Longest-living LDS general authority dies at age 106

Published: Friday, April 5 2013 1:10 p.m. MDT

President Thomas S. Monson and Elder Eldred G. Smith talk after President Monson stopped by for a visit on Elder Smith's 105th birthday at the Smith's home Monday, Jan. 9, 2012.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Elder Eldred Gee Smith, 106, an emeritus general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1979 and the seventh and final of seven patriarchs to the church in general, died Thursday night.

He was the most long-lived general authority in the history of the LDS Church.

The First Presidency of the LDS Church issued a statement at his death. “The Church lost a valued friend and respected leader with the passing of Patriarch Eldred G. Smith. He was a man who lived a Christ-centered life as he faithfully served as patriarch to the church. We pray for the Lord’s blessing to be upon his family at this tender time.”

Elder Smith was sustained as the seventh patriarch to the church on April 10, 1947. While serving as patriarch, he gave approximately 18,000 recorded blessings — 2,711 of which were given on trips around the world.

As a general authority of the church, he traveled extensively to many parts of the world. He gave blessings in many countries, including all of Europe, Alaska, Canada, Puerto Rico, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

On Oct. 6, 1979, after 32 years as patriarch to the church, Elder Smith was one in a group of nine general authorities receiving emeritus status. No patriarch of the church has been sustained since that time.

Even though he had emeritus status, Elder Smith continued to attend the weekly Temple meetings of church general authorities. "I think I'm the only emeritus that goes," Elder Smith said in 2009.

On Wednesday, the day before he died, he attended that meeting for the last time, one of his sons, E. Gary Smith, said. "It was a busy day for him," Smith said of his father. "He was alert up to the last day."

The next morning, Elder Smith was not feeling very strong and stayed in bed to rest. E. Gary Smith said his father fell asleep at about 7:15 p.m. and died about ten minutes later. "It was very peaceful," he said. "It was very nice. It was time for him to go."

Elder Smith was born Jan. 9, 1907, in Lehi to Hyrum Gibbs and Martha Electa Gee Smith. But he had little time to get acquainted with Lehi. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Los Angeles, where his father studied dentistry and began his practice. His practice ended abruptly when he received a call from church headquarters to return to Salt Lake and become the new church patriarch, the church’s fifth.

He was a great-great-great-grandson of Joseph Smith Sr., father of church founder Joseph Smith and the first patriarch to the church. He was also a great-great-grandson of the martyred Hyrum Smith and his first wife, Jerusha Barden Smith. He was educated at Salt Lake public schools and LDS High School.

Elder Smith served in the Swiss-German Mission from 1926-29. He became proficient in the language, and even while patriarch, he was able to converse with people who came from German-speaking missions for blessings.

Upon returning home from his mission, Elder Smith enrolled in engineering classes at the University of Utah.

He married Jeanne Audrey Ness on Aug. 17, 1932, in the Salt Lake Temple. She died on June 13, 1977. They had two sons and three daughters, Eldred Gary (Elizabeth) Smith, Raynor Smith, Miriam (Edwin) Skeen, Gay (Arden) Vance and Sylvia Dawn (Craig) Isom.

He later recollected how difficult it was to find work and attend college.

“The Lord was good to us,” he told the Church News in 1976. “Many things happened to us that some people would say was coincidence, but I know it was the Lord helping my wife and me.”

At one time, while attending college, he worked for a contractor and painted the ceiling of the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

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