“Chapter 8: George Albert Smith: Eighth President of the Church,” Presidents of the Church Student Manual (2004), 128–43
“Chapter 8,” Presidents of the Church Student Manual, 128–43
He was born 4 April 1870 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to John Henry and Sarah Farr Smith.
He began working in a ZCMI clothing factory (1883); he received his patriarchal blessing, which foretold his calling as an Apostle (Jan. 1884).
He served a mission to southern Utah for the YMMIA (Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association; 1891).
He married Lucy Emily Woodruff (25 May 1892).
He served a mission to the southern United States (June 1892–June 1894).
He was appointed receiver of the U.S. Land Office and Special Disbursing Agent for Utah by U.S. President William McKinley (1897–1902).
He was ordained an Apostle (8 Oct. 1903).
He wrote his creed (1904).
He suffered from serious health problems (1909–12).
He served as president of the European Mission (June 1919–July 1921).
He was elected vice-president of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (1922).
He became a member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America (1931).
He was set apart as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (1 July 1943).
He became President of the Church (21 May 1945); he dedicated the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple (23 Sept. 1945); he met with U.S. President Harry S. Truman (3 Nov. 1945).
The Utah Pioneer Centennial was celebrated (1947).
He died in Salt Lake City, Utah (4 Apr. 1951).
Ulysses S. Grant, Charles Darwin, Alexander Graham Bell—these were some of the names that commanded the attention of the world in 1870. In far-away Utah, a premortal appointment was kept with the birth of an infant who received the earthly name by which he would one day be loved and revered by thousands. It was in Salt Lake City on 4 April, and the child was named George Albert Smith. Like other prophets, his youth was unpretentious. He was a pioneer boy, raised amid the excitement that attended the construction of the Salt Lake Temple. He spent his early youth herding cows, riding horses, and studying. He was also a musician.
The patriarchal blessing that a thirteen-year-old George Albert Smith received from patriarch Zebedee Coltrin had a profound effect upon his mind and attitudes. In it he was told: “Thou was called and chosen of the Lord from before the foundation of the earth was laid to come forth in this dispensation to assist in building up the Zion of God upon the earth. … And thou shalt become a mighty prophet in the midst of the sons of Zion. And the angels of the Lord shall administer unto you. … Thou art destined to become a mighty man before the Lord, for thou shalt become a mighty Apostle in the Church and kingdom of God upon the earth, for none of thy father’s family shall have more power with God than thou shalt have, for none shall excel thee” (quoted in George Albert Smith, The Teachings of George Albert Smith, ed. Robert and Susan McIntosh , xix).
George Albert Smith was raised amid great servants of God. He was named after his grandfather, George A. Smith, who had been an Apostle and a member of the First Presidency. His father, John Henry Smith, was also an Apostle and became a counselor to President Joseph F. Smith.
When George Albert was a boy of five years, his mother sent him to deliver a note to President Brigham Young. As he opened and walked through the massive gate that led to Brigham Young’s home, the watchman stopped him and asked what he wanted. The boy replied that he wanted to see President Young. The watchman laughed and said he didn’t think Brigham Young had time to see a small boy. At that moment, President Young walked out of his home and asked what was going on. The watchman explained and President Young replied, “Show him in.” Recalling this incident, George Albert Smith said:
“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” (quoted in Arthur R. Bassett, “George Albert Smith: On Reaching Out to Others,” New Era, Jan. 1972, 51).
This experience helped teach him “that great men always make time for those in need. …
“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” (Bassett, New Era, Jan. 1972, 51–52).
Years later, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder George Albert Smith spoke of the importance of the lessons he learned from those great leaders: “From childhood, I have never been taught to do anything improper, or that would harm one of my heavenly Father’s children; but from infancy I have been taught to acquire industry, sobriety, honesty, integrity, and all virtues possessed by men and women whom God delights to honor and bless. I thank my heavenly Father this day that these teachings have come to me from Him through His faithful servants” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1906, 46–47).
