SALT LAKE CITY — Borrowing from Old Testament language to refer to his friend as “a man of God” and “an honorable man,” LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson joined hundreds of friends and family members Wednesday morning in paying tribute to Elder Eldred Gee Smith, who died last Thursday at 106.
Elder Smith, a direct-line descendant of Joseph Smith Sr., the first patriarch to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was called to serve as church patriarch in April 1947. In October 1979 he was give the status of patriarch emeritus. He was the eldest and longest-serving LDS general authority at the time of his death.
“As long as I live I will cherish my friendship and close association with Eldred G. Smith,” President Monson said. “Wherever I go in this world I take a part of this dear friend with me, for my life has been blessed with his understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
President Monson, who said his friendship with Elder Smith began while riding together to the cemetery following Elder Levi Edgar Young’s funeral in late 1963, remembered when Elder Smith was sent to the South Pacific to give patriarchal blessings to church members in areas where there were no stake patriarchs.
“Eldred gave hundreds of blessings to the faithful Saints in that area,” President Monson said. “Those who were fortunate enough to receive them were overjoyed.”
During Elder Smith’s later years, President Monson visited with him frequently, celebrating significant birthdays and taking his counselors in the First Presidency to Elder Smith’s office to see some of Hyrum Smith’s personal belongings, “including clothing Hyrum wore which showed the bullet holes from the assassins who took the lives of Joseph and Hyrum.”
“It was an afternoon we will not forget,” President Monson said.
Referring to a passage of scripture in the Bible book of 1 Samuel, President Monson said, “We have had in our midst all these years Eldred G. Smith, an honorable man — even a man of God. He loved the Lord with all his heart and soul and served him with all his might.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a former member of Elder Smith’s ward who is also a member of the extended Smith family, also spoke briefly, indicating that Elder Smith “is a good man, a man our Heavenly Father holds in honor.”
In her eulogy to her father, Miriam Skeen read from Elder Smith’s obituary, which observed wryly that “he was preceded in death by just about everyone.”
“He stopped reading obituaries 10 years ago,” Skeen said, “as the names of his contemporaries weren’t showing up any more.”
Her brother, Gary Smith, added that when his father’s second wife, Hortense, passed away last year, his father confided to him that since he was 105, “I probably will not look for another wife at this point.”
Elder Smith’s bishop, Timothy L. Hawker, noted that even in his advancing years Elder Smith rarely missed a church meeting — he was in church the last Sunday of his life, Hawker said. And until last year he drove himself to church — much to the chagrin of ward members who were lined up behind him as he drove 10 miles per hour all the way home. Finally his family, the bishop and even the First Presidency joined forces to convince him that at age 105, it was time to stop driving.
“I pled with him to be obedient to his brethren of the First Presidency,” the bishop said. “That seemed to do the trick. He cherished his association with the brethren, and he was always thrilled to see President Monson when he made his traditional birthday visit.”
President Monson noted that on his last such visit Elder Smith was “alert and happy,” and that when he attended the most recent First Thursday meeting of the general authorities in the Salt Lake Temple, “I called on him to bear his testimony.”
“And he did so beautifully,” President Monson said.