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George Albert Smith led by love

During 1993, members of the Church are studying the Doctrine and Covenants and Church history in the Gospel Doctrine class. This is the eighth of a series of articles on the presidents of the Church that is running in the Church News this year.

"A ll the happiness that is worthy of the name, all the real happiness there is in the world, comes from living in accordance with the commandments of God," testified George Albert Smith. His life exemplified his testimony: "I do not know of anybody who has ever had a happier life than I have had."1Obedience to the commandments of God had been a pattern of righteousness in his family for generations. His paternal grandfather, George A. Smith, for whom he was named, served in the First Presidency of the Church with Brigham Young and later his father, John Henry Smith, was in the First Presidency with Joseph F. Smith. His mother, Sarah Farr, was promised in her patriarchal blessing "that none in Israel would excel her posterity."2 A blessing given to young George on Jan. 16, 1884, added further understanding to this promise: "Thou shalt become a mighty apostle in the church and kingdom of God upon the earth, for none of thy father's family shall have more power with God than thou shalt have, for none shall excel thee."3

This child of promise was reared in Salt Lake City. Physical frailty dominated his youthful years, yet it was said of him he was bold and daring. A long scar on the side of his forehead from a sleighing accident reminded him of his challenge for "the steeper the hill . . . the greater the thrill."4

Friends were attracted by his cheerful nature. They enjoyed his entertaining abilities with the harmonica, banjo and guitar. The one exception was Lucy Woodruff, a granddaughter of Wilford Woodruff. Young George had teased and tormented Lucy in the hopes of gaining her favor, but his tactics were not appreciated. It wasn't until he returned from a year at the Brigham Young Academy to Salt Lake City that Lucy remarked to her grandmother: "I just met George Smith. He's home from school, and he's decent."5

Decent qualities not only won the love of Lucy but also employment at the ZCMI clothing factory. When the manager said he could not afford to hire more help, George reminded him he had not asked for money, only for a job: "I know that if I'm worth anything, I'll get paid."6 He was paid $2.50 a week until he was promoted to a salesman. Soon George was directing grocery sales for ZCMI in the Salt Lake area.

His employment was interrupted when the First Presidency issued a call for him to strengthen the youth in southern Utah. An outrageous checkered suit, a well-worn guitar, and a repertoire of funny songs moved the youth to heartfelt ovations. But what changed their lives was George's genuine love of the Lord and his confidence that these new friends could keep the commandments.

A second call, a letter from "Box B," announced his proselyting mission to the Southern states. Before entering the mission field he married his childhood sweetheart, Lucy Woodruff, on May 25, 1892, in the Manti Temple. The newlyweds had less than a month together before George left for Chattanooga, Tenn., to fulfill the mission.

Religious persecution and bigotry prevailed in the South. When J. Golden Kimball and George were in Alabama, an angry mob demanded their departure. When they refused, the mob began shooting into the dwelling. George was calm and sure that as long as he was preaching the word of God, the Lord would protect him, and He did.7

After George returned to Salt Lake City, Wilford Woodruff gave Lucy a prophetic blessing promising her that she would bear children. Less than a year later, she gave birth to a daughter named Emily and four years later, to a second daughter named Edith. The last child, George Albert, Jr., was born in 1905.

During the early years of family nurturing, George was a doting father and served as an assistant in the superintendency of the YMMIA in the Salt Lake Stake. He also helped his father organize the Republican Party in Utah. His interest in politics led to his appointment in January 1898 to the United States Land Office in Utah.

On Oct. 6, 1903, at the age of 33, George Albert Smith was called to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Two days later he was ordained a high priest and an apostle in the Salt Lake Temple. That was the first and only time a father and son served simultaneously in the Quorum of the Twelve.

His 42 years in the Quorum were filled with noble and loving service, despite episodes of poor health. Surgery on his eyes, damaged by the sun while surveying roads in southern Utah, failed to correct his near blindness. Accelerated pressures and demands on his time weakened his frail physique. In 1909 he collapsed from exhaustion. The doctor's order of complete rest eroded his self-confidence, created feelings of worthlessness, and aggravated his tension.

A revelatory dream renewed his hope for recovery. In the dream George saw a beautiful forest near a placid lake. After he had walked some distance in the forest, he recognized George A. Smith coming towards him. He hurried to embrace his beloved grandfather, but as he drew near, his grandfather stopped and said, "I would like to know what you have done with my name." A panorama of life passed in review before George. He humbly replied, "I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed."8

The dream renewed his spirit and his physical stamina. A surge of ecclesiastical responsibilities quickly followed. Through correspondence he remained close to those at home. A letter to his daughter Edith reveals his love of the Church: "If the children kind of look at you funny because you are a Mormon, just be proud of it. . . . To be a Mormon is greater than anything else if you are a good one."9

In 1919 he was called to preside over the European Mission. President Heber J. Grant explained, "[IT am convinced that a mission abroad will prolong your life."10

After George spent two years in Europe, President Grant assigned him to be the general superintendent of the YMMIA. He enthusiastically accepted the assignment: "There is nothing dearer to my heart than the welfare of the boys in our church."11

With gusto he embraced the Boy Scouts of America, becoming a charter member of the executive board of the Salt Lake Council and later elected to the National Executive Council. He enjoyed wearing his Scout uniform and took great joy in being a recipient of the Silver Beaver and Silver Buffalo awards.

