Joseph Fielding Smith: 10th president had great love for Christ and the scriptures
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One evening our family was gathered together to listen to my father, Joseph Fielding Smith, give us a lesson from the scriptures. On this particular evening the testimony he bore of the Savior was especially beautiful. He spoke of the love he had for Christ, and the great gift He had given us through the Atonement. He also spoke of the great debt of gratitude we owed Him for what He had done for us.
As he spoke I wondered, "How can he say things like this and with such an overwhelming feeling of love for Christ unless he has actually seen Him?""Have you ever seen the Lord?" I asked him.
"No," he answered, "but I have felt His Spirit, and that is more important."
This was a great lesson for me. I learned then that it is far more important to have the faith to believe without the need to see. Father was the perfect student and teacher, one who not only taught us from his great store of knowledge but encouraged us to learn on our own.
Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. was born to Julina Lambson and Joseph F. Smith, July 19, 1876. His birth was in fulfillment of his mother's earnest prayers for a son. She promised the Lord that if her petitions were granted she would raise that son as Hannah had raised Samuel and would dedicate his life to serving the Lord. Both his mother and father became Joseph's teachers. He was an apt student, for he loved the scriptures and the history of the Church. Because of the hardships and privations he experienced growing up, life itself taught him many lessons. These lessons included lengthy separations from his father and sometimes his mother as well.
His mother gave him Sunday School books and other materials he could read. His father was able to obtain a Book of Mormon for him that had been marked down in price as it had not been properly bound. By the time he was 10, Joseph had read it twice. He loved to visit his grandmother's sister, Mercy Fielding Thompson, so he could hear the stories she told of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his own grandfather, Hyrum Smith.
Though he was a fun-loving child, he could often be found reading the scriptures while his brothers were playing ball. Told he was too young to milk the cow, he did it anyway and inherited the job. When he was older he learned to make bread. He mixed it at night and in the morning put it into pans so his mother would be able to bake it for breakfast. He even learned to make pies. When I was a teenager he wanted to make a "real mincemeat pie" for Christmas. With his shopping list he went to the store, made his purchases and returned home. He began by cooking the meat very slowly and finally ended with the best mincemeat pie we ever had. His summers were spent with his brothers working on the family farm a few miles southwest of the city, helping with the irrigating and hauling hay.
During World War II he wrote to my brother Lewis: "My mother, your grandmother, was a practicing and duly licensed midwife and many were the nights when I was called out of my slumber to hitch up the horse to take her to some expectant mother and leave her there for the duration. This was a plague to me and not so easy as I had to feel my way in the dark for the harness and buggy, and even stand on a box to reach high enough to get the bridle over the horse's ears. I recall that I used to wish women bearing children would be more considerate and choose a day for such performances, but I learned more about these performances and how uncontrollable they were in later years."
Father's first school was a little rock meeting house the Church built. School was started off with prayer. There was reference to Deity during the course of the day, and the students were not taught that all things came into existence by chance 2 billion or more years ago. Instead they were taught to honor their ancestors for they were the sons and daughters of God. "My training," he said "has given me the concept that man is in very deed the offspring of God." Later his schooling was at the Salt Lake Stake Academy, which was held in Brigham Young's Schoolhouse.
As a young man he obtained a job at the ZCMI Department Store working as a stock boy, hauling sacks of sugar and flour, hams and other produce. Like his father, he was clean, orderly and careful about everything. He did not throw anything away that he felt had a potential use. His drawers were arranged with everything in such careful order that he knew if we had touched them. He was interested in many different subjects and read all he could about them. He taught himself to use the typewriter and frequently took turns with his brothers doing secretarial work for his father in the evenings. After his call to the Council of the Twelve, he was relied on for his secretarial ability by his father for Church business.
On April 26, 1898, Father and beautiful Louie Shurtliff were married in the Salt Lake Temple in a ceremony performed by his father. They met when Louie's father, a good friend of Grandpapa's, had arranged for her to board with the Smith family while she attended the University of Utah. A year after their marriage, Father was called by President Lorenzo Snow to serve a mission in Great Britain.
