Longest-serving Mormon general authority dies at 106


LDS » Patriarch Eldred G. Smith was a great-great-grandson of Mormon founder’s brother Hyrum.

By Peggy Fletcher Stack | The Salt Lake Tribune

Eldred G. Smith, who served for 32 years as Mormonism’s “presiding patriarch,” died Thursday evening at his home in Salt Lake City. At 106, Smith was the faith’s oldest living and longest-serving LDS general authority.

Smith’s position as church patriarch, once endorsed by members as “a prophet, seer and revelator” on par with the church president and 12 apostles, was created by Mormon founder Joseph Smith in 1833. The LDS prophet chose his father as its first occupant and next his brother Hyrum. From then on, the office, charged with giving “patriarchal blessings” to all adult and teen members, passed down the generations to various male descendants in the Smith family.

Eldred Smith, a great-great-grandson of Hyrum Smith, was patriarch from 1947 until 1979, when LDS leaders determined the church no longer needed a presiding patriarch because, they said, every stake (a group of congregations similar to a diocese) had its own.

Smith’s eldest son, E. Gary Smith, who wrote a history of the LDS patriarch’s office, cited another reason: discomfort with an extra-apostolic office.

“From the time of [the Smith brothers’] martyrdom in 1844 on,” Gary Smith said, “it was problematic for the church to have an inherited office.”

So the authorities made Eldred Smith an emeritus general authority, but allowed him to continue to provide some blessings, each one a personalized spiritual road map. He traveled around showing several church artifacts — including the clothing his ancestor Hyrum Smith was wearing when he was killed with his prophet-brother in Illinois’ Carthage Jail — to groups of Latter-day Saints.

To the end of his life, Smith received a “living allowance,” maintained an office, had a designated parking place, received his biannual temple recommend directly from the church president and joined other top leaders in the Salt Lake LDS Temple on the first Thursday of every month for a special service. This week, Smith, in a wheelchair, attended the monthly meeting on Wednesday — the day before he died — because of the upcoming LDS General Conference.

“The church lost a valued friend and respected leader with the passing of Patriarch Eldred G. Smith,” the LDS Church said in a statement. “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.”

It didn’t bother Eldred Smith that few contemporary Mormons knew him or his previously prominent position. But he was disappointed, he told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2006, that the office of presiding patriarch would die with him.

“I accept these changes,” he told Mormon authorities in 1979, “but I don’t like them.”

From earliest childhood, Eldred Smith believed the position of patriarch was his spiritual destiny. He was the eldest son of Hyrum G. Smith, who was training to be a dentist in California when he got the call that John Smith, his grandfather, had died and the church needed him to return to Utah for the full-time position. Hyrum Smith took to the calling with gusto, overseeing a quorum of patriarchs who sought advice and training for the mystical calling. He taught his son Eldred to expect the position.

When Hyrum Smith died, Eldred Smith was 25, not married and without a college degree. Then-LDS President Heber J. Grant felt he was not ready for the position, so the office went vacant.

It was 1932, the depths of the Depression, and Eldred Smith had his mother and seven siblings to care for. Within a year, he married Jeanne Ness and they soon began a family. Thus he was forced to take any job he could find. He carried 200-pound blocks of ice on his back for Hygeia Ice Co. to houses. He scraped, cleaned and painted the entire ceiling of the Salt Lake Tabernacle, a job for which his smaller frame and weight were more suited. He painted and hung wallpaper for Bennett Glass & Paint; he worked at, and owned, gas stations and repaired cars.

Finally, in 1947, he was called back to Utah to become the church’s presiding patriarch.

“There is no way to prepare for it, no instructions, no counsel,” Smith told the paper. “When I was first ordained, I went into my office, closed the door and didn’t come out for two weeks. Then a young man came to the door asking for a blessing and so I gave it to him.”

Smith was soon traveling the globe giving patriarchal blessings. While in Australia in 1966, for example, he gave 139 blessing in 16 days. He had five full-time secretaries to type what he dictated. He always spoke in English, but if the recipients spoke another language, he would send the transcripts to LDS Church offices for translation. By the time he died, Smith had given nearly 20,000 blessings.

After 1979, Smith and his wife, Hortense (whom he married two years after Jeanne died in 1977), went on the Mormon unpaid fireside circuit. The couple displayed Hyrum Smith’s bloodied clothes to help people get a sense of how big a man he was — about 6 foot 3. They held up the watch Hyrum had in his pocket that was shattered by a bullet and showed the box that Joseph Smith said he used to hold the gold plates, which contained the writings Smith said he translated into the Book of Mormon.

When he turned 105, Smith got a special birthday visit from the current Mormon president, Thomas S. Monson, the LDS Church News reported, and the two shared memories of their decades of service.

Hortense Smith died last year, and Eldred Smith has slowed down somewhat, Gary Smith said, but he was lucid to the end.

A funeral is planned for Wednesday, according to his son.


Longest-living LDS general authority dies at age 106


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

Hyrum Smith, Patriarch


by Pearson H. Corbett

“Blessed is my servant Hyrum Smith,” said the Savior, “for I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right before me” (D&C 124:15).

The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote of Hyrum, “I could pray in my heart that all my brethren were like unto my beloved brother Hyrum, for truly he possesses the mildness of a Lamb, and the integrity of Job; and in short the meek and quiet spirit, of Jesus Christ; and I love him with that love, that is stronger than death.”

This wonderful book reveals much that is little known about this devoted older brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It describes Hyrum’s role in the restoration of the gospel, his duties in the Church, his home life, his role in the building of the Kirtland Temple, his life in Nauvoo, and his martyrdom with Joseph, whom he refused to leave in the Carthage Jail.

Hyrum Smith-Patriarch is indeed a classic biography of one of the Church’s greatest yet most often overlooked leaders. It will continue to provide inspiration and understanding for years to come.

Doctrine and Covenants 135: 1

Doctrine and Covenants 135: 1

1 TO seal the testimony of this book and the Book of Mormon, we announce the martyrdom of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and Hyrum Smith the Patriarch. They were shot in Carthage jail, on the 27th of June, 1844, about five o’clock p.m., by an armed mob-painted black-of from 150 to 200 persons. Hyrum was shot first and fell calmly, exclaiming: I am a dead man! Joseph leaped from the window, and was shot dead in the attempt, exclaiming: O Lord my God! They were both shot after they were dead, in a brutal manner, and both received four balls.

Doctrine and Covenants 124: 91-95

Doctrine and Covenants 124: 91-95

91 And again, verily I say unto you, let my servant William be appointed, ordained, and anointed, as counselor unto my servant Joseph, in the room of my servant Hyrum, that my servant Hyrum may take the office of Priesthood and Patriarch, which was appointed unto him by his father, by blessing and also by right;

 92 That from henceforth he shall hold the keys of the patriarchal blessings upon the heads of all my people,

 93 That whoever he blesses shall be blessed, and whoever hecurses shall be cursed; that whatsoever he shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever he shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

 94 And from this time forth I appoint unto him that he may be a prophet, and a seer, and a revelator unto my church, as well as my servant Joseph;

 95 That he may act in concert also with my servant Joseph; and that he shall receive counsel from my servant Joseph, who shall show unto him the keys whereby he may ask and receive, and be crowned with the same blessing, and glory, and honor, and priesthood, and gifts of the priesthood, that once were put upon him that was my servant Oliver Cowdery;