“George Albert Smith: A Living Example of Love,” Tambuli, Sept. 1993, 26
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.
President George Albert Smith, eighth President of the Church, had a genuine concern and love for others that was recognized by both members and nonmembers alike. For example, Beverly Nichols, a British novelist, writing of his visit to Utah during a tour of the United States, said, “If ever I met an honest, upstanding, Godfearing man, I met him in President Smith.”
Another nonmember, speaking at President Smith’s funeral, said of him: “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.”
That spirituality was acquired during a lifetime of service to the Lord, and was founded on the teachings he received through his strong Latter-day Saint heritage. His father was John Henry Smith, an Apostle and counselor to President Joseph F. Smith. His grandfather was George A. Smith, who was an Apostle and a counselor to President Brigham Young. His mother was the daughter of pioneer Lorin Farr, who helped establish the city of Ogden, Utah, and served as its first mayor.
George Albert also learned a great lesson at the knee of Brigham Young. When he was only five years old, his mother dressed him in his black velvet suit and sent him to see Brigham Young. He carried a letter asking for help in buying some railroad tickets to go to Ogden. George Albert’s father was serving a mission in Great Britain, and his mother needed some assistance.
George Albert 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. He found himself face to face with a large security guard named John Smith, who demanded of the boy, “What do you want?” Frightened, George answered, “I want to see President Young,” to which the man bellowed back, “President Young has no time for the likes of you.” 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.”
George Albert never forgot that lesson in courtesy, and he always tried to be sensitive to other people’s feelings, regardless of their station in life.
He was to meet many people in the years that lay ahead. As a twenty-year-old, he worked as a salesman for Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution. He traveled by wagon throughout Utah, meeting all kinds of people in all kinds of circumstances. Occasionally, he would entertain people with his harmonica or guitar, or demonstrate his prowess with the Indian clubs and barbells he used to keep himself in good physical condition. His sense of humor opened many doors and hearts.
His job helped pay for his education at Brigham Young Academy in Provo, Utah, and the University of Deseret (later the University of Utah) in Salt Lake City. He served two missions. The first was in behalf of the Young Men’s/Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association (YMMIA), working with the youth in southern Utah settlements. The second call came a week after his May 1892 marriage to Lucy Emily Woodruff. His new wife joined him in the Southern States Mission where they both served in the mission office.
In those days, persecution against Mormons was still rampant in the Southern United States. Elder Smith was once with a group of fellow 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.”
Following their mission, the young couple settled in Salt Lake City, where they reared three children: Emily; Edith; and George Albert, Jr.
George Albert Smith’s activities in behalf of the Republican Party earned him a fulltime government appointment in the newly recognized state of Utah. His other non-Church activities included 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. His personal worth was recognized in every endeavor of his life, partially because of the intensity of his feelings concerning the welfare of others.
In 1903, George Albert’s life and that of his family was to undergo a major change. At the age of thirty-three, he was ordained an Apostle, serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve with his father.
Elder George Albert Smith was surprised by his new calling, although, he remembered, “My patriarchal blessing given under the hands of Zebedee Coltrin when I was twelve years of age, indicated that I would some day become an Apostle.”
As an Apostle, he formulated a list of goals that reflected his life as it had been and the creed by which he would live as a servant of the Lord. His “creed of life” as he called it, included his determination to “be a friend to the friendless and find joy in ministering to the needs of the poor.”
His creed also included the thought: “Knowing that the Redeemer of mankind has offered to the world the only plan that will fully develop us and make us really happy here and hereafter, I feel it not only a duty but also a blessed privilege to disseminate this truth.”
And spread the truth he did as he fulfilled his apostolic assignments, including serving as European Mission president from 1919 to 1921. He continued to serve on the YMMIA general board through the mission years, and on his return from Europe he became YMMIA general president.
As an Apostle, Elder Smith traveled widely, visiting many countries in Europe and the South Pacific. Everywhere he went, he cultivated good will for the Church. In a general conference address in October 1921, he said, “I love my brothers and sisters, and I have affection for my Father’s children who are not members of this Church, and inasmuch as he will give me physical strength and mental power, I desire to so order my life that I may be an uplift to all those with whom I come in contact.”
