Eldred Smith, 105 years old and considered the oldest living man in Utah, has some handy advice for anyone who wants to achieve similar longevity.
"Just keep breathing," Smith said with a laugh. "Nothing special I know."
Besides living to 105 with his sense of humor intact, Smith also has the record for oldest general authority in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he was the church's eighth and final presiding patriarch. He actively served 32 years as patriarch for the church, until the office was done away with in 1979 and Smith was granted "emeritus" status.
Smith was born in Lehi on Jan. 9, 1907, though he has lived in Salt Lake City since becoming a patriarch in 1947. And he has lived long enough to watch five children, 24 grandchildren, 45 great-grandchildren and 19 great-great-grandchildren grow up.
The former presiding patriarch was recently interviewed by the Daily Herald, dressed in a gray suit and sitting in his one-story but spacious 1970s-era home, part of an old neighborhood on the mountainside overlooking Salt Lake City. His home is filled with figures of Joseph Smith and Church pioneers, and he prominently displays a painted portrait of himself above the fireplace.
He moves and talks slower than he used to, and has become hard of hearing. But Smith's wit is as wry as ever. He described with a hint of sarcasm the modern conveniences he didn't have when he was younger.
"We have such a hard time today. ... It's all automatic. You just set a gauge with your fingers, and push a button to open the garage door," Smith said. "It's a tough life to have to push a button to open the door and push a button to close the door."
Buddy Youngreen, a friend and drama teacher from Orem, said even at his age Smith and his 92-year-old wife, Hortense, occasionally come to Utah Valley to go out to dinner with him and see his plays. They also take in a Brigham Young University football game once in a while.
"They've become second parents to me," Youngreen said. "They're still my most avid fans and give me support whenever I need it. ... I've loved them dearly. There's not two better people on the Earth."
Blessings around the world
In the LDS Church, a patriarch is tasked with giving patriarchal blessings, which are personal and sacred words of comfort and counsel for worthy church members. As presiding patriarch, Smith's assignment was to give blessings in areas where there were no organized stakes and therefore no local patriarchs.
Smith checked off a list of the parts of the world he visited to give patriarchal blessings, often accompanied by his first wife, Jeanne, until she died in 1977.
"I traveled in Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Alaska, Canada, Puerto Rico, England, France, Belgium, all the Scandinavian countries, all four of them, and Italy," Smith said. "I got to know Italy about as well as I knew the state of Utah. I'd go to Italy every other year."
According to Smith's estimation, he gave over 18,000 blessings.
His method for preparing to give a blessing was as simple as his method for living to 105.
"Just get on your knees," Smith said.
At general conferences, he was sustained as a "prophet, seer and revelator" just like the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve, and he spoke in every conference until he was granted emeritus status.
While other general authorities were chosen based on rank in the priesthood, experience serving in the church and what leaders describe as "inspiration," choosing a presiding patriarch was unique in that it also included a hereditary factor.
The LDS Church's first patriarch was Joseph Smith, Sr., the father of the church's first prophet, in 1833. Before his death, Joseph Sr. ordained his son Hyrum to take his place. Since Hyrum was martyred in 1842, successive patriarchs have been as close as possible to direct descendants of Joseph, Sr. and Hyrum. Eldred Smith is Hyrum's great-great grandson.
Smith said even generations later, he still felt the influence of the "prophet Joseph" in his family and tried to follow his example.
"I didn't do much good. He did it all," Smith humbly said of his famous ancestor.
Smith was close to who he called "Uncle George" Albert Smith and "cousin Joseph" Fielding Smith, who both served as prophets for the Church.
In 1979 the role of a presiding patriarch was determined by President Spencer W. Kimball and his counselors to be outdated, because the church was quickly establishing more and more stakes -- and more and more stake patriarchs. Smith was officially relieved of his duties that year.
"Because of the large increase in the number of stake patriarchs and the availability of patriarchal service throughout the world, we now designate Elder Eldred G. Smith as a patriarch emeritus," President N. Eldon Tanner announced over the pulpit in the October 1979 general conference.
The LDS Church did not respond to requests by the Daily Herald to comment for this article.
Though he was stunned, Smith said he was grateful to have a break from his global excursions.
"Traveling a month, two months at a time was hard work," Smith said. "It takes something out of you."
Change of duties
He may have been relieved of his duties, but that didn't mean Smith got a vacation.
Smith continued to occupy an office at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, and to renew his temple recommend directly from the prophet, like other active general authorities do. And, since he still held the rank of patriarch in the Melchizedek Priesthood, he also gave a few hundred more patriarchal blessings at his downtown office.
One of the main roles that developed for Smith was to share his collection of Smith family artifacts. Eldred and Hortense gave firesides and displayed items such as a trunk Hyrum Smith loaned to his brother Joseph. Joseph said he used to trunk to hide the golden plates he translated into the Book of Mormon.
The talks became so popular, the Smiths were making two stops a week on their circuit. Youngreen, as a friend and a fellow Smith family history enthusiast, often joined them.
"We went from Massachusetts to California," Youngreen said.
Now as a centenarian, Smith no longer gives patriarchal blessings or firesides. But he still comes to a monthly meeting at the Salt Lake City Temple with President Thomas S. Monson and the rest of the current general authorities.
With more than a century in the LDS Church, Smith has seen plenty of changes.
"The biggest change was to start building temples," Smith said. Membership in the church has "just ballooned. Just exploded."
In 1907, when Smith was born, there were almost 358,000 members of the church. When he became the patriarch in 1947, the church finally hit the million-member mark. Now, the church is rapidly approaching 15 million.
Smith's son Gary points out the expansion was predicted by his father decades ago.
"In the 1972 general conference talk that he gave, he predicted that the time will come when temples will be found all over the Earth and many nations," Gary Smith said.
At the time of that talk, there were only 15 temples, and 11 of them were in the United States. Now, there are 136 temples and counting, less than half in the U.S.
"Patriarch Smith is indeed a prophet, seer and revelator," Youngreen said.
During his long life, Eldred Smith has surely seen plenty of good and bad. But through it all, he remains optimistic.
"It's a wonderful world to live in," Smith said.
And at age 105, he should know.