A prophet and a patriarch sat side by side.
The scene was reminiscent of a chapter from the past; however, it was a present-day event that, surely, will become a part of Church history itself.
The prophet — President Thomas S. Monson — paid a visit to the patriarch — Elder Eldred G. Smith — on Monday, Jan. 9, personally delivering greetings on Elder Smith's 105th birthday.
Elder Smith, born Jan. 7, 1907, at Lehi, Utah, served as Patriarch to the Church from April 10, 1947, until Oct. 6, 1979. The last man to have served as such, he is an emeritus General Authority.
Elder Smith has lived longer than any former General Authority in the history of the Church. He is believed to be the oldest man living in Utah.
He is the great-great-great-grandson of Joseph Smith Sr., who was called in 1833 as the first Patriarch to the Church, and the great-great-grandson of Hyrum Smith, a brother of Prophet Joseph Smith.
President Monson, 84, is almost 21 years younger than Elder Smith, but age made no difference as they reminisced about their long years of service in the Church and their travels together to such places as Australia, Samoa, Italy and other countries and to many places in the United States.
Elder Smith had been serving as Patriarch to the Church for 16 years when Thomas S. Monson was called in 1963 to the Quorum of the Twelve at age 36. As he prepared to embark on one of his early international assignments Elder Monson asked President David O. McKay if Elder Smith could accompany him to Australia. That began their travels in each other's company.
"We had a good time together," President Monson said. He spoke of how Elder Smith traveled the length and breadth of nations giving patriarchal blessings.
In the earlier years as he served as Patriarch to the Church, Elder Smith often undertook long trips. "I was gone for six months one time," he said of his duties that took him to multiple countries. "I've given more than 18,000 blessings." With a smile that hinted of his sense of humor, he confessed that he doesn't remember everyone to whom he has given a blessing, although many people still approach him to remind him of that momentous event in their lives.
President Monson and Elder Smith have maintained a close association over the years. On the first Thursday of each month, Elder Smith attends a meeting with all the General Authorities who are in Salt Lake City. President Monson said he often calls upon Elder Smith to speak. "We always enjoy hearing from him," President Monson said.
He explained that "patriarch" is an office in the Melchizedek Priesthood, and that Elder Smith is still a patriarch. "A patriarch doesn't have to give blessings to retain that office," he said.
President Monson added, "Everyone should receive a patriarchal blessing. It is a real treasure to have, a guide for your life. It is a holy calling to be a patriarch."
Elder Smith is keenly aware of his heritage. Apart from his well-known ancestors — including Joseph Smith Sr. and Hyrum Smith, he spoke of his great-grandfather, John Smith, who was set apart in 1855 by Brigham Young as Patriarch to the Church; he served until his death in 1911. "He served as Patriarch to the Church for 56 years," Elder Smith said.
Elder Smith spoke also of his father, Hyrum Gibbs Smith, who was ordained by President Joseph F. Smith as Patriarch to the Church at age 32 on May 9, 1912; he served in that office until his death on Feb. 3, 1932, at the age of 52.
Eldred G. Smith was 40 when President George Albert Smith ordained him as Patriarch to the Church in 1947.
A General Authority, Elder Smith traveled to stake conferences with individual members of the Quorum of the Twelve and was a frequent speaker at general conferences.
As a descendant of Hyrum Smith, he has inherited several artifacts that he has displayed on various occasions. Over the years, he has been generous with his time. He has shared his testimony and accounts and artifacts from his family on hundreds of occasions. He often stayed late after meetings in order to shake hands with everyone who wanted to meet him.
He married Jeanne Audrey Ness in 1932; they had five children. Following her death, he married in 1977 Hortense Hogan Child, who had been widowed several years; she was then serving as a counselor in the Young Women general presidency.
Before leaving the Smiths' home, President Monson spent a few minutes visiting with Sister Smith, who, not feeling well, had remained in another room. President Monson commended her on her many years of service to the Church.
Elder Smith walked with his honored guest to the front door, where they shook hands. The two long-time friends bade each other goodbye — until another four weeks when they will be reunited in the regularly scheduled meeting of the Brethren. Quite possibly, President Monson will call upon his long-time friend and gospel colleague to make a few remarks during that meeting.