UPDATED: Beloved Christian relationship guru Gary Smalley dies at 75

by Joni B. Hannigan, Editorial Staff |
Gary Smalley speaks at "Fireproof Your Marriage" conference at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Florida in 2009. In his talk he shared about a life-changing experience over a four-year period in which he had a serious heart attack and a kidney transplant. | Joni B. Hannigan

BRANSON, Mo. (Christian Examiner) – Gary Smalley, 75, an internationally recognized expert on relationships and a Christian counselor, has died. Numerous resources he created addressed issues such as marriage and family, sexuality and pornography.

Smalley's family made the announcement via social media on his Facebook page, where it was said the Idaho native "graduated to heaven" March 6 surrounded by family and his wife Norma who kissed him and sang to him.

"This beautiful transition came to an end as these words were spoke 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)," the Facebook entry wrote.

Smalley and his wife, Norma, lived in Branson, Missouri, and were married 52 years. The couple had one daughter, Kari, and two sons, Michael and Greg Smalley, and seven grandchildren.

Seven years ago Smalley spoke in Daytona Beach at a conference, "Fireproofing Your Marriage," with Albany, Georgia, Pastor Michael Catt, and Alex Kendrick, co-author of "The Love Dare."

Gary Smalley at the "Fireproof Your Marriage" conference at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Florida in 2009. | Joni B. Hannigan

Smalley, the co-author of "The Language of Love," and over 60 other relationship books, spoke about life-changing experiences over a four-year period in which he had a serious heart attack and a kidney transplant.

Catt told Christian Examiner today Smalley was a man whose life impacted many.

"Countless lives, marriages and families have been impacted by the life and ministry of Gary," Catt told CE. "His ability to communicate truth in a way that touched so many was a gift from God to all of us."

Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, notes Smalley's contribution as a best-selling author and speaker with more than 40 years of experience with regular appearances on programs such as 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."

Daly said Smalley was "gracious and witty" both personally and professionally.

"I especially loved Gary's sense of humor," Daly recalled his blog. "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."

Greg Smalley, who co-founded Focus on the Family's National Institute of Marriage in 2003, remembered his father as "humble" and "passionately committed" to God and his family.

"I loved my dad's authenticity and transparency," Greg Smalley told Daly following his father's death. "He was humble enough to admit he made mistakes and driven to learn how to grow as a follower of Christ, husband and father."

Smalley and his son Greg co-founded Focus on the Family's National Institute of Marriage in 2003. They conducted multiple-day marriage intensive conferences at their Branson Retreat Center. Surveys showed that 84 percent of the more than 3,000 couples who participated in National Institute of Marriage (intensive) conferences reported they were still married two years later.

"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," Greg wrote. "He built his ministry on the concept of honor—treating others as priceless treasures. ... 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."

Following the Facebook announcement on Gary Smalley's page, the following comments were made:

Rob Parker, an evangelist from Indiana: "He inspired so many, myself included to live and love in a way that honored God. His encouragement and wisdom on building Christ honoring lives and relationships will be passed down for years to come. He was truly a blessing...."

Deb Ramseyer Graf, a middle school principal in Indiana: "So many of his writings have dictated how I live my life. May your family feel comforted to know your father, husband, and grandfather's legacy lives on in millions of others. My gratitude for sharing him with the world."

Barry White, former Army chaplain: "I used Dr Smalley's videos in marriage seminars and even as part of pre marital counseling during my 23 years as an Army Chaplain. You left your mark Gary Smalley."

Gary D. Chapman, another family conference leader and author of "The Five Love Languages," told Baptist Press people often confused the two men and would seek autographs from the wrong author for various books.

"'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,'" Chapman recalled telling Smalley. "He (Smalley) laughed and said, 'You have not signed nearly as many of my books as I have signed copies of The Five Love Languages.'"

Chapman, senior associate pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., told BP: "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."

A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, March 19 at College of the Ozarks Chapel in Point Lookout, Missour, near Branson, and is open to the public.

Condolences can also be sent to Norma Smalley: Smalley Institute, 26205 Oak Ridge Drive, Suite 119, The Woodlands, Texas 77380.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to Camp Barnabas, a Christian camp for kids and teens with life-threatening illnesses and disabilities. Donations can be made at: http://bit.ly/1TJIjTe or by mailing a check to P.O. Box 3200, Springfield, MO 65808.