Gary Smalley Has Died

DalySmalley_featured picture

My friend Gary Thomas Smalley died last night. He was surrounded by his family, including his son and my Focus colleague, Greg, who had just returned hours earlier from a speaking engagement about marriage.

How fitting, I thought, that on the very day Gary was to receive his eternal reward, his son was picking up where his father had left off, loving and ministering to Christian couples by helping to enrich their marital relationships.

It’s impossible to sum up 75 years’ worth of living into a few words, but let me tell you just a little bit about the man I knew and loved – and the author and personality so many of you appreciated from afar.

Gary SmalleyGary was a best-selling author of more than 60 books, a world-renowned marriage and relationship expert, and a sought-after speaker with more than 40 years of experience. He regularly appeared on national programs including Fox and Friends, Oprah Winfrey and NBC’s Today show. Over his extraordinary career in ministry, he helped hundreds of thousands of couples through his books, films and conferences.

Gary was also 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.

A Friend of the Family

To us at Focus on the Family, Gary was also a friend. We partnered with him in developing marriage resources and welcomed him on our broadcast more than 50 times. I always enjoyed recording programs with Gary. As staff members share their behind-the-scenes experiences with Gary today, I can’t help but nod in agreement: Gary was as gracious and witty in person as he was in his professional capacity.

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. As my role within Focus expanded to include hosting the daily radio broadcast, Gary’s encouragement and comedic relief helped me slip more comfortably into the assignment.

Gary was also part of our Focus family in an even more direct way. As I alluded to earlier, his son, Greg, serves as our Vice President of Marriage Ministries. For almost five years now, Greg and his wife Erin have helped Focus enrich marriages via programs like The Date Night Challenge, Focus Marriage Mentors, and this February’s Honoring Marriage event. These initiatives put into play many of the principles Gary taught.

Perhaps none of Focus’ efforts exemplify Gary’s passion for marriage as much as what is now known as the Focus on the Family Marriage Institute. Founded by Gary and Greg in 2003, the organization specializes in multiple-day marriage intensives at its Branson Retreat Center. Couples in crisis are able to get away from daily life and concentrate on their relationship in the first-class accommodations nestled in the heart of the Ozark Mountains. An astounding 84 percent of the more than 3,000 couples who have participated in a marriage intensive report that they have remained married when surveyed two years later.

The Smalley Legacy

Gary and NormaGary’s work will live on in his children. In addition to Greg’s work at Focus, Gary’s other two children, Kari and Michael, have also dedicated their lives to helping marriages through publishing and counseling careers.

“I loved my dad’s authenticity and transparency,” Greg wrote me earlier today. “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.”

Greg continued:

“He was passionately committed to living out the greatest commandment: to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others as himself. He built his ministry on the concept of honor—treating others as priceless treasures. His favorite verse was Romans 12:10, ‘Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor’ (ESV). What I loved best is that who my dad was up on stage was exactly who he was at home. He spent his life honoring his wife and family and helping others have an intimate relationship with the Lord and a thriving marriage and family.”

That all three of his children have also become marriage champions is a testament to the relationship Gary nurtured with his wife of 52 years, Norma. The Smalley children grew up watching Gary and Norma put into practice the same biblical principles they taught.

When the news reached me last evening that Gary had died, I was reminded of that famous observation from another beloved figure in Christendom, the evangelist D.L. Moody, who once noted:

“Some day you will read in the papers, ‘D. L. Moody of East Northfield is dead,’” he said. “Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now; I shall have gone up higher, that is all, out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal — a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit will live forever.”

Smalley FamilyIndeed, those of us who are followers of Jesus we will see Gary again. But for now, we grieve while at the same time thanking God for his life and work. We also pray for the Smalley family. While I know they are comforted by the hope of heaven today, the earthly separation is painful. They would appreciate your prayers for divine strength and comfort.

I learned earlier this afternoon that in Gary’s final moments his wife Norma kissed his forehead gently and sang to him. Then, just moments before he breathed his last, these words were spoken over him:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Numbers 6:24-25).

Isn’t that beautiful?

How has Gary’s ministry helped your marriage? Please share your memories and stories in the comments section below. I know the Smalley family will appreciate reading your thoughts.


