Chapter 7
Heber J. Grant
Seventh President of the Church

Heber J. Grant

HIGHLIGHTS IN THE LIFE OF HEBER J. GRANT

Age

Events

 

He was born 22 November 1856 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Jedediah M. and Rachel Ridgeway Ivins Grant; his father died when Heber was nine days old.

15

He was ordained a Seventy (1871); he began a career as a bank clerk (1871).

20

He married Lucy Stringham (1 Nov. 1877); she died in 1893.

23

He became stake president of the Tooele Stake (30 Oct. 1880).

25

He was ordained an Apostle (16 Oct. 1882).

26–27

He served a mission to the Native American Indians (1883–84).

33

The Manifesto ending plural marriage (Official Declaration 1) was issued (1890).

40

He became a candidate for governor of the state of Utah (1896); he later voluntarily withdrew.

41

He became a member of the General Superintendency of YMMIA (Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association; 1897).

45

He opened and presided over the Japanese Mission (1901–3).

47–49

He presided over the British and European missions (1904–6).

58–62

World War I was being fought (1914–18).

60

He became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (23 Nov. 1916).

62

He became President of the Church (23 Nov. 1918).

63

He dedicated the Laie Hawaii Temple (27 Nov. 1919).

67

He dedicated the Cardston Alberta Temple (26 Aug. 1923); he spoke on the first radio broadcast of general conference (1923).

70

The Church purchased the Hill Cumorah and the Whitmer Farm (1926).

71

He dedicated the Mesa Arizona Temple (23 Oct. 1927).

79

The Church welfare plan was established (1936).

80

He visited missions in Europe (June–Sept. 1937).

83

Missionaries were withdrawn from Europe as World War II began (1939).

85

He called the first Assistants to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (6 Apr. 1941).

88

He died in Salt Lake City, Utah (14 May 1945); World War II ended (2 Sept. 1945).

Heber Jeddy Grant was born 22 November 1856, during a time when Latter-day Saints were arguably less popular with other Americans than they had ever been. The fact that this negative feeling began to change significantly during President Grant’s life was largely the result of his personal efforts to improve the public perception of the Church.

Jedediah M. Grant

Jedediah M. Grant, Heber J. Grant’s father, died nine days after Heber was born.
Photograph by Savage and Ottinger

When Heber was nine days old, his father, Jedediah M. Grant, died. Because Heber was a frail baby and his mother was left in poverty, many predicted that he would not long survive. However, the Lord had other plans.

He Grew Up in the Salt Lake Valley

By the time Heber J. Grant was nine, the United States Civil War was over. President Abraham Lincoln had established Fort Douglas and had sent troops into Utah on a permanent basis. Heber probably saw Union soldiers pass by his home, half a block south of the Salt Lake temple block.

Grant home

The Grants’ home on Main Street in Salt Lake City

A more common sight to Heber would have been the fine horses and carriages of Brigham Young, George Q. Cannon, Daniel H. Wells, and other successful men of the Church and in business in the bustling frontier town. He must have watched freighters going north toward Ogden and south toward Provo, pulled by teams of horses, mules, or oxen. There would have been short trips to Temple Square to check the progress of the construction of the Tabernacle and the temple. The new Salt Lake Theatre was just around the block.

Much of Heber’s time was spent playing in streets and in yards. He played marbles skillfully, often winning enough marbles to use them as pay to get his friends to do his chores so that he could spend more time practicing pitching a baseball. And, of course, there was school.

Heber J. Grant as little boy

Young Heber J. Grant, about 1860. It was the custom of that day to dress young boys in dresses for photographs.

His best friends were Feramorz L. and Richard W. Young, a son and a grandson of President Brigham Young. Together they ran into the Lion House when the prayer bell rang and joined in the Young family’s prayers. Sometimes young Heber peeked to see if President Young was talking face to face with Heavenly Father because his prayers sounded as though he must have been. In addition to the prayers, Heber sometimes attended Brigham Young’s school. There were long talks with President Young, Eliza R. Snow, and with Eliza’s relative Erastus Snow, whom Heber regarded as an ideal Apostle. They told Heber about the Prophet Joseph Smith and about his father, Jedediah M. Grant, one of the most trusted of the Prophet’s friends. His very name opened doors to Heber when he began to travel in business circles. These were potent influences in the life of this gifted child of destiny.

Though Gifted, He Felt Inadequate

Heber J. Grant was a person of great ability, yet many of his public statements reveal a sense of deep humility, if not inadequacy. He felt that he measured up to the goals he set for himself only by great determination and constant effort.

He lived in a time when leaders quite often expressed appreciation for learning, artistic talent, professional success, and other achievements dependent upon what usually are defined as talents or gifts. It was in these areas that he struggled the hardest. His talents lay in the field of business and social success. These talents often escaped notice, even though they may have been more important. His strengths helped carry him over all obstacles.

He Worked toward Excellence as an Athlete

boy throwing baseball

Heber J. Grant was determined to develop his skills.
Painting by Robert T. Barrett

The following story that President Heber J. Grant shared about his youth illustrates his determination to overcome obstacles:

“Being an only child, my mother reared me very carefully. Indeed, I grew more or less on the principle of a hothouse plant, the growth of which is ‘long and lanky’ but not substantial. I learned to sweep, and to wash and wipe dishes, but did little stone throwing and little indulging in those sports which are interesting and attractive to boys, and which develop their physical frames. Therefore, when I joined a baseball club, the boys of my own age and a little older played in the first nine; those younger than I played in the second, and those still younger in the third, and I played with them.

“One of the reasons for this was that I could not throw the ball from one base to the other. Another reason was that I lacked physical strength to run or bat well. When I picked up a ball, the boys would generally shout:

“‘Throw it here, sissy!’

“So much fun was engendered on my account by my youthful companions that I solemnly vowed that I would play baseball in the nine that would win the championship of the Territory of Utah.

Rachel and Heber J. Grant

Heber J. Grant and his mother, Rachel Ridgeway Ivins Grant

“My mother was keeping boarders at the time for a living, and I shined their boots until I saved a dollar which I invested in a baseball. I spent hours and hours throwing the ball at Bishop Edwin D. Woolley’s barn, which caused him to refer to me as the laziest boy in the Thirteenth Ward. Often my arm would ache so that I could scarcely go to sleep at night. But I kept on practicing and finally succeeded in getting into the second nine of our club. Subsequently I joined a better club, and eventually played in the nine that won the championship of the territory and beat the nine that had won the championship for California, Colorado, and Wyoming. Having thus made good my promise to myself, I retired from the baseball arena” (Gospel Standards, comp. G. Homer Durham [1969], 342–43).

young men in baseball uniforms

Territorial baseball champions. The Red Stocking baseball team in August 1877. They defeated teams in Utah, California, Colorado, and Wyoming to win the championship. Heber J. Grant is in the center of the second row.
Photograph courtesy of Bertram T. and Gene C. Willis

His Determination Was Encouraged by a Wise Mother

sewing box

Rachel Grant’s sewing box. She sewed for hire in order to provide food and clothing for herself and young Heber.
Photograph by Don O. Thorpe; courtesy of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum

In an address during funeral services for President Heber J. Grant, President David O. McKay, then a counselor in the First Presidency, said:

“Early in his youth there was developed in his young soul a spirit of independence and determination that later made him outstanding among his associates. . . . In the humble surroundings and spiritual atmosphere of his boyhood home were formed those sterling traits of character which in maturity made him so distinguished.

“President Grant always spoke with deference and heartfelt appreciation of his noble inheritance from both his parents. . . .

“Deprived of a father’s companionship, President Grant appreciated all the more deeply the transforming power of a mother’s love. It was she who changed his timidity to courage; his self-depreciation to self-confidence; impetuousness to self-control; lack of initiative to perseverance” (“President Heber J. Grant,” Improvement Era, June 1945, 334).

He Was Deeply Affected by the Sacrifices of His Family

house

A new home for his mother. It originally had four rooms and a large closet, which became Heber’s room when they started to take in boarders.
Photograph courtesy of Bertram T. and Jenna C. Willis

President Heber J. Grant said: “I have never heard and never expect to hear, to the day of my death, my favorite hymn: ‘Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear, But with joy wend your way,’ but what I think of the death and the burial of my little baby sister, and the wolves digging up her body on the plains; but what I think of the death of my father’s first wife, and the bringing of her body here for burial, from Echo Canyon; but what I think of others that I know of, who laid down their lives; but what I think of that wonderful journey of Brigham Young and his band of Pioneers, those who followed him, and my heart goes out in gratitude beyond all the power with which God has given me to express it, that my father and my mother were among those who were true to God, and who made those sacrifices for the conviction of their hearts, because of the knowledge that they had that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that Joseph Smith is his Prophet” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1922, 13).

He Never Forgot the Sacredness of Family Responsibility

President Heber J. Grant wrote of an experience that taught the importance of being self-sufficient and of taking care of family:

“Referring to that wonderful mother of mine, I remember that one day we had at least a half dozen, if not more, buckets on the floor catching the rain that came through the roof. It was raining very heavily, and Bishop Edwin D. Woolley came into the house, and he said:

“‘Why, Widow Grant, this will never do. I shall take some of the money from the fast offerings to put a new roof on this house.’

“‘Oh, no, you won’t,’ said mother. ‘No relief money will ever put a roof on my house. I have sewing here.’ (She supported herself and me with a needle and thread for many years; later with a Wheeler and Wilcox sewing machine. . . .)

Heber J. Grant as young man

A youthful Heber J. Grant

“Mother said, ‘When I get through with this sewing that I am now doing, I will buy some shingles and patch the holes, and this house will take care of me until my son gets to be a man and builds a new one for me.’

“The bishop went away and said he was very sorry for Widow Grant, that if she waited for that boy to build a house she would never have one, for he was the laziest boy in the whole Thirteenth Ward. He went on to tell that I wasted my time throwing a ball across the fence behind the house hour after hour, day after day, and week after week, at his adobe barn.

“Thank the Lord for a mother who was a general as well as a Latter-day Saint; who realized that it was a remarkable and splendid thing to encourage a boy to do something besides perhaps milking cows if he was on a farm, if he had ambitions along athletic lines” (Gospel Standards, 343–44).

He Was Challenged to Read the Book of Mormon

President Heber J. Grant wrote about his experience in first reading the Book of Mormon:

“I can remember very distinctly when Uncle Anthony Ivins . . . said to me and to his son, Anthony C. Ivins:

“‘Heber, Anthony, have you read the Book of Mormon?’

“We answered, ‘No.’

Heber J. Grant and fellow missionaries in Japan

Heber J. Grant (front), Louis A. Kalsch, Horace S. Ensign, and Alma D. Taylor dedicated Japan for missionary work on 1 September 1901.

“He said, ‘I want you to read it. I want you to pledge to me that you will not skip a word, and to the one who reads it first, I will give a pair of ten dollar buckskin gloves with beaver tops.’

“Any boy of fourteen who had a pair of those gloves thought he was ‘it.’ I remember that my mother had urged me to read systematically the Book of Mormon, but I had not done it. I determined to read the book, say, twenty-five pages a day and get the benefit of its contents. I believed its contents were true because my mother and many others had told me so; and because of the testimony of the teacher of the class that Richard W. Young and I attended, I thought that to win the gloves I would have to read the book so rapidly that I would get no benefit; and therefore decided to let Anthony win the gloves.

“I met my cousin, Anthony C., the next morning, and he asked, ‘How many pages have you read?’

“I said: ‘I have read twenty-five pages.’

“He said: ‘I have read over one hundred and fifty. I sat up until after midnight.’

“I said: ‘Good-bye gloves.’

“I went on reading twenty-five pages a day and occasionally I got so interested that I read fifty or seventy-five pages, and, lo and behold, I got through first and got the gloves. He got such a good start he did not bother to read any more until after I got through with the book” (Gospel Standards, 350–51).

handwritten document

Sample of Heber J. Grant’s handwriting
Photograph by Don O. Thorpe

His Penmanship Improved from “Hen Tracks” to the Best in Utah

“One day Heber was playing marbles with some other boys when the bookkeeper from the Wells Fargo Company Bank was walking down the other side of the street. One of the boys remarked, ‘That man gets $150.00 a month.’ Heber figured to himself that not counting Sundays, that man made $6.00 a day and that at five cents a pair, he would have to black 120 pairs of boots to make $6.00. He there and then resolved that some day he would be a bookkeeper in the Wells Fargo and Company’s bank. In those days all the records and accounts of the bank were written with a pen, and one of the requisites of a good bookkeeper was the ability to write well. To learn to write well was his first approach to securing this job and the fulfilment of his resolve; so he set to work to become a penman.

“At the beginning his penmanship was so poor that when two of his chums were looking at it one said to the other, ‘That writing looks like hen tracks.’ ‘No,’ said the other, ‘it looks as if lightning had struck an ink bottle.’ This touched Heber’s pride and, bringing his fist down on his desk, he said, ‘I’ll some day be able to give you fellows lessons in penmanship.’ . . .

“He secured a position as bookkeeper and policy clerk in an insurance office at fifteen. About this he said: ‘I wrote a very nice hand, and that was all that was needed to satisfactorily fill the position which I then had. Yet I was not fully satisfied but continued to dream and scribble when not otherwise occupied. . . . I learned to write well, so well, that I often made more before and after office hours by writing cards, invitations, and making maps than the amount of my regular salary. At nineteen I was keeping books and acting as policy clerk for Henry Wadsworth, the agent of Wells Fargo and Company. My time was not fully employed, and I was not working for the company but for the agent personally. I did the same as I had done in Mr. White’s bank, volunteered to file a lot of bank letters, etc., and kept a set of books for the Sandy Smelting Company, which Mr. Wadsworth was doing personally. My actions so pleased Mr. Wadsworth that he employed me to do the collecting for Wells Fargo and Company and paid me $20.00 a month for this work in addition to my regular compensation of $75.00 from the insurance business. Thus I was in the employ of Wells Fargo and Company and one of my day-dreams had become a reality’” (Bryant S. Hinckley, Heber J. Grant: Highlights in the Life of a Great Leader [1951], 39–42).

“When Heber, still in his teens, was working as a policy clerk in the office of H. R. Mann and Co., he was offered three times his salary to go to San Francisco as a penman. He later became teacher of penmanship and bookkeeping at the University of Deseret (University of Utah). . . .

“At one of the territorial fairs in which he had not competed, he noticed the exhibits of four professional penmen. He remarked to the man in charge of the art department that he could write better than that before he was seventeen years of age. The man in charge laughed and said that nobody but a cheeky insurance agent would make such a remark. He handed the gentleman three dollars which was the fee necessary to compete for a diploma and sent for the specimen which he had written before he was seventeen and hung it up with the remark, ‘If you judges know good penmanship, when you see it, I will get the diploma.’ He walked away with a diploma for the best penmanship in the territory. He encouraged the art of good penmanship among the youth of Zion and offered many prizes for the best specimens” (Hinckley, Heber J. Grant, 40–41).

He Was Determined to Learn to Sing

Heber J. Grant in buggy singing

“I have learned to sing.”
Painting by Robert T. Barrett. DO NOT COPY

As with baseball and penmanship, Heber J. Grant was determined to learn to sing, despite the negative opinions of others. Years of practicing brought moderate success. He wrote:

“My mother tried to teach me when I was a small child to sing but failed because of my inability to carry a tune.

“Upon joining a singing class taught by Professor Charles J. Thomas, he tried and tried in vain to teach me when ten years of age to run the scale or carry a simple tune and finally gave up in despair. He said that I could never, in this world, learn to sing. Perhaps he thought I might learn the divine art in another world. Ever since this attempt, I have frequently tried to sing when riding alone many miles from anyone who might hear me, but on such occasions could never succeed in carrying the tune of one of our familiar hymns for a single verse, and quite frequently not for a single line.

“When I was about twenty-five years of age, Professor Sims informed me that I could sing, but added, ‘I would like to be at least forty miles away while you are doing it.’ . . .

“Upon my recent trip to Arizona, I asked Elders Rudger Clawson and J. Golden Kimball if they had any objections to my singing one hundred hymns that day. They took it as a joke and assured me that they would be delighted. We were on the way from Holbrook to St. Johns, a distance of about sixty miles. After I had sung about forty tunes, they assured me that if I sang the remaining sixty they would be sure to have nervous prostration. I paid no attention whatever to their appeal, but held them to their bargain and sang the full one hundred. One hundred and fifteen songs in one day, and four hundred in four days, is the largest amount of practicing I ever did.

