President Monson Honors Final Church Patriarch at Funeral
By Gerry Avant, Church News editor
Elder Eldred Gee Smith, emeritus Patriarch to the Church who died April 4 at age 106, was remembered by President Thomas S. Monson as “an honorable man—even a man of God [who] loved the Lord with all his heart and soul and served Him with all his might.”
At Elder Smith’s funeral on April 10, President Monson said, “As long as I live, I shall cherish my friendship and close association with Eldred G. Smith. … Wherever I go in this world, I take a part of this dear friend with me, for my life has been blessed with his understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
President Monson reminisced about his nearly 50-year association with Elder Smith, which began in 1963 when they rode together to the burial of Elder Levi Edgar Young, who had been one of the seven Presidents of the Seventy.
As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve who supervised the South Pacific Area of the Church in 1966, Elder Monson asked President David O. McKay if he could invite Patriarch Smith to travel to Australia to give patriarchal blessings to members there since the Church did not have sufficient patriarchs at that time to accommodate all who desired to receive blessings. President McKay approved. After he gave blessings to members in Australia, Elder Smith traveled to Samoa, where Elder Monson was on an assignment. Elder Monson asked him to give blessings to members there. “This was the first time a presiding Patriarch ever visited Samoa,” President Monson said.
He spoke of several other occasions when he and Elder Smith traveled together to stake conferences and other assignments.
President Thomas S. Monson and his daughter, Ann Dibb, attend the funeral of Elder Eldred G. Smith, 106, an emeritus General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1979 and the seventh and final Patriarch to the Church. He died April 4, 2013. Photo by Gerry Avant.
President Monson kept in touch with Elder Smith over the years and made a tradition of visiting him on milestone birthdays. The last was January 9. “As usual, he was alert and happy. He has been faithful in attending our first Thursday meetings of all the General Authorities in the Salt Lake Temple and, in fact, was in attendance at our meeting just a month ago, where I called on him to bear his testimony. He did so beautifully.”
Elder Smith 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 the Prophet Joseph Smith. As a direct descendant, Elder Smith inherited some of the belongings of Hyrum Smith, which he displayed to half a million people, according to his family; others say maybe a million people saw the artifacts.
President Monson said that four years ago he took his counselors to Elder Smith’s office in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. “He showed us some of Hyrum Smith’s belongings, including clothing Hyrum wore which showed the bullet holes from the assassins who took the lives of Joseph and Hyrum. It was an afternoon we will not forget,” President Monson said.
After he read to the family a letter of condolence from the First Presidency, President Monson said, “Temporarily, I have lost a good friend.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard, a great-great-grandson of Hyrum Smith, spoke on behalf of the extended Smith family. He spoke of Elder Smith’s contributions to keeping alive the history of family. “We celebrate him as Patriarch to the Church and as patriarch of the extended family,” he said. He added that he knew Elder Smith felt his greatest accomplishment of his lifetime was his family.
Elder Smith is survived by two sons and 2 daughters (another daughter is deceased), 22 grandchildren (two others are deceased), 63 great-grandchildren, and 22 great-great-grandchildren.
He married Jeanne Audrey Ness Smith in 1931; she died in 1977. He married Hortense Child Smith in 1978; she died last May.
Delivering the eulogy, Miriam S. Skeen, Elder Smith’s daughter, read from his obituary: “Eldred was preceded in death by almost everybody. He stopped reading obituaries 10 years ago, as contemporaries’ names were not showing up any more.”
Gary Smith, a son, jokingly spoke of Elder Smith’s longevity, saying, “He maintained he would be the fourth Nephite.” He said when his father reached 100, the family quit expecting him to die.
Elder Smith went to his office in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building two days before he died.
His bishop, Timothy L. Hawker, said, “Age is a small portion of what his life was.” He spoke of Elder Smith’s life of service and devotion and how he influenced ward members through his knowledge of the gospel and the scriptures. He noted that Elder Smith “attended church throughout his life, including his last Sunday.”
Elder Smith’s funeral was held in the Salt Lake Monument Park Stake Center, with interment in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.