Gary Smalley, a self-effacing yet prolific author and auditorium-packing speaker on marriage and the family, died March 6 in Branson, Mo.
“Gary Smalley was a tremendous communicator and personality,” said Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.
“When he spoke at our church, the place was packed, people were helped and hundreds of marriages were enriched. His impact was huge in every way. Thank God for his legacy that will live on through thousands upon thousands of people,” Floyd said.
Smalley authored 60-plus books with 6 million in sales. He taped numerous videos, led conferences in churches across the country and joined with other authors and speakers in various projects, such as resources to help people find freedom from pornography and other sexual sin by the ministry Freedom Begins Here.
Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, said Smalley also was “a trusted counselor in whom people confided their deepest longings, hurts, hopes and dreams. The practical advice and coaching he gave helped countless husbands and wives stave off divorce. How many children grew up with both their mom and their dad because God used Gary to repair and restore their marriages? More than you would imagine.”
Smalley was a guest on Focus on the Family’s broadcast more than 50 times, Daly said in a March 7 posting at focusonthefamily.com, noting, “I especially loved Gary’s sense of humor. He took the subject of marriage and family seriously, but he didn’t take himself too seriously.”
Smalley’s son Greg, Focus on the Family’s vice president of marriage ministries, said in comments he relayed to Daly, “I loved my dad’s authenticity and transparency. He made a living telling people how he messed up as a husband and father. He was humble enough to admit he made mistakes and driven to learn how to grow as a follower of Christ, husband and father. … [W]ho my dad was up on stage was exactly who he was at home.”
Attending his father’s events as a child, Greg Smalley said he was often told by people, “Your dad saved my marriage.”
Gary D. Chapman, another marriage and family author – notably The Five Love Languages – and conference speaker, recounted, “People often got the two of us confused. I once told him that people would come to me to autograph his books. I said, ‘Early on, I told them that I was not Gary Smalley, but Gary Chapman, and they would be embarrassed. So, now I don’t say a word, I just sign your name.’ He laughed and said, ‘You have not signed nearly as many of my books as I have signed copies of The Five Love Languages.’
“We had a good laugh. If people are going to confuse me with someone, I don’t know of a better choice than Gary Smalley,” said Chapman, who also is senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Among Smalley’s popular books were If He Only Knew: What No Woman Can Resist; Making Love Last Forever; The Key to Your Child’s Heart; and with John Trent, The Blessing: Giving the Gift of Unconditional Love and Acceptance and The Two Sides of Love, both Gold Medallion Award recipients from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.
Smalley also wrote several books with his wife Norma; with his son Greg; and with Ted Cunningham, pastor of the nondenominational Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, Mo.
Smalley’s media appearances included “The Today Show,” “Fox & Friends,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Larry King Live.” His infomercial for a video series, “Hidden Keys to Loving Relations,” featured Pat Boone and, in later airings, John Tesh and Connie Sellecca and Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford.
In addition to Norma, his wife of 52 years, and son Greg, Smalley is survived by another son, Michael and a daughter, Kari, who both work in publishing and counseling; and seven grandchildren.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)