03021_000_014Stories and anecdotes of the inspirational life and teachings of President Joseph Fielding Smith are many in number. From the hundreds that could have been told, perhaps the following give poignant and helpful insight into the beautiful spirit and personality of President Joseph Fielding Smith.
“Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole”
November 13, 1960, was a beautiful day in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The summer sun beat down, seemingly merciless, but that is common in the Southern Hemisphere during these months.
Though the air traffic at the Port Alegre Airport was normal for the day, the waiting crowd was unusually large. Suddenly, with the announcement of one of the arriving planes, the crowd began to push forward expectantly. The plane landed and taxied across the black asphalt to the gate toward which the crowd was surging.
Most of the passengers deplaned and departed without much notice, but at last the man the crowd was seeking came into view. A murmur of joy went through the people as they gazed upon an apostle of the Lord, President Joseph Fielding Smith.
President Smith was making a tour of missions in South America and had stopped at Porto Alegre for a conference with members and missionaries. He was accompanied by Sister Smith, President A. Theodore Tuttle of the First Council of Seventy, and Sister Tuttle. They would be there just two days.
A few weeks prior to this occasion two missionaries had knocked at the front door of a small house in Canoas, a town ten miles north of Porto Alegre. The lady who answered the door had a certain sparkle about her. She seemed to be one who lived her life to the fullest, and about her was an air of goodness and sincerity.
The elders were invited into the small house and sat on straight-backed chairs, and the senior missionary then proceeded to explain why they had come to her country. As the elders began to teach the gospel to her, she became more and more excited. When she saw the picture of the modern-day apostles of the Church that the missionaries showed her, she exclaimed, “A church with twelve apostles, just like Christ’s!”
The missionaries and their investigator had a spiritual feast that day, and the date for the woman’s baptism was set. Joy filled her bosom, and she could hardly contain her emotions. She told her neighbors, friends she met on the street, even strangers. Her whole life was now bent toward one goal: baptism into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the church that had continual revelation through twelve apostles.
Soon after her baptism was performed, word came that President Joseph Fielding Smith, then President of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, would be arriving. This was a blessing beyond her wildest dreams. Think of it! An apostle coming to Brazil, even to Porto Alegre, and she could see and hear him. Maybe she could even shake his hand. What a marvelous experience!
As the day drew near, her excitement rose. Then suddenly, the day before his arrival, she suffered a heart attack and the doctors felt she would be unable to resume her normal life for some time. To make matters worse, she now felt she had nothing to live for. The apostle was coming and she wasn’t going to be able to see him. Her life became meaningless to her. During this time the elders tried to encourage her, but she would not be consoled.
On the second day of the conference, after the morning meeting and just as President Smith was finishing lunch, two elders knocked on the door of his hotel suite. They told President and Sister Smith the story of the hospitalized member, and the story moved them deeply. President Smith decided to personally visit her and administer to her.
When he entered the hospital room, the woman gave a cry of joy, exclaiming, “Now that he has come, I’m sure to get well!” Then President Smith placed his hands on her head and commanded the sickness to depart from her.
From that time there were no symptoms of the woman’s heart attack. Later she explained that when President Smith placed his hands upon her head and began to speak, the pain immediately left her. The physicians, amazed and uncomprehending, found her medically sound and released her the following day.
This sister continued faithful in the gospel, testifying to many of this miraculous healing. It was an added witness to her of the divinity of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace. …” (Mark 5:34.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith was once the speaker at baccalaureate services at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. At the conclusion of his talk his wife, Sister Jessie Evans Smith, sang the beautiful solo, “He That Hath Clean Hands and a Pure Heart.”
She then hinted to the congregation that President Smith might join her in a duet. Amid delighted applause he arose and, with his exceptional wit, quipped, as he often did when this same request would arise, “Well, Sister Smith, if we’re going to ‘duet,’ let’s ‘duet.’”
President and Sister Smith then sang a touching song about people understanding each other. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience those in attendance will always cherish.
The View from the Family and Neighbors
His daughter, Julina S. Hart: “Occasionally on a Saturday when there would be no stake conference and when Father was at home, he would roll up his sleeves and go in the kitchen and make pies. Not two or three—but twelve or fifteen! Mother would plead, rather quietly, ‘Oh, Daddy, we don’t need that many pies. Besides, pies aren’t good when they’re stale.’ But you know, I never saw a pie get stale. They didn’t last that long; we’d enjoy them, and he’d see that we gave some away to neighbors or someone who needed cheering up.”
His son-in-law, Eldon Hart: “I would like it to be known that he had the greatest capacity for the discernment of truth that I have ever seen in a man. I had the opportunity of working with three great men, three Nobel prize winners, and I think I know whereof I speak. He was a master teacher and an astute student of all subjects. He was not the least bit impressed by man’s so-called academic learning. I can see in my mind his face light up as he would talk of Latter-day Saints who he had felt once were going astray through their academic philosophies. He would contact them, sit down with them, and discuss the gospel and bear his testimony. Many of those men have thanked him many times for his love in approaching them. He often quoted the scripture, ‘Men are ever learning, but never coming to an understanding of the truth.’”