The example set by his father had a great impact on George Albert Smith. Edith Elliott, George Albert Smith’s daughter shared this incident: “One day Father was walking down a street in Salt Lake City with his father, John Henry Smith. A drunkard came up to John Henry and asked for a quarter for a hot meal. Without hesitation, John Henry gave him the money. After this incident, George Albert asked his father why he had given the drunkard the money when it was highly possible that he would spend it on liquor. His father replied that he would give quarters to ten men he thought might use the money on drink, if there was a chance that just one would use it properly” (personal interview by CES Curriculum Services, 30 June 1972).
President George Albert Smith shared another example of his father’s love for others: “As I think of my regard and my affection for my Father’s family, the human family, I remember something my earthly father said, and I think probably I inherited that in part from him. He said, ‘I have never seen a child of God so deep in the gutter that I have not had the impulse to stoop down and lift him up and put him on his feet and start him again.’ I would like to say I have never seen one of my Father’s children in my life that I have not realized he was my brother and that God loves every one of his children, but he does not love our wickedness and our infidelity” (“President Smith’s Leadership Address,” Church News, 16 Feb. 1946, 6).
“As a young boy he was taken ill with typhoid fever. The doctor counseled his mother to keep him in bed for three weeks, to give him no solid food, and to have him drink coffee. In later years George Albert recalled:
“‘When he went away, I told mother that I didn’t want any coffee. I had been taught that the Word of Wisdom, given by the Lord to Joseph Smith, advised us not to use coffee.
“‘Mother had brought three children into the world and two had died. She was unusually anxious about me.
“‘I asked her to send for Brother Hawks, one of our ward teachers. He was a worker at the foundry, a poor and humble man of great faith in the power of the Lord. He came, administered to me and blessed me that I might be healed.
“‘When the doctor came next morning I was playing outside with other children. He was surprised. He examined me and discovered that my fever had gone and that I seemed to be well.
“‘I was grateful to the Lord for my recovery. I was sure that he had healed me’” (Teachings of George Albert Smith, xvii).
The security felt by those who trust the Lord, in spite of whatever turmoil may exist around them, is illustrated in this story Elder George Albert Smith, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told about his childhood: “We … lived in a two story frame house and when the wind blew hard it would rock as if it would topple over. Sometimes I would be too frightened to go to sleep. My bed was in a little room by itself, and many a night I have climbed out and got down on my knees and asked my Father in Heaven to take care of the house, preserve it that it would not break in pieces and I have got back into my little bed just as sure that I would be safeguarded from evil as if I held my Father’s hand” (“To the Relief Society,” Relief Society Magazine, Dec. 1932, 707–8).
There were many years of preparation, work, service, and obedience. They were years that saw him fill a short-term mission to southern Utah, work for Utah’s leading department store, and marry his childhood sweetheart, Lucy Woodruff. They were also years of refinement through suffering—typhoid fever as a child, a severe eye injury while working on a railroad survey crew on the western desert, and two narrow escapes from death while serving a mission to the southern United States. He was afflicted for five painful years with a serious disease. He feared for his life, but the impression came that his earthly mission was not complete. Suffering brought strength and compassion.
As a young missionary, George Albert Smith and his companion, J. Golden Kimball, were preaching in Alabama. “Their preaching in the neighborhood had aroused bitter opposition, which this night turned violent. About midnight, the cabin was surrounded by an angry mob whose leader pounded on the door, demanding in vulgar and profane language that the elders come out or ‘they were going to shoot them.’ When they refused to obey, the mob commenced to fire into the corners of the cabin. ‘Splinters were flying over our heads in every direction,’ Elder Smith wrote of the incident. ‘There were a few moments of quiet, then another volley of shots was fired and more splinters flew.’ He was interested in his reaction to what he considered to be ‘one of the most horrible events,’ in his life. ‘I was very calm as I lay there,’ the missionary wrote later, ‘but I was sure that as long as I was preaching the word of God and following his teachings that the Lord would protect me, and he did.’ The next morning when the elders stepped outside, they found a bundle of heavy hickory sticks of the kind that had been used to beat other missionaries in the south” (Francis M. Gibbons, George Albert Smith: Kind and Caring Christian, Prophet of God , 26–27).
