George Albert Smith
George Albert Smith was born April 4, 1870, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to John Henry and Sarah Farr Smith. President Smith had a noble ancestry, in that his great grandfather was John Smith, brother to Joseph Smith, Sr., who was the first stake president in the Salt Lake Valley and later served as the Patriarch to the Mormon Church. John Smith’s son George Albert Smith was President George Albert Smith’s grandfather and the person for whom he was named. George Albert Smith’s grandfather was also a cousin to the first Mormon prophet, the Prophet Joseph Smith. Throughout his life, President Smith would be known as ‘George A.’
Like all boys born at this time in Utah, George Albert Smith was privileged to watch the construction of the Salt Lake Temple. As a youth, he spent his time herding cows, riding horses, and studying. He was fortunate to be surrounded by strong, worthy servants of the Lord. His grandfather, George A. Smith, was an Apostle and a member of the First Presidency. His father, John Henry, was also an Apostle and became a counselor to President Joseph F. Smith.
George Albert Smith’s greatest example would be his father. Not only did he teach righteous principles, but he also lived them and thus taught by example. “…I remember something my earthly father said…he said, ‘I have never seen a child of God so deep in the gutter that I have not had the impulse to stoop down and lift him up and put him on his feet and start him again.'” President Smith would remember walking down the street with his father when a drunkard came up to them and asked for a quarter for a meal. “Without hesitation, [my father] gave him the money. After the incident, [I] asked father why he had given the drunkard the money when it was highly possible that he would spend it on liquor…Father replied that he would give quarters to ten men he thought might use the money on drink, if there was a chance that just one would use it properly.”1
When President Smith was just thirteen years old, he received his patriarchal blessing, which had a profound effect upon his attitude about his purpose in life. In it, he was told: “Thou was called and chosen of the Lord from before the foundation of the earth and was laid to come forth in this dispensation to assist in building up the Zion of God upon the earth…And thou shalt become a mighty prophet in the midst of the sons of Zion. And the angels of the Lord shall administer unto you…Thou art destined to become a mighty man before the Lord, for thou shalt become a mighty Apostle in the Church and kingdom of God upon the earth, for none of thy father’s family shall have more power with God than thou shalt have, for none shall excel thee.”2
President Smith was not without physical trials and tribulations. He suffered with typhoid fever as a child, had a severe eye injury while working on a crew in the western desert, had two narrow escapes from death while serving a mission to the southern United States, and was afflicted for five painful years with a serious disease.
In 1892, George Albert Smith and his childhood friend Lucy Woodruff would marry, but not without obstacles along the way. Lucy was a great woman of faith and intelligence who loved and respected her long time friend George, as he loved and respected her. However, during their courtship, her affections were divided between George and another young man. In 1891, their courtship was interrupted when George was called on a mission by the First Presidency to travel to the Juab, Millard, Beaver, and Parowan areas of southern Utah. His calling was to strengthen the young adults in the Young Men and Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association. Lucy wrote George to explain that she might have plans to marry the other suitor. George responded by letter, expressing his feelings for Lucy. He also gave her the following advice: “Be prayerful and humble; do not mistake the duty you owe to others. Your first duty is to yourself. I feel that you will be happy and my prayer is that you will.”3 After months of vacillating back and forth, she finally broke off the relationship with the other suitor and married George on May 25, 1892. Even after many years, Lucy would say again and again that she had almost made a terrible mistake.
Shortly after his marriage to Lucy, President Smith was called as an LDS missionary to the Southern States. Between 1901-1912, he was called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. During this time, he suffered with a very serious health problem, but he continued his efforts to preach and testify of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He stated to a friend that, “…I did not know whether my work was completed or not, but I told the Lord that if it was complete and He was preparing to call me home, that I would be ready to go, but if there was more work for me to perform, I would like to get well. I placed myself in his hands to do as he saw fit, and soon after that I began to recover.”4
After his call to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Smith had a dream in which his grandfather George A. Smith appeared to him. He recalled: “I lost consciousness of my surroundings and thought I had passed to the Other Side…I began to look around, to see if I could not find someone…I began to explore, and soon I found a trail through the woods which seemed to have been used very little and which was almost obscured by grass. I followed this trail, and after I had walked for some time…[saw] in the distance…a man coming towards me. I became aware that he was a very large man, and hurried my steps to reach him, because I recognized him as my grandfather…I remember how happy I was to see him coming. I had been given his name and had always been proud of it. When grandfather came within a few feet of me, he stopped…He looked at me very earnestly and said: ‘I would like to know what you have done with my name’. Everything that I had ever done passed before me as though it were a flying picture on a screen – everything I had done…my whole life had passed before me. I smiled and looked at my grandfather and said: ‘I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed’…He stepped forward and took me in his arms, and as he did so, I became conscious again of my earthly surrounds. My pillow was wet as though water had been poured on it – wet with tears of gratitude that I could answer unashamed.”5
President Smith presided over the European Mission from 1919-1921 and became the general superintendent of the YMMIA in 1921. He was prominent in the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution and was a member of the national executive board of the Boys Scouts of America.