“Today [1900] my musical deafness is disappearing, and by sitting down to a piano and playing the lead notes, I can learn a song in less than one-tenth the time required when I first commenced to practice” (Gospel Standards, 351–52, 354).

He Married Lucy Stringham

Heber and Lucy Grant and children

Heber and Lucy Grant and family on their tenth wedding anniversary, 1887

“Once his business career was underway, Heber began to focus his attention on more distant career goals as well as on other intimate, personal goals that had been simmering in his consciousness for years. In his reminiscenses he provides us with this insight into the process and scope of his goal setting: ‘I promised myself when I was a young man that I would be married before I was twenty-one if I could persuade some good girl to marry me, so that I would start out as a full-fledged man when I reached my majority. . . . At the same time that I made this promise, I mapped out my life until I was thirty-odd years of age, and made up my mind as to the things that I was going to try to accomplish’” (Francis M. Gibbons, Heber J. Grant: Man of Steel, Prophet of God [1979], 27–28).

Heber J. Grant

Heber J. Grant was called to be a stake president when he was twenty-three and an Apostle when he was twenty-five.

Heber was determined to achieve all the goals he had set for himself. He determined that he had weak social skills and set out to improve himself. Dancing was a challenge, but eventually became one of his favorite activities. He even helped organized dances and used these opportunities to search for a wife. As he dated, he became interested in Emily Wells, the daughter of Daniel H. Wells, a prominent leader in the Church. They had much in common and it appeared that they might marry. They discovered, however, that they disagreed about the practice of plural marriage. Heber had come from a family that had practiced it and was surprised at some of the sarcastic comments Emily made about it. He asked the Lord in prayer about continuing to pursue Emily’s affections and was surprised by the negative answer he strongly received. He shed some very bitter tears because he had admired her so deeply. But then his attentions were drawn to Lucy Stringham. (See Gibbons, Heber J. Grant, 29–31.)

“Heber’s first overtures to Lucy were met with a response that could hardly be called enthusiastic. He started by walking her home from Sunday evening meetings, a frequently used courting device of the day. It was customary, however, for the young lady to invite her escort to join her in the family sitting room, where they could engage in serious or flirtatious talk and perhaps enjoy some refreshments, all under the careful scrutiny of the girl’s parents. Sunday after Sunday, however, instead of receiving a hoped-for invitation into the Stringham sitting room, Heber received a somewhat indifferent, even chilly, ‘good night’ at Stringham’s gate. That he was not deterred by this unencouraging treatment is still another evidence of Heber J. Grant’s characteristic perseverance.

“The turning point in this tepid courtship occurred one Sunday evening when Rodney C. Badger walked past the Stringham’s gate just as Heber received his customary ‘good night’ from Lucy. As these two friends walked together to the corner, Heber, instead of turning south toward his home, told Rodney, ‘I’m going down to Wells corner and visit with some of the girls there.’

Heber J. Grant and family

Heber J. Grant and his family, 1892

“Shocked at what he interpreted as fickleness, Rodney chided Heber for leaving one girl only to go in search of other female companionship. Rodney appeared satisfied, however, when Heber explained Lucy’s distant attitude toward him.

“Whether Rodney planted a seed in Lucy’s mind or mere chance intervened, the very next Sunday Heber received an invitation into the Stringham sitting room, where he became almost a fixture until the time of his marriage to Lucy a few months later. It turned out that Lucy’s initial reluctance came not from a lack of feeling for the great man she was later to marry, but from the false notion that she was merely a temporary substitute for Emily Wells.

“Once the ice was broken and Lucy realized that Heber had matrimony in view, their courtship sped toward its inevitable culmination. They were married in the St. George Temple on November 1, 1877, three weeks prior to Heber’s twenty-first birthday” (Gibbons, Heber J. Grant, 32–33).

Later, in 1884, with Lucy’s full approval, Heber married Hulda Augusta Winters and Emily Wells.

He Added Faith in God to His Determination and Overcame His Weaknesses

crowd in front of stone chapel

Elder Heber J. Grant with other General Authorities and Church members attending a funeral service at the Grantsville First Ward Chapel, September 1892.
Photograph courtesy of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, Tooele, Utah

President Heber J. Grant told the following experience from his life:

“Before I was twenty-four I was made the president of the Tooele Stake of Zion. I announced in a speech that lasted seven and a half minutes that I would ask no man in Tooele to be a more honest tithe payer than I would be; that I would ask no man to give more of his means in proportion to what he had than I would give; I would ask no man to live the Word of Wisdom better than I would live it, and I would give the best that was in me for the benefit of the people in that stake of Zion.

“That night I heard in the dark a man say in a contemptuous way: ‘It is a pity if the General Authorities have to send a man out here to preside, . . . that they could not have sent one with sense enough to talk at least ten minutes; and that they had to send a boy to preside over us.’

“When I heard this, I remember thinking: ‘The boy is the only one who has any right to complain.’ . . . However, I was not able during the next three or four Sundays to talk as long as I did the first one. I ran out of ideas in five, six, and six and a half minutes.

“At the lunch table after my first short speech which lasted seven and a half minutes, President Smith said: ‘Heber, you said you believe the gospel with all your heart, and propose to live it, but you did not bear your testimony that you know it is true. Don’t you know absolutely that this gospel is true?’

“I answered: ‘I do not.’

“‘What, you! a president of a stake?’ said President Joseph F. Smith.

“‘That is what I said.’

“‘President [John] Taylor, I am in favor of undoing this afternoon what we did this morning. I do not think any man should preside over a stake who has not a perfect and abiding knowledge of the divinity of this work.’

“I said: ‘I am not going to complain.’

Heber J. Grant

Heber J. Grant

“Brother Taylor had a habit, when something pleased him excessively, of shaking his body and laughing. He said, ‘Joseph, Joseph, Joseph, he knows it just as well as you do. The only thing that he does not know is that he does know it. It will be but a short time until he does know it. He leans over backwards. You do not need to worry.’

“I went to the little town of Vernon in Tooele County, took two others with me to do the preaching, and I got up to say a few words and spoke for forty-five minutes with perfect ease under the inspiration of the Lord. That night I shed tears of gratitude to the Lord for the abiding, perfect, and absolute testimony that came into my life of the divinity of this work.

“The next Sunday after speaking at Vernon, I was at Grantsville. I told the Lord I would like to talk forty-five minutes. I got up to speak and ran out of ideas in five minutes, and I was sweating.

“After the meeting I walked out past the farthest house in the west part of Grantsville, I am sure nearly three miles, and I got down behind a haystack and I shed some more tears. But they were tears of humiliation. I made a pledge to God there upon that occasion that never again in my life would I stand up before an audience with the feeling that all I needed to do was just stand up and talk; but that I would get up upon all occasions with a desire to say something that might be of benefit to the people to whom I spoke, and not with the spirit of pride, such as I had that day when I stood up in Grantsville. And I have never failed from that day until now—fifty-odd years ago—to have any desire in my heart when speaking except that I might say or read something that would be of lasting benefit to those who listened to my voice” (Gospel Standards, 191–93).

He Was Willing to Sacrifice

Heber J. Grant sought to always follow the counsel of the Lord’s servants: “I have never seen the day since I became the president of Tooele Stake of Zion, at the time I was not yet twenty-four years of age, when I did not want to know what the president of the Church wanted, and what the leading officials of the Church wanted me to do, and that I did not want to do whatever they would have me to do, no matter what my personal likes or dislikes might be. I have sacrificed my own financial prospects to a great extent, among the prospects being the one this dear friend of mine offered me [Colonel A. G. Hawes], a little job of forty thousand dollars a year when the Church was making me an allowance in tithing office orders of three thousand six hundred dollars” (Gospel Standards, 200–201).

Heber J. Grant with missionaries in Japan

In 1901, Elder Grant was called to serve as the mission president in Japan.

His Faith in God Gave Him Confidence

Heber J. Grant believed that the Lord would bless us in many ways as we did our duty:

“I remember as a young man I had $50.00 in my pocket on one occasion which I intended to deposit in the bank. When I went on Thursday morning to fast meeting—the fast meeting used to be held on Thursdays instead of Sundays—and the bishop made an appeal for a donation, I walked up and handed him the $50.00. He took five of it and put it in the drawer and gave the $45.00 back to me and said that was my full share.

“I said, ‘Bishop Woolley, by what right do you rob me of putting the Lord in my debt? Didn’t you preach here today that the Lord rewards fourfold? My mother is a widow, and she needs $200.00.’

“He said, ‘My boy, do you believe that if I take this other $45.00, you will get your $200.00 quicker?’

“I said: ‘Certainly.’

“Well, he took it.

Heber J. Grant with group in Japan

Elder Grant (center) in Japan, 1902

“While walking from fast meeting to the place where I worked, an idea popped into my head. I sent a telegram to a man asking him how many bonds of a certain kind he would buy at a specified price within forty-eight hours and allow me to draw a draft on him through Wells Fargo’s Bank. He was a man whom I did not know. I had never spoken to him in my life, but I had seen him a time or two on the streets of Salt Lake.

“He wired back that he wanted as many as I could get. My profit on that transaction was $218.50.

“The next day I walked down to the bishop and said: ‘Bishop, I made $218.50 after paying that $50.00 donation the other day and so I owe $21.85 in tithing. I will have to dig up the difference between $21.85 and $18.50. The Lord did not quite give me the tithing in addition to a four to one increase.’

“Someone will say that it would have happened anyway. I do not think it would have happened. I do not think I would have had the idea. I do not think I would have sent the telegram.

“. . . I am a firm believer that the Lord opens up the windows of heaven when we do our duty financially and pours out upon us blessings of a spiritual nature, which are of far greater value than temporal things. But I believe he also gives us blessings of a temporal nature” (quoted in Hinckley, Heber J. Grant, 98–100).

He Suffered the Deaths of Loved Ones

Heber J. Grant was a beloved, attentive father and husband. He treated his wives and daughters as queens and princesses. His courtesy, generosity, and fairness were a constant source of joy to them. Yet, sickness and death in his family were some of his greatest trials. He lost his only two sons—one as a baby and the other as a young boy. His grief knew no bounds because he so wanted a son. Untimely deaths also took two of his three wives—one three years after the Manifesto was issued and the second a few years later. Great as his grief was, these events brought rewarding spiritual experiences that affirmed God’s love and will concerning the losses of loved ones.

He Had a Reputation for Honesty

President Grant with Boy Scouts

Heber J. Grant at an International Scout Jamboree

Heber J. Grant turned down an appointment to the Naval Academy and pursued business interests. He pursued them with vigor through good times and bad, through successes and reversals. He walked with such courage and well-earned credentials that not even his comparative youth stood in his way. The great financiers of Wall Street in Chicago and points west came to know that Heber J. Grant would never default.

By the time he became President of the Church, Heber had many friends in the world, whose admiration for his ability and integrity was so great that they simply took the position that nothing he had anything to do with could be the least bit dishonest or bad. He wrote of one experience: “I had a letter when I, as a young man, was made an apostle, from a nonmember of the Church. . . . Of prominence in the world so far as business affairs are concerned, he was the manager of a great corporation. . . . He said: ‘I never thought very much of the leaders of the Mormon people, in fact I thought they were a very bright, keen, designing lot of fellows, getting rich from the tithes that they gathered in from a lot of ignorant, superstitious, and over-zealous religious people. But now that you are one of the fifteen men at the head of the Mormon Church, I apologize to the other fourteen. I know that if there were anything crooked in the management of the Mormon Church you would give it all away’” (Gospel Standards, 70).

He took advantage of every opportunity to use his friendship to promote the Church. He was in great demand as a speaker and was honored by important nonmember groups and individuals. His subject was always the same—the story of his Church and people and their principles. He received standing ovations.

He Was Called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

handwritten document and Elder Heber J. Grant

A handwritten copy of the revelation President John Taylor received calling Heber J. Grant to the apostleship and a photograph of Elder Grant during his early years as an Apostle

President John Taylor called Heber J. Grant into the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles one month before Elder Grant’s twenty-sixth birthday. Before this calling he held many positions in the Church, including general secretary of the YMMIA at the age of twenty-three and president of the Tooele Stake. It could be said that Heber J. Grant was an important link in the bridge over which the Church crossed from an old world of criticism and misunderstanding to a new world of guarded respect and some outright admiration and friendliness.

Heber J. Grant personally knew every individual who became President of the Church from President Brigham Young to President Gordon B. Hinckley. Among the General Authorities who were called by him are President Harold B. Lee, President Spencer W. Kimball, and President Ezra Taft Benson.

Heber felt inadequate when he was called to the apostleship and sought the Lord’s confirmation. Once while out riding with a group he found an opportunity to be alone and reflect upon his call. He later described his experience:

Heber J. Grant

Heber J. Grant

“As I was riding along to meet them . . . , I seemed to see, and I seemed to hear, what to me is one of the most real things in all my life. I seemed to hear the words that were spoken. I listened to the discussion with a great deal of interest. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had not been able to agree on two men to fill the vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve. There had been a vacancy of one for two years, and a vacancy of two for one year, and the conferences had adjourned without the vacancies’ being filled. In this council the Savior was present, my father was there, and the Prophet Joseph Smith was there. They discussed the question that a mistake had been made in not filling those two vacancies and that in all probability it would be another six months before the Quorum would be completed. And they discussed as to whom they wanted to occupy those positions, and decided that the way to remedy the mistake that had been made in not filling these vacancies was to send a revelation. It was given to me that the Prophet Joseph Smith and my father mentioned me and requested that I be called to that position. I sat there and wept for joy. It was given to me that I had done nothing to entitle me to that exalted position, except that I had lived a clean, sweet life. It was given to me that because of my father’s having practically sacrificed his life in what was known as the great reformation, so to speak, of the people in early days, having been practically a martyr, that the Prophet Joseph and my father desired me to have that position, and it was because of their faithful labors that I was called, and not because of anything I had done of myself or any great thing that I had accomplished. It was also given to me that that was all these men, the Prophet and my father, could do for me. From that day it depended upon me and upon me alone as to whether I made a success of my life or a failure” (Gospel Standards, 195–96).

He Presided over Missions in Japan and England

Heber J. Grant with family

Heber J. Grant and family when he was president of the European Mission in 1905

Teaching about times the Lord blessed him when he prayed to serve in certain positions, Heber J. Grant told the youth of the Church:

“When in Japan, feeling that I was not accomplishing anything, I went out into the woods and got down on my knees and told the Lord that whenever He was through with me there, where I was accomplishing nothing, I would be very glad and thankful if He would call me home and send me to Europe to preside over the European missions. A few days after that a cable arrived: ‘Come home on the first boat.’ And I went home.

“Brother Joseph F. Smith said to me: ‘Heber, I realize you have not accomplished anything in Japan. We sent you there for three years, and I want you to put in the other year in England, if you are willing.’

“I said, ‘I am perfectly willing.’

“Later I went in to bid him goodbye and said: ‘I will see you in a little over a year.’

“He said, ‘Oh no, I have decided to make it a year and a half.’

“I said, ‘All right, multiply it by two and do not say anything about it to me.’ And he did.

“I want you young people to know that in all my labors I got nearer to the Lord, and accomplished more and had more joy while in the mission field than ever before or since. Man is that he may have joy, and the joy that I had in the mission field was superior to any I have ever experienced elsewhere. Get it into your hearts, young people, to prepare yourselves to go out into the world where you can get on your knees and draw nearer to the Lord than in any other labor” (Gospel Standards, 245–46).

He Earned the Respect of Business Leaders

“As a young man Heber J. Grant proceeded with boldness to play a large role in the economic history of his people. He was a pioneer in industry, second only to Brigham Young. Pioneering in industry requires much the same sturdy qualities that pioneering new lands requires: faith, vision, imagination, patience, and fortitude, backed by a determination that knows no failure. Heber J. Grant had all of these qualities.

President Smith golfing

Enjoying a favorite pastime

“A boyhood associate, Heber M. Wells, said this of him: ‘He has probably been instrumental in establishing and furthering the cause of more successful intermountain industries than any other man of his time. His personal credit, his unquestioned integrity, his super-salesmanship brought capital to the aid of the Church, the community, and private enterprises. In times of panic and in times of plenty Heber J. Grant has been able to raise a few dollars or millions where other men have failed to raise any amount. This has been done largely by his personal guarantee and persuasion. He has never repudiated or failed to pay a dollar of obligation for which he was directly or indirectly responsible, legally or morally, and the result is that today, as during all the many decades since he was a young man, he can walk into the offices of executives and directors of great financial institutions in America and be affectionately greeted by men who are proud to know him as a friend and a leader of financial industries’” ( Hinckley, Heber J. Grant, 51–52).