At that time, missionary work in Great Britain was difficult because of persecution against the Church. Having very little money, Father could not afford train fare and had to walk, sometimes great distances, as he tried to carry out his responsibilities. He was often insulted, had doors shut in his face, wore out a lot of shoe leather, and became a target for mud, rocks, and other debris. Few were willing to listen to his message. Through it all he received encouragement by recalling the words of his patriarchal blessing, "Lift up thy voice without fear or favor as the Spirit of the Lord shall direct, and the blessings of the Lord will rest upon thee."
After his mission he returned to his beloved Louie, and began to work in the Church Historian's Office. He became a home missionary, a member of the 24th Quorum of Seventies and a member of the Salt Lake Stake high council. He and Louie were blessed with two little girls, Josephine and Julina.
After less than 10 years together, Louie was taken from him in an untimely death. At that time his father was the president of the Church and lived in the Beehive House. This home was built by President Brigham Young, but after he died it became the official home for the presidents of the Church. At the invitation of his parents, Father shut up his own house and moved to the Beehive House where his younger sisters could help care for his children.
Two-year-old Julina was inconsolable over the loss of her mother and cried so much that Joseph F. Smith advised Father to get another mother for his children or he would lose the baby too. Father knew he was right and took notice of a young woman working in the Historian's Office. He invited her to accompany him and his girls on a picnic. The young woman, who later became my mother, was Ethel Georgina Reynolds, a daughter of George Reynolds of the First Council of the Seventy.
The children immediately took to Ethel, and he knew then he had made the right choice. Because 18 sounded young, they waited until after her 19th birthday, Oct. 23, to be married by his father, in the Salt Lake Temple on Nov. 2, 1908. Ethel refused the offer of a honeymoon trip, saying they needed to go home and start living as a family for the sake of the children. After the ceremony they went to his home. He unlocked the door and they went in. Father removed the sheets protecting the furniture from the dust. Ethel went to the kitchen and began to wash the dusty dishes so they could use them for some supper. He took the dishes down from the shelves for her, and 6-year-old Josephine pulled up a chair to help wipe.
"It was the happiest day of my life," Josephine recalled at the age of 90. "We were back in our own home, and we were a family again." In due time Ethel gave her husband four more girls and five sons.
Father was a man who dearly loved the Lord, kept the commandments, honored his covenants, magnified his priesthood and was loyal to those who presided over him. If he did not arrive 15 minutes early for his meetings he felt he was late, yet he did not like to waste time. He never criticized any of his Brethren, nor anyone he associated with. He never allowed us or anyone else to do so in his presence. When speaking of one of the Brethren we were expected to refer to them by their title, and never say anything that was in any way derogatory.
With his children he followed the counsel found in D&C 93:40: "But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth."
He taught us at the breakfast table as he told us stories from the scriptures, and had the ability to make each one sound new and exciting though we had heard it many times before. The suspense I felt wondering if Pharaoh's soldiers would find the gold cup in Benjamin's sack of grain is real even today. We learned about Joseph Smith finding the plates of gold, and the visit of the Father and the Son. If Father had time to walk to school with us, the stories continued. We walked past the [Salt Lake] Temple on the way to school and he told us about the Angel Moroni. We learned the temple was a very special place, that you had to be good to go there, and when you got married there it was forever. He taught us by the things he prayed for in our family prayers when we knelt by our chairs before breakfast and again at dinner time.
This teaching continued throughout his life. During his last year, living with my husband, Bruce, and me in our home, his frequent plea in family prayers was that the Lord would "keep us from all that is contrary to Thy will." Other times he asked the Lord to, "help us be faithful to every covenant we have made."
It was almost fun to be sick as he gave us very special attention. That left mother free to care for the baby so he would not get sick too. He entertained us by playing good music on the old Edison phonograph. To our delight he would dance to the music or march around the room, and even try to sing with Harry Lauder. He brought us beautiful big, sweet oranges and sat on the bed to peel them, then gave us one segment at a time. He told us stories about his childhood, or how his father took care of him when he was sick. If the occasion warranted he would give us a blessing. One day he had the doctor come to the house and lined us all up to be vaccinated against smallpox. I tried to hide but he found me.