A fellow ward member, Mary Barnes: “The grit and determination of President Smith are famous. I remember that once in our city there was a controversy over Sunday closing for businesses. President and Sister Smith decided that they would only do their shopping at places that closed on Sunday and obeyed the Sabbath. One of the stores they had enjoyed was a little store near the city. One day this store announced that they would begin selling on Sunday. So President and Sister Smith made a point of going to the owner and explaining to him that they had enjoyed shopping at his store but would not be able to continue because they did not want to patronize a store that didn’t obey the Sabbath. Sometime later, they were happy to hear that this man, who had then been somewhat inactive in the Church, had bought out his partner in the store, closed his store on Sunday, and had become active in the Church. The Smiths resumed their trading with him and heard the man testify that since he had gone into partnership with the Lord, his business had prospered even though he had previously thought that he would need to open on Sunday. It may also interest you to know that the President informed the manager of one of the nation’s largest stores that they could no longer patronize his store either, for the same reason of Sunday selling. President Smith was absolutely fearless, yet always courteous, in defense of gospel ideals.”
Fascinated by Airplanes
In June 1959, several members of the Historian’s Office staff took a short vacation for several days and went by raft down the Colorado River. Returning to his office, the present Church archivist, Earl E. Olson, said, “For a real vacation, President, you ought to try that river trip sometime.”
He replied wryly, “Why should I spend all that time? I’ve been over the Colorado River territory in a jet. We’ve flown high and we’ve gone down low. I’ve seen the Colorado River in a way that few have seen it.” After that, when they talked about what they had seen from their perspective from the bottom of the canyons, President Smith would talk about what he had seen from above. It was so typical of his role in life—always raising our sights to the long-range perspective.
President Smith’s love of flying occasionally came to his rescue. Several years ago he found himself with an important appointment that kept him in Salt Lake City most of Saturday, yet he was assigned to conduct a quarterly conference in San Francisco Saturday evening and Sunday. It worried him, because he prided himself on the way his appointments seldom, if ever, conflicted. It looked as if this time an appointment would have to be cancelled.
He casually mentioned the problem to one of his friends in the Air National Guard, who replied, “Don’t cancel either of your appointments. It so happens that my crew needs some additional flying time this month, and I think flying the jet to San Francisco late Saturday will be just about the time in the air that we need.”
President Smith joyfully kept both of his Saturday appointments that day.
It may not be too widely known that President Smith was the oldest servant of the Lord called to be President of the Church. He was sustained President when he was 93 years old. Lorenzo Snow was the next oldest—84, and Wilford Woodruff next, at 82. President David O. McKay was the oldest to occupy the presidency; he served some four months beyond his ninety-sixth birthday. President Smith died just seventeen days short of his ninety-sixth birthday. In terms of the length of tenure, President Smith served the shortest period as President—a few days less than thirty months. Lorenzo Snow’s tenure was about thirty-seven months. Next in shortest tenure are John Taylor and George Albert Smith, both of whom served about six years.
“Does the Journey Seem Long?”
Hymn No. 245 isn’t sung as often as it ought to be. But once one has read the words and sung them with meaning, they lodge themselves indelibly upon the singer’s heart and he finds himself returning again and again to their phrases.
President Smith liked to write his own poetry—little verses about animals, about life and family, and above all, about the gospel. Several such poems have been put to music. According to President Smith, he wrote these words while riding on a train to Arizona to fulfill a Church assignment. Having traveled far, long, and wide as an apostle in this dispensation, perhaps his own experience turned him to the question, Does the journey seem long? Whatever the motivation, he took the occasion and thoughts and wrote the following words, which reflect his great empathy and concern for others, his purity of soul, and his understanding of the short duration yet eternal significance of temporal life:
President Smith’s Last Two Addresses
During the last week of his life, President Smith made two major addresses—one on Sunday, June 25, at the MIA June Conference and one on Thursday, June 29, at the mission presidents seminar, just two days before his passing. Both are beautiful and stirring examples of his prophetic insight and contain sound counsel for our times.
Here is the full text of his MIA address:
“My dear Brethren and Sisters:
“I am pleased to join in the spirit of worship and thanksgiving that attends this great MIA conference, to see the many wholesome activities that are prepared for the youth of the Church, and to raise my voice in gratitude and blessing.
“To Brother Eldredge and Sister Jacobsen, to their assistants and counselors, to their associates on general boards, and to all of you who labor so diligently and well in these great auxiliary organizations, I express deep appreciation and high commendation.
“I rejoice in the many glorious blessings which the Lord has so abundantly showered upon us in this final great gospel dispensation.
“We have the holy priesthood, the keys of the kingdom, the Church of Jesus Christ, and the plan of salvation.
“We have every truth, every doctrine, every law and requirement, every performance and ordinance needed to save and exalt us in the highest heaven of the celestial world.
“We have the gift of the Holy Ghost and are guided by the spirit of revelation. The Lord has revealed to us his mind and his will, and we know how we should live to gain peace in this life and to inherit eternal life in the world to come.
“It is true that the world is in turmoil, that there is evil and iniquity on every hand, and that many people are overcome with the spirit of despair. But such should not be the case with the saints of God, with those who have forsaken the world and covenanted to live by every word which proceedeth forth from the mouth of him whose children we are.
“Moroni said, ‘Despair cometh because of iniquity.’ Let us not despair. Instead let us hold fast to the iron rod, be firm and steadfast in the faith, and rejoice that the Lord has seen fit to give us all that we need to overcome the world and to gain the fullness of his glory.
“Let us give thanks for all that we have and are to that God who made us, and signify our love for him by obedience to his law, as he said, ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments.’
“In this connection, your MIA theme for this year teaches one of the great, eternal truths of the gospel: ‘And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.’
“This is the Lord’s work; we are engaged in our Father’s business; we are the saints of the most high; and we have every reason to rejoice in him and shout praises to his holy name.
“I leave my blessing with you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”