Elder Douglas H. Smith, former member of Seventy, passes away at age 87

Elder Douglas Hill Smith, who served in the Quorums of the Seventy from 1987 to 1992, passed away at home January 29, 2009. He served in many capacities within the Church and was involved in many businesses in Utah.

Elder Smith was born on May 11, 1921, in Salt Lake City to Virgil Howarth Smith and Winifred Pearl Hill Smith, and was raised in Salt Lake City, graduating from South High School and later the University of Utah. Elder Smith and his wife, Barbara Jean Bradshaw Smith, had seven children, 39 grandchildren and 78 great-grandchildren.

Elder and Sister Douglas H. Smith posed for a photo after he was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy on April 4, 1987.
Elder and Sister Douglas H. Smith posed for a photo after he was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy on April 4, 1987. Photo: O. Wallace Kasteler, Deseret News

As an active member of the Church, Elder Smith served in many callings, including elders quorum president, high priest group leader, bishop, stake president, regional representative, a member of the First and Second Quorums of the Seventy, as well as an area president and temple sealer.

Elder Smith worked for many well-known Utah companies in various positions, including president of Beneficial Life Insurance Company, Chairman of the board of directors of LDS Hospital, and was a member of the board of directors of Zions First National Bank. He was also vice chairman and executive vice president of the Boys Scouts of America and was vice chairman and executive vice president of Deseret Management Corporation.

Friends may visit Larkin Mortuary, 260 East South Temple St., Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday, Feb. 3, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Elder Smith's funeral will be at noon on February 4 at the Ensign Second Ward located 135 North "A" Street, Salt Lake City, Utah. A viwing will be held an hour before the service.

His greatest success is in home, family

(Originally published in the Church News, May 30, 1987, after Elder Douglas H. Smith was sustained on April 4, 1987, as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.)

By Gerry Avant

Church News staff writer

In corporate and business terms, Douglas H. Smith, 66, is a high-powered executive who has been president of five companies and chairman or member of the board of directors of seven others.

In Church terminology, he's a committed and humble servant of the Lord who has been a bishop, stake president and regional representative; he was sustained April 4, 1987, to the First Quorum of the Seventy. In the home and family, he's the husband of Barbara B. Smith, father of three sons and four daughters, and grandfather of 36 grandchildren.

He could be described as a "homebody." Although he has traveled extensively, he has not stayed away from home very long. He began dating Barbara Bradshaw after they met at a debate tournament, in which she was a contestant. He was a university debate team member who was a tournament judge. When they married in June 1941, he was living in the same house where he was born in Salt Lake City on May 11, 1921, to Virgil H. and Winifred Pearl Hill Smith. During their nearly 46 years of marriage, Elder and Sister Smith have made their home in Salt Lake City.

Of all his accomplishments and achievements, he derives more satisfaction and pride from those involving his family. He has scheduled executive meetings around junior and high school football games so he could attend the games and cheer for a son or grandson. He has excused himself from social events in order to attend a daughter's or granddaughter's recital or chorus performance. Whenever a child or grandchild has been involved in something important in his or her life, he has been there to support and encourage them.

Elder Smith said he hopes he is a carbon copy of his own father, who was athletic and interested in "all kinds of children's events," and who was involved in Boy Scouting. "He was understanding and not stern at all," Elder Smith recalled. "He had principles and he adhered to them absolutely.

"When I was about 13, I became enthralled with baseball," he continued. "The games were played on Sunday morning. But I figured out a way to work around that. I went to priesthood meeting with my father, and then ditched out of Sunday School and went to the ball games. Since my parents always stayed about 30 minutes to visit with friends after Sunday School, I got home about the time they did.

"I thought it was a perfect plan. I did that for about four weeks. Then, one Sunday morning while I was watching a game, I heard a familiar voice say, 'Great game, isn't it?' I turned around, and there was my father. He sat beside me and watched the game. I thought, 'Boy, I've got the greatest dad in all the world. He isn't yelling at me, and he enjoys watching the game just like I do.'

"Everything was fine until we got home. Then he reminded me what the Sabbath day was and let me know I was expected to be in Church. He didn't humiliate me at the game by dragging me home, but for the next four Sundays he went in and sat beside me in my Sunday School class. Finally, he said, 'If you can go to Sunday School on your own, that's fine; I won't have to go with you. But if you ditch Sunday School again, I will go with you for three months.' That ended the Sunday morning baseball games for me."

That also began a more serious commitment to Church activity and responsibility. He described his Aaronic Priesthood advisers and Scout leaders as "outstanding men" who helped him learn and implement the principles of the gospel.

"My home teaching companion was a high priest who was a very good man to go with," he said. "He encouraged me and was always willing to adjust appointments to meet my schedule."