Between 1909 and 1912, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, George Albert Smith struggled with very serious health problems. During this time of trial, he later confided to a friend: “When I was in my serious condition [1909–12] I did not know whether my work was completed or not, but I told the Lord that if it was complete and He was preparing to call me home, that I would be ready to go, but if there was more work for me to perform, I would like to get well. I placed myself in his hands to do as he saw fit, and soon after that I began to recover” (quoted in Glen R. Stubbs, “A Biography of George Albert Smith, 1870 to 1951” [Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1974], 317).
Lucy Emily Woodruff was a granddaughter of President Wilford Woodruff. She was a woman of great faith and intelligence. She and George Albert Smith had known each other since they were children, and she loved and respected him. But her affections were divided between George Albert and another suitor.
In 1891, the courtship was interrupted when George received a mission call from the First Presidency of the Church to strengthen the young people, members of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Associations, in the Juab, Millard, Beaver, and Parowan stakes in southern Utah. One week into his assignment, he wrote in his journal: “The letter that I looked for never came.” When George received Lucy Woodruff’s letter the next day, the topic was her possible marriage plans to her other suitor. George responded by letter expressing his feelings for Lucy and offered the following advice: “Be prayerful and humble; do not mistake the duty you owe to others. Your first duty is to yourself. I feel that you will be happy and my prayer is that you will” (quoted in Gibbons, George Albert Smith, 19).
Lucy stopped her marriage plans with the other suitor, but her affections still vacillated between the two men. After months of turmoil, she finally broke off her relationship with the other man and married George Albert Smith in the Manti Utah Temple on 25 May 1892. “Afterward, as she put the affair in perspective and saw that she had merely been infatuated with a handsome man who lacked substance, Lucy Woodruff Smith exclaimed again and again that she had ‘almost made a terrible mistake’” (Gibbons, George Albert Smith, 21).
George Albert Smith was ordained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on 8 October 1903. He was thirty-three years old. Despite almost continuous physical weakness, he traveled, preached, worked, and prayed. Juvenile delinquents, the displaced and homeless, the blind, “splinter groups” from the Church, the Boy Scout movement—all received his attention.
At the age of thirty-four, George Albert Smith prepared a list of life-long goals. His being called as an Apostle was a crucial time to put in writing just what he wanted to do with the balance of his life: “I would be a friend to the friendless and find joy in ministering to the needs of the poor. I would visit the sick and afflicted and inspire in them a desire for faith to be healed. I would teach the truth to the understanding and blessing of all mankind. I would seek out the erring one and try to win him back to a righteous and a 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 to solve their problems that their earth life may be happy. I would avoid the publicity of high positions and discourage the flattery of thoughtless friends. I would not knowingly wound the feeling 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 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 a blessed privilege to disseminate this truth” (quoted in Bryant S. Hinckley, “Greatness in Men: Superintendent George Albert Smith,” Improvement Era, Mar. 1932, 295).
George Albert Smith strived to live according to his creed in every detail. It required of him tremendous sacrifice. His love was sincere and constant. He showed the ultimate in tolerance, trust, and personal concern toward thousands of our Heavenly Father’s children in his travels and labors. He was a sensitive vessel through whom the love of the Master could be made manifest. In the life of George Albert Smith we see that love is no idle feeling. It is action—constant, alert, and anxious to serve at any cost.
After his call to the apostleship, a powerful lesson was impressed upon George Albert Smith through a dream he had of his grandfather George A. Smith, who had been a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a counselor to President Brigham Young and who had died when George Albert was five years old. George Albert had been seriously ill and later recalled:
“I lost consciousness of my surroundings and thought I had passed to the Other Side. I found myself standing with my back to a large and beautiful lake, facing a great forest of trees. There was no one in sight, and there was no boat upon the lake or any other visible means to indicate how I might have arrived there. I realized, or seemed to realize, that I had finished my work in mortality and had gone home. I began to look around, to see if I could not find someone. There was no evidence of anyone living there, just those great, beautiful trees in front of me and the wonderful lake behind me.
“I began to explore, and soon I found a trail through the woods which seemed to have been used very little, and which was almost obscured by grass. I followed this trail, and after I had walked for some time and had traveled a considerable distance through the forest, I saw a man coming towards me. I became aware that he was a very large man, and I hurried my steps to reach him, because I recognized him as my grandfather. In mortality he weighed over three hundred pounds, so you may know he was a large man. I remember how happy I was to see him coming. I had been given his name and had always been proud of it.
