Chapter 10
Joseph Fielding Smith
Tenth President of the Church

Joseph Fielding Smith





He was born 19 July 1876 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Joseph F. and Julina Lambson Smith.


He was baptized by his father (19 July 1884).


He received his patriarchal blessing, which stated that he would preside among the people (Jan. 1896).


He married Louie Emily Shurtliff (26 Apr. 1898; she died 30 Mar. 1908).


He served a mission to England (1899–1901).


He began working in the Church Historian’s Office (1901).


He became Assistant Church Historian (Apr. 1906).


He married Ethel Georgina Reynolds (2 Nov. 1908; she died 26 Aug. 1937).


He was ordained an Apostle by his father, President Joseph F. Smith (7 Apr. 1910).


He became Church Historian (1921).


His first book, Essentials in Church History, was published (1922).


He became president of the Genealogical Society (1934).


He married Jessie Ella Evans (12 Apr. 1938; she died 3 Aug. 1971).


He directed the evacuation of missionaries from Europe (1939).


He became president of the Salt Lake Temple (1945–49).


He was sustained as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (9 Apr. 1951).


He dedicated four countries for the preaching of the gospel (1955).


He became a counselor to President David O. McKay (29 Oct. 1965).


He became President of the Church (23 Jan. 1970).


He presided over the first area conference, in Manchester, England (27–29 Aug. 1971); he dedicated the Ogden Utah Temple (18 Jan. 1972); he dedicated the Provo Utah Temple (9 Feb. 1972); he died in Salt Lake City, Utah (2 July 1972).


Joseph Fielding Smith as small boy

Young Joseph Fielding Smith

Like Hannah, mother of the Old Testament prophet Samuel, Julina Lambson Smith greatly desired a son. Having given birth to three lovely daughters, she longed and prayed for a son. She promised the Lord that if He would so bless her she would do everything possible to see that the boy grew up to serve God and be a credit to his father, Joseph F. Smith, then a counselor in the First Presidency. On 19 July 1876, the Lord blessed the Smith home with a son who would receive his father’s name. “This was the child destined to follow most closely in the footsteps of his father—missionary, historian, apostle, scriptorian, theologian, counselor in the First Presidency, and finally Prophet of the Lord. The voice of the father was to become the voice of the son; jointly, their years in the apostleship would span in an unbroken chain more than a hundred years” (Joseph F. McConkie, True and Faithful: The Life Story of Joseph Fielding Smith [1971], 9, 11).

In his youth, Joseph Fielding Smith drank of the bitter cup of persecution as federal marshals invaded polygamous homes in Utah searching for his father and other Church leaders. He recalled that they prowled around their home interrogating and terrorizing the women and children, blighting their lives, and precipitating a dark cloud of unhappiness and fear. In such gloomy circumstances, his father was forced into near continuous exile between Joseph Fielding’s eighth and fifteenth years. Thus, when people later expressed the thought that President Joseph Fielding Smith had a favored youth and, consequently, he ought to be a great man, he was constrained to admit that they did not understand all of the circumstances. His father was away from home during most of the formative years of Joseph Fielding’s youth because of difficulties with the United States government.

Joseph F. Smith family

The family of Joseph F. Smith, father of Joseph Fielding Smith

One result of those lonely, trying years was the development of an understanding and a courage in young Joseph Fielding that helped him become one of the latter-day Church’s most able defenders. Tried, tested, and found true and faithful seems to describe the life of this great servant of the living God.

In His Youth He Learned to Do What the Lord Wanted Him to Do

Joseph F. Smith family

Joseph F. Smith and family. Joseph Fielding is in the center of the back row.
Photograph courtesy of Joseph Fielding Mcconkie

Joseph Fielding Smith was a boy who thought it his duty to walk through life with his hand in the hand of the Lord. Indeed, his desire to learn the will of the Lord in order that he could live it moved him to read the Book of Mormon twice by the time he was ten years old. When the ball team missed him, they could generally find him in the hayloft reading that book. He also read and memorized the Children’s Catechism (an early Church publication that explained the doctrines of the gospel) and Primary books. Natural and spontaneous, his appetite for learning properly whetted throughout his life, he became one of the greatest gospel scholars the Church has known.

