Women's leader strives for happiness


August 23, 1997

By KIRSTEN SORENSON
Standard-Examiner staff


SALT LAKE CITY -- Newly called LDS Church Relief Society President Mary Ellen W. Smoot has three specific goals for Mormon women during her five years as leader of the faith's adult female members.

"We need to learn to be happy in the era of life we are in," she said Aug. 1 in an interview with the Standard-Examiner conducted in her office in the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City.

Her office is vast and looks like a plush, pastel living room with windows looking out to the Salt Lake Temple on Temple Square and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Smoot and her two counselors in the church's Relief Society presidency were called in last April's session of General Conference.

Smoot said women throughout the church are always looking for happiness in the next phase of their life: when they turn 16, or 21, or when they get married, or when they have their first baby, or when their children leave home.

But she said the sisters in the church need to make the best of the time in which they are living.

Secondly, Smoot wants LDS women to be more pro-active, especially when it comes to genealogy and journal writing.

"I would like to see women get out of the mall and away from the television, and start writing their own story," she said about keeping a journal, one of the church's recommendations to its members.

Smoot wants women to research their past, especially in this year, the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley.

"We need to look to the past to gain strength for the future," she said. "We can have the same strength, but we can't do it straddling the fence."

Thirdly, Smoot wants Mormon women to be happy, and set that example for other women in the world.

"I don't see women in the world as happy women," she said. "We need to learn to be happy women."

Smoot and her husband, Stanley Smoot, received a call from church president Gordon B. Hinckley's secretary just before the last church conference.

"I though maybe my husband would be called to something."

Smoot said when they were ushered into Hinckley's office, the prophet first started talking to her husband.

"And then he turned to me," she said.

Smoot said she was shocked, but grateful her Heavenly Father through Hinckley trusted her to do the job. She accepted immediately.

"When a prophet of the Lord lays his hands on your head, you feel like you can do anything," she said.

Smoot's schedule has changed drastically. She now travels across the United States and in other countries to conduct training for women in Relief Societies throughout the church. In the five months since she's been called, Smoot has traveled to 13 countries.

Although only a five-month veteran of the job, Smoot wasn't afraid to talk about some of the controversial issues surrounding the church, such as women holding the priesthood.

"I don't think our women want the priesthood," she said.

And even if they do, she said, that principle is not going to change.

"You cannot change the Savior's church," Smoot said.

She said other churches who change their doctrines to suit changing times "water down their effectiveness."

"We need to strive to do what is right within the realm of possibility," Smoot said.

Smoot and her counselors meet with the First Presidency occasionally, but are primarily overseen by Elders Dallin H. Oaks and Robert D. Hales.

Smoot, 64, was born in Ogden, and raised in Clearfield and "went to Ogden for everything," she said, including piano lessons and ice cream.

She graduated from Davis High School and attended Utah State University.

The Smoots have seven children and 44 grandchildren. She worked as a full-time homemaker. They recently moved from Centerville to North Salt Lake and turned their house over to her fourth child, who has 10 children.

Smoot, who has been a ward Relief Society president, served on a church writing committee and wrote a column for youth for a Davis County newspaper.

She co-wrote and published a history of Centerville called "The City In-Between, The History of Centerville, Utah" with Marilyn Sheriff.

In 1983, her husband was called to serve as mission president for the Ohio Columbus Mission. After one year, he was called as mission president of the new Ohio Akron Mission.

After the mission, Smoot and her husband served with Church hosting. They worked on Temple Square for one year and in church hosting for seven years, They were called as directors of Church hosting for VIPs, where her primary responsibility was to host prominent individuals who host church leaders.


When the above came across a mailing list I'm on, I responded as follows:
Nothing against genealogy or journal writing, but to pigeon hole all LDS women into genealogists and journal writers (or whatever the LDS fad of the day happens to be) is exactly what is causing her problem of having unhappy LDS women.

She doesn't understand the fact that a lack of teaching individuality is the problem so she gives them something else to do (or feel guilty about for not doing).


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