“When Grandfather came within a few feet of me, he stopped. His stopping was an invitation for me to stop. Then—and this I would like the boys and girls and young people never to forget—he looked at me very earnestly and said:
“‘I would like to know what you have done with my name.’
“Everything I had ever done passed before me as though it were a flying picture on a screen—everything I had done. Quickly this vivid retrospect came down to the very time I was standing there. My whole life had passed before me. I smiled and looked at my grandfather and said:
“‘I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed.’
“He stepped forward and took me in his arms, and as he did so, I became conscious again of my earthly surroundings. My pillow was wet as though water had been poured on it—wet with tears of gratitude that I could answer unashamed” (“Your Good Name,” Improvement Era, Mar. 1947, 139).
George Albert Smith was a missionary. In one ten-year period, twelve hundred books and pamphlets were mailed to people who were not members of the Church, whom he had met during his travels. Historical sites, such as the Hill Cumorah and the Sacred Grove, were purchased to further spread the message of salvation. As a receiver of public monies for the land office of the state of Utah, president of national congresses, chairman of the boards of directors for many companies, and active in the support of social improvement and the arts and sciences, he worked with the major intent to present the Church to the world.
Concerning missionary work, he said: “Every happiness and every joy that has been worthy of the name has been the result of keeping the commandments of God and observing his advice and counsel. So, as we go forward, each of us, each having an influence with our neighbors and our friends, let us not be too timid. We do not need to annoy people, but let us make them feel and understand that we are interested, not in making them members of the Church for membership, but in bringing them into the Church that they may enjoy the same blessings that we enjoy” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1948, 162).
President George Albert Smith told priesthood holders: “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. And if I am not mistaken, it will not be long before the people who are there will desire to know something about this work which has reformed the lives of so many people. … Our most important obligation, my brethren, is to divide with our Father’s children all those fundamental truths, all his rules and regulations which prepare us for eternal life, known as the gospel of Jesus Christ. Until we have done that to the full limit of our power, we will not receive all the blessings which we might otherwise have” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1945, 119).
In 1946 President George Albert Smith spoke of technological improvements that would come and advance the building up of the kingdom of God on earth: “Short-wave broadcasting will continue to improve, and it will not be long until, 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” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1946, 6).
President George Albert Smith said: “Heavenly Father … has called me to go to many parts of the earth, and more than a million miles have been traversed since I was called into the ministry. I have traveled in many lands and climes, and wherever I have gone I have found good people, sons and daughters of the living God who are waiting for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and there are thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of them, who would be accepting the truth if they only knew what we know” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1945, 120).
While the world was in turmoil during World War I, Elder George Albert Smith taught: “Though the world may be filled with distress, and the heavens gather blackness, and the vivid lightnings flash, and the earth quake from center to circumference, if we know that God lives, and our lives are righteous, we will be happy, there will be peace unspeakable because we know our Father approves our lives” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1915, 28).
After World War I, Elder Smith was instrumental in reestablishing missionary work on the European continent. As president of the European Mission, he overcame prejudice and hostility through visits to government leaders and newspaper editors. He defended the call of living prophets and prophesied that those who shunned the counsel of the prophets would suffer disastrous results.
In 1942 the world was once again enveloped in war. Elder George Albert Smith spoke of the change living gospel principles could bring:
“Now tonight we are here in peace and quiet. The world is on fire. Everywhere peace has been taken from the earth, and the devil has been given power over his own dominion. God has said if we will honor Him and keep His commandments—if we will observe His laws He will fight our battles and destroy the wicked, and when the time comes He will come down in heaven—not from heaven—but He will bring heaven with Him—and this earth upon which we dwell, will be the celestial kingdom.
“What if all the world knew and believed that? What a change there would be in the conditions among the children of men! What joy would be in the place of sorrow and distress today! It is your duty and mine, having received this information, to impart it to others” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1942, 49).
The results of World War II were ugly and discouraging. More than fifty countries had been involved, and an estimated fifty-five million people had lost their lives. The war had cost over a trillion dollars. Millions of people in Europe and Asia were without adequate food, shelter, and clothing. Sorrow, hatred, and despair stalked through nations and homes. In one way or another, the war had touched the life of nearly everyone on the earth.