He later explained: “From my earliest recollection, from the time I first could read, I have received more pleasure and greater satisfaction out of the study of the scriptures, and reading of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the work that has been accomplished for the salvation of men, than from anything else in all the world” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1930, 91).

He Had a Close Brush with Death

“Many of Joseph’s youthful hours were spent herding cows near the Jordan River [in Utah] and laboring with his brothers on the family farm in Taylorsville. On one occasion when he and his younger brother, George, were loading hay onto a wagon to take it from the field to the barn, Joseph had a close brush with death. They had stopped on a road by the canal to stack some bales and give the team a drink. Because they had a skittish horse, Joseph told George to stand by the head of the team and hold their bridles until he could climb up and take the reins. Instead, George went back and started up the binding rope. As he did so, the horses started with a sudden jerk and Joseph fell down between the horses on the doubletree.

“The thought, ‘Well, here’s my finish!’ flashed through his mind. But something turned the horses and they ran into the canal, while Joseph was thrown clear of their hoofs and the wheels of the wagon. When he got up, he gave George an honest appraisal of his feelings and then hurried home—shaken, but grateful to be in one piece. His father came out to meet him and wanted to know what difficulty he had encountered, having received a strong impression that his son was in some kind of danger” (McConkie, True and Faithful, 18).

Joseph F. and Julina Lambson Smith

Joseph Fielding Smith’s parents, Joseph F. and Julina Lambson Smith, on their fiftieth wedding anniversary, 1916

He Helped His Mother

“When his mother returned from the Hawaiian Islands, Joseph was ten years old, and it was at that tender age that he began assisting her in her professional duties as a licensed midwife or obstetrician. Joseph’s job was that of stable boy and buggy driver. At all hours of the day or night, when the call came for his mother’s services, Joseph was to hitch up the faithful mare ‘Old Meg’ to the buggy and drive his mother to the home of the confinement case. Here he might wait while she delivered the baby, or, if his mother thought the wait would be too long, she would send him home with instructions on when to return for her. . . .

“In the daytime and summertime Joseph’s assignment was not too unpleasant a one for a ten-year-old youngster. But in the nighttime and wintertime it was very unpleasant. . . . Sometimes they traveled through rain, sleet or snow, or bitter cold wind, in a well ventilated buggy. And then upon reaching the house of the expectant mother, he had what often seemed an endless wait.

“‘Sometimes I nearly froze to death. I marveled that so many babies were born in the middle of the night, especially on cold winter nights. I fervently wished that mothers might time things a little better’” (Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. and John J. Stewart, The Life of Joseph Fielding Smith [1972], 52–53).

“I Was Born with a Testimony”

Joseph F. Smith giving book to young Joseph Fielding Smith

A gift from his father
Painting by Paul Mann

Joseph Fielding Smith stated: “I was born with a testimony of the gospel. . . . I do not remember a time when I did not have full confidence in the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith and in the teachings and guidance of my parents” (quoted in Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 56).

“By nature, Joseph was more quiet and studious than his brothers. It was his habit to hurry with his chores so that he could go to his father’s library and study” (McConkie, True and Faithful, 18).

In a letter to a son on a mission, he wrote: “I remember that one thing I did from the time I learned to read and write was to study the gospel. I read and committed to memory the children’s catechism and primary books on the gospel. Later I read the History of the Church as recorded in the Millennial Star. I also read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, [the] Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants, and other literature which fell into my hands. . . . I learned at a very early day that God lives; he gave me a testimony when I was a child, and I have tried to be obedient always with some measure of success” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957–66], 4:vi).

He Was an Early Riser

Inspired by a disciplined father, Joseph Fielding Smith was an early riser, a practice that lasted his entire life and was his formula for getting things done. Even at the age of ninety-five “he was still his own best sermon on nonretirement. . . . He was up every morning well before 6 o’clock, and put in a heavy day’s work. It was a lifelong habit, and one that he also instilled in his children. ‘People die in bed,’ he cautioned them. ‘And so does ambition.’