Heber J. Grant with group wearing leis

On a Hawaiian trip, about 1935. Heber J. Grant is in the front row, second from the left.

He Knew the Agony of Debt

Heber J. Grant’s daughter Lucy said: “During those lean years which followed the panic of 1893, when to raise a nickel was harder than it had been to give $5.00, Father still helped those in distress. He knew the widow’s lot; he had felt the pinch of poverty; he knew the bitterness and bondage of debt. Through all the dark hours of his life there was a shining and secure faith in God and his promises which sustained him. I know in those years the horror of financial obligation was borne into the souls of those of us who were old enough to see him under this great strain which made us feel that debt was like a huge dragon, into whose ugly mouth the very lifeblood of its victims was drawn. No wonder he was constantly crying unto the people everywhere to keep out of debt. One whose experiences have been such as his, knows the exquisite pain of honor when on the verge of being crushed, and of a good name when near being dragged into the dust” (quoted in Hinckley, Heber J. Grant, 206).

He Was Honorable and Paid All of His Debts

President Grant overlooking Grand Canyon

Near the north ridge of the Grand Canyon

President Heber J. Grant taught the following about honoring our obligations to the Lord and to others:

“I have had friends beg and plead with me to take bankruptcy, saying that I would never live long enough to pay my debts.

“If there is any man living who is entitled to say, ‘Keep out of debt,’ his name is Heber J. Grant. Thank the Lord that I was able to pay it all, and pay it all without asking a dollar discount from anyone.

“I do not believe I ever would have paid it if I had not been absolutely honest with the Lord. When I made any money, the first debt I paid was to the Lord. And I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if the Latter-day Saints as a people, had taken the advice of the prophet of the Lord, and had been efficient tithe payers they would not be in the condition they are today” (Gospel Standards, 59).

President Grant with group in Holland

Visiting Holland, 12 August 1937

Doctrine and Covenants 121 Was One of the Disciplines in His Life

Elder Heber J. Grant, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught: “In talking to the Latter-day Saints, there is no revelation in all the Doctrine and Covenants that I have quoted from so often as that contained in Section 121 . . . : That ‘No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the Priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness, and meekness, and by love unfeigned.’ There is no danger of a Priesthood of this kind—gentleness, and meekness, and love unfeigned. But when we exercise the power of the Priesthood . . . to ‘Gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control, or dominion, or compulsion, upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the Priesthood or the authority of that man.’ These are the words of God” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1902, 80).

His Definition of Success Was Simple and Practical

Henry Ford and President Grant

Meeting with automobile industrialist Henry Ford

Elder Grant taught what true success is: “Not he who merely succeeds in making a fortune, and in so doing blunts the natural affections of the heart, and chases therefrom the love of his fellows, can be said to be truly successful: but he who so lives that those who know him best shall love him most; and that God, who knows not only his deeds, but also the inmost sentiments of his heart, shall love him; of such an one, only—notwithstanding he may die in poverty—can it be said indeed and of a truth, ‘he should be crowned with the wreath of success’” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1911, 24).

One of the Secrets of Success Is Service

President Heber J. Grant wrote: “I am converted to the thought that the way to peace and happiness in life is by giving service. Service is the true key, I believe, to happiness, because when we perform labors like missionary work, all the rest of our lives we can look back upon our accomplishments in the mission field. When we perform any acts of kindness, they bring a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure into our hearts, while ordinary amusements pass away. We can’t look back with any particular satisfaction upon having spent an evening just for the privilege of laughing loud and long” (Gospel Standards, 187).

President Grant speaking into microphone

President Grant was chosen to speak during the first broadcast of radio station KZN in Salt Lake City on 6 May 1922.

He Had a Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith

President Grant said: “I have met hundreds of men who have said: ‘If it were not for Joseph Smith I could accept your religion.’ Any man who does not believe in Joseph Smith as a prophet of the true and the living God has no right to be in this Church. That revelation to Joseph Smith is the foundation stone. If Joseph Smith did not have that interview with God and Jesus Christ, the whole Mormon fabric is a failure and a fraud. It is not worth anything on earth. But God did come, God did introduce His Son; God did inspire that man to organize the Church of Jesus Christ, and all the opposition of the world is not able to withstand the truth. It is flourishing; it is growing, and it will grow more” (Gospel Standards, 15).

The Welfare Plan Was Established upon Revealed Principles

President Grant

President Heber J. Grant

The Church welfare plan was based on God-given, immutable, moral and economic laws. President Heber J. Grant explained: “Our primary purpose was to set up, in so far as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1936, 3).

The Church Welfare Plan Was Given through Inspiration

Elder Harold B. Lee, then newly called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, bore testimony of the welfare plan: “For the last five glorious, strenuous years, I have labored, under a call from the First Presidency, with a group of men in the development of and the unfolding of what we have called the Church Welfare Plan. I felt that I should bear my testimony to you concerning that work as I close. It was on April 20th, 1935, when I was called to the office of the First Presidency. That was a year before official announcement of the Welfare Plan was made in this Tabernacle. There, after an entire half day session, at which President Grant and President McKay were present, President Clark then being in the East—they had some communications with him, so that all members of the Presidency were in agreement—I was astounded to learn that for years there had been before them, as a result of their thinking and planning and as the result of the inspiration of Almighty God, the genius of the very plan that is being carried out and was in waiting and in preparation for a time when in their judgment the faith of the Latter-day Saints was such that they were willing to follow the counsel of the men who lead and preside in this Church” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1941, 120–21).

President and Sister Grant

President Heber J. Grant and his wife, 1942

He Taught about Welfare and the Word of Wisdom

President Heber J. Grant included the Word of Wisdom as an important welfare principle. In fact, he mentioned it as a welfare principle almost as often as he mentioned the payment of tithing and the avoidance of debt. The Word of Wisdom can be recognized as a welfare principle because welfare is based on caring for oneself and on saving today’s resources for tomorrow’s use.

President Grant taught: “I would like it known that if we as a people never used a particle of tea or coffee or of tobacco or of liquor, we would become one of the most wealthy people in the world. Why? Because we would have increased vigor of body, increased vigor of mind; we would grow spiritually; we would have a more direct line of communication with God, our Heavenly Father” (Gospel Standards, 50).

President Grant and family

Heber J. Grant with his wife and nine daughters

He also mentioned the large amounts of money wasted in treating the illnesses that were directly attributable to harmful substances, the loss of employment, the loss of production caused by hangovers and smoking and coffee breaks, and the accidents on the highways caused by drunken drivers and in industry by drunken employees.

Payment of Tithes and Offerings Helps Overcome Selfishness

President Grant and his Counselors

The First Presidency: Anthony W. Ivins, Heber J. Grant, and Charles W. Nibley

President Heber J. Grant taught: “Some people have found it very hard to pay their tithing. The harder it is for an individual to comply with requirements of the Lord in the payment of his tithing, the greater the benefit when he finally does pay it. The Lord loves a generous giver. No man living upon the earth can pay donations for the poor, can pay for building meetinghouses and temples, academies, and universities, can take of his means and send his boys and girls to proclaim this gospel, without removing selfishness from his soul, no matter how selfish he was when he started in. That is one of the finest things in all the world for men—to get to that point where the selfishness in their natures is cured. When it is eradicated from their dispositions, they are glad and anxious and willing and seeking the opportunity to do good with the means that the Lord places in their hands, instead of trying to get more of it” (Gospel Standards, 62).

The Law of the Fast Is the Spiritual Foundation of the Welfare Plan

President Heber J. Grant taught about the blessings of fasting:

“Let me promise you here today that if the Latter-day Saints will honestly and conscientiously from this day forth, as a people, keep the monthly fast and pay into the hands of their bishops the actual amount that they would have spent for food for the two [consecutive] meals from which they have refrained; and if in addition to that they will pay their honest tithing, it will solve all of the problems in connection with taking care of the Latter-day Saints. We would have all the money necessary to take care of all the idle and all the poor.

“Every living soul among the Latter-day Saints that fasts two meals once a month will be benefited spiritually and be built up in the faith of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ—benefited spiritually in a wonderful way—and sufficient means will be in the hands of the bishops to take care of all the poor” (Gospel Standards, 123).

Tithing Is the Lord’s Law of Financial Success

President Grant with Church leaders in front of Alberta Temple

At the dedication of the Alberta Canada Temple, August 1923; the first temple constructed outside of the United States. President Grant also dedicated the Laie Hawaii and Mesa Arizona Temples.

President Heber J. Grant often taught about the importance of paying an honest tithe. In 1898, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he testified: “A man will say, ‘I owe my neighbor and must pay him before I can settle my tithing.’ Well, I know I owe lots of my neighbors, and they try to collect from me. But I owe God an honest tithing; He has given me a testimony of Jesus and a hope of eternal life, and I intend to pay Him first and my neighbors afterwards. It is our duty to settle with the Lord first, and I intend to do it, with the help of my Heavenly Father. And I want to say to you, if you will be honest with the Lord, paying your tithing and keeping His commandments, He will not only bless you with the light and inspiration of His Holy Spirit, but you will be blessed in dollars and cents; you will be enabled to pay your debts, and the Lord will pour out temporal blessings upon you in great abundance” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1898, 16).

President Grant

President Heber J. Grant

In 1925, he said: “The law of financial prosperity to the Latter-day Saints, under covenant with God, is to be an honest tithepayer, and not to rob the Lord in tithes and offerings. Prosperity comes to those who observe the law of tithing; and when I say prosperity I am not thinking of it in terms of dollars and cents alone, although as a rule the Latter-day Saints who are the best tithepayers are the most prosperous men, financially; but what I count as real prosperity, as the one thing of all others that is of great value to every man and woman living, is the growth in a knowledge of God, and in a testimony, and in the power to live the gospel and to inspire our families to do the same. That is prosperity of the truest kind” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1925, 10).

Avoiding Debt Is a Welfare Principle

President Heber J. Grant gave the following counsel against debt: “If a person owned what he had and did not have to pay interest, and only bought as he had the money to buy, the majority of people would be in reasonably comfortable circumstances. . . . It has been due to debt, I think, that the main part of this suffering has come. We have mortgaged our future without taking into account the incidents that may happen—sickness, operations, etc.” (Gospel Standards, 112).

His Closest Associates Knew Him as a Generous Man

President Grant and Elder McKay

President Heber J. Grant with Elder David O. McKay

In an address given during President Heber J. Grant’s funeral, President David O. McKay said: “President Grant enjoyed making money, but he loved to use it for the benefit of others. On more than one occasion, quietly, usually, forcefully, if necessary, but always unostentatiously, he has protected the good name of his associates, has paid mortgages on widows’ homes, has paid expenses of missionaries, given employment to the unemployed, rendered help and succor wherever needed. No mind has been more eager to bless, no heart more tender, no hand more generous than the heart and hand of President Grant. Thus in ‘going about doing good’ he ‘fanned the flame of human love, and raised the standard of civil virtue among mankind’” (Improvement Era, June 1945, 361).

Joseph Anderson, President Grant’s secretary, wrote: “No one will ever know how many mortgages on homes of widows he paid out of his own funds. Time and again he would inquire as to his bank balance. He had no special interest in the accumulation of money except for the good he could do with it” (Prophets I Have Known [1973], 30).

He Made Contributions of Service and Love

President Grant and others in Sacred Grove

In the Sacred Grove, 22 September 1923

Heber J. Grant’s Church assignments were numerous, including a lifelong commitment to the MIA, in which he held many positions of leadership and helped establish the Improvement Era, serving as an editor and contributor from its beginning. He often found the time and means to attend the temple when near one. He usually arranged to have family members accompany him. As President of the Church, he dedicated three new temples. “President Grant advocated and supported in the most practical way work for the dead. Although he did not frequently discourse upon the subject, the records show that he has done more for his kindred dead than has any other man. That was typical of him; that was the way he did things” (Hinckley, Heber J. Grant, 125).

Besides all this, there were the thousands of books sent with personal messages in his own matchless handwriting to members and nonmembers, there were the endless hours spent in reclaiming the wayward, and there were the widows’ mortgages paid off and other philanthropies.

He Died in Salt Lake City

President Grant on stairs

President Heber J. Grant stood 6 feet, 1 1/2 inches tall. He was the first Church president to have been born in the West.

“In the late afternoon, May 14, 1945, President Heber J. Grant, peacefully passed away at his residence in Salt Lake City. He had been ailing for the past five years, but his courage and determination to press on and perform his duty, never deserted him. Each day, up to a short time before his death, he was found at the office attending to duties as much as the physician permitted him to do. His life had been one of great activity. In his early years he appeared frail, was rejected for insurance, because of his physical condition, however, he had been active always, engaging in athletics, one time belonging to the champion baseball team of Utah. His energy was marvelous and his activities never ceased. There was never any compromise on his part with evil. Some of his strongest characteristics the public never realized. He had a tender, sympathetic nature, loved his friends dearly; was kind to the distressed; assisted the needy scores upon scores of times, the knowledge of which never got into any earthly record. His testimony of the Truth never wavered. His friends were legion outside of the Church, and he was dearly loved by his people” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History, 26th ed. [1950], 530–31).

The Second World War was ending in Europe when his tall, thin frame was laid to rest. Member and nonmember alike honored and eulogized him. Thousands came to view him. At his funeral one of his counselors, President J. Reuben Clark Jr., said of him: “He so lived his life that it had no dark place across which he must draw a curtain. His life had nothing to embarrass, nothing to hide, nothing of which he must be ashamed” (quoted in Hinckley, Heber J. Grant, 262).

“He Was a Giant of a Man”

President Grant

President Heber J. Grant

In his journal entry for 14 March 1995, President Gordon B. Hinckley, facing his new responsibilities as President of the Church, wrote: “It will be sixty years ago in July when I first came into this room as a newly returned missionary to meet with the First Presidency at the request of my mission president Elder Joseph F. Merrill of the Council of the Twelve. It is difficult to realize what has happened since then. To think that I now sit where President Heber J. Grant sat at that time. He was a giant of a man whom I loved” (quoted in Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley [1996], 511).

Chapter 8
George Albert Smith
Eighth President of the Church

George Albert Smith

HIGHLIGHTS IN THE LIFE OF GEORGE ALBERT SMITH

Age

Events

 

He was born 4 April 1870 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to John Henry and Sarah Farr Smith.

13

He began working in a ZCMI clothing factory (1883); he received his patriarchal blessing, which foretold his calling as an Apostle (Jan. 1884).

21

He served a mission to southern Utah for the YMMIA (Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association; 1891).

22

He married Lucy Emily Woodruff (25 May 1892).

22–24

He served a mission to the southern United States (June 1892–June 1894).

28

He was appointed receiver of the U.S. Land Office and Special Disbursing Agent for Utah by U.S. President William McKinley (1897–1902).

33

He was ordained an Apostle (8 Oct. 1903).

34

He wrote his creed (1904).

39–42

He suffered from serious health problems (1909–12).

49–51

He served as president of the European Mission (June 1919–July 1921).

52

He was elected vice-president of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (1922).

61

He became a member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America (1931).

73

He was set apart as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (1 July 1943).

75

He became President of the Church (21 May 1945); he dedicated the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple (23 Sept. 1945); he met with U.S. President Harry S. Truman (3 Nov. 1945).

77

The Utah Pioneer Centennial was celebrated (1947).

81

He died in Salt Lake City, Utah (4 Apr. 1951).

 

George Albert Smith as child

George Albert Smith, about four years old
Photograph by Charles R. Savage

Ulysses S. Grant, Charles Darwin, Alexander Graham Bell—these were some of the names that commanded the attention of the world in 1870. In far-away Utah, a premortal appointment was kept with the birth of an infant who received the earthly name by which he would one day be loved and revered by thousands. It was in Salt Lake City on 4 April, and the child was named George Albert Smith. Like other prophets, his youth was unpretentious. He was a pioneer boy, raised amid the excitement that attended the construction of the Salt Lake Temple. He spent his early youth herding cows, riding horses, and studying. He was also a musician.

The patriarchal blessing that a thirteen-year-old George Albert Smith received from patriarch Zebedee Coltrin had a profound effect upon his mind and attitudes. In it he was told: “Thou was called and chosen of the Lord from before the foundation of the earth was laid to come forth in this dispensation to assist in building up the Zion of God upon the earth. . . . And thou shalt become a mighty prophet in the midst of the sons of Zion. And the angels of the Lord shall administer unto you. . . . Thou art destined to become a mighty man before the Lord, for thou shalt become a mighty Apostle in the Church and kingdom of God upon the earth, for none of thy father’s family shall have more power with God than thou shalt have, for none shall excel thee” (quoted in George Albert Smith, The Teachings of George Albert Smith, ed. Robert and Susan McIntosh [1996], xix).