His work with the youth was unsurpassed, but many claim his greater contribution was his love for all. He often visited hospitals and nursing facilities, bringing gladness to the discouraged. He served as president of the Society for Aid to the Sightless in Utah. In 1935 he oversaw the printing of the Book of Mormon in Braille and later arranged for Helen Keller to speak in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

"Give the Lord a chance," he would say. "The Lord has a way of accomplishing things that we are unable to do and never asks us to do anything without preparing the way."

He lived by a personal creed of Christian principles.12 After expressing his love for his deceased neighbor, James B. Wallis, he returned home to discover his wife Lucy had died. "It is a lonesome house I am in tonight, but my family are here," lamented Elder Smith.13

On July 12, 1943, he was set apart as president of the Quorum of the Twelve. On May 21, 1945, George Albert Smith was ordained president of the Church. He later remarked, "I wonder if anyone else here feels as weak and humble as the man who stands before you."14

The objectives of his administration were presented to the Quorum of the Twelve: "I counseled the Brethren to love the people into living righteously."15

Highlights of his administration from 1945 to 1951 include the construction of "This Is the Place Monument" located at the mouth of Emigration Canyon east of Salt Lake City. The monument marked his continuing interest in the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmark Association and his concern for preserving historic sites relevant to early Latter-day Saint history. He dedicated the Idaho Falls Temple in 1945, the 10th temple built by the Saints.

President Smith met with Harry S. Truman to receive approval to send supplies to needy Saints in war-torn Europe. "Well, what do you want to ship it over there for? Their money isn't any good," remarked President Truman. "I said: We don't want their money.' He looked at me and asked:You don't mean you are going to give it to them?' I said: Of course, we would give it to them. They are our brothers and sisters and are in distress. God has blessed us with a surplus, and we will be glad to send it if we can have the cooperation of the government.' He said:You are on the right track,' and added, `we will be glad to help you in any way we can.' "16

Elder Ezra Taft Benson supervised the distribution of 127 carloads of food, clothing, bedding, and medicine.

President Smith's sermons focused on personal conduct and quality of life: "I do not have an enemy that I know of. . . . All men and all women are my Father's children, and I have sought during my life to observe the wise direction of the Redeemer of mankind - to love my neighbor as myself."17 As he neared age 80, he penned, "I know today better than I ever knew before that God lives; that Jesus is the Christ; that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of the Living God."18

On the morning of his 81st birthday, April 4, 1951, he suffered a "sinking spell." His immediate family, who had gathered to wish him happy birthday, witnessed his death. He died at 7:27 p.m. The funeral was held in the Tabernacle on April 7, 1951, in place of the General Conference session. President David O. McKay said of George Albert Smith, "Truly he was a noble soul, happiest when he was making others happy."19

Endnotes

1Official Reports of the General Conferences of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1903-1951, April 1947. (Hereafter cited as Conference Reports).

2Patriarchal blessing given to Sarah Farr Smith as cited in Francis M. Gibbons, George Albert Smith: Kind and Caring Christian, Prophet of God. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1990.

3Copy of blessing in George Albert Smith collection at the University of Utah Library.

4The Pioneer, 3 (July 1951):2-3, as cited in Gibbons, George Albert Smith, p. 4.

5Gibbons, George Albert Smith, p. 6.

6Ibid., p. 8.

7Bryant S. Hinckley, "Greatness in Men: Superintendent George Albert Smith," Improvement Era, March 1932, 35:295.

8George Albert Smith, "Your Good Name," Improvement Era, March 1947, 50:139.

9Letter of September 21, 1912, George Albert Smith Collection at the University of Utah, box 33, folder.

10George Albert Smith collection, box 41, folder 12.

11Letter of December 14, 1926, George Albert Smith Collection, box 52, folder 24.

12Bryant S. Hinckley, "Greatness in Men: Superintendent George Albert Smith," Improvement Era, March 1932, 35:295.

13Gibbons, George Albert Smith, p. 167.

14George Albert Smith, Conference Reports, October 1945, p. 18.

15George Albert Smith journals, 1903-1951, copy in Special Collections, University of Utah Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. Originals in archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

16George Albert Smith, Conference Reports, October 1947, pp. 5-6.

17George Albert Smith, "After Eighty Years," Improvement Era, April 1950, 53:263.

18Ibid.

19David O. McKay, Conference Reports, April 1951, p. 1.

(Chart)

Highlights in life of George Albert Smith

April 4, 1870: Born in Salt Lake City, Utah.

May 25, 1892: Married Lucy Emily Woodruff in Manti Temple.

1898: Appointed receiver for U.S. Land Office by U.S. President William McKinley.

Oct. 8, 1903: Ordained an apostle by President Joseph F. Smith.

Jan. 27, 1919: Called to preside over European Mission.

Sept. 21, 1921: Called as general superintendent of YMMIA.

May 6, 1922: Participated in first radio broadcast in Salt Lake City.

April 6, 1930: Directed Church's observance of its centennial.

1934: Received Boy Scouts Silver Buffalo award.

July 1, 1943: Set apart as president of the Council of the Twelve.

May 21, 1945: Sustained president of the Church.

Sept. 23, 1945: Dedicated Idaho Falls Temple.

July 24, 1947: Dedicated "This Is the Place Monument" in Salt Lake City.

Feb. 28, 1950: Awarded honorary degree by University of Utah.

April 6, 1950: Announced that Church membership had surpassed a million members.

April 4, 1951: Died on his birthday in Salt Lake City at age 81.

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