Elder Eldred Gee Smith, 106, an emeritus general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1979 and the seventh and final of seven patriarchs to the church in general, died Thursday night.
He was the most long-lived general authority in the history of the LDS Church.
The First Presidency of the LDS Church issued a statement at his death. “The Church lost a valued friend and respected leader with the passing of Patriarch Eldred G. Smith. He was a man who lived a Christ-centered life as he faithfully served as patriarch to the church. We pray for the Lord’s blessing to be upon his family at this tender time.”
Elder Smith was sustained as the seventh patriarch to the church on April 10, 1947. While serving as patriarch, he gave approximately 18,000 recorded blessings — 2,711 of which were given on trips around the world.
As a general authority of the church, he traveled extensively to many parts of the world. He gave blessings in many countries, including all of Europe, Alaska, Canada, Puerto Rico, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
On Oct. 6, 1979, after 32 years as patriarch to the church, Elder Smith was one in a group of nine general authorities receiving emeritus status. No patriarch of the church has been sustained since that time.
Even though he had emeritus status, Elder Smith continued to attend the weekly Temple meetings of church general authorities. “I think I’m the only emeritus that goes,” Elder Smith said in 2009.
On Wednesday, the day before he died, he attended that meeting for the last time, one of his sons, E. Gary Smith, said. “It was a busy day for him,” Smith said of his father. “He was alert up to the last day.”
The next morning, Elder Smith was not feeling very strong and stayed in bed to rest. E. Gary Smith said his father fell asleep at about 7:15 p.m. and died about ten minutes later. “It was very peaceful,” he said. “It was very nice. It was time for him to go.”
Elder Smith was born Jan. 9, 1907, in Lehi to Hyrum Gibbs and Martha Electa Gee Smith. But he had little time to get acquainted with Lehi. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Los Angeles, where his father studied dentistry and began his practice. His practice ended abruptly when he received a call from church headquarters to return to Salt Lake and become the new church patriarch, the church’s fifth.
He was a great-great-great-grandson of Joseph Smith Sr., father of church founder Joseph Smith and the first patriarch to the church. He was also a great-great-grandson of the martyred Hyrum Smith and his first wife, Jerusha Barden Smith. He was educated at Salt Lake public schools and LDS High School.
Elder Smith served in the Swiss-German Mission from 1926-29. He became proficient in the language, and even while patriarch, he was able to converse with people who came from German-speaking missions for blessings.
Upon returning home from his mission, Elder Smith enrolled in engineering classes at the University of Utah.
He married Jeanne Audrey Ness on Aug. 17, 1932, in the Salt Lake Temple. She died on June 13, 1977. They had two sons and three daughters, Eldred Gary (Elizabeth) Smith, Raynor Smith, Miriam (Edwin) Skeen, Gay (Arden) Vance and Sylvia Dawn (Craig) Isom.
He later recollected how difficult it was to find work and attend college.
“The Lord was good to us,” he told the Church News in 1976. “Many things happened to us that some people would say was coincidence, but I know it was the Lord helping my wife and me.”
At one time, while attending college, he worked for a contractor and painted the ceiling of the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
Elder Smith was a stake missionary in the Liberty Stake from 1929 to 1932, an MIA stake board member in the Ensign Stake and second counselor in the bishopric of the 20th Ward. When the Emigration Stake was split off from the Ensign Stake in 1940, he was called to the high council. He served there for about a year, then became bishop of the newly created North 20th Ward.
In 1944, he went to Oak Ridge, Tenn., as an engineer for the Manhattan Atomic Energy project, helping to design the first atomic bomb. While there, he was president of the local branch of the church. However, because of the security of the project, church meetings could not be held in military halls. So, they were taken to his home — where boxes were used for tables and chairs — and some 65 adults and 35 children eventually attended.
Upon returning to Salt Lake City, Elder Smith was called by President George Albert Smith and sustained as the seventh patriarch to the church. The office of patriarch to the church was conferred as a result of lineage and worthiness — a past church calling that had traditionally stood next in order to members of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Elder Smith believed that patriarchal blessings were personal in nature and given for the spiritual guidance of individual members. They “give people courage and strength to carry on and overcome difficulties.”
He also used to speak regularly in general conference.
For example, “Select Associates living our standards” was his October 1965 general conference address title. “Go forth to serve” was Patriarch Smith’s April 1967 conference talk. “If service is the work of God, and if we are to become as he is, and return to live with him in his kingdom, our work must be to serve others,” he said.
“Temples are Essential” was his October 1969 conference discourse.
On May 18, 1978, Elder Smith married the former Hortense H. Child. She had previously served as a counselor in the General Presidency of the Young Women. She died May 17, 2012.
Elder Smith and the second Sister Smith presented many firesides in recent years that focused on some items from the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, treasures that were passed down from oldest son to oldest son. They included Hyrum Smith’s clothes that he wore when he was killed — still showing the blood stains. Other artifacts from the Smith family included a bell, footstool and a chest that once held the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.
Elder Smith gave as many as 68 firesides a year. “Since I got to be 102, I turned it over to the kids,” Elder Smith said in 2009.
His son E. Gary Smith said he will continue giving the firesides.
Elder Smith had preserved a U.S. flag used by early Utah military units and that may have been carried by the Mormon Battalion.
Elder Smith also performed many temple marriages during his later years. He kept a drivers license and drove until only a few years ago. In addition to the weekly general authority meetings, Elder Smith came into his office each week as health permitted.
LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson paid Elder Smith surprise birthday visits in Jan. 2012 when Elder Smith turned 105 and also this year when he turned 2013. “He’s my best friend,” Elder Smith said in 2011 when asked about President Monson.
“At his age, nobody was surprised (to hear that he had died),” E. Gary Smith said. “So many people have called to express how much he has meant to them over the years and what a great example he has been.”
Elder Joseph Anderson, an emeritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, who died in 1992 at the age of 102, was the second most-long-lived general authority.
Funeral services will be held Wednesday, April 10, at 11:00 a.m. at the Monument Park Stake Center, 1320 S. Wasatch Drive. Friends and family may call Tuesday evening, 6-8 p.m., at the Larkin Sunset Lawn Mortuary, 2350 E. 1300 S., and at the stake center Wednesday, 9:30-10:40 a.m. Interment at Salt Lake City Cemetery.
CONTRIBUTING: Tom Hatch, Michael De Groote