Tomorrow Eldred G. Smith turns 100 years old. He is an anachronism incarnate. Few Mormons realize that there was such a thing Presiding Patriarch and that in 1979 President Kimball removed Patriarch Smith from his office and left it empty. The office remains empty to this day and while we honor Hyrum the martyr, his ecclesiastical legacy is now solidly history.
I recently finished reading Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch, a book which I would commend to any person interested in our history. It is a penetrating history of the office and group biography of those who held it.
As much as I am a meritocrat, I find myself deeply supportive of the patriarchate. Perhaps it is because I associate the patriarchate with everything else Joseph established and with those aspects of our early religion that we have forgotten. That is not to say that I don’t believe the Church President has the authority to make the changes that he has (because I do), but as I share a deep affinity for our progenitors, I consequently inherit nostalgia of their beliefs and practices.
The office of Presiding Patriarch was problematic to the Church hierarchy after the death of Hyrum. William, brother of the prophet (or crazy uncle William as I understand the reorganites used to call him), made a play for primacy and engaged in activities that were not approved by the governing council of the Twelve. William was removed from the office and forever tainted the prospects of the Patriarchate.
Great men filled the office after William. Joseph’s unlce John was a deeply religious and humble man who, after presiding in the first Stake of Utah, ascended to be Patriarch. John, the Martyr’s son and subsequent Patriarch, was the individual who set Joseph F. Smith apart as President of the Church. The patriarch was sustained as a Prophet, Seer and Revelator and for many years was sustained before the Twelve in general conference.
Heber J. Grant, who had a new vision of the Church, wrestled with the office, but George Albert Smith, a co-relation, finally installed Eldred as Patriarch. While his duties as a General Authority had been curtailed, he served faithfully until the day he was asked to forsake his office. After stepping down, the church let him retain his office-space, which, to this day, serves as a holy room to bestow blessings on any who seek them.
At 100 years old, if he would have kept his office, he would have been the longest serving general authority in the Church. As it stands now, he is a noble and faithful witness to the restoration and monument to the charisma of his office. God bless the Patriarch.