About the Collection

Willard Lisbon Smith

by Jeffrey S. Hardy

See Diary

Willard Lisbon Smith was born on 2 September 1891 in Farmington, Davis, Utah, to Willard Gilbert Smith and Anna Mariah Lamb. In 1898 the family moved to Leavitt, Alberta, Canada, as homesteaders, and Willard spent much of his childhood helping his father on the farm. He was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 3 August 1900 and held several minor Church responsibilities as a young man, such a cleaning the chapel. Willard received his education in Leavitt, nearby Cardston, and finally Calgary, after which he began teaching in local one-room school houses. Of his first assignment he remembered: “The first six months of teaching was a good experience. I overcame the discipline problems by being somewhat of a companion with the students.”1 This ability to make friends would prove invaluable in years to come. On 4 October 1911 Willard married Jane (Jen) Hill Leavitt in Salt Lake City, Utah; they were blessed with seven children over the course of their marriage, five of whom survived infancy.

After a few years of married life in Canada, the Smiths received a call from the Church to serve a school teaching mission to Samoa. They accepted this assignment and left San Francisco for the South Pacific on 19 January 1915. After arriving in Pago Pago, Samoa, Willard and Jen were assigned to work as schoolteachers at Mapusaga, a Church-owned plantation on the island of Tutuila. After a year, however, Willard was called to be mission president of the newly-reopened Tongan Mission. He later recorded that as he accepted this appointment he felt a spiritual confirmation that the call was from God and remarked that this manifestation, “was a great strength and testimony to me and gave me added courage.”2 The Smiths arrived at Nuku-alofa, Tonga on 11 May 1916, joining the few other missionaries already there, and Willard assumed responsibility of over 450 native members organized into eleven branches of the Church.

Willard fervently set about to organize the new mission and soon “acquire[d] the [Tongan] language with the help of the Lord by hard effort and study.”3 He immediately began requesting additional missionaries and by the beginning of 1918 twenty were laboring under his direction. A fascinating event of Willard’s Tongan mission was his opportunity to administer and teach the gospel to the King of Tonga. In one of his blessings Willard promised him that “his sickness would leave him this day,…but if he hindered the [missionary] work his sickness would return.”4 During Willard’s tenure as president of the mission, the number of native saints almost doubled, four branches were organized, four new chapels were constructed, and preliminary work began on the translation of the Book of Mormon into Tongan. After five years away from home Willard and Jen finally departed from Tonga, arriving home in April 1920.

For the next six years Willard resumed his teaching career in Cardston, Alberta, and also helped on the family farm. However, in 1926 Willard received another mission call, this time to serve as president of the Samoan Mission. Willard used his educational background to revamp the existing church-operated school system on Samoa. He also improved the livelihoods of native missionaries, and encouraged the members to remain in Samoa and build up the church there, instead of emigrating to Hawaii as many had recently done. During his time in Samoa over 1200 people joined the Church and many new branches were established. After over seven years as president Willard was released to return home and on 14 March 1934 he and his wife left Samoa never to return. In his journal on this date he simply remarked: “Sorry to leave but hoping our labors have been accepted.”5

After this second mission Willard engaged in farming and dairy farming. In these endeavors he always managed to provide for his family, but never enjoyed financial success. This is at least partly due to his undying devotion to service in the Church. After his second mission he held many Church callings, including high councilor, stake genealogy instructor, chairman of welfare in the Canadian region, president of the Alberta Temple, and stake president. Of his many years of service to the Church he remarked: “I have learned that it is not always where we serve that may mean most to us, but how we serve.”6 At the age of sixty-four, after a series of heart attacks, Willard Lisbon Smith died at home in Cardston, Alberta, on 2 December 1955.


1 W. De Loy Smith, ed., “The Life Story of Willard Lisbon Smith and his Wife Jennie Leavitt Smith,” p. 11. MSS 2260, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

2 Ibid., 19.

3 Ibid., 20.

4 Willard L. Smith, “Journal, 1916–1918,” 22 October 1917. MSS 2260, LTPSC.

5 Willard L. Smith, “Journal, 1933–1934,” 14 March 1934. MSS 2260, LTPSC.

6 W. De Loy Smith, ed., “The Life Story,” p. 16.


Ancestry World Tree Project. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com Inc., 2003. 23 February 2003 available from http://www.ancestry.com/trees/awt/main.htm.

Britsch, R. Lanier. Unto the Islands of the Sea. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986.

Jenson, Andrew. Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Vol. 4. Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson Historical Co., 1901–1934.

Smith, Willard L. “Collection, 1915–1918.” MSS 2260, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.