When President Smith was thirty-three years old, he felt the need to relay what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He declared: “I would be a friend to the friendless and find joy in ministering to the needs of the poor. I would visit the sick and afflicted and inspire in them a desire for faith to be healed. I would teach the truth to the understanding and blessing of all mankind. I would seek out the erring one and try to win him back to a righteous and a happy life. I would not seek to force people to live up to my ideals, but rather love them into doing the thing that is right. I would live with the masses and help to solve their problems that their earth life may be happy. I would avoid the publicity of high positions and discourage the flattery of thoughtless friends. I would not knowingly wound the feeling of any, not even one who may have wronged me, but would seek to do him good and make him my friend. I would overcome the tendency to selfishness and jealousy and rejoice in the successes of all the children of my Heavenly Father. I would not be an enemy to any living soul. Knowing that the Redeemer of mankind has offered to the world the only plan that will fully develop us and make us really happy here and hereafter I feel it not only a duty but a blessed privilege to disseminate this truth.”6
In May of 1945, George Albert Smith was sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During his presidency, President Smith spoke of the technology that would become a part of the members’ lives and would help them build up the kingdom of God on the earth. He stated that “millions would accept the truth if they only knew what we know.”7
That year, 1945, saw the conclusion of an ugly war, which left millions of people in Europe and Asia without food, clothing and shelter. President Smith had ninety train cars full of food and clothing sent to the stricken Saints in Europe. The members of the Mormon Church were asked to fast and contribute money to the aid of, not only the Church members, but also all others in these stricken countries. President Smith visited the President of the United States, Harry S. Truman, and recalled later his visit: “When the war was over, I went representing the Church…When I called on [President Truman], he received me graciously…and I said, ‘I have just come to ascertain from you…what your attitude will be if the Latter-day Saints are prepared to ship food and clothing and bedding to Europe.’ He smiled and looked at me and said, ‘Well, what do you want to ship it over there for? Their money isn’t any good.’ I told him that we did not want their money. He looked at me and asked, ‘You don’t mean you are going to give it to them?’ I told him of course we would give it to them. They are our brothers and sisters and are in distress. God has blessed us with a surplus, and we will be glad to send it if we can have the cooperation of the government. [President Truman] said, ‘we will be glad to help you in any way we can. How long will it take you to get this ready?’ I told him that it was all ready…and that all we needed was the cars and ships in order to send…food, clothing and bedding to the people of Europe who are in distress. We have an organization in the Church that has over two thousand homemade quilts ready.” The result was that many people in the war-torn countries received food, clothing, and bedding without any delay on the government’s part.
There are numerous examples of President Smith’s unwavering and unconditional love toward all. He would admonish the Saints to seek happiness in living the gospel principles; to seek out those in need of love and comfort; to find time to serve their fellow man. He warned the members to stay on the Lord’s side, since that was where true happiness was. “There are two influences in the world. The one is the influence of our Heavenly Father and the other is the influence of Satan. We can take our choice which territory we want to live in, that of our Heavenly Father or that of Satan…those who are living righteous lives, keeping all of the commandments of our Heavenly Father are perfectly safe, but not those who trifle with his advice and counsel.”8
On April 4, 1951, President Smith passed away at the age of eighty-one. His personal creed, which was drafted when he was thirty-three, was fulfilled, for President Smith was a man who put God and his fellow men before himself.
1 “Church News”, President Smith’s Leadership Address, 1946, p.6
2 “The Teachings of George Albert Smith”, McIntosh, 1996, p.110
3 “George Albert Smith”, Gibbons, p.21
4 “A Biography of George Albert Smith – 1870-1951”, Stubbs, 1974, p.317
5 “Your Good Name”, Improvement Era, 1947, p.139
6 “Greatness in Men: Superintendent George Albert Smith”, Improvement Era, Mar 1932, ;.295
7 “Conference Report”, Oct 1945, p.120