Listen to John Fuller and I reminisce about Gary Smalley:

Sign up for my weekly e-newsletter

Leave a Comment

Anonymous 7 months ago
Pastor Tom Smith

Gary was a champion in my life and ministry and continues to be to this day.  I have done marriage and family ministry for the past 25 years in Modesto Ca, and have used and recommended Gary's material the entire time.  One of the highlights of my life was meeting Gary for the first time in Phoenix Arizona. He and I were both keynote speakers at the International Marriage Conference, with the late Leo Godzich and his wife Molly.  Leo had housed all of his speakers at a very nice resort. I remember walking out to the hot tube and getting in. There sat the one and only Gary Smalley.  Although he did not know me, I felt I had known him for the past 30 years. We began talking when I told him that he probably owed me a lot of money. He looked puzzled and asked why.  I told him that I have used his book "Love is a decision" in our pre-marriage counseling classes and had made over a thousand couples buy his book for reference. We laughed and I felt I was in the presence of royalty. I did not know that Gary had gone on to be with the Lord until a few weeks ago as I recovered from a very serious accident that took place earlier this year.  My prayers are with his wife and family, with assurance that we will all meet again.
Sandy Wade 7 months ago
I was so sad to hear of Gary's passing. My son has been married now for just over a year, but due to his military assignments in Korea and now the middle east they have only lived together about a month and now have a baby on the way. They are finding communication to be very difficult. Every day I send him a youtube clip of Gary in hopes that it will help my son learn how to be a great husband and father. I have no doubt Gary Smalley will continue to live on in this way as well as many others. God Bless Gary and the Smalley family.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Some of the best friends I have had are people I've never met. Gary Smalley is one of them. Instead of the glorious post production video with all the bloopers, strange facial expressions, and wrong words edited out, GS let me read and hear his pre production work. As a volunteer cameraman, I have been learning on the job. GS has inspired and instructed me as he let me see him learning on the job as a husband, father, speaker, & even a cat murderor!   :-)

Thank you Gary for making me laugh. Thank you for letting me see you fall. Thank you for geting back up -- after discovering what the Bible says, talking to the Author, and humbling yourself. You have convinced me that failure is only a milestone and inspired me to hope for & experience the success that is further down the road. 

I have learned from you: how to examine the execution of my communication, find solutions in the Word, and depend on the Spirit.  

What has been the result? Two people benifited.God corrected my motives which inspired wise thoughts, which birthed strategic words and served as a compass leading to effective actions. I became less of me and more of Christ. Who else benefited? Those I ministered to. They decided to change there choices so that an encounter with sucess was more likely.

I look forward to talking with you face to face in one of heaven's coffee shops. Since you will be there before me, could you  order a French Roast coffee and save a table for your vicarious friend, Keith Seiji Kawamura. 
Justin Ziebarth More than 1 year ago
My wife and I did our premarital counseling with Gary's Secret to Lasting Love material.  The principles we learned saved our marriage two years later from a situation that would have gone to divorce.  We are now going on 15 years with a beautifully redeemed marriage from our Savior with 3 kids who are learning to honor the Lord.  Not only that, but I have also become a professional counselor who specializes in marital therapy and have the privilege of passing on what we have received from both Gary and the Lord to couples on a weekly basis.  I know with such a tremendous man that the family is feeling a tremendous void.  My heart and prayers go out to Norma and the kids, and ask that the Lord comfort each of you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gary was "with us" since the beginning of our marriage.  Before we even tied the knot, my husband and I had begun reading Gary's 3-in-1 book "The Keys to Growing in Love."  That book proved to change our lives and the course from which our relationship was built on.  I am truly forever indebted to this man who helped me understand my husband, and our relationship, but also how to apply his principles to my other friendships and relationships as well.  I cannot begin to explain how his videos, his books have impacted our lives to this day, and how we have been able to share valuable principles from him with others, and how they have been affected.  My heart goes out to Norma, his family, and the millions who have been affected by his ministry who now grieve the loss of a great man.  My one hope was to meet him before he passed away, my favorite author and one of my greatest inspirations.  He will be missed.
Kevin Clark More than 1 year ago
I was saddened this morning while listening to Focus on the Family like I've done for over 25 years that Gary had passed, but overjoyed and I have to admit somewhat jealous of the thought of where and whom he was now with. Our world, our nation, and all marriages looking for hope and a word of encouragement will miss this defender of the faith.
chosen More than 1 year ago
God has blessed our lives  with Gary Smalley for "...such a time as this."  Families and marriages will benefit for generations to come (if the LORD tarries) from his ministry and teachings.  Love and prayers to Norma and their family.
Muriel Walker More than 1 year ago
My husband and I were so saddened to hear of Gary's passing. We have been involved in marital and premarital counselling for the last fifteen years or so and often used a video or a series of his videos to help people achieve the marriages God desires us to have. We also heard him and Michael speak in Calgary one time. We appreciated his wisdom, his wit, and his candour. He was stellar and we wished that we knew him personally. He will be missed! Our deepest condolences to his family!
Saved Raven More than 1 year ago

My husband and I just recently learned of this wonderful man and his ministry for marriage.  We had been watching a few of his video series recordings from  back in the 70's, through a wonderful resource called 'Right Now Media' (offered through a church) that has many of Gary's teachings for us to learn from and enjoy.    