He Had Early Personal Experiences with Great Leaders

George Albert Smith was raised amid great servants of God. He was named after his grandfather, George A. Smith, who had been an Apostle and a member of the First Presidency. His father, John Henry Smith, was also an Apostle and became a counselor to President Joseph F. Smith.

When George Albert was a boy of five years, his mother sent him to deliver a note to President Brigham Young. As he opened and walked through the massive gate that led to Brigham Young’s home, the watchman stopped him and asked what he wanted. The boy replied that he wanted to see President Young. The watchman laughed and said he didn’t think Brigham Young had time to see a small boy. At that moment, President Young walked out of his home and asked what was going on. The watchman explained and President Young replied, “Show him in.” Recalling this incident, George Albert Smith said:

John Henry and Sarah Farr Smith family

Children of John Henry and Sarah Farr Smith. George Albert is the first on the left.

“President Young took me by the hand and led me into his office, sat down at his desk and lifted me up on his knee and put his arm around me. In the kindest way one could imagine, he said, ‘What do you want of President Young?’

“Just think of it! He was President of a great Church and Governor of a Territory, and with all the duties he had to perform, yet I as a little boy was received with as much dignity, and kindness as if I had come as a governor from an adjoining state” (quoted in Arthur R. Bassett, “George Albert Smith: On Reaching Out to Others,” New Era, Jan. 1972, 51).

This experience helped teach him “that great men always make time for those in need. . . .

“Imagine the image the future prophet of the Lord, George Albert Smith, had of President Young as he, a little boy, walked away from his office. In his adult life he never forgot that lesson and was always conscious of people who easily could have been passed by as insignificant to others” (Bassett, New Era, Jan. 1972, 51–52).

Years later, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder George Albert Smith spoke of the importance of the lessons he learned from those great leaders: “From childhood, I have never been taught to do anything improper, or that would harm one of my heavenly Father’s children; but from infancy I have been taught to acquire industry, sobriety, honesty, integrity, and all virtues possessed by men and women whom God delights to honor and bless. I thank my heavenly Father this day that these teachings have come to me from Him through His faithful servants” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1906, 46–47).

He Learned from the Example and Teachings of His Father

John Henry Smith

John Henry Smith, father of George Albert Smith
Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

The example set by his father had a great impact on George Albert Smith. Edith Elliott, George Albert Smith’s daughter shared this incident: “One day Father was walking down a street in Salt Lake City with his father, John Henry Smith. A drunkard came up to John Henry and asked for a quarter for a hot meal. Without hesitation, John Henry gave him the money. After this incident, George Albert asked his father why he had given the drunkard the money when it was highly possible that he would spend it on liquor. His father replied that he would give quarters to ten men he thought might use the money on drink, if there was a chance that just one would use it properly” (personal interview by CES Curriculum Services, 30 June 1972).

Sarah Farr Smith

Sarah Farr Smith, mother of George Albert Smith
Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

President George Albert Smith shared another example of his father’s love for others: “As I think of my regard and my affection for my Father’s family, the human family, I remember something my earthly father said, and I think probably I inherited that in part from him. He said, ‘I have never seen a child of God so deep in the gutter that I have not had the impulse to stoop down and lift him up and put him on his feet and start him again.’ I would like to say I have never seen one of my Father’s children in my life that I have not realized he was my brother and that God loves every one of his children, but he does not love our wickedness and our infidelity” (“President Smith’s Leadership Address,” Church News, 16 Feb. 1946, 6).

He Had Faith to Be Healed

“As a young boy he was taken ill with typhoid fever. The doctor counseled his mother to keep him in bed for three weeks, to give him no solid food, and to have him drink coffee. In later years George Albert recalled:

“‘When he went away, I told mother that I didn’t want any coffee. I had been taught that the Word of Wisdom, given by the Lord to Joseph Smith, advised us not to use coffee.

George Albert Smith with three
  brothers

George Albert Smith and his three brothers: Don Carlos (standing), George Albert, Winslow Farr, and Ezra Chase (sitting, left to right)
Photograph by Charles R. Savage. Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

“‘Mother had brought three children into the world and two had died. She was unusually anxious about me.

“‘I asked her to send for Brother Hawks, one of our ward teachers. He was a worker at the foundry, a poor and humble man of great faith in the power of the Lord. He came, administered to me and blessed me that I might be healed.

“‘When the doctor came next morning I was playing outside with other children. He was surprised. He examined me and discovered that my fever had gone and that I seemed to be well.

“‘I was grateful to the Lord for my recovery. I was sure that he had healed me’” (Teachings of George Albert Smith, xvii).

He Was Steadfast and Faithful during Times of Trial

George Albert Smith and John Howard

George Albert Smith (right), age 16, and friend John Howard enjoyed entertaining others.
Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

The security felt by those who trust the Lord, in spite of whatever turmoil may exist around them, is illustrated in this story Elder George Albert Smith, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told about his childhood: “We . . . lived in a two story frame house and when the wind blew hard it would rock as if it would topple over. Sometimes I would be too frightened to go to sleep. My bed was in a little room by itself, and many a night I have climbed out and got down on my knees and asked my Father in Heaven to take care of the house, preserve it that it would not break in pieces and I have got back into my little bed just as sure that I would be safeguarded from evil as if I held my Father’s hand” (“To the Relief Society,” Relief Society Magazine, Dec. 1932, 707–8).

There were many years of preparation, work, service, and obedience. They were years that saw him fill a short-term mission to southern Utah, work for Utah’s leading department store, and marry his childhood sweetheart, Lucy Woodruff. They were also years of refinement through suffering—typhoid fever as a child, a severe eye injury while working on a railroad survey crew on the western desert, and two narrow escapes from death while serving a mission to the southern United States. He was afflicted for five painful years with a serious disease. He feared for his life, but the impression came that his earthly mission was not complete. Suffering brought strength and compassion.

George Albert
  Smith as missionary

Missionary picture of George Albert Smith

As a young missionary, George Albert Smith and his companion, J. Golden Kimball, were preaching in Alabama. “Their preaching in the neighborhood had aroused bitter opposition, which this night turned violent. About midnight, the cabin was surrounded by an angry mob whose leader pounded on the door, demanding in vulgar and profane language that the elders come out or ‘they were going to shoot them.’ When they refused to obey, the mob commenced to fire into the corners of the cabin. ‘Splinters were flying over our heads in every direction,’ Elder Smith wrote of the incident. ‘There were a few moments of quiet, then another volley of shots was fired and more splinters flew.’ He was interested in his reaction to what he considered to be ‘one of the most horrible events,’ in his life. ‘I was very calm as I lay there,’ the missionary wrote later, ‘but I was sure that as long as I was preaching the word of God and following his teachings that the Lord would protect me, and he did.’ The next morning when the elders stepped outside, they found a bundle of heavy hickory sticks of the kind that had been used to beat other missionaries in the south” (Francis M. Gibbons, George Albert Smith: Kind and Caring Christian, Prophet of God [1990], 26–27).

George Albert Smith with other missionaries

Missionary conference, Chattanooga, Tennessee, 1893

Between 1909 and 1912, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, George Albert Smith struggled with very serious health problems. During this time of trial, he later confided to a friend: “When I was in my serious condition [1909–12] I did not know whether my work was completed or not, but I told the Lord that if it was complete and He was preparing to call me home, that I would be ready to go, but if there was more work for me to perform, I would like to get well. I placed myself in his hands to do as he saw fit, and soon after that I began to recover” (quoted in Glen R. Stubbs, “A Biography of George Albert Smith, 1870 to 1951” [Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1974], 317).

Elders George Albert Smith and Henry
  Foster

Elders George Albert Smith and Henry Foster

He Married Lucy Woodruff

Lucy Emily Woodruff

Lucy Emily Woodruff, age 10

Lucy Emily Woodruff was a granddaughter of President Wilford Woodruff. She was a woman of great faith and intelligence. She and George Albert Smith had known each other since they were children, and she loved and respected him. But her affections were divided between George Albert and another suitor.

Lucy Woodruff

Lucy Woodruff, age 19

In 1891, the courtship was interrupted when George received a mission call from the First Presidency of the Church to strengthen the young people, members of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Associations, in the Juab, Millard, Beaver, and Parowan stakes in southern Utah. One week into his assignment, he wrote in his journal: “The letter that I looked for never came.” When George received Lucy Woodruff’s letter the next day, the topic was her possible marriage plans to her other suitor. George responded by letter expressing his feelings for Lucy and offered the following advice: “Be prayerful and humble; do not mistake the duty you owe to others. Your first duty is to yourself. I feel that you will be happy and my prayer is that you will” (quoted in Gibbons, George Albert Smith, 19).

Lucy Woodruff in costume

Lucy Woodruff in costume for a stage performance
Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

Lucy stopped her marriage plans with the other suitor, but her affections still vacillated between the two men. After months of turmoil, she finally broke off her relationship with the other man and married George Albert Smith in the Manti Utah Temple on 25 May 1892. “Afterward, as she put the affair in perspective and saw that she had merely been infatuated with a handsome man who lacked substance, Lucy Woodruff Smith exclaimed again and again that she had ‘almost made a terrible mistake’” (Gibbons, George Albert Smith, 21).

He Was Called to the Apostleship

George Albert Smith was ordained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on 8 October 1903. He was thirty-three years old. Despite almost continuous physical weakness, he traveled, preached, worked, and prayed. Juvenile delinquents, the displaced and homeless, the blind, “splinter groups” from the Church, the Boy Scout movement—all received his attention.

He Had a Personal Creed

George Albert Smith in fur coat

George Albert Smith

At the age of thirty-four, George Albert Smith prepared a list of life-long goals. His being called as an Apostle was a crucial time to put in writing just what he wanted to do with the balance of his life: “I would be a friend to the friendless and find joy in ministering to the needs of the poor. I would visit the sick and afflicted and inspire in them a desire for faith to be healed. I would teach the truth to the understanding and blessing of all mankind. I would seek out the erring one and try to win him back to a righteous and a happy life. I would not seek to force people to live up to my ideals but rather love them into doing the thing that is right. I would live with the masses and help to solve their problems that their earth life may be happy. I would avoid the publicity of high positions and discourage the flattery of thoughtless friends. I would not knowingly wound the feeling of any, not even one who may have wronged me, but would seek to do him good and make him my friend. I would overcome the tendency to selfishness and jealousy and rejoice in the successes of all the children of my Heavenly Father. I would not be an enemy to any living soul. Knowing that the Redeemer of mankind has offered to the world the only plan that will fully develop us and make us really happy here and hereafter I feel it not only a duty but a blessed privilege to disseminate this truth” (quoted in Bryant S. Hinckley, “Greatness in Men: Superintendent George Albert Smith,” Improvement Era, Mar. 1932, 295).

George Albert Smith strived to live according to his creed in every detail. It required of him tremendous sacrifice. His love was sincere and constant. He showed the ultimate in tolerance, trust, and personal concern toward thousands of our Heavenly Father’s children in his travels and labors. He was a sensitive vessel through whom the love of the Master could be made manifest. In the life of George Albert Smith we see that love is no idle feeling. It is action—constant, alert, and anxious to serve at any cost.

“What Have You Done With My Name?”

George A. Smith

George Albert Smith’s grandfather George A. Smith
Engraving by H. B. Hall and Sons, New York. Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

After his call to the apostleship, a powerful lesson was impressed upon George Albert Smith through a dream he had of his grandfather George A. Smith, who had been a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a counselor to President Brigham Young and who had died when George Albert was five years old. George Albert had been seriously ill and later recalled:

“I lost consciousness of my surroundings and thought I had passed to the Other Side. I found myself standing with my back to a large and beautiful lake, facing a great forest of trees. There was no one in sight, and there was no boat upon the lake or any other visible means to indicate how I might have arrived there. I realized, or seemed to realize, that I had finished my work in mortality and had gone home. I began to look around, to see if I could not find someone. There was no evidence of anyone living there, just those great, beautiful trees in front of me and the wonderful lake behind me.

George Albert Smith

George Albert Smith, about 1912–14

“I began to explore, and soon I found a trail through the woods which seemed to have been used very little, and which was almost obscured by grass. I followed this trail, and after I had walked for some time and had traveled a considerable distance through the forest, I saw a man coming towards me. I became aware that he was a very large man, and I hurried my steps to reach him, because I recognized him as my grandfather. In mortality he weighed over three hundred pounds, so you may know he was a large man. I remember how happy I was to see him coming. I had been given his name and had always been proud of it.

“When Grandfather came within a few feet of me, he stopped. His stopping was an invitation for me to stop. Then—and this I would like the boys and girls and young people never to forget—he looked at me very earnestly and said:

“‘I would like to know what you have done with my name.’

“Everything I had ever done passed before me as though it were a flying picture on a screen—everything I had done. Quickly this vivid retrospect came down to the very time I was standing there. My whole life had passed before me. I smiled and looked at my grandfather and said:

“‘I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed.’

“He stepped forward and took me in his arms, and as he did so, I became conscious again of my earthly surroundings. My pillow was wet as though water had been poured on it—wet with tears of gratitude that I could answer unashamed” (“Your Good Name,” Improvement Era, Mar. 1947, 139).

He Shared the Gospel without Timidness

George Albert Smith was a missionary. In one ten-year period, twelve hundred books and pamphlets were mailed to people who were not members of the Church, whom he had met during his travels. Historical sites, such as the Hill Cumorah and the Sacred Grove, were purchased to further spread the message of salvation. As a receiver of public monies for the land office of the state of Utah, president of national congresses, chairman of the boards of directors for many companies, and active in the support of social improvement and the arts and sciences, he worked with the major intent to present the Church to the world.

George Albert Smith

George Albert Smith
Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

Concerning missionary work, he said: “Every happiness and every joy that has been worthy of the name has been the result of keeping the commandments of God and observing his advice and counsel. So, as we go forward, each of us, each having an influence with our neighbors and our friends, let us not be too timid. We do not need to annoy people, but let us make them feel and understand that we are interested, not in making them members of the Church for membership, but in bringing them into the Church that they may enjoy the same blessings that we enjoy” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1948, 162).

We Will Go to Every Part of the World

President George Albert Smith told priesthood holders: “We must preach the gospel to the South American countries which we have scarcely touched. We must preach the gospel to every African section that we haven’t been in yet. We must preach the gospel to Asia. And I might go on and say in all parts of the world where we have not yet been permitted to go. I look upon Russia as one of the most fruitful fields for the teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And if I am not mistaken, it will not be long before the people who are there will desire to know something about this work which has reformed the lives of so many people. . . . Our most important obligation, my brethren, is to divide with our Father’s children all those fundamental truths, all his rules and regulations which prepare us for eternal life, known as the gospel of Jesus Christ. Until we have done that to the full limit of our power, we will not receive all the blessings which we might otherwise have” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1945, 119).

The Gospel Will Be Taught with Improved Technology

President George Albert Smith talking on radio

In 1946 President George Albert Smith spoke of technological improvements that would come and advance the building up of the kingdom of God on earth: “Short-wave broadcasting will continue to improve, and it will not be long until, from this pulpit and other places that will be provided, the servants of the Lord will be able to deliver messages to isolated groups who are so far away they cannot be reached. In that way and other ways, the gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord, the only power of God unto salvation in preparation for the celestial kingdom, will be heard in all parts of the world, and many of you who are here will live to see that day” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1946, 6).

Millions Will Accept the Truth

President George Albert Smith said: “Heavenly Father . . . has called me to go to many parts of the earth, and more than a million miles have been traversed since I was called into the ministry. I have traveled in many lands and climes, and wherever I have gone I have found good people, sons and daughters of the living God who are waiting for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and there are thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of them, who would be accepting the truth if they only knew what we know” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1945, 120).

There Can Be Peace in a War-Torn World

While the world was in turmoil during World War I, Elder George Albert Smith taught: “Though the world may be filled with distress, and the heavens gather blackness, and the vivid lightnings flash, and the earth quake from center to circumference, if we know that God lives, and our lives are righteous, we will be happy, there will be peace unspeakable because we know our Father approves our lives” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1915, 28).

After World War I, Elder Smith was instrumental in reestablishing missionary work on the European continent. As president of the European Mission, he overcame prejudice and hostility through visits to government leaders and newspaper editors. He defended the call of living prophets and prophesied that those who shunned the counsel of the prophets would suffer disastrous results.

