“Sister Spafford Dies,” Ensign, Apr. 1982, 80
“Belle Spafford was a woman richly endowed with driving executive and leadership abilities, with a charming, forthright personality, with intelligence, wisdom, keen insight, sound judgment, a quick wit, and a deep and abiding faith.” Those who knew her would have agreed with this tribute issued by the Church Board of Education on the occasion of Sister Spafford’s death on February 3. She was 86.
Marion Isabell (Belle) Smith was born October 8, 1895, in Salt Lake City to John G. and Hester Sims Smith. She graduated from Normal School at the University of Utah, then continued her education at Brigham Young University, where she also taught at the University’s Training School.
Following her marriage to Willis Earl Spafford in 1921, she continued as a special instructor in remedial work for retarded children at BYU. Her work there deepened her sympathy for the less fortunate, which was reflected in her work for many years in the directorship of Relief Society social work programs. She also served for several years as consultant to the Indian Student Placement Program during its formative period.
In 1935 Sister Spafford, now the mother of two children, was called as a member of the Relief Society General Board. Shortly thereafter she assumed the duties of editor of the Relief Society Magazine, a position she held until her appointment as Relief Society general president. She was general Relief Society president for nearly three decades—from April 6, 1945, until her release on October 3, 1974. During her administration, the Relief Society grew from a largely western American group of 100,000 women to an international organization of close to a million members with locally organized units in sixty-five countries.
Under her direction, the Relief Society Building was erected in downtown Salt Lake City. Women throughout the Church donated funds for the building, which then became the headquarters of the Relief Society.
Her appointments, honors, and contributions through a long life of service could fill pages, although her primary allegiance was to home and family. She served on the National Council of Women for fifty-two years, including service as the council’s president in 1968–69. She was a member of the Governing Board of LDS Social Services and a member of its Executive Committee. She also was a member of the Board of Trustees of Brigham Young University.
Sister Spafford is survived by her son, Earl Smith Spafford of Salt Lake City, ten grandchildren, and fifteen great-grandchildren. Her husband and a daughter, Mary Spafford Kemp, preceded her in death.