Another time he was quarantined with us. He had to get the Genealogical Magazine edited so it could be mailed on time. He worked hard on it, and when he finished it he had to wrap it up in brown paper and heat it in the oven for a long time to sterilize it before he could put it in the mail box for the mailman to take.
Father built up a home library that contained good books and magazines and encouraged us to read them. When we made mistakes with our grammar, he gently corrected us and helped us with our homework. He was interested in the subjects we studied in school.
If I was unable to find my books when it came time to study I would look for him. He would be reading them and often asked me to explain something he had read that was new to him. He was very loving and kind to his family and if any of us needed to be corrected for some misbehavior he simply put his hands on our shoulders and looking into our eyes with a hurt look in his own, said, "I wish my kiddies would be good." No spanking or other punishment could ever have been more effective.
It was only moments before his name was read during the sustaining of the General Authorities in the April 6, 1910, General Conference that Father knew his name would be the next one read. He was not expecting to be called and was very surprised. Later that day he went home to Mother and told her the news, saying, "We will have to get rid of the cow."
"Why?" Mother asked with surprise.
"Because I will not be home to milk her much anymore" was his response. "I was called to fill the vacancy in the Twelve today."
No wife was ever more supportive or loving than Mother was. She set the pattern of loving devotion and respect by the way she treated him. But we loved him even more because of the love he had for us.
Following a lengthy illness, Mother, still a comparatively young woman, was also taken from him. Julina and I were with him at that sorrowful time. It became my privilege to take care of him and my younger brothers. Julina was able to come home and help on weekends.
Later Father married Jessie Evans, well known Salt Lake contralto, who sang with the Tabernacle Choir.
As a member of the Twelve, Father's assignments took him and his Jessie many places around the world. In 1939, he was sent to Europe to visit the missions there and was in Germany when World War II began. It fell his lot to see that all missionaries and members of the Church visiting in Europe were safely returned home. Jessie's secretarial abilities were a great help to him, and her singing provided much pleasure for those who heard her. In time she was able to get Father to join [in singingT with her in what he referred to as a "Do-it," much to the delight of those who heard them sing together.
Three months before he passed away, he had me take him to the cemetery so he could see the graves of the three devoted women who had been his wives. Jessie had died the year before. He looked at their graves and the spot reserved for him. Tapping that ground with his foot he said, "One day they will put me there, but I am in no hurry."
His patriarchal blessing told him he would live to a good old age. Had he lived three weeks longer than he did he would have celebrated his 96th birthday. His blessing also told him he was "numbered among the sons of Zion of whom much is expected," that he would become "a mighty man in Israel," and "to reflect upon the past, present and future, and gain wisdom by the experience of the past," and that his duty would be "to sit in council with his Brethren, and preside among the people." These blessings and others were all fulfilled.
Today his teachings not only lift and sustain his descendants but countless numbers of faithful members of the Church as well. What a great privilege and blessing it has been to be his daughter.
Highlights in the life of Joseph Fielding Smith
- July 19, 1876: Born in Salt Lake City to Joseph F. and Julina Lambson Smith.
- April, 1896: Married Louie Emyla Shurtliff; she died in 1908 leaving two daughters.
- Oct. 4, 1901: Employed as clerk in Church historian's office; appointed assistant Church historian in 1906; served as Church historian from 1921-1970.
- Nov. 2, 1908: Married Ethel Georgina Reynolds. She died in 1937 and was the mother of nine children.
- April 7, 1910: Sustained to Council of the Twelve at age 33.
- April 12, 1938: Married Jessie Evans. She died in 1971.
- April 9, 1951: Sustained as president of the Council of the Twelve.
- Oct. 29, 1965: Sustained as a counselor in the First Presidency.
- Jan. 23, 1970: Ordained and set apart as 10th president of the Church.
- Oct. 19, 1970: Set aside Mondays for family home evenings.
- Aug. 27, 1971: Presided at first area conference, held in Manchester, England.
- Jan. 18, 1972: Dedicated Ogden Temple.
- Feb. 9, 1972: Dedicated Provo Temple.
- July 2, 1972: Died in Salt Lake City at age 95.