He Taught of Change during World War II

In 1942 the world was once again enveloped in war. Elder George Albert Smith spoke of the change living gospel principles could bring:

“Now tonight we are here in peace and quiet. The world is on fire. Everywhere peace has been taken from the earth, and the devil has been given power over his own dominion. God has said if we will honor Him and keep His commandments—if we will observe His laws He will fight our battles and destroy the wicked, and when the time comes He will come down in heaven—not from heaven—but He will bring heaven with Him—and this earth upon which we dwell, will be the celestial kingdom.

“What if all the world knew and believed that? What a change there would be in the conditions among the children of men! What joy would be in the place of sorrow and distress today! It is your duty and mine, having received this information, to impart it to others” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1942, 49).

President George Albert Smith on Time magazine

President Smith was Time magazine’s “Man of the Year,” 21 July 1947.

The results of World War II were ugly and discouraging. More than fifty countries had been involved, and an estimated fifty-five million people had lost their lives. The war had cost over a trillion dollars. Millions of people in Europe and Asia were without adequate food, shelter, and clothing. Sorrow, hatred, and despair stalked through nations and homes. In one way or another, the war had touched the life of nearly everyone on the earth.

Men and potato sacks on truck

President Smith was concerned about the effects of World War II throughout the world. This photograph shows Dutch Saints harvesting potatoes to be sent to members in Germany.

He Was Called to Be President of the Church

On 21 May 1945, when the full extent of carnage and devastation left behind by World War II was becoming apparent, George Albert Smith was moved from his time of preparation into his foreordained position as President of the Church. President Smith did not presume to declare what his personal mission as prophet, seer, and revelator would be. However, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, Patriarch to the Church and a son of Hyrum Mack Smith and a grandson of President Joseph F. Smith, uttered this prophetic statement:

“It is frequently said that the Lord has raised up a particular man to perform a particular mission. Everyone of us here has heard that discussed and has heard how the peculiar talents of each of the presidents of the Church have been of a special value during his respective mission. I wish that all the members of the Church could have witnessed the council meeting wherein the Presidency was reorganized. If ever there was a time when the Spirit of the Lord was indubitably manifest, it was on that occasion. Everyone present thrilled to it. Everyone present was aware, beyond doubt, of the absolute rightness of it.

B.H. Roberts, George Albert Smith, and
  Andrew Jenson

B. H. Roberts, George Albert Smith, and Andrew Jenson

“It is not for me to say what particular mission President George Albert Smith has ahead of him. This I do know, however, that at this particular time in the world’s history, never was the need for love among brethren so desperately needed as it is needed today. Furthermore, I do know this, that there is no man of my acquaintance who loves the human family, collectively and individually, more profoundly than does President George Albert Smith. Those two things coming in conjunction, the need for love, his presidency at this time, have for me at least, peculiar significance” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1945, 31–32).

President Smith and First Presidency

The First Presidency: J. Reuben Clark, George Albert Smith, and David O. McKay
Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

He Sent an Emissary of Peace

The missionaries had been called home before World War II broke out and many Latter-day Saints, particularly in the European nations, did not see a Church representative for years. President George Albert Smith was concerned about those Saints. After the war, unable to visit them himself, President Smith sent Elder Ezra Taft Benson to find out how the Church could help them and how much aid they needed. Elder Benson described what he saw:

“I will not take time today to describe the terrors of war, the worst of which is not the physical combat but that which follows: the abandonment of moral and religious restraints, the increase in sin, disease; the increase in infant mortality; and all the suffering which accompanies famine, disease, and immorality. We saw these things on every side. We saw nations prostrate, flat on their backs economically. We found it difficult even to get a telephone call through from London to many of our missions on the continent when we arrived. We could not even make a telephone call to Holland, let alone countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia, and other nations. Almost the only type of transportation available was that under the control of the military. . . .

“I think I shall never forget those first meetings with the Saints. They have suffered much, my brethren and sisters. We wondered just how they would receive us, what the reaction would be. Would their hearts be filled with bitterness? Would there be hatred there? Would they have soured on the Church? I well remember our first meeting at Karlsruhe. After we had made visits through Belgium, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries, we went into occupied Germany. We finally found our way to the meeting place, a partially bombed-out building located in the interior of a block. The Saints had been in session for some two hours waiting for us, hoping that we would come because the word had reached them that we might be there for the conference. And then for the first time in my life I saw almost an entire audience in tears as we walked up onto the platform, and they realized that at last, after six or seven long years, representatives from Zion, as they put it, had finally come back to them. Then as the meeting closed, prolonged at their request, they insisted we go to the door and shake hands with each one of them as he left the bombed-out building. And we noted that many of them, after they had passed through the line went back and came through the second and third time, so happy were they to grasp our hands. As I looked into their upturned faces, pale, thin, many of these Saints dressed in rags, some of them barefooted, I could see the light of faith in their eyes as they bore testimony to the divinity of this great latter-day work, and expressed their gratitude for the blessings of the Lord” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1947, 153–54).

The full-time missionary force was raised from its wartime low of 386 in 1945 to over 5,800 in 1951.

He Met with the President of the United States

President Smith and U.S. President Harry S. Truman

President George Albert Smith with United States President Harry S. Truman

Hatred, despair, and sorrow were prevalent throughout the 1940s. World War II had hardened the hearts of many people. President George Albert Smith was a man whose love for others had been forged in the very furnace of affliction. He was a man who had committed himself to the Lord through long nights of prayer and years of service to others. Now he was God’s prophet. He had ninety train cars full of food and clothing sent to the stricken Saints in Europe. A special fast was called and money was contributed to aid not only Church members, but others. Missions were reopened and new ones were created. President Smith told of a visit to the president of the United States during this time:

“When the war was over, I went representing the Church, to see the president of the United States. When I called on him, he received me very graciously—I had met him before—and I said: ‘I have just come to ascertain from you, Mr. President, what your attitude will be if the Latter-day Saints are prepared to ship food and clothing and bedding to Europe.’

“He smiled and looked at me, and said: ‘Well, what do you want to ship it over there for? Their money isn’t any good.’

“I said: ‘We don’t want their money.’ He looked at me and asked: ‘You don’t mean you are going to give it to them?’

“I said: ‘Of course, we would give it to them. They are our brothers and sisters and are in distress. God has blessed us with a surplus, and we will be glad to send it if we can have the co-operation of the government.’

“He said: ‘You are on the right track,’ and added, ‘we will be glad to help you in any way we can.’

“I have thought of that a good many times. After we had sat there a moment or two, he said again: ‘How long will it take you to get this ready?’

“I said: ‘It’s all ready.’

“The government you remember had been destroying food and refusing to plant grain during the war, so I said to him:

“‘Mr. President, while the administration at Washington were advising the destroying of food, we were building elevators and filling them with grain, and increasing our flocks and our herds, and now what we need is the cars and the ships in order to send considerable food, clothing and bedding to the people of Europe who are in distress. We have an organization in the Church that has over two thousand homemade quilts ready.’

“. . . The result was that many people received warm clothing and bedding and food without any delay. Just as fast as we could get cars and ships, we had what was necessary to send to Europe” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1947, 5–6).

President Smith studying

President George Albert Smith

Love Seeks Out the Weary

President George Albert Smith was recognized as a man who had a sincere love and concern for everyone, especially when they needed help the most. On 8 April 1951, shortly after President Smith died, Elder John A. Widtsoe, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, shared the following experience:

“During the events of the last few days, many memories have crowded in upon my mind. In a late afternoon of a warm, sultry day in August or September, I sat in my office rather tired after the day’s work. The University of Utah had had internal dissensions which had been fanned by enemies into a nationwide scandal. I had been called in to assist others who were trying to return the institution and its work to a normal condition. It was the third time in my life that I had been obliged to serve my state in such a capacity. I was weary. Just then there was a knock upon the door, and in walked George Albert Smith. He said, ‘I am on the way home after my day’s work. I thought of you and the problems that you are expected to solve. I came in to comfort you and to bless you.’

President Smith with Helen Keller

President Smith met Helen Keller at the Hotel Utah in 1941. When he was eighteen years old, George Albert Smith incurred an eye injury from the sun while working as a surveyor for the railroad. His vision was impaired for the rest of his life.
Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

“That was the way of George Albert Smith. Of the many friends I have throughout the state and beyond, he was the only one, except a few of my intimate friends, who took time to give me the loving help in the work I had to do. Of course I appreciated that; I shall never forget it. We talked together for awhile; we parted, he went home. My heart was lifted. I was weary no longer” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 99).

Love Seeks Any Opportunity to Serve

President Smith with ax

George Albert Smith was an avid scouter.

“On one occasion [George Albert Smith] was traveling back from a convention. In his company was the daughter of President Heber J. Grant. She tells of his looking across the aisle and seeing a young mother and her children, surrounded by luggage. He felt a need to talk with her and to inquire after her welfare.

“‘In a few minutes President Smith was over talking to the young mother. He came back to our seat and said, “Yes it is just as I thought. The little mother is going on a long journey; I have looked at her ticket. I can’t understand why the man who sold it to her didn’t know a better route for her to travel. As it is she will have a long wait in Ogden and again in Chicago. I have her ticket and am going to get off in Ogden and see if I can’t get it changed so she can make other connections and not have the long wait in Ogden and Chicago.”’

“President Smith was off the train the moment it stopped and set the affairs of the young mother in order, having her ticket changed to afford her greater convenience. Such was the sensitivity for others of this man” (Bassett, New Era, Jan. 1972, 52).

Love Finds Time for Others

President Smith speaking outdoors

At the dedication of the “This Is the Place” monument

“On a . . . trip to the Middle West, [President George Albert Smith] was rushing to catch a train when a mother with four small youngsters stopped him so that her children might have the opportunity of shaking hands with him. Someone took a picture of the incident, and a copy was sent to President Smith with this notation: ‘I am sending you this picture because it is a graphic illustration of the man we believe you are. The reason we treasure it so is because, as busy as you were, in spite of the fact you were being hurried into your car and then to your waiting train, you still took time out to shake the hand of each child in this family’” (D. Arthur Haycock, “A Day with the President,” Improvement Era, Apr. 1950, 288).

Happiness Is in Proportion to Love and Service

President Smith in scout uniform

President George Albert Smith received the silver beaver and the silver buffalo medals from the Boy Scouts of America.
Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

Elder George Albert Smith, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught: “Do not forget no matter how much you may give in money, no matter how you may desire the things of this world to make yourselves happy, your happiness will be in proportion to your charity and to your kindness and to your love of those with whom you associate here on earth. Our Heavenly Father has said in very plain terms that he who says he loves God and does not love his brother is not truthful” (Relief Society Magazine, Dec. 1932, 709).

He Had Vision and Compassion for the Native Americans

President Smith with Native Americans

President George Albert Smith with Navajo Indians, 23 October 1948

Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke of President George Albert Smith’s concern for the descendants of Lehi who were native Americans:

“As his great love for his fellowmen began to grow into a great compassion, he saw in vision a certain whole people who went down from the proverbial Jerusalem to Jericho and they fell among thieves. He saw them stripped of their raiment and sorely wounded. He saw them deserted and deprived. He saw priests come by who saw their plight and passed by on the other side. He saw modern Levites who came and looked and passed by on the other side. President Smith determined it was time to do something constructive for these Indian people who had fallen into misfortune. He determined that it was time to bind up their wounds, and to pour thereon the oil.

“He went to Pres. Heber J. Grant, (President Smith was then in the Council of the Twelve), and asked him for permission to do work among the Indian people which was granted. A committee was organized and the work began in a small way as many programs do” (“Elder Kimball Tells of President Smith’s Concern for His Lamanite Brethren,” Church News, 11 Apr. 1951, 11).

His Love Reached Out to Disaffected Groups

President George Albert Smith had a profound concern for people who had become disaffected from the Church, and he sought to show them their error. One incident is representative of this. A large faction had broken away from the Church and established their own church. They were disgruntled with some leaders and presumed to take matters into their own hands. President Smith made a historic visit to this group in 1946. He met with them and shook their hands, spoke to them, and prayed and wept for them. They were touched by his presence. He looked and acted like a prophet. They acknowledged that he was a prophet. Twelve hundred people, feeling the radiant love of Christ reaching out to them through the Lord’s anointed returned to the safety of the Church from which they had strayed.

President Smith with Ann Blyth

President George Albert Smith with motion picture actress Ann Blyth, about 1949

He Warned of the Latter-Day Judgments

Because of his great love for mankind, President George Albert Smith could not remain silent about the judgments that would engulf the world if its people did not repent. Like Elijah, he spoke with power and authority. On one occasion he warned: “It will not be long until calamities will overtake the human family unless there is speedy repentance” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1950, 169).

He was as courageous as Abinadi, who, in the face of criticism and slander, prophesied the results of such evil. Of those who belittled the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Smith said, “[They] will be forgotten and their remains will go back to mother earth, if they have not already gone, and the odor of their infamy will never die, while the glory and honor and majesty and courage and fidelity manifested by the Prophet Joseph Smith will attach to his name forever” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1946, 181–82).

The World Is Spiritually Sick

President George Albert Smith warned:

“The world is sick. It is not the first time it has been sick. It has had a good many different experiences of that kind. Sometimes nations have had to be wiped out because of the wickedness of the people who live in them. The Lord, all down through the ages, has spoken to his leaders and teachers who are inspired, but when the world refuses to heed after it has been properly taught, it places itself in a position of saying to our Heavenly Father who owns this world—he is our landlord—‘We do not need you. We will do just as we please.’

“Unfortunately, people who think that way do not realize how they are shortening their own experiences in life, and setting the stage for the sorrows that may follow” (in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1949, 167).

President Smith with Counselors

President George Albert Smith and his counselors, David O. McKay and J. Reuben Clark

Many Have Fallen Away from a True Belief in God

President Smith spoke of the diminishing belief in God and in the divine mission of Jesus Christ:

“It is a strange thing how difficult it is for many people to believe that there is a God. There are many who are anti-Christ, they can believe in anything, almost, that you can think of and produce arguments for believing it, and I want to say to you today, that the largest portion of the population of the world that we live in is anti-Christ, not the followers of Christ at all. And among those who claim to believe in Christianity, comparatively few of them really believe in the divine mission of Jesus Christ.

“Well, what is the result? People have turned away from the Lord and He cannot bless them when they refuse to be blessed” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1948, 179).

President George Albert and Lucy Woodruff Smith on Hill Cumorah

George Albert Smith was among the General Authorities assigned to purchase and preserve important Church history sites. In this photograph is Lucy Woodruff Smith standing on top of the Hill Cumorah with Pliny T. Sexton, who was the owner of most of the hill. The Church eventually acquired all of the property around the Hill Cumorah, including the hill, by 1928.
Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

Falsehood Has Become More Preferred Than Truth

President George Albert Smith said: “Someone has said of the people of the world that they would rather believe a lie and be damned than accept the truth. That is rather a severe statement, but I think perhaps it will bear acceptance as fact. There is nothing in the world more deleterious or harmful to the human family than hatred, prejudice, suspicion, and the attitude that some people have toward their fellows, of unkindness” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1949, 5).

It Is Not a Hopeless Situation

President George Albert Smith warned about the consequences of the world’s unrighteousness, but offered hope of preventing them: “I fear that the time is coming, unless we can find some way not only to prevent the destruction of human life by careless accidents, but also unless we can call the people of this world to repent of their sins and turn from the error of their ways, that the great war that has just passed [World War II] will be an insignificant thing, as far as calamity is concerned, compared to that which is before us. And we can avoid it if we will; if we will each do our part, it can be prevented” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1946, 149).

Avoiding Calamity Must Be Done in the Lord’s Way

As armies were returning to their homelands in 1945, after World War II, leaders of nations were thinking and meeting and talking about treaties, laws, and charters. There were grand hopes for a lasting peace. But they sought peace through the world’s way—to solve the problems of war through politics. While the international scurry of reconstruction, legislation, and man-made promises went on, another voice spoke plainly and certainly. It was the voice of the Lord through His prophet. President George Albert Smith declared: “We can legislate until doomsday but that will not make men righteous. It will be necessary for people who are in the dark to repent of their sins, correct their lives, and live in such a righteous way that they can enjoy the spirit of our Heavenly Father” (in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1949, 6).

Only with the Spirit Can Men Design a Successful Peace

Well before World War II erupted, Elder George Albert Smith, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, warned: “There is much confusion in the world and there seems to be no way to remove it except by the power of our Heavenly Father. The wisdom of the world is failing, the scripture is fulfilled, and today the wisest of all men are seeking, by means of legislation, to bring about a better condition and a more wholesome life among the human family. They may strive in that way, but unless men have faith in God, unless they understand the purpose of life, they will not go very far. The people of the world must repent of their sins before the Lord can give to them the peace and happiness desired. No other plan will succeed” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1934, 27).

