to the living room and started playing Beatles songs and Eagles songs, and everyone started dancing. We live in an old house and I thought the floor was going to fall through into the basement. It was fun for people to stand around and sing songs and dance.
417 Home: Was entertaining in your home a part of your life prior to your husband’s role as president of the university?
G.S.: When Clif practiced law, his firm started doing some fundraisers for political candidates. We might have done a couple of those, but certainly not on the scale that we entertain now. [When Clif became president,] I knew I would be doing some entertaining, but I really didn’t have any idea how much. Nor did I know how much I would enjoy it.
417 Home: What aspect of entertaining do you enjoy the most?
G.S.: Seeing people have a good time. It seems that no matter what group we have or what groups we put together… everyone seems to have a good time. They want to talk. They want to visit. I don't really gravitate toward the food aspect. I'm not a food person, but I'm glad somebody else is.
417 Home: Who would you say you learned your hosting skills from?
G.S.: Clif’s parents did a lot of entertaining. They were always having some group over whether it was a book club, Sunday school class or one of the many charitable organizations they were a part of. His dad was the Dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas for maybe 15 years, and that meant a lot of events at their house. When Clif and I got engaged, his mom hosted an afternoon tea for me. I remember she used many of her lovely things—her china, crystal and silver. I remember how beautifully decorated her house was with fresh flowers. I do try to copy that. I try to make sure our house is inviting and that people are comfortable being here. Clif’s grandmother was also a very gracious, southern hostess that I have tried to model myself after.
417 Home: Who would you say is your ideal dinner guest?
G.S.: I would love to meet Hillary Clinton and talk with her.
417 Home: What advice would you give to your younger self about entertaining?
G.S.: People like to be invited to other people's homes. It doesn't matter if your house is big or small, what your budget is, what you plan to serve—I think people just like to be invited.
417 Home: What does your ideal dinner party look like?
G.S.: My idea of an ideal dinner party is a party in our backyard. We do love to grill, although we are usually traveling so much that we don’t get to do that as often as we’d like. I love setting up tables and eating outside in the spring when it’s not too hot and my flowers are in bloom.
417 Home: Aside from the many get-togethers you’ve hosted for the university, what event stands out?
G.S.: One of our most memorable events that wasn’t an MSU event, was a Sunday school barbecue. One of my friends had asked if she could be baptized in our pool. Of course, I said sure. When word got out that was happening, a couple of other church members wanted to join in. Our youth pastor at the time ended up baptizing three people that day with about 60 friends and family looking on. We called it the Big Barbecue Baptism Blowout.
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