“‘Somehow it seemed immoral to lie in bed after 6,’ recalls a son. ‘Of course, I only tried it once. Father saw to that’” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 3).

He Was a Hard Worker

ZCMI storefront

ZCMI storefront. When he was eighteen years old, Joseph Fielding Smith worked as a cash boy in the wholesale grocery department in the basement of ZCMI in Salt Lake City.

“It was a late summer evening in Salt Lake City, in the year of 1894. Joseph Fielding Smith, 18 years of age, had just completed another day of heavy work as a cash boy in the wholesale grocery department in the basement of the Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution, at Main and South Temple Streets. He flexed his shoulders, took a deep breath, tried to stand up straight. It was not easy. The hours were long, the work was exhausting, and the pay was pitifully meager. ‘I worked like a work horse all day long and was tired out when night came, carrying sacks of flour and sacks of sugar and hams and bacons on my back. I weighed 150 pounds, but I thought nothing of picking up a 200-pound sack and putting it on my shoulders. I was a very foolish fellow, because ever since that time my shoulders have been just a little out of kilter. The right one got a little more “treatment” than the left.’

“But jobs were not easy to find and his family needed all the financial support it could get, from him and his brothers old enough to work. So Joseph felt fortunate to have this job despite the strenuous working conditions and low pay. The daily physical workout might even be good for him in the long run, if it did not kill him first.

“And now, as was his habit, he stopped by the candy counter and bought a sack of hardtack to take home to Mama and to his younger brothers and sisters. He found pleasure in seeing the little ones’ joy at this frequent treat” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 65–66).

He Was Married before He Served a Mission

Louie E. Shurtliff Smith

Louie E. Shurtliff (1876–1908), Joseph Fielding’s first wife. They were married 26 April 1898.

When Joseph Fielding Smith was eighteen his family invited Louie Shurtliff, who was the same age, to live at their home while she attended the University of Utah. Louie’s father and President Joseph F. Smith had been friends since their boyhood days in Nauvoo. Joseph and Louie soon became close friends, sharing a love for learning and a devotion to the gospel. It didn’t take long for them to fall in love. They courted for three and a half years, during which time Louie attended college and Joseph Fielding worked for ZCMI. He later recalled, “When she finished and graduated from her school, . . . I did not permit her to go home and stay there, but I persuaded her to change her place of residence, and on the 26th day of April, 1898, we went to the Salt Lake Temple and were married for time and all eternity by my father, President Joseph F. Smith” (quoted in Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 75).

Joseph Fielding Smith with other missionaries in England

Missionaries in England, 28 May 1901. Joseph Fielding Smith is second from the left.

A year after their marriage, Joseph Fielding left his bride so he could serve a two-year mission in Great Britain. He was accompanied by his brother Joseph Richards, who had been called to serve in the same mission. Leaving for the mission field was not easy for Joseph. He wrote in his journal: “Saturday May 13, 1899: I went up town and purchased some articles to take with me on the way to England. Packed my trunk in the afternoon and got all ready to leave. At six o’clock told all the folks goodbye and left for the depot with feelings that I never felt before, because I was never away from home more than one month in my life, and to think of going away for two years or more causes very peculiar feelings to take possession of me” (quoted in Smith and Stewart, The Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 83).

Proselyting at that time in Great Britain was very difficult. There was much opposition and few receptive hearts. He worked hard during his service, however, each month handing out over 10,000 tracts and visiting about 4,000 homes. But he did not see the fruits of his labors in the form of baptisms. “During his two-year mission, Elder Smith did not convert and baptize a single person. He did confirm one member, but that was the full extent of his proselyting harvest” (Francis M. Gibbons, Joseph Fielding Smith: Gospel Scholar, Prophet of God [1992], 75).

His Father Expected Excellence

Joseph Fielding Smith and Joseph F. Smith

Joseph Fielding Smith and his father, President Joseph F. Smith, 2 May 1914

“Letters to Elder Joseph Fielding Smith . . . suggest the care with which President Joseph F. Smith taught his faithful and obedient son. On February 2, 1900 he wrote:

“‘The best school I ever attended is the school of experience. There are some things that seem difficult for me to learn. One thing is English orthography and I see you are a little like me in that regard. Now if I tell you a few words you nearly always spell wrong, the presumption is you will be more careful to spell them right in the future.’