President Smith with Boy Scouts

President Smith with Boy Scouts, 14 February 1950

Years later, after World War II had ended, President Smith declared: “This terrible world war that has filled people with hatred for one another, has had its effect on everybody, apparently. And there is no longer the idea among the children of men that they can sit down around a peace table and satisfy all those who are concerned. Why? Because they do not have the Spirit of God; and without it they never will come to an agreement. Now, we know that and the world does not know it” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1948, 180).

The Constitution of the United States Was Inspired by God

President George Albert Smith said: “You know, and I know, that the Ten Commandments contain the will of our Heavenly Father, and I am grateful, not only for the civil laws but also for the laws God has given us. I feel bound to conform my life to the teachings of the Ten Commandments. I feel equally bound to sustain the Constitution of the United States which came from the same source as the Ten Commandments. Unless the people of this great nation can realize these things and repent, they may forfeit the liberty that they now enjoy, and the blessings that are so multiplied among us” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1949, 169).

certificate, ribbons, hat

President Smith’s Boy Scout memorabilia

We Must Live to Be Worthy of the Blessings We Pray For

President George Albert Smith said: “What about America? I was in a meeting, not very long ago, where a group of Boy Scouts stood and sang, ‘God Bless America,’ and they sang it beautifully, and all the time they were singing I asked myself the question, ‘How can he bless America until America repents?’ Every great blessing that we desire is promised us by our Heavenly Father on condition that we honor him and keep his commandments. Praying is not sufficient. Not only must we pray but we must live to be worthy of the blessing” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1948, 184).

“Stay on the Lord’s Side of the Line”

President and Sister Smith by airplane

President George Albert Smith in aviator’s clothing and his wife, Lucy, standing in front of an airplane
Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

President George Albert Smith often divided influences into two categories. If we choose the one, there is perfect safety; if we choose the other, there is no safety. His words provide a simple key for having peace in a world of tumult:

“There are two influences in the world. The one is the influence of our Heavenly Father and the other is the influence of Satan. We can take our choice which territory we want to live in, that of our Heavenly Father or that of Satan.

“I have many times repeated what my grandfather said. He, too, talked from this stand, and it was he who gave me his name. In advising his family he said, ‘There is a line of demarcation, well defined. On one side of the line is the Lord’s territory. On the other side of the line is the devil’s territory.’ And he said, ‘If you will stay on the Lord’s side of the line, you are perfectly safe, because the adversary of all righteousness can not cross that line.’

“What does that mean? It means to me that those who are living righteous lives, keeping all of the commandments of our Heavenly Father are perfectly safe, but not those who trifle with his advice and counsel” (in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1949, 5–6).

The Lord Will Fight Our Battles

During World War II, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder George Albert Smith taught of divine protection: “No matter whether the clouds may gather, no matter how the war drums may beat, no matter what conditions may arise in the world, here in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wherever we are honoring and keeping the commandments of God, there will be protection from the powers of evil, and men and women will be permitted to live upon the earth until their lives are finished in honor and glory if they will keep the commandments of our Heavenly Father” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1942, 15).

“I Know That My Redeemer Liveth”

George Albert Smith

President George Albert Smith stood six feet tall. He was energetic and enjoyed many sports. He was known for his kindness and his ability to help people feel comfortable.
Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

George Albert Smith’s days were spent in an unwearying effort to bring people closer to the Master whom he served. Then in 1951 his health failed rapidly and his energy ebbed away. His life’s mission was complete. Bishop Robert L. Simpson, then a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, spoke with President Smith’s daughter Edith Elliott about President Smith’s last day:

“She told me that, on the very last day of President Smith’s life, the family had gathered around his bedside. He was breathing more deeply, and they were concerned. The doctor stepped aside, letting the family draw close. The eldest son leaned over, and he said, ‘Father, is there something you’d like to say to the family—something special?’

“Then she went on to describe this great prophet, with a smile on his lips, saying, ‘Yes, only this: I know that my Redeemer liveth; I know that my Redeemer liveth’” (The Powers and Responsibilities of the Priesthood, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [31 Mar. 1964], 7–8).

President Smith’s loving influence, felt by so many, is exemplified in the following tributes paid by two men who were then members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and who served with President Smith.

Elder Ezra Taft Benson said: “God bless the memory of President George Albert Smith. I am grateful beyond my words of expression for the close association which I have had with him in the last few years. I am grateful that my family has lived in the same ward and has come under the benign influence of his sweet spirit. I shall never cease to be grateful for the visits he made to my home while I was serving as a humble missionary in the nations of war-torn Europe at the end of World War II. Particularly am I thankful for a visit in the still of the night when our little one lay at death’s door. Without any announcement, President Smith found time to come into that home and place his hands upon the head of that little one, held in her mother’s arms as she had been for many hours, and promise her complete recovery. This was President Smith, he always had time to help, particularly those who were sick, those who needed him most” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 46).

Elder Spencer W. Kimball said: “It seemed to me that every act, every thought of our President would indicate that with all of his heart and soul he loved the Lord, and loved his fellowmen. Is there a mortal being who could have loved them more?” (Church News, 11 Apr. 1951, 11).

George Albert Smith fulfilled the great commandments to love God and man. The world would today be a more blessed place if people had followed the example of his magnificent life and given ear to his loving counsels. Imagine what blessings might have then come to the nations of the earth.

Chapter 9
David O. McKay
Ninth President of the Church

David O. McKay

HIGHLIGHTS IN THE LIFE OF DAVID O. MCKAY

Age

Events

 

He was born 8 September 1873 in Huntsville, Weber County, Utah, to David and Jennette Eveline Evans McKay.

3

President Brigham Young died (29 Aug. 1877).

23

He was president and valedictorian of his graduating class at the University of Utah (June 1897).

23–25

He served a mission to Scotland (1897–99).

27

He married Emma Ray Riggs (2 Jan. 1901).

32

He was ordained an Apostle by President Joseph F. Smith (9 Apr. 1906).

44

His first book, Ancient Apostles, was published (1917).

45

He became general superintendent of the Sunday School (1918–34).

46–48

He was Church Commissioner of Education (1919–21).

47

He saw a vision of a celestial city during a world tour (10 May 1921).

49–51

He served as president of the European Mission (1922–24).

61

He was a counselor to President Heber J. Grant (6 Oct. 1934; he later served as a counselor to President George Albert Smith; 21 May 1945).

77

He was sustained as President of the Church (9 Apr. 1951).

78

He visited nine European countries (1952).

82

He dedicated the Bern Switzerland Temple (11 Sept. 1955); he dedicated the Los Angeles California Temple (11 Mar. 1956).

84

He dedicated the Hamilton New Zealand Temple and the Church College of New Zealand (20 Apr. 1958); he dedicated the London England Temple (7 Sept. 1958).

85

He dedicated the Church College of Hawaii (Dec. 1958); he issued his well-known statement “Every Member a Missionary” (Apr. 1959).

88

He announced that members of the First Council of the Seventy were to be ordained high priests; Church correlation began (1961).

90

The home teaching program was introduced (Jan. 1964).

91

He dedicated the Oakland California Temple (17 Nov. 1964).

94

He called the first regional representatives of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (1967).

96

He died in Salt Lake City, Utah (18 Jan. 1970).

 

David McKay family

The McKay family, about 1878. David O. is sitting on his father’s lap.

When David Oman McKay was born on 8 September 1873, Brigham Young was the President of the Church. He learned the virtue of hard work from his father, who was a farmer. Faith in the gospel was ingrained in his heart by the precepts, example, and endurance he saw in his family.

The McKay (or MacKay) clan originated in the northern highlands of Scotland. There was a royalty of character in this lineage. David’s grandparents and parents demonstrated in their conversion to the Church an unswerving loyalty to the gospel.

He Had Important Responsibilities at an Early Age

“When [David O. McKay] was eight years of age, his father received a call to go on a mission. To accept such a call for two or three years away from home was no easy decision to make. Another baby was on its way, and plans had been made to enlarge the house and furnishings. The responsibilities of running the farm were too great to be left to his wife, so when David showed the letter calling him to a mission, he said: ‘Of course it is impossible for me to go.’ Jennette read the letter, looked at her husband, and said decisively: ‘Of course you must accept; you need not worry about me. David O. and I will manage things nicely!’ . . .

David O. McKay as small boy

Young David O. McKay, about age five

“. . . In the absence of his father, the boy David quickly redirected his energies to chores and farm work. Circumstances thus helped to produce a maturity beyond his physical years” (Llewelyn R. McKay, Home Memories of President David O. McKay [1956], 5–6).

Shortly before his fourteenth birthday he received a patriarchal blessing. In it he was told: “Thou art in thy youth and need instruction, therefore I say unto thee, be taught of thy parents the way of life and salvation, that at an early day you may be prepared for a responsible position, for the eye of the Lord is upon thee. . . . The Lord has a work for thee to do, in which thou shalt see much of the world, assist in gathering scattered Israel and also labor in the ministry. It shall be thy lot to sit in council with thy brethren and preside among the people and exhort the Saints to faithfulness” (quoted in Jeanette McKay Morrell, Highlights in the Life of President David O. McKay [1966], 26).

He Learned About Revelation When He Was Young

President David O. McKay shared the following story from his childhood:

“Since childhood it has been very easy for me to believe in the reality of the visions of the Prophet Joseph Smith. What I am going to say may seem very simple to you, but to me it is a heart petal.

“When a very young child in the home of my youth, I was fearful at night. I traced it back to a vivid dream in which two Indians came into the yard. I ran to the house for protection, and one of them shot an arrow and hit me in the back. Only a dream, but I felt that blow, and I was very much frightened, for in the dream they entered . . . and sneered and frightened mother.

“I never got over it. Adding to that were the fears of mother, for when father was away with the herd or on some mission, mother would never retire without looking under the bed, so burglars or men who might enter the house and try to take advantage of mother and the young children were real to me.

boy praying beside horse

Seeking a testimony
Painting by Robert A. McKay. DO NOT COPY

“Whatever the conditions, I was very much frightened. One night I could not sleep, and I fancied I heard noises around the house. . . . I became terribly wrought in my feeling, and I decided to pray as my parents had taught me.

“I thought I could pray only by getting out of bed and kneeling, and that was a terrible test. But I did finally bring myself to get out of bed and kneel and pray to God to protect mother and the family. And a voice as clearly to me as mine is to you, said, ‘Don’t be afraid. Nothing will hurt you.’ Where it came from, what it was, I am not saying. You may judge. To me it was a direct answer and there came an assurance that I should never be hurt in bed at night.

“I say it has been easy for me to understand and believe the reality of the visions of the Prophet Joseph. It was easy for me in youth to accept his vision, the appearance of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ to the boy praying. I thought of nothing else. Of course that is real. It was easy for me to believe that Moroni came to him there in the room. Heavenly beings were real from my babyhood on, and as years came those impressions strengthened by reason and strengthened by the inspiration of God directly to my soul” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1951, 182–83).

David O. McKay on university football team

University of Utah football team, 1894. David O. McKay is in the back row, second from the left.

He later said:

“The older I grow the more grateful I am for my parents, for how they lived the gospel in that old country home. . . . Both father and mother lived the gospel.

“. . . My testimony of the reality of the existence of God dates back to that home when I was a child, and it was through their teachings and their examples that I received then the knowledge of the reality of the spiritual world; and I testify that it is a reality. . . .

“It is . . . easy for me to realize that one may so live that he may receive impressions and direct messages through the Holy Ghost. The veil is thin between those who hold the Priesthood and those on the other side of the veil. That testimony began . . . in the home in my youth because of the example of a father who honored the Priesthood—and his wife, who sustained him and lived it in the home” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1960, 85–86).

He Served a Mission For the Lord

David O. McKay

David O. McKay received his mission call to Scotland and was set apart on 1 August 1897.

When he was twenty-one, David O. McKay entered the University of Utah where he debated, played the piano in a musical group, played on the football team, and met Emma Ray Riggs, whom he later married. He graduated in 1897 as president and valedictorian of his class and was offered a teaching position. He also received a call to serve a mission.

The call of the Lord to serve as a missionary may have came at an inconvenient time, but he left all that was dear to him and went to his ancestral Scotland. His natural leadership was recognized and he was called to serve as a district president.

“Act Well Thy Part”

While serving in Stirling, Scotland, David O. McKay had an experience that affected the remainder of his life. He and his companion had been in the town for a few weeks, but had had little success. They spent part of a day walking around Stirling Castle and Elder McKay was feeling homesick. He later recalled:

“As we returned to the town, I saw an unfinished building standing back from the sidewalk several yards. Over the front door was a stone arch, something unusual in a residence, and what was still more unusual, I could see from the sidewalk that there was an inscription chiseled in that arch.

“I said to my companion: ‘That’s unusual! I am going to see what the inscription is.’ When I approached near enough, this message came to me, not only in stone, but as if it came from One in whose service we were engaged: ‘Whate’er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part.’

Inscription: What e'er thou art, act well thy part.

The inscription that became David O. McKay’s life motto. The original stone is now in the Museum of Church History and Art, Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I turned and walked thoughtfully away, and when I reached my companion I repeated the message to him.

“That was a message to me that morning to act my part well as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is merely another way of saying . . . ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.’ (Matt. 7:21.)” (Cherished Experiences from the Writings of David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss [1955], 174–75). He resolved that he would act well the part of a committed missionary.

In 1955, as President of the Church, he revisited the same spot and shared the story with those who were there. The stone was later acquired by the Church and is now in the David O. McKay exhibit in the Museum of History and Art next to Temple Square.

His Leadership Abilities Were Recognized

In a 29 May 1899 meeting presided over by James L. McMurrin of the European Mission Presidency, Elder David O. McKay and the other missionaries experienced a strong outpouring of the Spirit. On that occasion President McMurrin prophesied concerning several elders, and to the young Elder McKay he said, “Let me say to you, Brother David, Satan has desired you that he may sift you as wheat, but God is mindful of you, and if you will keep the faith, you will yet sit in the leading councils of the Church” (quoted in Morrell, Highlights in the Life, 37–38).

He Found an Eternal Companion

David O. and Jeanette McKay

David O. and his sister Jeanette in 1897 when he graduated from the University of Utah as valedictorian of his class

On returning home from his mission in Scotland in August 1899, David O. McKay began teaching at the Weber Stake Academy. On 2 January 1901 he married Emma Ray in the Salt Lake Temple. It was a union that would be an example to the entire Church for over sixty-nine years. Their love and concern for each other was well recognized by Church members. The McKays became the parents of seven children.

Before their marriage, David often wrote letters to Emma Ray. The following letter, dated 18 December 1900, is an example. He wrote:

“My Dearest Sweetheart,

I will be happy, I will be true,
When I am married, Sweetheart, to you.

David O. McKay and Weber Stake Academy students

After his mission, he accepted a position at Weber Stake Academy and began teaching there in September 1899. After two and a half years he was appointed principal of the school. Pictured is David O. McKay with members of the student body in 1905.

“These words have been in my mind ever since they were repeated to me to-day. It is true they just form the rhyme of a simple love song, yet they express the sentiments of my heart to-night, and in so doing contain a deeper import than the author ever intended. If I am true to you before we are married, it will be much easier after. . . .

“It seems a week since I saw you, and it seems about two days since I was last in school. If this feeling continues, it will be eight weeks before I see you again! Every day is a week when I am away from you, every day is but an hour when I am with you! What but Love can make Time drag so in the first instance, and make it pass unconsciously in the other?

“Yes, it’s love—true love, and I feel thankful that I know what pure love is, and that the person whom I love is the truest, sweetest girl that lives.

“Sweetheart, is such a love any comfort to you? If it is, try to reciprocate it and give perfect happiness to your loving Dade” (quoted in David Lawrence McKay, My Father, David O. McKay [1989], 8).

David O. and Emma Ray McKay and son

David O. and Emma Ray McKay with their son David Lawrence

He Was Called to Be an Apostle

David O. McKay

An Apostle at thirty-two years of age, April 1906

In 1906, while David O. McKay was serving in the superintendency of the Weber Stake Sunday School, President Joseph F. Smith called him to serve as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. David was then thirty-two years old. His ministry in the Quorum of the Twelve would cover more than half a century. His talents as an educator were called upon immediately. He served as a counselor in the general Church Sunday School and became Church Commissioner of Education in 1919. To him, teaching was the highest of the professions.

