Saturday, May 26, 2012

Steve Smoot, Champion of Mankind

Steve Smoot
This week, we were reminded at the funeral of a much-beloved uncle, Stephen Parkinson Smoot, a life-long activist Mormon Democrat, that in the spirit world where he now resides there are no political parties. A life of contradictions and dilemmas was now resolved. Think about it - how many Utah Mormon Democrat activists do you know? There's an oxymoron for you to ponder and remember on this Memorial Day weekend of 2012!

The fact of the dissolution of political parties in the spirit world and beyond will not come as such a dramatic revelation to anyone who believes in an afterlife, I suppose, but coming from one of Steve's dear old friends, Elder M. Russell Ballard, it's a reality worth noting in this political season.

From the moment I first joined the Hewlett clan way back in the late sixties, Steve Smoot was my hero. There never was a man of more compassionate, caring and likable disposition than Uncle Steve. I don't think I ever heard a word of unkind criticism about an individual ever escape his lips. That's a tall order for some who are not similarly inclined to such restraint, but it was true of Steve.

Fort Smoot
Patsy and I were his closest neighbors who were in his extended family in Pine Valley. Our home resides in what later became the "Smoot neighborhood" at the Ranch. I watched him laboriously build "Fort Smoot," stone by stone carefully laid into mortar mixed by hand on site. It took years to complete that little one-room structure, but it was always a labor of love for him and it didn't seem to matter how long it was taking. Bigger and finer structures would eventually rise from that humble start, but I cherished every opportunity to visit with the neighbors when they were in residence. I loved Aunt Marilyn and all her quiet confidences she reposed in me, especially toward the end of her life. Steve undertook the task of carving out their home in the mountains cheerfully without complaint to prove up on his free water right before it expired.

On Left, Pine Valley's 1st Solar Panel
He was "progressive" in all the best attributes of that word. How else could you classify the first man to install a solar electrical panel on his home in Pine Valley? Before that he lobbied for years among the resistant family members until there were five "progressive" cattle guards along the Pine Valley Road to replace the antiquated old "Mormon gates." Every time I drive over one I praise his name (and will forever). If you want to leave a lasting legacy on people's lives, do something like Uncle Steve did for me and all the rest of us.

The man became a paragon of quiet dignity fighting for the downtrodden, the underprivileged and the outcasts in the Utah Mormon society. He was always years ahead of his time, it seemed, because his only driving motivation was the betterment of his fellow human travelers in this life. I have consistently disapproved of government being the end-all, be-all solution to curing those societal ills, but when it came to his individual motivations and the execution of his beliefs on a personal level there could be no disputing the example, sincerity, sensitivity and passion of the man.

At the funeral, his son Steve spoke of an early childhood incident few of us knew about. Having been working on a snow/ice igloo structure of some kind with one of his boyhood friends, he was called into dinner. As a parting gesture, in good-natured fun, he threw a "projectile" at his friend, striking him in the temple. The boy died later that night in the hospital. When I heard that story it gave immediate insight into Steve's nature, his character and his personality. He must have surely carried the pain and guilt of that experience his entire life. His gentle spirit, his solicitude of others, and his watch care for all those souls among whom he labored for eleven years in the inner-city mission in Salt Lake City, was much easier to understand. Who wouldn't be indelibly stamped for life after such a boyhood tragedy in such an innocent playtime moment?

I never saw Steve without a smile on his face. He was always so gracious, so gentle and so sincere. I said to Patsy when I first joined the family I thought he was the "coolest" extended family member in that expansive Hewlett clan, and I think I can say it even today without much fear of contradiction from any of the Hewlett cousins. His radiance came shining through in every situation where I observed him. His wisdom was much sought-after and valued by so many. I have known few people in life who seemed to me to have no guile, no bitterness, and no judgments to hand out. He was the personification of goodwill and patience.

I don't know what he was like as a father, but I know and love all his children. In them I see the reflection of his fathering, his forbearance, and his unconditional love. Aunt Marilyn always told me she didn't think her children could handle all the freedom (agency) Steve seemed so willing to grant them, preferring that he should have taken a firmer hand in disciplining them. However, I knowingly and consciously adopted Steve's fathering model in raising my own children. In that sense we were kindred spirits. I taught them as well I as could, and championed their agency, believing they would get it right in time without the heavy hand of discipline. I think it's the way Heavenly Father "raises" all of us.

I say it without reservation: Steve's children are the extraordinary product of his parenting philosophy (and I wouldn't exclude Marilyn's influence one whit). Each was showered with love from their parents who exuded constant encouragement and support, and their parents' influence will live forever within each of them in boundless proportions. Steve's and Marilyn's has been a rich harvest, and we love Shauna, Steve, Sherm and Allison and all their families. Patsy and I feel closer to them in so many ways than our own brothers and sisters.

No offense is intended in that statement, but when you live in such close proximity and you spend as many years together as we have, the bonds are deep and abiding. There's something about "pioneering" year-round living in Pine Valley that will do that to you! Steve's son Steve and I were the first to try it together in the winter of 1988-89, then eventually other families joined ours. How can we forget all the snow-blowing, the snow days off from school and work, and the stranded vehicles? But those are stories for another day.

When the much-anticipated and long-awaited priesthood revelation finally came in 1978, the first person I thought of was Steve Smoot. I knew how much he had yearned for the day when all male members of the Church could have all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob without restriction.

His treatment and his unstinting love for all Heavenly Father's children was embodied in that announcement. Until the moment of his death he was still hoping to improve the lot of the LGBT community within the Church and lamented he didn't have more time to champion their needs. Sherm said it best, "My Dad was color-blind and gender-blind." He saw their plight as analogous to the blacks and the priesthood, but there are obvious glaring distinctions from a doctrinal perspective, and I have addressed those in the past.

Whatever our differences on those doctrinal issues may have been, I honor him for his steadfast and unwavering dedication to the leadership of the Church. He chose the path of discipleship, he chose to obey without hesitation and without public criticism, though his private views often contradicted the stated position of his leaders. He served quietly in the trenches, went about doing all the good he could for as many as he might touch.

I'm grateful he touched me within the circle of his love. His parting leaves a big hole.

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