On 21 May 1945, when the full extent of carnage and devastation left behind by World War II was becoming apparent, George Albert Smith was moved from his time of preparation into his foreordained position as President of the Church. President Smith did not presume to declare what his personal mission as prophet, seer, and revelator would be. However, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, Patriarch to the Church and a son of Hyrum Mack Smith and a grandson of President Joseph F. Smith, uttered this prophetic statement:
“It is frequently said that the Lord has raised up a particular man to perform a particular mission. Everyone of us here has heard that discussed and has heard how the peculiar talents of each of the presidents of the Church have been of a special value during his respective mission. I wish that all the members of the Church could have witnessed the council meeting wherein the Presidency was reorganized. If ever there was a time when the Spirit of the Lord was indubitably manifest, it was on that occasion. Everyone present thrilled to it. Everyone present was aware, beyond doubt, of the absolute rightness of it.
“It is not for me to say what particular mission President George Albert Smith has ahead of him. This I do know, however, that at this particular time in the world’s history, never was the need for love among brethren so desperately needed as it is needed today. Furthermore, I do know this, that there is no man of my acquaintance who loves the human family, collectively and individually, more profoundly than does President George Albert Smith. Those two things coming in conjunction, the need for love, his presidency at this time, have for me at least, peculiar significance” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1945, 31–32).
The missionaries had been called home before World War II broke out and many Latter-day Saints, particularly in the European nations, did not see a Church representative for years. President George Albert Smith was concerned about those Saints. After the war, unable to visit them himself, President Smith sent Elder Ezra Taft Benson to find out how the Church could help them and how much aid they needed. Elder Benson described what he saw:
“I will not take time today to describe the terrors of war, the worst of which is not the physical combat but that which follows: the abandonment of moral and religious restraints, the increase in sin, disease; the increase in infant mortality; and all the suffering which accompanies famine, disease, and immorality. We saw these things on every side. We saw nations prostrate, flat on their backs economically. We found it difficult even to get a telephone call through from London to many of our missions on the continent when we arrived. We could not even make a telephone call to Holland, let alone countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia, and other nations. Almost the only type of transportation available was that under the control of the military. …
“I think I shall never forget those first meetings with the Saints. They have suffered much, my brethren and sisters. We wondered just how they would receive us, what the reaction would be. Would their hearts be filled with bitterness? Would there be hatred there? Would they have soured on the Church? I well remember our first meeting at Karlsruhe. After we had made visits through Belgium, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries, we went into occupied Germany. We finally found our way to the meeting place, a partially bombed-out building located in the interior of a block. The Saints had been in session for some two hours waiting for us, hoping that we would come because the word had reached them that we might be there for the conference. And then for the first time in my life I saw almost an entire audience in tears as we walked up onto the platform, and they realized that at last, after six or seven long years, representatives from Zion, as they put it, had finally come back to them. Then as the meeting closed, prolonged at their request, they insisted we go to the door and shake hands with each one of them as he left the bombed-out building. And we noted that many of them, after they had passed through the line went back and came through the second and third time, so happy were they to grasp our hands. As I looked into their upturned faces, pale, thin, many of these Saints dressed in rags, some of them barefooted, I could see the light of faith in their eyes as they bore testimony to the divinity of this great latter-day work, and expressed their gratitude for the blessings of the Lord” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1947, 153–54).
The full-time missionary force was raised from its wartime low of 386 in 1945 to over 5,800 in 1951.
Hatred, despair, and sorrow were prevalent throughout the 1940s. World War II had hardened the hearts of many people. President George Albert Smith was a man whose love for others had been forged in the very furnace of affliction. He was a man who had committed himself to the Lord through long nights of prayer and years of service to others. Now he was God’s prophet. He had ninety train cars full of food and clothing sent to the stricken Saints in Europe. A special fast was called and money was contributed to aid not only Church members, but others. Missions were reopened and new ones were created. President Smith told of a visit to the president of the United States during this time:
“When the war was over, I went representing the Church, to see the president of the United States. When I called on him, he received me very graciously—I had met him before—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 and 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.’
“He said: ‘You are on the right track,’ and added, ‘we will be glad to help you in any way we can.’
