Visiting teaching is an important way to uplift sisters and bring the gospel of Jesus Christ into their lives and the lives of their families. Mary Ellen W. Smoot, 13th general president of the Relief Society, wanted every sister to catch that vision and live up to her responsibility in it.
“We need each other,” she said. “We need visiting teachers … who are sincerely interested in those they visit and realize the importance of their calling as they strive to reach the one.”1
Visiting teaching is not about completing a monthly to-do list. It is about nurturing every sister and bringing the gospel into every home. “My desire is to plead with our sisters to stop worrying about a phone call or a quarterly or monthly visit, and whether that will do, and concentrate instead on nurturing tender souls,” Sister Smoot said. “Our responsibility is to see that the gospel flame continues to burn brightly. Our charge is to find the lost sheep and help them feel our Savior’s love.”2
When sisters truly understand their identity, they make better decisions, and that includes living gospel-centered lives and visiting teaching with sincere interest. At the 1999 general women’s meeting, Sister Smoot presented the Relief Society Declaration, which expressed the “meaning, purpose, and direction”3 of the lives of Relief Society sisters. In part it reads:
“As a worldwide sisterhood, we are united in our devotion to Jesus Christ, our Savior and Exemplar. We are women of faith, virtue, vision, and charity. … [We] seek spiritual strength by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost. [We] dedicate ourselves to strengthening marriages, families, and homes. … [We] delight in service and good works. … [We] rejoice in the blessings of the temple, understand our divine destiny, and strive for exaltation.”4
Testimony of Mary Ellen W. Smoot
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Mary Ellen Wood was born August 19, 1933, to Melvin and LaVora Blood Smith Wood in Ogden, Utah. She was the fifth of six daughters. The Woods lived the restored gospel, served others, and taught their girls to work hard. The family gardened, grew fruit trees, and raised their own animals. Mary Ellen and her sisters worked in their grandfather’s canning factory. As a child, Mary Ellen cherished the stories of her pioneer ancestors, which led to a lifelong passion for family history work, for which she published several books.
Education and Marriage
In her youth, Mary Ellen held a variety of Church callings as well as student government positions. She attended Utah State University in Logan, Utah. When she was in the ninth grade, she met Stanley Millard Smoot. After Stanley completed his LDS mission to Hawaii, the couple married on October 8, 1952, in the Salt Lake Temple. They had seven children and five foster children. Mary Ellen’s community service included holding positions as diverse as PTA president, host of a teen radio show, and president of the Centerville (Utah) Women’s Republican Club.
Highlights of Church Service
Sister Smoot served on the editorial board for the Children’s Friend from 1966 to1971. She and her husband served seven years on Church public affairs committees and were directors of Church Hosting for VIPS from 1993 to1997. In 1999 the Relief Society collected 350,000 quilts in response to a need for 30,000 quilts for Kosovo refugees. Sister Smoot was a keynote speaker at the second World Congress on Families in Rome, Italy, in 1999.5
Full Interview of Mary Ellen W. Smoot
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- Mary Ellen W. Smoot, “Seeking Solutions," Ensign, Feb. 2002, 47.
- Mary Ellen Smoot, “Pioneer Shoes through the Ages,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 12.
- Mary Ellen Smoot, “Rejoice, Daughters of Zion,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 93.
- Mary Ellen Smoot, “Rejoice, Daughters of Zion,” 92–93.
- See Janet Peterson and LaRene Gaunt, Faith, Hope, and Charity (2008), 246–64.