David O. McKay

Early years as an Apostle

In his first address as an Apostle, Elder David O. McKay taught: “The man who knows what his duty is and fails to perform it, is not true to himself; he is not true to his brethren; he is not living in the light which God and conscience provides. That is where we stand, and it comes right home to you; it means me. When my conscience tells me that it is right to go along in a specified line, I am not true to myself if I do not follow that. Oh! I know we are swayed by our weaknesses, and by influences from without; but it is our duty to walk in the straight and narrow path in the performance of every duty. And mark this: Every time we have opportunity and fail to live up to that truth which is within us, every time we fail to express a good thought, every time we fail to perform a good act, we weaken ourselves, and make it more difficult to express that thought or perform that act in the future. Every time we perform a good act, every time we express a noble feeling we make it the more easy to perform that act or express that feeling another time” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1906, 113).

He Had an Unfortunate Accident

In 1916, Elder David O. McKay suffered a severe automobile accident. His face was so badly lacerated that many felt he would be disfigured for life. President Heber J. Grant, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, blessed him that he would be completely healed, and he was.

He Went on a World Tour during 1920–21

In December 1920, Elder David O. McKay left on an unprecedented world tour. Before he left, he received a blessing significant to this tour with Hugh J. Cannon, editor of The Improvement Era. “Presidents Heber J. Grant, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, and several of the Apostles laid their hands upon President McKay’s head and blessed him and set him apart as ‘a missionary to travel around the world’ and promised him that he should be ‘warned of dangers seen and unseen, and be given wisdom and inspiration from God to avoid all the snares and the pitfalls that may be laid for his feet’; that he should also ‘go forth in peace, in pleasure and happiness and to return in safety to his loved ones and to the body of the Church,’ he has experienced the protecting care of our Heavenly Father in all his global ministry” (Clare Middlemiss, comp., in McKay, Cherished Experiences, 37).

Hugh J. Cannon and Elder McKay

On his world tour with Hugh J. Cannon

Elder McKay visited the Orient and, with apostolic authority, dedicated China for the preaching of the gospel. While in the Pacific Islands, Tahitian Saints were able to understand his words in their own language. Being forewarned of danger in Hawaii, he moved off a platform he was standing on, which collapsed and fell. While in the ancient Holy Land of Israel, he prophesied that although the land would run red with blood, the Jews would yet be gathered. This tour gave the young Apostle a world vision, and the universality of the gospel message became even more apparent.

He Had an Inspired Dream

While on his world tour, Elder David O. McKay had a marvelous dream. He wrote:

“I . . . fell asleep, and beheld in vision something infinitely sublime. In the distance I beheld a beautiful white city. Though far away, yet I seemed to realize that trees with luscious fruit, shrubbery with gorgeously-tinted leaves, and flowers in perfect bloom abounded everywhere. The clear sky above seemed to reflect these beautiful shades of color. I then saw a great concourse of people approaching the city. Each one wore a white flowing robe, and a white headdress. Instantly my attention seemed centered upon their Leader, and though I could see only the profile of his features and his body, I recognized him at once as my Savior! The tint and radiance of his countenance were glorious to behold! There was a peace about him which seemed sublime—it was divine!

“The city, I understood, was his. It was the City Eternal; and the people following him were to abide there in peace and eternal happiness.

“But who were they?

“As if the Savior read my thoughts, he answered by pointing to a semicircle that then appeared above them, and on which were written in gold the words:

“‘These Are They Who Have Overcome The World—Who Have Truly Been Born Again!’

“When I awoke, it was breaking day” (Cherished Experiences, 102).

Hugh Cannon and Elder McKay on camels by sphinx

Hugh J. Cannon and Elder McKay at the sphinx and the pyramids of Cheops, 26 October 1921

He Experienced the Gift of Interpretation of Tongues

President David O. McKay later shared the following experience he had with a gift of the Spirit during his world tour:

“One of the most important events on my world tour of the missions of the Church was the gift of interpretation of the English tongue to the Saints of New Zealand, at a session of their conference, held on the 23rd day of April, 1921, at Puke Tapu Branch, Waikato District, Huntly, New Zealand.

“The service was held in a large tent, beneath the shade of which hundreds of earnest men and women gathered in anxious anticipation of seeing and hearing an Apostle of the Church, the first one to visit that land.

“When I looked over that vast assemblage and contemplated the great expectations that filled the hearts of all who had met together, I realized how inadequately I might satisfy the ardent desires of their souls, and I yearned, most earnestly, for the gift of tongues that I might be able to speak to them in their native language.

“Until that moment I had not given much serious thought to the gift of tongues, but on that occasion, I wished with all my heart, that I might be worthy of that divine power.

McKay family

The McKay family during Elder McKay’s 1922–24 European mission

“In other missions I had spoken through an interpreter but, able as all interpreters are, I nevertheless felt hampered, in fact, somewhat inhibited, in presenting my message.

“Now, I faced an audience that had assembled with unusual expectations, and I then realized, as never before, the great responsibility of my office. From the depth of my soul, I prayed for divine assistance.

“When I arose to give my address, I said to Brother Stuart Meha, our interpreter, that I would speak without his translating, sentence by sentence, what I said, and then to the audience I continued:

“‘I wish, oh, how I wish I had the power to speak to you in your own tongue, that I might tell you what is in my heart; but since I have not the gift, I pray, and I ask you to pray, that you might have the spirit of interpretation, of discernment, that you may understand at least the spirit while I am speaking, and then you will get the words and the thought when Brother Meha interprets.’

“My sermon lasted forty minutes, and I have never addressed a more attentive, a more respectful audience. My listeners were in perfect rapport—this I knew when I saw tears in their eyes. Some of them at least, perhaps most of them, who did not understand English, had the gift of interpretation” (Cherished Experiences, 73–74).

He Was Called to the First Presidency

President Heber J. Grant called Elder David O. McKay to be a counselor in the First Presidency in 1934. President McKay later served as a counselor to President George Albert Smith.

He Became President of the Church

David O. McKay

David O. McKay

President McKay was sustained as the ninth President of the Church during general conference on 9 April 1951. On that day, he said:

“It is just one week ago today that the realization came to me that this responsibility of leadership would probably fall upon my shoulders. . . .

“When that reality came, as I tell you, I was deeply moved. And I am today, and pray that I may, even though inadequately, be able to tell you how weighty this responsibility seems.

“The Lord has said that the three presiding high priests chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to this office of presidency, are to be ‘upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the Church’ [D&C 107:22]. No one can preside over this Church without first being in tune with the head of the Church, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is our head. This is his Church. Without his divine guidance and constant inspiration, we cannot succeed. With his guidance, with his inspiration, we cannot fail.

“Next to that as a sustaining potent power, comes the confidence, faith, prayers, and united support of the Church.

“I pledge to you that I shall do my best so to live as to merit the companionship of the Holy Spirit, and pray here in your presence that my counselors and I may indeed be ‘partakers of the divine spirit’” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 157).

Soon after being called as the prophet, he set out on a tour of missions around the world. He eventually traveled over a million miles, traversing the earth like a modern Paul. Missionary work accelerated as every member was encouraged to be a missionary. Thousands of chapels were built during his presidency. Because he was President of the Church for nineteen years, a majority of Church members had known no other prophet than David O. McKay.

President McKay knew the Lord wanted His Saints to grow spiritually. He often spoke of developing our divine nature. He also often spoke of the family and the home. He indelibly impressed upon the minds of the Saints the statement “No other success can compensate for failure in the home” (quoting James Edward McCulloch, in Conference Report, Apr. 1935, 116). He often proclaimed that next in importance to life itself was the priceless boon of agency and that the Constitution of the United States must be defended.

David O. McKay

David O. McKay

He Received a Birthday Tribute

On President David O. McKay’s seventy-eighth birthday, his first birthday as President of the Church, his colleagues of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, with whom he had served for forty-five years, sent him a letter expressing their best wishes. In it they told him:

“Throughout your eventful life you have been an inspiration to young and old in the Church. Your humble yet brilliant career in the Lord’s work has been a literal fulfillment of the Savior’s injunction in the Sermon on the Mount which guided a poet to say:

Hold thy lighted lamp on high,
Be a star in someone’s sky

Your great devotion to the truth has instilled faith and confidence in the hearts of all who have followed you. Your tenderness and sympathy in times of trial have lifted dark clouds from those bowed down. Your courage to carry on the work in spite of all hindrances has been like a helping hand to many who otherwise might not have endured to the end.

“On this your natal day we pledge to you our love and devotion, our willingness to follow your inspired leadership, our gratitude for the privilege of serving the Lord in fellowship with you” (quoted in McKay, Home Memories, 251).

He Envisioned Temples throughout the World

Berne Switzerland Temple

The Bern Switzerland Temple was the first in Europe. It was dedicated by President McKay on 11 September 1955.
Photograph courtesy of David H. Garner

More temples were built during President David O. McKay’s administration than during any previous administration. The number of temples built, however, is perhaps not as significant as their locations; temples began to be built throughout the world.

Llewelyn R. McKay, one of President McKay’s sons, recorded the following incident, which occurred when his father was president of the European Mission in the 1920s: “Father had the vision of a temple being erected for the European members of the Church. I recall asking him if missionaries should persist in encouraging members to leave their homes and move to Zion. ‘No,’ he answered, ‘it is important that the branches be built up, and members should remain and work toward that end. Someday we shall have temples built for them which will be accessible to all, so that the desired temple work can be done without uprooting families from their homelands’” (Home Memories, 33).

On another occasion, President McKay shared his vision of how a temple should be built. “The first temple built in Europe, the Swiss Temple represented President McKay’s commitment to care for the spiritual needs of the Saints in the expanding church. . . .

“Furthermore, President McKay had evidently seen the temple in vision, its clean simple lines reminiscent of the Church’s first temple at Kirtland. He described it so vividly to Edward O. Anderson, a Church architect, that he was able to reproduce it exactly. However, as the design process went on, the original drawing was modified until President McKay, upon seeing the drawings, pointed out, ‘Brother Anderson, that is not the temple that you and I saw together.’ The finished drawings, needless to say, reflected President McKays original description” (“The Swiss Temple,” Ensign, June 1978, 80).

Preaching the Gospel Is a Worldwide Effort

President McKay with group in New Zealand

Visit to New Zealand, January 1955

The following statements of President David O. McKay illustrate his commitment to spreading the gospel message throughout the world:

“And so with you I say, ‘We are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.’ I am looking upon a segment of the Church of Christ who share the responsibility of preaching this gospel to all the world, for we are part of a world-wide organization. This gospel is not confined to Utah, nor Idaho, nor Wyoming, nor California, nor the United States, nor just to Europe, but it is the power of God to salvation to all who believe, and you and I must share part of the responsibility of declaring it to all the world” (Stepping Stones to an Abundant Life, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay [1971], 120–21).

“The mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be considered in two great aspects: (1) the proclamation to the world of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ—the declaration to all mankind that God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ appeared in this dispensation to the Prophet Joseph Smith; (2) the other great purpose of the Church is to translate truth into a better social order or, in other words, to make our religion effective in the individual lives of men and in improving social conditions” (Man May Know for Himself: Teachings of President David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss [1967], 162).

The Saints Should Be Pioneers in a Modern World

President McKay

President David O. McKay

President David O. McKay, then a counselor in the First Presidency, was the chairman of the Utah Centennial Commission in 1947. It was appropriate that he play a leading part in honoring the pioneers of the past; his own life stretched back to Utah’s beginnings. He once said: “The best way to honor the pioneers is to emulate and make practical in our lives the ideals and virtues that strengthened and animated their lives. These eternal ideals and principles which they fostered and upheld, even under the most adverse conditions, are as applicable today as they were when emphasized by the pioneer leaders” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1947, 118).

He Was Respected throughout the World

As President David O. McKay traveled throughout the world, his influence was felt in many places besides the immediate Church. One United States Secretary of State called him the best goodwill ambassador the United States had. Monarchs honored him. Presidents called upon him. Nations gave him their highest awards.

President and Sister McKay in New York City

President and Sister McKay

President McKay looked like a prophet even to those who were not Latter-day Saints. He was well known as the “Mormon Prophet” and “December 1968, the name of President McKay was numbered among the top five church leaders listed in the public opinion poll released by Dr. George Gallup’s Institute of Public Opinion” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History, 23rd ed. [1969], 556). Whether attending a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II of England or mingling with so-called commoners, President McKay stood out physically and spiritually.

Arch L. Madsen, who was president of Bonneville International Corporation, shared this experience:

“I remember being in New York when President McKay returned from Europe. Arrangements had been made for pictures to be taken, but the regular photographer was unable to go, so in desperation the United Press picked their crime photographer—a man accustomed to the toughest type of work in New York. He went to the airport, stayed there two hours, and returned later from [the] dark room with a tremendous sheaf of pictures. He was supposed to take only two. His boss immediately chided him, ‘What in the world are you wasting time and all those photographic supplies for?’

“The photographer replied very curtly, saying he would gladly pay for the extra materials, and they could even dock him for the extra time he took. It was obvious that he was very touchy about it. Several hours later the vice-president called him to his office, wanting to learn what happened. The crime photographer said, ‘When I was a little boy, my mother used to read to me out of the Old Testament, and all my life I have wondered what a prophet of God must really look like. Well, today I found one’” (quoted in “Memories of a Prophet,” Improvement Era, Feb. 1970, 72).

President and Sister McKay with Church leaders

President and Sister McKay with Elders Richard L. Evans and Spencer W. Kimball

He Advanced Priesthood Correlation

Basic priesthood correlation of the Church has always been an important concern of the prophets of God. In 1908, Elder David O. McKay, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was called by President Joseph F. Smith to serve on a correlation committee. Later, as President of the Church, he supported and expanded the role of correlation. In October 1961, Elder Harold B. Lee, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke of the need for Church correlation and explained President McKay’s plan for an all-Church coordinating council. In his address he said:

“The repeated necessity for re-examination of the programs, the activities, and the prescribed courses of study has been apparent over the years to make certain that the original concepts relative to each organization were being adhered to, that each in its field was functioning up to its capacity, that one was not usurping the field of activity designed for the other, and that duplications and overlappings were reduced to a minimum. . . .

President McKay

President McKay on his seventy-eighth birthday, 1951

“This is a move, which, as I say, has lain close to President McKay’s mind and now as the President of the Church he is instructing us to move forward, that we consolidate to make more efficient, and more effective the work of the priesthood, the auxiliaries, and the other units in order that we may conserve our time, our energy, and our efforts toward the prime purpose for which the Church itself has been organized” (in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1961, 78, 81).

President McKay with his Counselors

The First Presidency at the Los Angeles California Temple dedication, 1956

During President McKay’s administration the correlation program made significant advances. President Joseph Fielding Smith later wrote:

“During the early 1960s a broad program of Church correlation began under President McKay’s direction to help bearers of the priesthood better fulfill their obligations and responsibilities. Four operating committees were formed to include programs of home teaching, missionary, genealogical, and welfare work. Worthy leaders of the priesthood were called to fill positions on these important general committees and to assist in preparing materials and outlines for leaders in the stakes and wards. Under the priesthood correlation program, quorums and groups were given specific leadership responsibilities. High priests were assigned genealogical work; seventies the missionary program; elders the welfare work; and all quorums the home teaching program. The former ward teaching program was greatly expanded into the new home teaching program, and those assigned as home teachers were given greater responsibilities as spiritual advisers to a group of families.

“An organized program of family home evenings was also introduced as part of the correlation program. A special manual of family lessons was published for every family in the Church, and outlines were offered on how to conduct successful family home evening instruction. Course offerings in all of the auxiliary organizations were correlated so that a unified program of gospel learning is followed in all teaching organizations of the Church.

“The work of priesthood correlation and the new emphasis on family home evenings and home teaching brought a great surge of spiritual growth into the Church and marked a significant era in the Church in strengthening the homes and helping fathers and mothers take their rightful places as spiritual leaders of their children” (Essentials in Church History, 26th ed., 543).

He Set an Example in His Home

President and Sister McKay

President McKay with his wife, Emma, at the piano, 2 January 1951

President David O. McKay spoke with authority on marriage and the family and on the noble role of women. His own marriage stretched over sixty-nine years and was looked on as a model in the Church. The testimony of his son Robert R. McKay expressed the appropriateness of such a man to receive a prophetic call:

“As my father, he has my love and devotion, and I echo the thoughts of my brothers and sisters. As the President of the Church, and as a prophet of our Heavenly Father, he has my obedience as a member of the priesthood, and my sustaining vote.