“I have thought of that a good many times. After we had sat there a moment or two, he said again: ‘How long will it take you to get this ready?’
“I said: ‘It’s all ready.’
“The government you remember had been destroying food and refusing to plant grain during the war, so I said to him:
“‘Mr. President, while the administration at Washington were advising the destroying of food, we were building elevators and filling them with grain, and increasing our flocks and our herds, and now what we need is the cars and the ships in order to send considerable food, clothing and bedding to the people of Europe who are in distress. We have an organization in the Church that has over two thousand homemade quilts ready.’
“… The result was that many people received warm clothing and bedding and food without any delay. Just as fast as we could get cars and ships, we had what was necessary to send to Europe” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1947, 5–6).
President George Albert Smith was recognized as a man who had a sincere love and concern for everyone, especially when they needed help the most. On 8 April 1951, shortly after President Smith died, Elder John A. Widtsoe, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, shared the following experience:
“During the events of the last few days, many memories have crowded in upon my mind. In a late afternoon of a warm, sultry day in August or September, I sat in my office rather tired after the day’s work. The University of Utah had had internal dissensions which had been fanned by enemies into a nationwide scandal. I had been called in to assist others who were trying to return the institution and its work to a normal condition. It was the third time in my life that I had been obliged to serve my state in such a capacity. I was weary. Just then there was a knock upon the door, and in walked George Albert Smith. He said, ‘I am on the way home after my day’s work. I thought of you and the problems that you are expected to solve. I came in to comfort you and to bless you.’
“That was the way of George Albert Smith. Of the many friends I have throughout the state and beyond, he was the only one, except a few of my intimate friends, who took time to give me the loving help in the work I had to do. Of course I appreciated that; I shall never forget it. We talked together for awhile; we parted, he went home. My heart was lifted. I was weary no longer” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 99).
“On one occasion [George Albert Smith] 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” (Bassett, New Era, Jan. 1972, 52).
“On a … trip to the Middle West, [President George Albert Smith] was rushing to catch a train when a mother with four small youngsters stopped him so that her children might have the opportunity of shaking hands with him. Someone took a picture of the incident, and a copy was sent to President Smith with this notation: ‘I am sending you this picture because it is a graphic illustration of the man we believe you are. The reason we treasure it so is because, as busy as you were, in spite of the fact you were being hurried into your car and then to your waiting train, you still took time out to shake the hand of each child in this family’” (D. Arthur Haycock, “A Day with the President,” Improvement Era, Apr. 1950, 288).
Elder George Albert Smith, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught: “Do not forget no matter how much you may give in money, no matter how you may desire the things of this world to make yourselves happy, your happiness will be in proportion to your charity and to your kindness and to your love of those with whom you associate here on earth. Our Heavenly Father has said in very plain terms that he who says he loves God and does not love his brother is not truthful” (Relief Society Magazine, Dec. 1932, 709).
Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke of President George Albert Smith’s concern for the descendants of Lehi who were native Americans:
“As his great love for his fellowmen began to grow into a great compassion, he saw in vision a certain whole people who went down from the proverbial Jerusalem to Jericho and they fell among thieves. He saw them stripped of their raiment and sorely wounded. He saw them deserted and deprived. He saw priests come by who saw their plight and passed by on the other side. He saw modern Levites who came and looked and passed by on the other side. President Smith determined it was time to do something constructive for these Indian people who had fallen into misfortune. He determined that it was time to bind up their wounds, and to pour thereon the oil.
“He went to Pres. Heber J. Grant, (President Smith was then in the Council of the Twelve), and asked him for permission to do work among the Indian people which was granted. A committee was organized and the work began in a small way as many programs do” (“Elder Kimball Tells of President Smith’s Concern for His Lamanite Brethren,” Church News, 11 Apr. 1951, 11).
President George Albert Smith had a profound concern for people who had become disaffected from the Church, and he sought to show them their error. One incident is representative of this. A large faction had broken away from the Church and established their own church. They were disgruntled with some leaders and presumed to take matters into their own hands. President Smith made a historic visit to this group in 1946. He met with them and shook their hands, spoke to them, and prayed and wept for them. They were touched by his presence. He looked and acted like a prophet. They acknowledged that he was a prophet. Twelve hundred people, feeling the radiant love of Christ reaching out to them through the Lord’s anointed returned to the safety of the Church from which they had strayed.