Even though it was filmed so many years ago, we found every word and each teaching so relevant even still today, because he seemed to address the ‘heart’ of the matter and made the steps to a better relationship practical and easy to apply to our lives today.  Even over the last couple of weeks (and after nearly 30 years of marriage), we have seen a huge difference in our home. 

We still have three more sessions to watch on the ‘Hidden Keys to loving relationships’ series that we had started  watching  a few weeks ago.  We intend to continue learning more from his ministries recordings that are available.  

I hope his family can somehow know, that Gary's gift and willingness to use his gift has blessed us beyond words and  that we are going to continue to point other couples and families to 'this' ministry for help and hope to have stronger lasting Godly relationships that truly glorify God for all the world to see!  

We will always be grateful for the amazing blessings of his practical teachings that  he so passionately taught and lived out for the glory of God and for the love of others!  

We lift the entire Smalley family to God in prayer and that Gary’s legacy would continue and his amazing, loving, committed family and ‘partners’ would be immensely blessed as they continue on with serving God as they serve others.  In Jesus name.

Most Sincerely, 


Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am sad to hear of Gary's passing. My life has definitely been enriched by what God did through him. The "languages of love" have helped me understand how to effectively communicate love to my wife and children in a way they understand. I rejoicE knowing he is with Jesus right now and pray comfort for his dear family!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
And as usual I mixed up Gary Chapman and Gary Smalley -- love both of them!  :) Nevertheless, everything I wrote stands. I went to a marriage conference where Gary spoke and he had a deep impact on me and my wife!
Sherri Chasse More than 1 year ago
I was so saddened by this news, but I know he lives forever, my prayers go out to your families and all of those he affected personally feeling this loss.
Alicia Renkema More than 1 year ago
I just found out about one of my favorite Christian authors of all time and his passing into glory! Praying for the family... I could always tell in his writing how much he loved you all... I always will remember his "salt principal" with relationships in getting people interested in what you were saying. My heart is grievingi but I am so thankful that I will get to meet Gary in heaven. His books and conferences (I attended a video conference of his on marriage) were remarkable -- godly; refreshing and always funny as well.
Sharron Frey More than 1 year ago
Gary Smalley (and John Trent) both impacted our marriage significantly.  We were believers when we married, but a little extra help can't hurt anybody.  We saw Gary in Pasadena in the first couple of years of our marriage.  We learned from Gary and John about the types of personalities we were.  To this day, my husband still cracks the "okay lady, you can have your deer!  Just let me get my saddle off first," joke that Gary used to tell in his marriage conferences.  We also named a cat Puff, after the Smalley cat Puff who was tragically run over in the Smalley driveway.  It is truly Heaven's gain today and our loss.  So thankful that we had those extra tools.  Today we've been married 32 years.  We will miss him.  
Amy Brandes More than 1 year ago
At the age of 21, I was driving down the road thinking about my life. I realized something was missing. I had asked Jesus to be The Lord of my life, but hadn't been living for Him. I prayed a simple prayer. God help me find true joy. I drove to Books a Million and could have found any book. But I didn't find just any old book. I found one written by Gary Smalley called, "Joy That Lasts." He talked about the fact that true joy could only be found through a personal relationship with Jesus. Every word resonated with me. The words on the pages of that book forever changed the course of my life and set my heart ablaze for Jesus. Twenty years later, I am still passionately in love with Jesus. I married an amazing Christian man and we are raising incredible children who know Jesus intimately. I now teach a group of about 50 ladies each week at my church in Florida. Over the years, I have read his books and heard him speak many times. Though I never met him, the impact of his life is evident in this young woman thousands of miles away and the ripples keep going. I am so grateful for his dedicated service to Jesus. My heart hurts for the family and friends he left behind. He will truly be missed! 

