Jonathan McNeal Smith passed away in Redondo Beach, CA on September 9, 2023, at the age of 39. He was packing his car to go surfing when he suffered a heart attack.
Jonathan (known to many as Jonny) was a cherished husband and father, a fervent disciple of Jesus Christ, an accomplished lawyer and respected colleague, and a loving friend. He worked hard and he played hard. For a man who was so accomplished and talented, Jonathan was remarkably humble and unassuming. He was the kind of person who made you want to be better. He was, in the apt words of his three children, simply the best.
Jonathan was born on February 10, 1984, in Thousand Oaks, CA, and his family moved to Claremont, CA when he was 14. The fourth of Rick and Kristi Smith’s five children and their only son, Jonathan brought fun and adventure to the Smith household. His cowboy and Karate Kid costumes were well-worn, he loved baseball and rough housing with his sisters, and once he even buried his mother’s jewelry in the backyard (the “buried treasure” was never found). As he grew, Jonathan developed a love for classical music (becoming a skilled cellist) and loved to quote classic movies. He enjoyed battles in his family’s orchard with friends using over-ripe oranges and avocados as ammunition. In his teenage years, Jonathan had a core group of friends that surfed together, prepared for church missions, and even had a brief stint as a rock band. These “Claremont Boys” stayed close through adulthood. Jonathan also learned to work hard while working at his father’s engineering and fabrication company in high school. After graduation, he served in Argentina for two years as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Following his mission, Jonathan enrolled at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, UT where he majored in chemical engineering and found the love of his life, Elizabeth Lucile Clayton. Both natural leaders, they met while joining forces to create a political action club on campus. At one point, they were both vying to become president of the club, but after getting to know Elizabeth, Jonathan decided that he’d rather date her than run against her. So he became Elizabeth’s vice president—a decision that proved to be very wise. Their love and friendship deepened over that school year. Elizabeth—and her family—knew Jonathan was a keeper when he dropped everything to drive her home to Orange County, CA after final exams and graduation festivities left her too tired to make the drive safely on her own.
When they married in the Newport Beach California Latter-day Saint Temple on August 22, 2009, Jonathan and Elizabeth formed “Team Smith,” ready to take on the world together. Jonathan and Elizabeth loved each other mightily—loyally supporting each other through every peak and valley of life. They were best friends, confidantes, each other’s #1 cheerleaders, cello/piano duet partners, and volleyball teammates (they competed in a doubles tournament a week before he passed). Equal partners and aligned in their testimonies, Jonathan and Elizabeth prioritized teaching their children about Jesus Christ. Together, they were an unbeatable team as they navigated law school, federal clerkships, and life as a young family in the Los Angeles area.
Team Smith added Harrison McNeal to the ranks in 2011, Lucile Louise (Lucy) in 2014, and Madeline Claire (Maddie) in 2018. Jonathan adored his children and worked hard to make memories with them. After temporary but meaningful chapters in Calabasas and South Pasadena, Team Smith moved in 2018 to Redondo Beach, where Jonathan loved nothing more than to be at the beach with his family. Jonathan’s mantra was that there were 365 days of summer, and he and Elizabeth raised their kids to share their love of the ocean (in all seasons), music, and so much more. On Saturdays, it wasn’t uncommon for the Smith family to play beach volleyball in the morning with church friends, come home to other weekend tasks, and then return to the beach before sunset to body surf. Harrison, Lucy, and Maddie adored their father, and they loved playing alligator snakes with him on the trampoline, jumping with him into the creek behind his grandmother’s home in Oregon, reading books together, and, of course, spending lots of time in the ocean. He is their best friend.
In his professional life, Jonathan was a talented and highly respected attorney. After graduating from BYU in 2010, Jonathan attended Pepperdine Caruso School of Law, where he was a member of the Pepperdine Law Review and graduated cum laude with Order of the Coif honors in 2013. Following law school, Jonathan clerked for Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell on the U.S. District Court for Central District of California and for Judge Arthur L. Alarcón on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He was also a member of the bar of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Jonathan began his law firm career in 2015 at Morrison & Foerster in Los Angeles before moving to Jones Day in 2020. He established a reputation as a top-notch patent litigator in high-tech bet-the-company cases, with numerous trials under his belt. Jonathan was known for his calm, thoughtful, and steady demeanor that inspired confidence in colleagues, judges, and juries. He was also a beloved mentor to junior associates and always made himself available to coach and assist, and he also found time in his busy schedule for pro bono work on behalf of human trafficking and domestic violence victims. Jonathan had been recommended for admission to the Jones Day partnership at the time of his passing.
In keeping with his deep testimony of Jesus Christ, Jonathan also served in various volunteer church assignments throughout his adult life. Most recently, Jonathan was asked to serve as the bishop of the Manhattan Beach congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—an opportunity that deeply changed him. Jonathan and Elizabeth considered this last year as he was serving as bishop to be the best of their lives. In this role, he led a congregation of approximately 400 people, including a 40-person youth group. He counseled with people on a weekly basis and oversaw the provision of financial and welfare assistance. Jonathan ministered one by one, helping people learn of and feel the redemptive love and grace of Jesus Christ without feeling judged. He testified that Jesus Christ is the answer and that we are all children of our loving God. The youth were especially blessed by Jonathan’s goodness and fun-loving nature. In fact, in his last activity with the youth, Jonathan taught them how to do “the worm” (a dance move that demands both great flexibility and a healthy sense of humor). Jonathan enjoyed including his son, Harrison, in his service and was grateful for his dutiful assistance after church on Sundays. Everyone loved serving with Jonathan and being served by him. He helped many people discover how much God loved them.
Jonathan was also a beloved figure in his extended family circles, where he was universally known as “the fun uncle” to 35 nieces and nephews on the Smith and Clayton sides of the family. He spent countless hours with them boogie boarding, swimming in the creek, and organizing polar bear swims. Whenever there was a memory to be made or fun to be had with his nieces and nephews, everyone knew that “Uncle Jonathan would go.”
Jonathan is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; his children Harrison (12), Lucy (9), and Maddie (4); his parents Richard and Kristin Smith; and his sisters Ashley Christenson (Michael), Kathryn Quinn (Ben), Erin Lau (Clifford), and Sarah Leiterman (John); and his paternal grandmother Margaret Louise Smith. His loss is also felt deeply by all the members of the Clayton family, who love him dearly.
We are grateful for Jonathan’s legacy of love, goodness, and faith in Jesus Christ. We know that because of Jesus Christ, we will see him again.
A website with the time and location of the memorial services, a page for posting stories and memories about Jonathan, and information about a trust established in honor of Jonathan can be accessed at