Because of his great love for mankind, President George Albert Smith could not remain silent about the judgments that would engulf the world if its people did not repent. Like Elijah, he spoke with power and authority. On one occasion he warned: “It will not be long until calamities will overtake the human family unless there is speedy repentance” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1950, 169).
He was as courageous as Abinadi, who, in the face of criticism and slander, prophesied the results of such evil. Of those who belittled the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Smith said, “[They] will be forgotten and their remains will go back to mother earth, if they have not already gone, and the odor of their infamy will never die, while the glory and honor and majesty and courage and fidelity manifested by the Prophet Joseph Smith will attach to his name forever” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1946, 181–82).
President George Albert Smith warned:
“The world is sick. It is not the first time it has been sick. It has had a good many different experiences of that kind. Sometimes nations have had to be wiped out because of the wickedness of the people who live in them. The Lord, all down through the ages, has spoken to his leaders and teachers who are inspired, but when the world refuses to heed after it has been properly taught, it places itself in a position of saying to our Heavenly Father who owns this world—he is our landlord—‘We do not need you. We will do just as we please.’
“Unfortunately, people who think that way do not realize how they are shortening their own experiences in life, and setting the stage for the sorrows that may follow” (in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1949, 167).
President Smith spoke of the diminishing belief in God and in the divine mission of Jesus Christ:
“It is a strange thing how difficult it is for many people to believe that there is a God. There are many who are anti-Christ, they can believe in anything, almost, that you can think of and produce arguments for believing it, and I want to say to you today, that the largest portion of the population of the world that we live in is anti-Christ, not the followers of Christ at all. And among those who claim to believe in Christianity, comparatively few of them really believe in the divine mission of Jesus Christ.
“Well, what is the result? People have turned away from the Lord and He cannot bless them when they refuse to be blessed” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1948, 179).
President George Albert Smith said: “Someone has said of the people of the world that they would rather believe a lie and be damned than accept the truth. That is rather a severe statement, but I think perhaps it will bear acceptance as fact. There is nothing in the world more deleterious or harmful to the human family than hatred, prejudice, suspicion, and the attitude that some people have toward their fellows, of unkindness” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1949, 5).
President George Albert Smith warned about the consequences of the world’s unrighteousness, but offered hope of preventing them: “I fear that the time is coming, unless we can find some way not only to prevent the destruction of human life by careless accidents, but also unless we can call the people of this world to repent of their sins and turn from the error of their ways, that the great war that has just passed [World War II] will be an insignificant thing, as far as calamity is concerned, compared to that which is before us. And we can avoid it if we will; if we will each do our part, it can be prevented” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1946, 149).
As armies were returning to their homelands in 1945, after World War II, leaders of nations were thinking and meeting and talking about treaties, laws, and charters. There were grand hopes for a lasting peace. But they sought peace through the world’s way—to solve the problems of war through politics. While the international scurry of reconstruction, legislation, and man-made promises went on, another voice spoke plainly and certainly. It was the voice of the Lord through His prophet. President George Albert Smith declared: “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” (in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1949, 6).
Well before World War II erupted, Elder George Albert Smith, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, warned: “There is much confusion in the world and there seems to be no way to remove it except by the power of our Heavenly Father. The wisdom of the world is failing, the scripture is fulfilled, and today the wisest of all men are seeking, by means of legislation, to bring about a better condition and a more wholesome life among the human family. They may strive in that way, but unless men have faith in God, unless they understand the purpose of life, they will not go very far. The people of the world must repent of their sins before the Lord can give to them the peace and happiness desired. No other plan will succeed” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1934, 27).
Years later, after World War II had ended, President Smith declared: “This terrible world war that has filled people with hatred for one another, has had its effect on everybody, apparently. And there is no longer the idea among the children of men that they can sit down around a peace table and satisfy all those who are concerned. Why? Because they do not have the Spirit of God; and without it they never will come to an agreement. Now, we know that and the world does not know it” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1948, 180).