“I can say this, and act as a personal witness, because in all of my years of close association in the home, on the farm, in business, in the Church, there has never been shown to me one action nor one word, even while training a self-willed horse, which would throw any doubt in my mind that he should be and finally did become the representative and prophet of our Heavenly Father. I leave you that personal witness” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1967, 84).

The Home Is Central to the Gospel

President McKay playing piano with family

At home with family

President David O. McKay often taught of the importance of a strong family in the gospel plan:

“One of our most precious possessions is our families. The domestic relations precede, and, in our present existence, are worth more than all other social ties. They give the first throb to the heart and unseal the deep fountains of its love. Home is the chief school of human virtues. Its responsibilities, joys, sorrows, smiles, tears, hopes, and solicitudes form the chief interests of human life. . . .

“[Quoting James Edward McCulloch:] When one puts business or pleasure above his home, he that moment starts on the downgrade to soul-weakness. When the club becomes more attractive to any man than his home, it is time for him to confess in bitter shame that he has failed to measure up to the supreme opportunity of his life and flunked in the final test of true manhood. No other success can compensate for failure in the home. The poorest shack in which love prevails over a united family is of greater value to God and future humanity than any other riches. In such a home God can work miracles and will work miracles.

“Pure hearts in a pure home are always in whispering distance of heaven. [End of quote.]

“In the light of scripture, ancient and modern we are justified in concluding that Christ’s ideal pertaining to marriage is the unbroken home” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1964, 5).

He Gave Ten Conditions That Can Contribute to a Happy Home

President McKay gave the following advice for a happy home:

“1. Ever keep in mind you begin to lay the foundation of a happy home in your pre-marital lives. While in courtship you should learn to be loyal and true to your future husband or wife. Keep yourselves clean and pure. Cherish the highest ideals of chastity and purity. Do not be deceived.

“2. Choose your mate by judgment and inspiration, as well as by physical attraction. Intellect and breeding are vital and important in the human family.

“3. Approach marriage with the lofty view it merits. Marriage is ordained of God. It is not something to be entered into lightly or to be dissolved at the first difficulty that arises.

“4. Remember that the noblest purpose of marriage is procreation. Home is children’s natural nursery. Happiness in the home is enhanced by having children at the fireside.

“5. Let the spirit of reverence pervade the home. Have your home such that if the Savior called unexpectedly he could be invited to stay and not feel out of his element. Pray in the home.

“6. Let husband or wife never speak in loud tones to each other.

President McKay at reins in horsedrawn sleigh

He was an excellent horseman. Here he is with his family on a sleigh ride, about 1954.

“7. Learn the value of self-control. We are never sorry for the word unspoken. Lack of self-control is the greatest source of unhappiness in the home. Children should be taught self-control, self-respect, and respect for others.

President McKay on horseback

At home in Huntsville, Utah, about 1947

“8. Fasten home ties by continued companionship. Companionship fosters love. Do everything to cement love for all eternity.

“9. Make accessible to children proper literature and music.

“10. By example and precept, encourage participation in Church activity.

This is fundamental in developing a true character. Church activity should be led, not directed by parents” (quoted in McKay, Home Memories, 213).

The Saints Must Build the Stakes of Zion Where They Live

President McKay kissing a child

President McKay loved children, and they loved him.

In May 1952, President David O. McKay left on a two-month tour of Europe. “President McKay told an inquiring audience that the main purpose of his trip was to investigate the possibility of setting up chapels throughout Europe—to encourage Church members to remain at home and not to emigrate to America” (Morrell, Highlights in the Life, 121). During that trip he selected sites for temples in England and Switzerland, the first in Europe.

He Loved Great Literature

President David O. McKay was formally educated and had a love for the great authors and writers of the English language. When he taught the gospel he often quoted Shakespeare, Carlisle, or Robert Burns. His talent as a teacher was evident and he communicated not only to the Church but to much of the world.

He Had the Gift of Healing

President McKay

President David O. McKay, August 1957

In a 1954 letter to Elder Mark E. Petersen, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a man told of a sacred experience a friend had with President David O. McKay in one of the temples. He wrote:

“My wife is a counselor in the Relief Society of our ward, and Sister Nina Penrod is the other counselor. As President McKay shook Sister Penrod’s hand, she asked him if he remembered her mother, a Sister Graham from Ogden Valley. He answered: ‘Why, of course I do,’ and placed his left hand on top of her hand as he clasped it in his right. At the moment of the handshake I saw Sister Penrod’s face flush. She said she became overwhelmed and humble, more because as both of President McKay’s hands were on her right hand, she felt a shock, and she wondered if others might have heard the sound that accompanied the shock which had seemed very loud to her. She said a weakness came over her. And this is odd, as President McKay held her right hand with his left hand, he shook hands with many others with his right hand. Sister Penrod said it was very humbling in the extreme to her, yet she felt elated because something wonderful had happened to her, for her arthritis pains were all gone. . . .

“When President McKay left, as it was told to me, Sister Penrod tried to leave with the others but had to be assisted as she was too weak to go alone. They proceeded slowly, and in descending the stairs she cried out, sinking down. She was helped to a bed in the dressing room where after a short time her strength returned, and she stood up, turned her back to those with her, and reached each arm up her back touching her shoulder blades, saying, ‘I haven’t been able to do this for years’” (quoted in McKay, Cherished Experiences, 156–57).

He Opened the Eyes of a Blind Man

Brother Melvin T. Mickelson told of how he regained his eyesight after receiving a blessing from President David O. McKay. Brother Mickelson had contracted a serious eye infection and had lost the sight in one eye and most of the sight in the other. The condition of his eyes continued to get worse until the doctor told him the right eye would need to be removed. Brother Mickelson explained:

“About two hours after we had left the doctor’s office, President McKay came to our door and told us he had heard of my sickness and wondered if I would like a blessing. No one could deny the feeling of peace which came with him. As he blessed me, the pain eased and then left me. As President McKay left the room, my wife’s words of faith were, ‘You will be all right.’ . . .

President McKay

President David O. McKay

“The next morning I returned to the doctor’s office. After examining my eyes, he said, ‘Some miracle has happened. We won’t have to remove that eye. Why, you will receive fifteen to twenty percent of your eyesight.’ The next day he told me seventy-five percent of my vision would come back, and on the third day, perhaps all of my vision. . . .

“Two or three years later, an eye specialist looked at my eyes and said, ‘You have a lot of scar-tissue in your eyes, but I have never seen more perfect vision’” (quoted in McKay, Cherished Experiences, 163–64).

He Had the Gift of Discernment

President McKay and Elder Benson

President McKay receiving scouting’s silver buffalo, with Elder Ezra Taft Benson

Bishop Robert L. Simpson, then a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, told of his first introduction to President McKay in 1958, at the dedication of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple:

“I was walking down a hallway in the temple when a friend intercepted me and invited me to step inside a room. I was overwhelmed to notice that the only other people in the room were President and Sister McKay. My friend said, ‘President McKay, this is one of our returned New Zealand missionaries, Brother Simpson.’ The President extended his firm right hand, and placing his left hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes and, more than that, into every fiber of my being. After a few seconds, he gave my hand a friendly pump, my shoulder a squeeze, and said, ‘Brother Simpson, I am pleased to know you.’ Not ‘I am pleased to meet you,’ but ‘pleased to know you.’ During the ensuing days and weeks, the memory of this introduction kept recurring. Approximately three months later, while sitting in my office in Los Angeles, my telephone rang and the voice on the other end of the line said, ‘This is David O. McKay speaking.’ He said that based on our interview, he had felt impressed to issue a call to return with my family to New Zealand to preside over the people I loved so much” (Improvement Era, Feb. 1970, 72).

The Power of God Was with Him

On one occasion in the South Pacific as he left a group of Saints, he gave them a blessing and a remarkable thing happened. As one man reported: “It is the testimony of some who cast their eyes upward momentarily as inspired words flowed in great power from Elder McKay’s lips that a halo of brightness rested upon him like a shaft of white light, and certain it is that the borderland of heaven and earth rested in close proximity to the spot where was given this wonderful manifestation and blessing. Each listener’s soul throbbed with the conviction of the truth” (quoted in McKay, Cherished Experiences, 67).

In a tribute to her husband, Sister McKay said of him:

“The President is blessed with pre-vision. Many a morning he has told me that certain incidents would happen during the day and invariably the impression would become a reality. This pre-vision has been a helpful guide to him through life” (quoted in McKay, Home Memories, 270).

Every Person Wields an Influence

President McKay and U.S. President
  Dwight D. Eisenhower

President McKay with U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower

President David O. McKay taught about the importance of living a Christlike life:

“An upright character is the result only of continued effort and right thinking, the effect of long-cherished associations with Godlike thoughts. He approaches nearest the Christ spirit who makes God the center of his thoughts; and he who can say in his heart, ‘Not my will, but thine be done,’ approaches most nearly the Christ ideal” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1953, 10).

“Every man and every person who lives in this world wields an influence, whether for good or for evil. It is not what he says alone, it is not alone what he does. It is what he is. Every man, every person radiates what he or she is. Every person is a recipient of radiation. The Savior was conscious of that. Whenever he came into the presence of an individual, he sensed that radiation—whether it was the woman of Samaria with her past life; whether it was the woman who was to be stoned or the men who were to stone her; whether it was the statesman, Nicodemus, or one of the lepers. He was conscious of the radiation from the individual. And to a degree so are you, and so am I. It is what we are and what we radiate that affects the people around us” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1963, 129).

President McKay with Cecil B. DeMille and Charleton Heston

President and Sister McKay with filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille and motion picture actor Charleton Heston as Moses while filming the motion picture The Ten Commandments. Brigham Young University presented DeMille with an honorary doctorate degree in May 1957.

He Taught about Developing Spirituality

President David O. McKay taught the following about developing spirituality:

“Spirituality is the highest acquisition of the soul, ‘the divine in man—the supreme crowning gift that makes him king of all created things.’ It is the consciousness of victory over self, and of communion with the Infinite. To acquire more and more power, to feel one’s faculties unfolding, and one’s soul in harmony with God and with the Infinite—that is spirituality. It is that alone which really gives one the best in life.

“Spirituality is best manifested in doing, not in dreaming. ‘Rapturous day dreams, flights of heavenly fancy, longings to see the invisible, are not so impressive as the plain doing of duty.’

President McKay with U.S. President John F. Kennedy

President McKay with U.S. President John F. Kennedy

“Every noble impulse, every unselfish expression of love, every brave suffering for the right; every surrender of self to something higher than self; every loyalty to an ideal; every unselfish devotion to principle; every helpfulness to humanity; every act of self-control; every fine courage of the soul, undefeated by pretense or policy; every being, doing, and living of good for the very good’s sake—that is spiritual.

“This feeling about a higher life is universal. The search for, and development of, spiritual peace and freedom concerns everyone.

“You lose the soul unless you develop spirituality within. I would advocate these steps in the development of spirituality:

“1. It is man’s duty to become master of nature—not its slave. Self-control, and control of environment, are important.

“2. Spirituality and the abundant life are dependent upon acknowledgment of Deity, and upon honor for the Godhead.

“3. There must be the consciousness that God has delegated to man the authority to act in God’s name.

“4. There must be a realization that God is the Father of all men, and that He values each soul.

“5. Life is a mission, and it is the duty of every man to make the world better for his having been in it” (True to the Faith: From the Sermons and Discourses of David O. McKay, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay [1966], 244–45).

He Taught about the Cornerstones of Zion

President David O. McKay taught:

“The Zion we build will pattern after the ideals of its inhabitants. To change men and the world we must change their thinking, for the thing which a man really believes is the thing which he has really thought; that which he actually thinks is the thing which he lives. Men do not go beyond their ideals; they often fall short of them, but they never go beyond them. . . .

President McKay on park bench

President McKay on a park bench at eighty-four years old, about 1957
Photograph by George Bettridge; courtesy of Saans Photography. DO NOT COPY

“. . . The Lord designates Zion as ‘. . . the pure in heart . . .’ (D. & C. 97:21); and only when we are such, and only when we have such shall Zion ‘. . . flourish, and the glory of the Lord shall be upon her.’ (Ibid., 64:41.)

“The foundation of Zion then will be laid in the hearts of men; broad acres, mines, forests, factories, beautiful buildings, modern conveniences, will be but means and accessories to the building of the human soul and the securing of happiness.

President McKay in wheelchairs

President and Sister McKay—“Sharing the golden years”

“Let us then as we draw our plans for Zion today choose what we may call the ‘four cornerstones of Zion’s inhabitants.’

First: A firm belief and acceptance of the truth that this universe is governed by intelligence and wisdom, and, as Plato said, ‘. . . is not left to the guidance of an irrational and random chance.’

“The second cornerstone is that the ultimate purpose in God’s great plan is the perfecting of the individual.

“It is his desire that men and women become like himself.

“The third cornerstone is a realization that the first and most essential thing in man’s progress is freedom—free agency. Man can choose the highest good, or choose the lowest good and fall short of what he was intended to be.

“The fourth cornerstone is a sense of responsibility toward other individuals and the social group” (Gospel Ideals, 335).

He Had Faith in the Youth of Zion

President David O. McKay rejoiced at the faithfulness of the youth of the Church. During the April 1961 general conference, he said:

“If the question were asked this morning, ‘In what respect during the last year has the Church made the most commendable progress?’ I would not answer: ‘In financial matters.’ . . .

“I would not say: ‘In the increase of the number of new houses of worship.’ . . .

“. . . I would not answer: ‘In the increased membership.’ . . .

President McKay kissing Sister McKay

A birthday kiss, 21 June 1963

“I would answer that the most encouraging progress of the Church during the last year is seen in the increased number of young people participating in Church activity. . . .

“Heaven guide you, our Youth, wherever you are. As long as you will keep yourselves pure and spotless and prayerfully and earnestly keep close to your Father in heaven, his Spirit will guide you, magnify you in your youth, and make you a power on the earth for good. Your Father in heaven is ever ready to give you help in time of need and give you comfort and strength if you will approach him in purity, simplicity, and faith” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1961, 5, 8).

President Joseph Fielding Smith Paid Him a Tribute

President McKay with his Counselors

The First Presidency: Hugh B. Brown, David O. McKay, and N. Eldon Tanner

In later years, though restricted physically by failing health, President David O. McKay continued to grow spiritually. He often spoke of a zest for life. After President McKay’s death on 18 January 1970, President Joseph Fielding Smith said:

“I honor and revere the name and the memory of President David O. McKay.

“For 60 years I sat by his side in the presiding councils of the Church. I came to know him intimately and well, and I loved him as a man and honored him as a prophet.

“He was a true servant of the Lord—one who walked uprightly before his Maker; one who loved his fellowmen; one who enjoyed life and rejoiced in the privilege of service that was his; one who served with an eye single to the glory of God.

“He exemplified perfectly the Old Testament standard: ‘. . . what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’ (Mic. 6:8.)

“As stated editorially in the Deseret News: ‘If ever a man of modern history left his world better for having lived in it, that man was David Oman McKay.

“‘Wherever he passed, men lifted their heads with more hope and courage. Wherever his voice was heard, there followed greater kindness among men, greater tolerance, greater love. Wherever his influence was felt, man and God became closer in purpose and in action.’

President and Sister McKay

Sixty-nine years together
Photograph by Ralph J. Clark and J. Malan Heslop; courtesy of Deseret News

“President McKay was called to the holy apostleship in April 1906 by my father, President Joseph F. Smith, who acted under the inspiration of the Spirit, and he became one of the greatest and most inspired leaders of this dispensation. . . .

“I shall miss him greatly. It does not seem possible that he has left us. But we know he has gone to a joyous reunion with his father and mother and that he is now taking up his labors in the paradise of God as he begins to associate anew with his good friends who preceded him into the realms ahead. . . .

“To my mind two statements made by the prophet Lehi exemplify the life of President McKay. He was like a great river, ‘continually running into the fountain of all righteousness,’ and he was like a mighty valley, ‘firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!’ (1 Ne. 2:9–10.)

President McKay

President David O. McKay

“I thank God for the life and ministry of this great man. He was a soul set apart, a great spirit who came here to preside in Israel. He did his work well and has returned clean and perfected to the realms of light and joyous reunion. If ever there was a man to whom these words of scriptural benediction might well be said, it was President McKay:

“‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ (Matt. 25:34), for ye did all things well that were entrusted unto thy care” (“One Who Loved His Fellowmen,” Improvement Era, Feb. 1970, 87–88).