Former Relief Society General President Barbara B. Smith passes away

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 14 2010 5:51 p.m. MDT

Barbara Smith (standing), the founder of Agalia Mu ("Seek Ye The Heights"), talks with other members of the group during a reunion at The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City in 2003.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Former LDS Relief Society General President Barbara Bradshaw Smith died Monday after a life in which she met with kings and queens and talked to U.S. presidents and was a strong voice on women's issues.

Family members described Sister Smith, 88, who served as the 10th Relief Society general president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from October 1974 to April 1984, as a beacon of light who stayed involved in community and LDS Church activities even after becoming ill with pulmonary fibrosis in recent years.

She passed away Monday at 10:05 p.m., surrounded by her seven children and their loving families.

"If anybody was ready to go, she was," her brother Thomas R. Bradshaw told the Deseret News on Monday night. "She had done so much for so many people and traveled the world, as well."

It was a reunion for family members who joined together Monday night, huddled around the woman who gave so much to others.

"To her dying breath, she was concerned about other people and how they could be helped and lifted and blessed in their life," said Smith's daughter, Lillian Kaye Alldredge.

Born in Salt Lake City on Jan. 26, 1922, to Daniel Delos and Dorothy Helen Mills Bradshaw, Sister Smith attended South High School and held offices in student government. Sister Smith married Douglas H. Smith in the Salt Lake Temple on June 16, 1941, and they had seven children together. He was later called as a member of the Quorum of the Seventy. Douglas Smith died in 2009.

She was called to be Relief Society General President on Oct. 3, 1974, by LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball and became the first general president born in the 20th century.

"She was just an exemplary woman in every aspect," said Lowell Virgil Smith, one of Sister Smith's sons. He recalled that when she was set apart as the Relief Society president, President Kimball said she would be a light and inspiration to the women of the world.

And she was.

In a June 1975 Ensign Magazine article, Sister Smith recalled her first experience with Relief Society on March 17, 1942, during an anniversary program.

"I was expecting our first baby momentarily," she said, "and my mother didn't want to leave me alone. That day at Relief Society, the hundred years of Relief Society history were reviewed, a meaningful way for me to see what Relief Society was all about and how I could fit into it. I started to attend our ward Relief Society regularly soon after that."

As Relief Society president during a time of fierce conflict over women's issues and the then-proposed Equal Rights Amendment, she was invited to a state dinner with U.S. President Jimmy Carter and later invited to the White House by President Ronald Reagan.

"They valued her insight about issues facing women and values," Lowell Smith said.

Sister Smith also appeared on the "Phil Donahue Show" on Feb. 4, 1980, to explain how women in the LDS Church are considered equal in status to men without the need for the legal provisions being espoused in the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.

"The proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is so broad that it is inadequate, inflexible and vague; so all-encompassing that it is nondefinitive," Sister Smith said in a 1974 Church News article.

She believed that the amendment was a confused step backward in time and that it could bring a sea of troubles in its wake.

"If indiscriminately applied, equality may abolish women's rights," she warned.

Family members said she also played an important part in planning and dedicating the Relief Society's Monument to Women in Nauvoo, Ill., and almost circled the globe in her efforts to speak to church sisters around the world.

"She was amazing," Alldredge said. "She loved women and all that they were able to accomplish."

In 1977, Sister Smith received the Exemplary Womanhood Award from the female students at Ricks College during their annual Women's Week.

In acknowledging the award, Sister Smith stressed the great role of women in the world and stressed it is important that women know that they are the children of their Father in heaven and that he loves them. "It is necessary for women to know that they are different from men, with different responsibilities in life," she said. "Not less than men, just different."

In some of her final counsel as Relief Society general president, she said in 1984, "Women can begin ... with their little children at home, among adult friends, in their extended families and in their professions ... to reach out in love to serve someone every day."

In a 1981 Ensign Magazine article by JoAnn Jolley, Sister Smith credited her optimistic nature to her mother and said, "The Lord has always blessed me. I've not had a negative life; it's been a good, pleasant experience. Problems have come, of course. But I have felt that the Lord has loved me through them."

He family came first.

"She is never too busy for her family," reflected youngest daughter Sherilynn Alba back in 1981. "It was true when we were growing up, and it's true now. If we need her, she's there. I can't imagine not having her here to get her opinion and counsel and advice."

Jolley also wrote that Sister Smith's "warmth becomes tangible as she speaks from the depths of her personal conviction to a small congregation. Or when she takes your hand in hers and says, 'I'm so glad to know you,' and you know she means it. At such times, it is easy to love Barbara Smith — and the observation of her daughter Lillian rings true: 'She taught us to leave every room or place better than we found it. And she does the same thing with people.' "

After her release as Relief Society general president, Sister Smith and her husband settled into their home ward, and she was eventually called as her ward Relief Society president.

In the late 1980s, while her husband presided over the Asia Area of the church, they lived in Hong Kong.

Sister Smith wrote several books — including "The Love That Never Faileth" (1984), "The Light of Christmas" (1985), "Growth in Grandmothering" (1986) and "A Fruitful Season" (1988).

She had also served for a time as the national president of American Mothers Incorporated. She was also a member of the Days of '47 committee.

"She just had a strong testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and always wanted to be found doing the right thing," Lowell Smith said.

Funeral services are pending.

e-mail: lynn@desnews.com, lgroves@desnews.com

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