His Scoutmaster taught him the value of perseverance. "We did a terrible job cooking over an open fire," Elder Smith recalled. "Our Scoutmaster would insist that we cook our meals. We failed miserably; some potatoes were burned through and through and others were raw. Our meals were just terrible. But after we had cooked and tried to eat our meals, our Scoutmaster would invite us over to his tent. He always took extra food, which he cooked so we would know what it was to have good meals on a camping trip. We kept trying to cook, and eventually won an event in cooking at a jamboree. Our Scoutmaster let us learn by experience.

Elder Smith said when he entered college, he had planned to be a teacher. "Barbara and I got married in June 1941," he said. "I had planned to get my doctoral degree. Pearl Harbor was bombed in December 1941, and I graduated from the University of Utah in June 1942. With World War II on, it was impossible for me to continue my education. I started to work, just waiting to enlist or be drafted."

Although he tried to enlist, he was exempted from military service because of a birth defect that made it impossible for him to rotate his arms and hands. "I was always self-conscious about my hands, so my grade school years were very unhappy for me," he recalled. "I went to great lengths to keep the other children — especially the boys — from finding out that I couldn't turn my hands into a palms-up position. I think I got into trouble in every grade. Out on the playground, a teacher would tell us do some chin-ups. I'd grab the bar the only way I could and do the chin-ups the best I could. The teacher would tell me to grab the bar the correct way. Instead of telling her I couldn't do that, I would just say, 'I don't want to.' She'd send me to the principal's office, and my mother would have to go to school and explain everything.

"I learned you can work around a handicap. I couldn't catch a baseball the proper way, but I learned how to catch it backhanded. I would practice by catching balls as long as someone would hit them to me. The first 500 times, I caught very few, but eventually I learned to catch as well as anyone else. You find ways to do things when you have a handicap."

Elder Smith said when he was a boy he used to cry and ask his mother why he had such a handicap. "She would always say, 'The Lord never gives you anything you can't overcome. Maybe it's a blessing in disguise.'

"As it turned out, my handicap was a blessing in disguise," he said. "I had received two letters from the Navy asking me to be an officer, but I couldn't pass the physical. Without the handicap, I would have gone into duty, probably in the South Pacific. Who knows what would have happened?"

The day after he graduated from college, he went to work for Utah Home Fire Insurance Co. "If there is anything that can humble you, it's to have a college degree and work for $80 a month as a file clerk," he said. "But I always felt if I worked long enough and hard enough and learned enough that there was nothing I couldn't accomplish. I went to work early and got home late. The manager worked late; I would spend a couple of hours after work with him, having him train me."

Within 16 years Douglas H. Smith was president of the company. In another 14 years, he became president of the parent company, Beneficial Life Insurance. He has also served as executive vice president and general manager of Deseret Management Corporation and as chairman or member of the board of several other banking and insurance institutions. He also has been active in numerous community and service organizations.

"I think my Church work has really helped me in the business world far more than vice versa," he reflected. "Through my Church work, I learned how to work with people, how to organize and how to follow through. I learned how important details are. Those attributes followed me into the business field."

For nearly 10 years, while his wife was serving as Relief Society general president from October 1974 to April 1984, he "picked up the slack in the home and family." He drove her to and from the airport when she traveled on assignments, spent extra time with their children and grandchildren, shopped for birthday and Christmas gifts and groceries, and just generally "did the things she would have done if she had been home."

"It was a joyful 10 years," Elder Smith said. "When Barbara was called, President Spencer W. Kimball asked me if I would support and sustain her. I told him I would. She had sustained and supported me for 35 years, and I appreciated the opportunity to do that for her."

"Sometimes I got lonely when she was away," he said. "I could have sat home and brooded about it, but I would say, 'She's on the Lord's mission; she's doing His work, and I'm going to be blessed.' I'd get out of the doldrums by visiting the children or something."

Sister Smith said Elder Smith has always had a deep interest in his family. "I don't know many men who enjoy shopping, but Doug begins in January to look for presents for the grandchildren for next Christmas, and he shops all year long," she said. "He makes certain each gift is suited for and is special to each child."

He not only shops for gifts, but looks for creative things to do with family members. "He really is the fun in our family," she said. "He has a terrific sense of humor."

Elder Smith said, "You can find fun in just about everything. A person shouldn't take himself or situations too seriously. I think you need to stand back and look at yourself, and maybe even laugh at yourself."

Friends are important to Elder Smith. "It's really important that you build friendships," he said. "You can have some very great and beautiful and spiritual experiences with friends. They enhance your life."

An expert manager of time, Elder Smith has found ways to include family members and friends in his busy schedule. "Sometimes, all you need is just a little planning to fit in everything and everybody," he said.

He also plans carefully for time to study the scriptures. "To me, the scriptures are living principles." He said. "A lot of people make them theoretical. I always read them and ask, 'How does that apply to me?' When Saul was on his way to Damascus and was struck down, he asked, 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?' That has always been an important scripture in my life because as I have made some major decisions, I've tried to ask the same thing, whether it's been a Church, family or business matter."

When his call to the First Quorum of the Seventy was extended, Elder Smith was already conditioned to give his response.

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