As a new Apostle, Elder Smith saw a war-torn Europe. As president of the Quorum of the Twelve, he was to see Europe again engaged in war, a war that came to an end six days before the death of President Heber J. Grant. Elder Smith was sustained President of the Church 21 May 1945.
Shortly after assuming the mantle of the prophet, President Smith sent Elder Ezra Taft Benson to Europe to oversee a massive relief effort provided by the Church.
In the October 1947 general conference, President Smith recalled going to Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S. President Harry S. Truman.
“When I called on him, he received me very graciously … and I said: ‘I have just come to ascertain from you, Mr. President, what your attitude will be if the Latter-day Saints are prepared to ship food, clothing, and bedding to Europe.’
“He smiled and looked at me, and said: ‘Well, what do you want to ship it over there for? Their money isn’t any good.’
“I said: ‘We don’t want their money.’
“He looked at me and asked: ‘You don’t mean you are going to give it to them?’
“I said: ‘Of course, we would give it to them. They are our brothers and sisters and are in distress. God has blessed us with a surplus, and we will be glad to send it if we can have the co-operation of the government.’”
That cooperation was quickly forthcoming in the form of railroad cars and shipping space. When the Church membership had received aid, President Smith directed tons of wheat be sent to nonmembers 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.
He put into effect his creed to “find joy in ministering to the needs of the poor.”
It was also part of his creed to “visit the sick and afflicted and inspire in them a desire for faith to be healed.” It was a common sight in the hospitals of Salt Lake City and elsewhere to see President Smith visiting the patients. He too had known suffering. For a number of years during 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 those lessons undoubtedly added to the depth of his compassion so that he, like the Master, might know “according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12).
Despite his illness, which was finally diagnosed as lupus erythematosus, a disease effecting chronic physical weakness, President Smith lived to see the world again engaged in political tensions as East opposed the West, and the war in Korea broke out. “The world,” he warned in the October 1949 general conference, “is sick.”
In the same conference, he said, “We can legislate until doomsday but that will not make men righteous. It will be necessary for people who are in the dark to repent of their sins, correct their lives, and live in such a righteous way that they can enjoy the spirit of our Heavenly Father.”
But even in a world of turmoil, President Smith optimistically and prophetically saw the great missionary work that was to come. In the October 1945 general conference he said:
“We must preach the gospel to the South American countries which we have scarcely touched. We must preach the gospel to every African section that we haven’t been in yet. We must preach the gospel to Asia. And I might go on and say in all parts of the world where we have not yet been permitted to go. I look upon Russia as one of the most fruitful fields for the teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
In conference a year later he said,
“Short-wave radio broadcasting will continue to improve, and it will not be long, from this pulpit and other places that will be provided, the servants of the Lord will be able to deliver messages to isolated groups who are so far away they cannot be reached. In that way and other ways, the gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord, the only power of God unto salvation in preparation for the celestial kingdom, will be heard in all parts of the world, and many of you who are here will live to see that day.”
The man who said, “I would not seek to force people to live up to my ideals but rather love them into doing the thing that is right,” died in April 1951. He was eighty-two years old. Under his stewardship, the Church’s building program expanded to accommodate the growing Church membership, which passed the one million mark; the missionary force grew to more than three thousand; and the Idaho Falls Temple was dedicated.
At President George Albert Smith’s funeral, his former counselor, President J. Reuben Clark, said, “It has been properly suggested that his real name was Love.”
George Albert Smith Highlights, 1870–1951
4 April: Born in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Begins work in ZCMI’s overall factory.
Serves a mission in southern Utah for the YMMIA.
Marries Lucy Emily Woodruff.
Serves a mission in the Southern United States.
Is appointed receiver of United States Land Office and Special Disbursing Agent for Utah by United States President McKinley.
Becomes a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Writes his creed.
Illness prevents him from being active in the Quorum.
Serves as president of the European Mission.
Is elected vice-president of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.
Is elected a member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America.
War breaks out in Europe.
Japanese attack Pearl Harbor.
Becomes President of the Quorum of the Twelve.
8 May: War in Europe ends.
Utah pioneer centennial is celebrated.
4 April: Dies in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“George Albert Smith,” Classic Stories from the Lives of Our Prophets, compiled by Leon R. Hartshorn, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1988.
Merlo J. Pusey, “George Albert Smith,” in The Presidents of the Church, edited by Leonard J. Arrington, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986.
“George Albert Smith,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.