George Albert Smith: On Reaching Out to Others


Most of us have a difficult time resisting those who have a genuine love for us and who know how to express that love in a meaningful way. Such people have a way of becoming important to us because we know that we are genuinely important to them.

Those who possess this quality of love are, unfortunately, too few in number, since genuine concern for others is a natural outreaching of soul to soul, not a talent that can be developed by a few trade secrets. This kind of love is more than getting the other person to talk about himself or his interests, because once a person becomes aware of working at human relationships, he loses the spontaneity that breathes life into any interaction with another human being.

Many can learn the techniques taught in classes in human relations, but we need to also cultivate the depth involved in an honest commitment to the well-being of others.

Youth today is rightly rebelling against the sham of the technique approach that in reality often attempts to manipulate rather than to understand another person. The cry of youth today is for authenticity, for genuine concern, and for meaningful relationships with others. A great example of a man who is the embodiment of all of these qualities is the eighth President of the Church—George Albert Smith.

President Smith was respected and loved by people both in and out of the Church because he loved them and they sensed this genuine concern. Beverly Nichols, a British novelist, toured the United States on one occasion, studying the American way of life. Later he wrote a very humorous book entitled Uncle Samson, the major tenor of which was a great lampooning of life in the United States. One of his chapters records his visit to Salt Lake City. Like countless other correspondents who confronted life in a Latter-day Saint community for the first time, he found many things rather humorous, but not so his visit with President George Albert Smith, of whom he wrote, “If ever I met an honest, upstanding, God-fearing man, I met him in President Smith.”

An interesting phenomenon took place at the funeral of President Smith—a non-Mormon was asked to be one of the principal speakers. Mr. Fitzgerald, the speaker, summed up quite succinctly the feelings of many outside the Church, when he said concerning President Smith:

“He was a man without guile, a religious man and a spiritual leader, not only in his own Church—in any group. Even alone with him you had a feeling of this man’s spirituality. …

“He loved to talk about the brotherhood of man, his genuine love for all mankind, which after all is the true charity of Christ, deeper than any doctrinal differences, that gift from above that makes for richer, fuller understanding of man’s feeling toward man.”

President J. Reuben Clark, speaking at that same funeral as one who had known President George Albert Smith intimately from serving in the First Presidency said:

“I would like to say a word to the people of the Church. You have lost a great leader—in his line, perhaps, the greatest we have ever had. I think no man that we have ever had in the Church had a greater love for humanity than President George Albert Smith.”

President Smith had learned early in life that great men always make time for those in need. When only five years of age, his mother had dressed him up in his little black velvet suit and sent him to see Brigham Young. He carried a letter asking some assistance from President Young in getting some railroad tickets to go to Ogden. Sister Smith’s husband was in the mission field in Great Britain and she was too poor to acquire the tickets herself.

Little George walked the two blocks to President Young’s office and pushed open the huge timber gate in the wall that then surrounded the headquarters of the Church. As the massive gate swung back on its heavy iron hinges, the little boy found himself face to face with a rather large Scot, named John Smith, who demanded of the boy, “What do you want?” Frightened to death George answered, “I want to see President Young,” to which the Scot bellowed back, “President Young has no time for the likes of ye.” According to President Smith’s own account he was by now nearly ready to faint, but just then the door of the office opened and President Young walked out and asked:

“‘What’s wanted, John?’

“John replied, ‘Here is a little fellow wants to see President Young,’ and then he roared with laughter. He thought it was a good joke. But with all the dignity in the world, President Young said to him, ‘John, show him in.’

“There was nothing else the guard could do then but to let me in and he took me up to the porch where President Young was standing, …

“President Young took me by the hand and led me into his office, sat down at his desk and lifted me up on his knee and put his arm around me. In the kindest way one could imagine, he said, ‘What do you want of President Young?’

“Just think of it! He was President of a great Church and Governor of a Territory, and with all the duties he had to perform, yet I as a little boy was received with as much dignity, and kindness as if I had come as a governor from an adjoining state.”

Imagine the image the future prophet of the Lord, George Albert Smith, had of President Young as he, a little boy, walked away from his office. In his adult life he never forgot that lesson and was always conscious of people who easily could have been passed by as insignificant to others.