“The father then lists such words as untill for until, proscribe for prescribe, greece for grease, shure for sure, shugar for sugar, and so on. . . .

“On March 8, 1900 the father advised:

“‘I scarcely need say to you to make short earnest prayers, short and sincere sermons, and write short letters, concise and to the point, and as often as you can. The difficulty with most people is they are too profuse, both in speaking and writing. We need concentration of mind and thought, and to boil things down. I am please[d] to note the improvement you are making.’ . . .

“Some advice in Joseph F.’s letter of February 20, 1901 contains advice good for all of us:

“‘Always take time to eat your meals and post your journal. I have had experience in these matters. A diary is almost worthless unless written daily. We cannot journalize correctly from memory. Keep your diary up’” (Leonard J. Arrington, “Joseph Fielding Smith: The training of a Prophet,” Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1972, 7–8; italics added).

He Learned Much from His Father

Joseph Fielding Smith as missionary

A missionary in England; Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, 21 February 1900
Photograph courtesy of Josephine Smith Reinhardt

“Joseph F. Smith was a master teacher who spent many hours responding to the questions of his son and seeing that he was properly founded in principles of truth. ‘Among my fondest memories,’ Joseph Fielding was later to say, ‘are the hours I have spent by his side discussing principles of the gospel and receiving instruction as only he could give it. In this way, the foundation for my own knowledge was laid in truth so that I, too, can say I know that my Redeemer lives, and that Joseph Smith is, was, and always will be, a prophet of the living God.’

“And what more fitting place to raise a prophet than the home of a prophet? His mother, Julina Lambson Smith, had been raised in the home of George A. Smith, a cousin and close associate of the Prophet Joseph Smith” (McConkie, True and Faithful, 12).

He Was a Defender of the Faith

Historian's Office

Joseph Fielding Smith began working in the Church Historian’s Office on 1 October 1901.

Following his mission, Joseph Fielding Smith was hired to work in the Church Historian’s Office. This job led to his appointment in 1906 as an Assistant Church Historian. In this capacity he assisted President Anthon H. Lund, a counselor in the First Presidency and Church Historian, in the various activities of that office. One of his jobs was to gather information for the defense of Reed Smoot, a Utah Senator and Apostle whose right to a Senate seat was being challenged in Washington, D.C.

Joseph Fielding Smith at typewriter

Joseph Fielding Smith was a prolific writer.
Painting by Paul Mann

When Elder Smoot was exonerated, his defeated opponent became extremely bitter; and through a local newspaper he vented his wrath in the form of verbal abuses and slander that he heaped upon the Church and in particular upon the Church President, Joseph F. Smith. So well did young Joseph Fielding present the truth that the issues raised were virtually never in serious contention again.

He Was a Latter-day Scholar

In the preface to a compilation of Joseph Fielding Smith’s sermons and writings, his son-in-law Bruce R. McConkie wrote: “Joseph Fielding Smith is the leading gospel scholar and the greatest doctrinal teacher of this generation. Few men in this dispensation have approached him in gospel knowledge or surpassed him in spiritual insight. His is the faith and the knowledge of his father, President Joseph F. Smith, and his grandfather, the Patriarch Hyrum Smith” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], l:v).

He Found a New Wife and Mother for His Children

Joseph Fielding Smith

Joseph Fielding Smith, about 1905

Joseph Fielding Smith’s beloved wife, Louie, became gravely ill during her third pregnancy. She suffered for two months before dying on 30 March 1908. “She and Joseph had been married only ten years, during two of which they were separated while Joseph served his mission. Louie was the mother of two daughters, Josephine, then five years of age, and Julina, two. She was a woman of ‘singular sweetness and strength of character,’ and the burden of her passing was great.

