Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch

At the October 1979 general conference, President Nathan E. Tanner, counselor in the First Presidency; announced the retirement of Eldred G. Smith as Patriarch to the Church. No successor was mentioned, thus leaving an office vacant that in Joseph Smith’s time was considered to be second in preeminence to the President of the Church. President Tanner explained that the wide availability of stake patriarchs eliminated the need for a Patriarch to the Church.

This action concluded a troubled history that went back to William Smith, the Prophet’s younger brother, and continued through Church administrations from the times of Brigham Young to Spencer W. Kimball. Eldred G. Smith, the heir to the office by presumed hereditary right, had waited fifteen years after his father died in 1932, before receiving his appointment as Church Patriarch in 1947, while the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve decided on the right person and the right combination of duties. Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff had earlier questioned the worthiness of the Church Patriarch and made adjustments that reduced his authority. The office was inherently unstable almost from the beginning, as is obvious from this account by Irene Bates and Gary Smith, based on a host of manuscript sources.

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