For example, on one occasion he was traveling back from a convention. In his company was the daughter of President Heber J. Grant. She tells of his looking across the aisle and seeing a young mother and her children, surrounded by luggage. He felt a need to talk with her and to inquire after her welfare.

“In a few minutes President Smith was over talking to the young mother. He came back to our seat and said, ‘Yes it is just as I thought. The little mother is going on a long journey; I have looked at her ticket. I can’t understand why the man who sold it to her didn’t know a better route for her to travel. As it is she will have a long wait in Ogden and again in Chicago. I have her ticket and am going to get off in Ogden and see if I can’t get it changed so she can make other connections and not have the long wait in Ogden and Chicago.’”

President Smith was off the train the moment it stopped and set the affairs of the young mother in order, having her ticket changed to afford her greater convenience. Such was the sensitivity for others of this man.

This same sensitivity he enhanced manyfold through mixing with all types of people and through coming to know their problems. When he was twenty years old, George Albert Smith was engaged as a salesman for Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution, traveling through Southern Utah with a companion known to history only as Jim.

One is impressed with the ability of the future prophet even then to mix well with all types of company. He entertained on occasion with his harmonica and guitar and kept himself in good physical shape by exercising with Indian clubs and dumbbells (occasionally giving an exhibition of his prowess with the same in some of the villages).

His sense of humor, which helped him open many hearts, was evidenced from time to time. A demonstration of this is shown in an incident on the journey involving a jug of whiskey that Jim had brought on the trip to share with his customers. This fact bothered George, when he discovered it, because of his own commitment to the principles of the Word of Wisdom. However, there was no sermon preached by him to his companion, no chastisement—just an idea for a great practical joke somewhere along the route of the journey. The chance came before the two left Provo, about fifty miles south of Salt Lake City. While Jim was away from the wagon, the jug was located and carried off secretly to a friend with instructions for him to empty the whiskey and to fill the jug with water. Then the jug was put back in its original place. Several nights later it was brought out by Jim and the secret was revealed: no whiskey, just a jug full of foul-smelling sulphur water—much to the amusement of President Smith, who often loved to retell this story and others when he himself was the victim of a practical joke.

Before he became an apostle, George Albert Smith served two missions—one as an MIA missionary in the Southern settlements of Utah and one in the southern United States, where persecution against Mormons was still rampant. Elder Smith was once with a group of missionaries in a log cabin that was under seige by a mob. While the missionaries huddled against the floor, a barrage of bullets poured into the room. Yet, through all this experience, there was no bitterness on Elder Smith’s part, just a determination to work harder to “share the gospel with the rest of God’s children.”

Throughout his life, Elder Smith’s activities were to bring him into contact with groups outside the Church. While still in his late twenties, he was appointed Federal Receiver of Public Monies and Special Disbursing Agent, the first federal appointee in the new state of Utah. Later he joined national organizations such as the Sons of the American Revolution, the Boy Scouts of America, and national agricultural congresses.

In each case he rose to national prominence in the organization. He became vice-president of the Sons of the American Revolution, was awarded the Silver Beaver and the Silver Buffalo, America’s highest awards in scouting, served on the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America, and was President of the International Irrigation and Farm Congress for much of its six-year existence. His personal worth was recognized in every endeavor of his life, partially because of the intensity of his feelings concerning the welfare of others.

As an offshoot of all of this experience, he was to formulate what he chose to call his creed of life:

“I would be a friend to the friendless and find joy in ministering to the needs of the poor.”

One of the more interesting aspects of his term as prophet of the Lord was the sending of carloads of supplies to members of the Church suffering from the devastation of World War II. Then, when the Church membership had received aid, he sent tons of wheat to nonmembers of the Church in Greece who were suffering from starvation. He had known poverty in his own youth and did all in his power to help those suffering from its effects. He could not rest while he knew of suffering; he could never be the victim of apathy.

“I would visit the sick and afflicted and inspire in them a faith to be healed.”

It was a common sight in the hospitals of Salt Lake City, and elsewhere, wherever he went, to see President Smith, after a day’s work, walking the halls of the hospitals, visiting those who had been afflicted with illness. He too had known suffering. For nearly four years (1909–1912) of his early apostolic ministry he had suffered from illness to the point that he was unable to serve actively in his calling. Ten years later he remarked in General Conference:

“I have been in the valley of the shadow of death in recent years, so near the other side that I am sure that for the special blessing of our Heavenly Father I could not have remained here. … The nearer I went to the other side, the greater was my assurance that the gospel is true.”

