A moment of silence for the passing of a man and an office

Eldred G. SmithYesterday, emeritus church patriarch Eldred G. Smith passed away at 106. As Peggy explains “Eldred G. Smith, who served for 32 years as Mormonism’s ‘presiding patriarch,’ died Thursday evening in Salt Lake City. At 106, Smith was the faith’s oldest living and longest-serving LDS general authority.”

You may recall that Joseph Smith Sr. was ordained as the first presiding patriarch. With Elderd G. Smith’s passing, the office, which he has held in emeritus since 1979, also passes into church history. For a bit of history of his tenure, check out this Dialogue article on “Patriarchal Blessings and the Routinization of Charisma.”

And read more about this remarkable “Presiding Patriarch” on the event of his 100th birthday, courtesy of J. Stapley.

Comments

  1. I was on the phone a few moments ago when I read this and was left so speechless I just had to end the phone call. Patriarch Smith was a spiritual giant among men, a reminder of just how close our oldest Mormon history really is to us, and a true patriarch in every sense of the word. He will be deeply missed.

  2. He was truly the last remaining link to the Mormon church that once was. A loss that has been predicted and anticipated for years, but is sad nonetheless.

  3. Can anyone offer a short primer on why the position is no longer a part of The Church?

  4. Great tribute to a great man. I imagine there is a wonderful Smith family reunion taking place on the other side of the veil.

  5. A true loss! Patriarch Smith represents a fascinating, inspiring, complicated part of Mormonism that is almost forgotten already. Several years ago, on BCC, J. Stapley reviewed or mentioned the book “Lost Legacy” by the same person (plus Gary Smith) as the article linked to above. I stayed up till 3 a.m. finishing this book. In learning about the rich history of patriarchal blessings and patriarchs, I felt as though I was meeting a long lost sibling from whom I had been separated at birth. I wonder if anything will be said at General Conference this weekend, beyond mentioning him as a prominent member/authority who has died.

  6. EOR – I believe part of it has to do with it being only available to direct decendants. I’ve no direct experience with any of them, but not having called another after this one went emeritus tells me they haven’t found a direct male decendant who can fit the position. (I may be completely wrong, fo course)

  7. Nick Literski says:

    I don’t suppose we can be “sad” at someone passing at the amazing age of 106, but still, I’m sorry to hear of Patriarch Smith’s passing. He was an amazing individual—not to mention a true link to Mormonism’s more colorful and fascinating past—who I admired greatly. Most certainly a life well lived. Best wishes for comfort and peace to all those who loved and respected this good man.

  8. marginalizedmormon says:

    may he rest in peace; until his death he was the only living general authority with whom I had had association, though brief and long ago–

  9. Sharee Hughes says:

    I grew up in Pentiction, British Columbia, Canada. My family joined the Church in 1950 and we came to Utah in 1954 to the Temple, where my parents were sealed and my brother and I were sealed to them. We also received our Patriarchal Blessings at the hands of Patriarch Smith. Although I was only 12 years old, I will never forget that day. We didn’t just go into his office and receive our blessings and leave. We spent a couple of hours or so with him as he chatted with us and got to know us a bit before he laid his hands on our heads to give us our blessings. I remember him as a gentle, friendly, spiritual man, a man who cared about the people he was blessing.. The Church has lost a great man, the Heavens have gained one.

  10. J. Stapley says:

    God bless the Patriarch.

  11. Patriarch Smith visited the 1984 Nauvoo Encampment for Young Women, where I was privileged to meet him outside of the Carthage Jail. I was 13 years old and I remember thinking that I thought he was old, even then. He had some Smith family memorabilia with him, although I can’t remember exactly what items. So sad to lose a great man and a direct connection to our distant Mormon past.

  12. My dad was given his patriarchal blessing by Patriarch Smith in 1949. He was going to the mission home in Salt Lake on his way to serve in the Western States mission. Patriarch Smith outlived my own father by over 16 years. He almost looks like Pres Hinckley in the above picture.

  13. EOR, I hope you read the Dialogue article! The LDS movement, like any other, begins with a burst of charisma (Joseph Smith!). (See Max Weber.) In order to remain stable, the movement becomes bureaucratized or routinized over time. So ever since the death of our charismatic founder, the positions of prophet-president and patriarch have always been somewhat in tension with each other — the prophet-president deriving more and more of its authority from bureaucracy, and less from charisma. The hierarchy has never known quite what to do with the office of church patriarch. For example, Joseph F. Smith was ordained president of the church with the help of the presiding patriarch, even while some apostles thought the patriarch’s authority was lower on the totem pole. Based on Joseph Smith’s teachings, the patriarch is meant to have authority, but how does that charismatic authority relate to the increasingly bureaucratic structure of the apostles and the seventies? Over time, the patriarch’s influence and prominence decreased (as measured by less travel, fewer speaking assignments, fewer top level meetings attended, the end of “presiding” assignments), as did the apostles’ belief in the importance of *right lineage* — whether we’re talking about the lineage of Hyrum Smith or of Cain. (Of course, the “seed of Cain” stuff is bogus and toxic. I just think the timing is interesting — SWK extends temple blessings to all Mormons including black Mormons in 1978; he retires the patriarch position that favored the Smith family in 1979.)