President George Albert Smith said: “You know, and I know, that the Ten Commandments contain the will of our Heavenly Father, and I am grateful, not only for the civil laws but also for the laws God has given us. I feel bound to conform my life to the teachings of the Ten Commandments. I feel equally bound to sustain the Constitution of the United States which came from the same source as the Ten Commandments. Unless the people of this great nation can realize these things and repent, they may forfeit the liberty that they now enjoy, and the blessings that are so multiplied among us” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1949, 169).
President George Albert Smith said: “What about America? I was in a meeting, not very long ago, where a group of Boy Scouts stood and sang, ‘God Bless America,’ and they sang it beautifully, and all the time they were singing I asked myself the question, ‘How can he bless America until America repents?’ Every great blessing that we desire is promised us by our Heavenly Father on condition that we honor him and keep his commandments. Praying is not sufficient. Not only must we pray but we must live to be worthy of the blessing” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1948, 184).
President George Albert Smith often divided influences into two categories. If we choose the one, there is perfect safety; if we choose the other, there is no safety. His words provide a simple key for having peace in a world of tumult:
“There are two influences in the world. The one is the influence of our Heavenly Father and the other is the influence of Satan. We can take our choice which territory we want to live in, that of our Heavenly Father or that of Satan.
“I have many times repeated what my grandfather said. He, too, talked from this stand, and it was he who gave me his name. In advising his family he said, ‘There is a line of demarcation, well defined. On one side of the line is the Lord’s territory. On the other side of the line is the devil’s territory.’ And he said, ‘If you will stay on the Lord’s side of the line, you are perfectly safe, because the adversary of all righteousness can not cross that line.’
“What does that mean? It means to me that those who are living righteous lives, keeping all of the commandments of our Heavenly Father are perfectly safe, but not those who trifle with his advice and counsel” (in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1949, 5–6).
During World War II, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder George Albert Smith taught of divine protection: “No matter whether the clouds may gather, no matter how the war drums may beat, no matter what conditions may arise in the world, here in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wherever we are honoring and keeping the commandments of God, there will be protection from the powers of evil, and men and women will be permitted to live upon the earth until their lives are finished in honor and glory if they will keep the commandments of our Heavenly Father” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1942, 15).
George Albert Smith’s days were spent in an unwearying effort to bring people closer to the Master whom he served. Then in 1951 his health failed rapidly and his energy ebbed away. His life’s mission was complete. Bishop Robert L. Simpson, then a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, spoke with President Smith’s daughter Edith Elliott about President Smith’s last day:
“She told me that, on the very last day of President Smith’s life, the family had gathered around his bedside. He was breathing more deeply, and they were concerned. The doctor stepped aside, letting the family draw close. The eldest son leaned over, and he said, ‘Father, is there something you’d like to say to the family—something special?’
“Then she went on to describe this great prophet, with a smile on his lips, saying, ‘Yes, only this: I know that my Redeemer liveth; I know that my Redeemer liveth’” (The Powers and Responsibilities of the Priesthood, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [31 Mar. 1964], 7–8).
President Smith’s loving influence, felt by so many, is exemplified in the following tributes paid by two men who were then members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and who served with President Smith.
Elder Ezra Taft Benson said: “God bless the memory of President George Albert Smith. I am grateful beyond my words of expression for the close association which I have had with him in the last few years. I am grateful that my family has lived in the same ward and has come under the benign influence of his sweet spirit. I shall never cease to be grateful for the visits he made to my home while I was serving as a humble missionary in the nations of war-torn Europe at the end of World War II. Particularly am I thankful for a visit in the still of the night when our little one lay at death’s door. Without any announcement, President Smith found time to come into that home and place his hands upon the head of that little one, held in her mother’s arms as she had been for many hours, and promise her complete recovery. This was President Smith, he always had time to help, particularly those who were sick, those who needed him most” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 46).
Elder Spencer W. Kimball said: “It seemed to me that every act, every thought of our President would indicate that with all of his heart and soul he loved the Lord, and loved his fellowmen. Is there a mortal being who could have loved them more?” (Church News, 11 Apr. 1951, 11).
George Albert Smith fulfilled the great commandments to love God and man. The world would today be a more blessed place if people had followed the example of his magnificent life and given ear to his loving counsels. Imagine what blessings might have then come to the nations of the earth.