He never forgot the lessons of that illness, and they undoubtedly added to the depth of his compassion in order that he, like the Master, might know “according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:12.)

“I would seek out the erring one and try to win him back to a righteous and happy life.

“I would not seek to force people to live up to my ideals but rather love them into doing the thing that is right.

“I would live with the masses and help them to solve their problems that their earth life may be happy.

“I will avoid the publicity of high positions and discourage the flattery of thoughtless friends.”

How refreshing to find this type of attitude among those of high station. At general conference in 1933, George Albert Smith emphasized this point:

“One of the beautiful things to me in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it brings us all to a common level. It is not necessary for a man to be a president of a stake, or a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, in order to attain a high place in the celestial kingdom. The humblest member of the Church, if he keeps the commandments of God, will attain an exaltation just as much as any other man in the celestial kingdom. The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it makes us all equal in as far as we keep the commandments of the Lord. In as far as we observe to keep the laws of the Church we have equal opportunities for exaltation. As we develop faith and righteousness, our light is made to shine as a guide and blessing to those with whom we mingle.”

“I would not knowingly wound the feelings of any, not even one who may have wronged me, but would seek to do him good and make him my friend.

“I would overcome the tendency to selfishness and jealousy and rejoice in the successes of all the children of my Heavenly Father.

“I would not be an enemy to any living soul.

“Knowing that the Redeemer of mankind has offered the world the only plan that will fully develop us and make us really happy here and hereafter I feel it not only my duty but a blessed privilege to disseminate this truth.”

To some, such creeds are simply words, “glittering generalities” they are sometimes called. But to President Smith, they were focal points for his way of life.

But there is another point that all youth who feel they have handicaps (of one kind or another) ought to know about. Look again at President Smith’s picture. Notice his left eye. It does not center, but points outward. During his life President George Albert Smith coped with his handicap, coped with it in his reading, in his constant daily vision, and in the initial glances of others. But rather than lament his own handicap, he turned himself outward to others and won their undying love and friendship.

Whatever the human problem, whatever the concern, President George Albert Smith showed that getting outside oneself—helping others—is the secret to a happy life.

George Albert Smith

This photograph, a family favorite, was taken for his eightieth birthday in 1950.

George Albert Smith Highlights (1870–1951)

 

Age

 

Apr. 4, 1870

Born in Salt Lake City

1880

10

Father is ordained apostle

1883

13

Works in ZCMI overall factory

1891

21

Serves mission to Southern Utah in interests of YMMIA

1892

22

Marries Lucy Emily Woodruff

1892–94

22–24

Serves mission to Southern States

1898

28

Appointed U.S. Government Receiver and Disbursing Agent for Utah by U.S. President William McKinley

1903

33

Ordained apostle

1909–12

39–42

Illness prevents from being active

1916

46

Elected president, International Irrigation Congress

1917

47

Elected president, International Dry Farm Congress

1919–21

49–51

President, European Mission

1921

51

Appointed general superintendent of YMMIA

1922

52

Elected vice-president, National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution

1931

61

Elected member, National Executive Board of Boy Scouts of America

1938

68

Tours missions of South Pacific

1945

75

Sustained president of Church

Apr. 4, 1951

81

Dies

[photo] President Smith signed this picture.

[photo] As a young man George Albert Smith was a traveling salesman in southern Utah and southeastern Nevada for ZCMI.

[photo] Above left: Elder Smith on his return from his first mission (to the Southern States) about 1893.

[photo] Above: As president of European Mission, December 1919.

[photo] Photo taken while he was president of the European Mission.

[photo] President Smith’s rich and mellow voice made him an effective radio speaker. During World War II he often surprised servicemen overseas with personal visits via ham radio.

[photo] President Smith placed little importance on the acquisition of material goods. This typewriter was one of the few possessions he prized.

[photo] Two presidents meet—President Smith and President Harry Truman

[photo] Family members cherish these awards and honors given President Smith during his lifetime.

[photo] President Smith loved scouting, as these medals and badges that he wore attest.

[photo] The president’s family: (l to r) daughter Emily, wife Lucy Emily Woodruff Smith, son George Albert, Jr., and daughter Edith.