``Involvement'' is the key word as far as Laurie Naismith and politics are concerned. ``Volunteering yourself, committing yourself to the improvement of things, is what gives individuals the opportunity to help influence the political process,'' says this energetic young woman who is currently secretary of state for the Commonwealth of Virginia, a state office that dates back to 1607 in Virginia. She is one of 18 women in the United States to hold such a position.
For all aspects of her public service, Miss Naismith was recently given a Young Achiever Award by the National Council of Women, an honor given to those who have demonstrated leadership qualities and achieved recognition in their chosen fields before the age of 35. She was nominated for the award by Gov. Charles Robb of Virginia, in whose cabinet and legislative policy group she has served for the past four years.
``One of my chief functions as secretary of state,'' she explained during an interview in New York, ``has been to make recommendations to Governor Robb as to who should be appointed to boards and commissions and serve as agency heads.
``The governor makes about 4,500 appointments during his four-year term, so you can see that my job is highly people-intensive. It involves a lot of research and assessment as I sort out the names of thousands of individuals who are recommended each year by professional associations, members of the legislature, political parties, and individuals.''
Though the Robb administration ends early in 1986, she has helped the governor make 500 new appointments this summer.
According to Naismith, the governor is committed to affirmative action and is making efforts to appoint more blacks and women to state boards and commissions.
``It has been exciting to me to help him find the most qualified people, and to discover new talent,'' she says.
Naismith is unsure at this point whether she will stay in government or go into the private sector when her term is over. The one thing she does know is that she will always be involved with politics because she loves seeing what gets accomplished by those who lend a hand.
Her advice to other young people who want a career in politics, or who want to participate in politics as concerned citizens, is:
Go to your favorite candidate's headquarters and volunteer. Stuff envelopes. Work the telephones. Give money. Organize a phone bank or a fund-raising event. If you are a writer or were an English major, offer to help a candidate write speeches or draft some position papers.
Learn to lobby for measures you believe in. ``Support a cause that is close to your heart, such as, in my case, cleaning up Chesapeake Bay or getting more money for the Virginia State Commission for the Arts.''
Offer to campaign door to door for a friend running for office, one you believe can do a good job.
A combination of factors has helped Naismith in her career. ``My father was a career Navy officer and we traveled a lot and lived in different places. So I learned how to adjust quickly and how to meet people,'' she explains.
``I also learned from my parents how important it was to get involved in community life wherever we were living at the time.''
As for politics, she first got interested in the early 1970s through involvement in student government at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.
``Then, during my last three years at school, I worked as well for a member of the Virginia House of Delegates as a legislative assistant. In 1976, I helped Adm. Elmo Zumwalt during his Senate race.'' It was Admiral Zumwalt who recommended her to Governor Robb.
Naismith did major in political science and says what she learned has been helpful, but hardly essential to her own public service career. Energetic and enthusiastic involvement in the political process is what makes the difference, she says.
``So no matter what direction my life takes, I'll always be out there ringing doorbells for some candidate, or manning phones to help out, or caring to the core about some compelling project.''