  14. I was on my mission in the autumn of 1979 in Minneapolis, MN.

    A member of the ward invited my companion and me to Sunday dinner. This member was the daughter of Eldred Smith and had always treated my companion (Elder Anderson, wherever you are, you were one of the best. ) and me especially well. Eldred Smith was touring the mission as his last official assignment for the church. I got the impression Minnesota was chosen so he could spend time with his family and, surely, enjoy the lovely colors of Minnesota in the autumn.

    It was a small dinner – the daughter, her husband, a couple children, the two missionaries and Eldred Smith.

    During the dinner, someone mentioned something about the “16 prophets, seers and revelators” in the church.

    I did the math in my head and counted 15.

    “Excuse me,” I said, “but my count is that there are 15 – the quorum of the 12 and the three members of the First Presidency.”

    The Patriarch, who was sitting directly across from me, looked me straight in the eye and said, gently and slowly and without boast: “I am sustained as a prophet, seer and revelator, and that is what I am. Now, could you pass me that salt and pepper next to you, please.”

    That dinner feed Elder Anderson and me in many ways.

  15. I met Patriarch Smith a few times, but the most memorable meeting was in the JSMB in 2009. The Church had allowed him to keep an office in the Public Affairs space. He had an enormous desk, with a chair just to the side for whoever was receiving a blessing to sit in. There was a recording device fixed to the desk just to the right of the chair. Hanging on the wall of his office was a shadow box, framed, with glass over it. Inside were Hyrum’s blood stained martyrdom clothes, with a few other Smith family artifacts.

    I shook Patriarch Smith’s hand and told him that I was embarrassed to admit I hadn’t even realized the office of patriarch was ‘a thing’. He sighed and said- “Yes, most of you young folks have no idea about me do you?” He then got a bit, shall I say, ‘animated,’ and said with a surprising amount of energy- “They used to picture me in the Ensign as ABOVE the quorum of the 12. I was second only to the prophet. Now look what they’ve done with me- put me in this office, no one knows who I am, and I hardly give any blessings anymore. I used to travel with the prophet and was sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator.” To be honest, he seemed a bit bitter and it made me quite sad. I’ve followed any news relating to him with interest ever since, and am glad to have been able to meet him the times I did.

  16. I remember meeting Patriarch Smith at a fireside in the Kaysville Stake back in the 1980′s, and he did seem old even then. I do remember that some of the family artifacts he had with him were the wooden box of Hyrum’s that Joseph used to conceal the plates, and I believe some of Hyrum’s clothing. Not sure of what else he had beyond that, but he was a warm and welcoming person. A true link to some of our past is gone. I hope his family asked him lots of questions, and wrote it all down.

  17. Left Field says:

    I thought of Brother Eldred just this Sunday, when we were watching the training session during third hour. Brother Ballard spoke of attending a Hyrum Smith family reunion, and they showed some brief clips of the event. There was a really old guy that was shown two or three times, and I wondered if it was the Patriarch, perhaps old enough that I didn’t immediately recognize him. However, if the photograph shown here is at all recent, I don’t think it was him in the video. Brother Smith is easy to recognize in the photograph.

  18. I met Eldred Smith and his wife about seven years ago at a presentation of the Hyrum Smith relics and he was very nice, but I had an experience similar to that described by jg–Patriarch Smith was somewhat upset that his calling was being phased out and that his son would not be a presiding patriarch, and he didn’t seem afraid to express that discontent. I was quite surprised at his tone, though I could understand his disappointment to see a family tradition die.

  19. Elouise says:

    Patriarch Smith gave hundreds upon hundreds of lectures throughout the Church dealing with the inspiring lives and tragic deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. He continued to give these presentations even during his great old age. I would like to pay tribute to his wife, Hortense Hogan Child Smith, whom he married in 1977.

    Sister Smith was an unusually gifted person, one of the great leaders of the Church. She had an especially keen intelligence and was a gifted and stirring speaker. She served in the Presidency of the Young Women under Ruth H. Funk, exhibiting an amazing talent for seeing the full scope of a problem and perceiving its best solution. As a young woman (1943-45), Sister Child served as a Lt (jg) in the Navy Waves. Long the widow of her first husband, she was then married to Patriarch Smith for more than thirty-five years, accompanying him on just about all of his travels, and often giving part of the presentations. She was an especially careful guardian of the relics and keepsakes that Elder Smith used in his lectures. Thanks to her stamina, commitment, and support of the Patriarch, many thousands of Church members were able to hear the accounts first-hand from him personally, members who otherwise would not have had this opportunity. Hortense Child Smith died last year, age 93.

  20. John Taber says:

    I expect that we will (probably not tomorrow) once again sustain a Patriarch to the Church, but that he will not be sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator. I get the feeling – and this is just my take on things – that as President Kimball was restructuring things (like replacing the First Council of the Seventy to the First Quorum of the Seventy) that he felt it was easier to give Elder Smith emeritus status than anything else.

  21. Here is the pointer to the history of this office:
    Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch
    https://byustudies.byu.edu/showtitle.aspx?title=6446

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