Gerry Avant: Recalling an interview with Sister Amelia Smith McConkie — wife of an apostle, daughter of a prophet

Monday, April15, 2013Joseph Fielding McConkie speaks at monthly Men and Women of Faith Lecture Series sponsored by Church History Library on his father, "Bruce R. McConkie, Special Witness". Pictured here with his wife Amelia Smith McConkie, daughter of Joseph Fielding Smith. Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
First Presidency in 1970, left to right, President Harold B. Lee, President Joseph Fielding Smith and President N. Eldon Tanner. Credit: Courtesy of Church History Department, Courtesy of Church History Department
Pres. Hugh B. Brown of the First Presidency, left, Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve, and Elder Gordon B. Hinckley break ground for the Provo Temple Sept. 15, 1969. Credit: University Archives, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University
Joseph Fielding Smith served as head of the Church Historian’s office from 1921 to 1970. Here he searches the archives. Credit: Courtesy of Church History Department,
Joseph Fielding Smith at age 24. Credit: Courtesy of Church History Department,
President Joseph Fielding Smith Credit: Church History Library

I knew I was with a kindred spirit within minutes of arriving on an April morning in 1973 for an interview with Sister Amelia Smith McConkie, wife of Elder Bruce R. McConkie, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1972 to 1985.

She greeted me with warmth, motioned me to sit in a comfortable chair and then scooped up an assortment of books, papers, pens and other items strewn on the dining room table and other spots in a well-lived-in home. I identified with the habit of leaving such items out when stepping away for a few hours, or even days. Added to my observation was the fact that I was in the home of an apostle and his wife who were devoted to the study of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation about her family with Sister McConkie, a daughter of Joseph Fielding Smith, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when she was born in 1916; in 1970 he became the 10th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I felt as though I had been invited to sit in on a quick course in a portion of the history of the Church.

Reflecting on her father’s teachings, Sister McConkie said, “Dad had the ability and the grit to make his children (he had 11) love him. None of us would have done anything to hurt him.”

Sister McConkie said she felt a great responsibility during her growing-up years because she felt her father’s influence wouldn’t have been as great if his own children didn’t live the way they were taught. She said the same responsibility should be felt by all young people who are members of the Church because the world knows of its standards and is constantly looking at its members.

President Joseph Fielding Smith
President Joseph Fielding Smith | Credit: Church History Library

She said her father would tell her the story about the son of Alma, and then quote, “Wickedness never was happiness.”

“He told me that when I was a little girl, and that stuck with me all my life. I had a complete sense of security as long as I was in his home.“

Sister McConkie said she is certain she never would have walked if it had not been for a blessing President Smith gave her. “I had polio when I was 2 years old, and Dad gave me a blessing and took care of me. Mother was very busy with the other children, so Dad generally took care of me. I am convinced I would never have walked without the blessing he gave me and his faith.“

She said her father was constantly teaching and guiding his children in the paths they should follow. President Smith’s personal influence was felt in the McConkie home, since he was living with them at the time of his death in 1972. “It was a thrill to have Dad living with us … to hear him pray. He often said: ‘Help us to be true to every covenant we’ve made. Keep us from the things contrary to Thy will.’

“I used to hear him pray, ‘Let Thy purposes speedily come to pass.’ It worried me. I could just see the Lord answering his prayers and the world coming to an end! But as I’ve grown older, I see the wickedness and misery and I realize what a great promise we have of eternity.

“Dad has been a great influence on my life. I tell my husband that I am what I am because of Dad. There are so many lessons I have learned from Dad.

“He was kind, thoughtful and loving. I used to get upset with the children and would say, ’What do you do with them?’

”‘Love them and be patient,’” would be his answer.

Sister McConkie said her mother, Ethel Reynolds Smith, set an example in the home by honoring her husband and respecting his position. Sister McConkie followed that example. She and Bruce R. McConkie married in the Salt Lake Temple on Oct. 13, 1937. Just as diligently as he served as an apostle, she fulfilled many responsibilities, including serving three times as a Relief Society president. 

Sister McConkie passed away in 2005.

— Gerry Avant is a former Church News editor. She continues to write frequent columns for the Church News.

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