Amy Brandes
Anonymous More than 1 year ago

When we met GARY SMALLEY at an OKC marriage conference years ago, I gave him a word picture. "In our family," I said, "My husband here is the quarterback and I'm the point kicker. He shoulders a lot of responsibility and makes a lot of touchdowns. That's 6 points every time. On the other hand, I'm good at making the point after ... and occasionally can kick a 3-point field goal. I used to feel bad about this inequity, until I realized that it's often the kicker's points that win the game." 

Gary laughed and said it was a good analogy for marriage because it isn't always even-steven when it comes to responsibility. Seems like it shifts from time to time. 

He was amazing and will be greatly missed until we join him in Heaven.  I've also enjoyed him through his books and of course, so many times on Focus on the Family, where he endeared himself to so many!  Recently, I learned new things about marriage through his son, Greg, and daughter-in-law's book when they shared on your program.  P.S. We have supported FotF monthly for the past 23 years with faith in all you do to sustain and support marriages, parents, and good citizens of earth and Heaven. Thank you!  We believe in you at FotF, but do miss Dr. Dobson at the same time. : )

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was nearly 30 years ago I was driving down the road and stumbled upon Focus on the Family for the first time. There was Gary Smalley talking about the differences between men and women, I found myself saying out loud "how does he know!"  It was as though he was describing my husband and I.  I bought his two books, For Better or Best and If Only He Knew.  My husband and I were married for about 3 years at the time and brand new christians.  That radio program was the beginning of a foundation that helped us build a strong marriage and raise 4 kids!  God directed me that very day to hear Gary and Dr. Dobson, I am forever grateful for my life, marriage and world view were never the same.  May God bless the Smalley family!
Shelly East More than 1 year ago
My husband and I have been married almost 27 years, and our marriage was positively impacted early on by Gary Smalley and Focus on the Family.  We are grateful for his ministry and have been blessed by his son's ministry as well.  We attended a marriage conference in Branson recently and stayed in a cabin with his name on it and understand that the property and house there at one time was the home of the Smalley's.  We learned that they donated it for the purpose of strengthening marriages through these conferences.  We are very grateful for his service to God.  So many marriages have been strengthened and most likely even saved because of his faithful service.  Prayers for comfort for his family.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My husband and I got married at a very young age and had not had the best of examples of how married life was supposed to work. I bought and read many of Dr. Smalley's books to get advice on marriage. We also went to a marriage seminar and heard him speak.  We have now been married for 38 years and I can honestly say that much of how we have had a successful marriage was from the wisdom and indirect counsel of Gary Smalley.  He was a hero to me and I am saddened to hear of his passing.  My thoughts and prayers are with you all at this time. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gary's books got me through a really tough divorce and strengthened my bond with my 3 sons. His books have also helped me in my my present marriage. My prayers are with his family and friends.
Tink More than 1 year ago
I was never a partaker of his marriage ministry.  Nevertheless, I would like to send my deepest sympathy and prayers for his wife Norma, children and grandchildren.  May he enjoy his reward with our LORD and may his ministry continue on and help to restore broken relationships better than they ever were before. May the LORD increase Gary's ministry with growth and strength. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.
Beth Helton More than 1 year ago
He was great!! I will NEVER Forget and I use it to this day with my youth who are dating and live in a rose colored world -- his illustration about how it used to really frustrate him that his wife wouldn't close drawers completely or leave cabinet doors ajar. He said he would talk to her about that and get after her all the time but yet nothing ever changed. She just wasn't at all bothered if a drawer hadn't been pushed to. Then it dawned on him one day, it bothers him but NOT her then he either needs to get over it or just get used to closing drawers and doors. We can't change our spouse but we can change our response to them. I remember hearing about the heart pillow. It just seemed that every time I heard him, something was pointed out that was a great nugget. I wasn't married years ago when I would catch him on the radio or in an interview, but I can tell you, some of the things he said in his broadcasts have saved my spouse's life ;-)
Trellanie Boles-Halliburton More than 1 year ago
Marie Wright More than 1 year ago
So sorry for ur loss, praying for the family, God bless
Sharon Ryan More than 1 year ago
I'm so sorry for your personal loss, Jim.  I thank Focus for highlighting Dr. Smalley and his good works.  I never married or had children, but his books and messages have helped me in all walks of interacting with people.  Thank you to you, Dr. Dobson, and Focus on the Family.
Larry McDonough More than 1 year ago
We never met in person.  We did in books and videos, TV, and radio interviews.  A friend has passed, but we will meet for the first time in Heaven when God calls me there.  Gary has had a part in our 41 years of marriage.  Looking forward to greeting him.