“The bereaved father closed down the home that he had built for his bride and moved his little family into the Beehive House where his mother and his sisters Julina and Emily could provide motherly love and care for his two little girls. The passing of their mother was particularly hard on two-year-old Julina, whose frequent sobbings for her mother would melt her father’s heart” (McConkie, True and Faithful, 32).

The months following Louie’s death were difficult and lonely. The young girls continued to sorrow and cry for their mother. Their father spent hours each night comforting and consoling them. Grandmothers and aunts did all they could to assist Joseph Fielding in caring for the children, but they needed a mother. After urging and counsel from both his father and father-in-law, Joseph Fielding began to prayerfully search for a wife who could also be a loving mother to his daughters. He found her in Ethel Georgina Reynolds, daughter of George Reynolds, a long-time member of the First Council of Seventy, and Amelia Jane Reynolds. They were married on 2 November 1908, in the Salt Lake Temple by President Joseph F. Smith.

Ethel Georgina Reynolds Smith

Joseph Fielding Smith married Ethel Georgina Reynolds 2 November 1908.

He Was Called as an Apostle

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith

A newly called Apostle at age 33, 26 April 1910

“For an hour or more the Church Presidency and Council of Twelve Apostles, meeting in the Salt Lake Temple in April, 1910, had discussed various men as possibilities to fill the vacancy in the council occasioned by the death of President John R. Winder on March 27, and the subsequent advancement of Apostle John Henry Smith to the presidency. But to every name suggested there was some exception taken. It seemed impossible to reach any unanimity of feeling in the matter. Finally President Joseph F. Smith retired to a room by himself and knelt in prayer for guidance. When he returned he somewhat hesitantly asked the 13 other brethren whether they would be willing to consider his son Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. for the position. He was reluctant to suggest it, he said, because his son Hyrum was already a member of the council and his son David was a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric. Church members, he feared, would be disgruntled to have another of his sons appointed as a general authority. Nevertheless he felt inspired to offer Joseph’s name for their consideration. The other men seemed immediately receptive to the suggestion and sustained President Smith in it” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 174).

Others Knew That He Would Be Called as an Apostle

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, 19 July 1914, at age 38

“From Apostle-Senator Reed Smoot in Washington, D.C. came the telegram, ‘God bless you in your apostleship. Be true and loyal to your leader.’ And Joseph [Fielding Smith] notes, ‘This I shall try always to do. I have also received a number of letters, telegrams, etc., from friends who rejoice at my great blessing, which feeling I believe to be quite universal although there are those who are not pleased. Elder Ben E. Rich, President of the Eastern States Mission . . . who has always been a friend to me, and one year ago predicted that I should be called to this great responsibility, was one of the first to give me the hand of fellowship and his blessing, faith and constant prayers. May the Lord bless him. . . .

“‘President Francis M. Lyman instructed me in the duties of my calling and told me that I had been called by revelation from the Lord. He said he had watched me for a number of years and while on the trip to Vermont [at the time of the dedication of the Joseph Smith Memorial Monument in December, 1905], both going and coming and while there, he had watched me and felt at that time in his heart that I should some day be an apostle, which prediction has been made by several others, all of which predictions I received lightly and without thought of their fulfillment.’

“Three years later, in a second patriarchal blessing, this one from Patriarch Joseph D. Smith at Scipio, Millard County, Joseph Fielding was told, ‘. . . you were called and ordained before you came in the flesh, as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ to represent his work in the earth’” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 178–79, 181).

Church leaders at Joseph Smith monument

At the dedication of the Joseph Smith monument, 23 December 1905. Joseph Fielding Smith is on the far right of the back row. Also in the picture is President Joseph F. Smith (second row, third from the right) and Elder George Albert Smith (middle of front row).

“Years later Heber J. Grant, who by then was president of the Church and who was present in the council meeting in the temple the day Joseph was chosen in 1910, assured a group of the correctness of the decision: It was at a Smith family reunion. President Grant pointed to Joseph Fielding and said, ‘That man was called by direct revelation of God. I am a witness to that fact’” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 177).

His ordination to the apostleship was one that he took seriously as a dedicated servant of the Lord. “Ordained to the special calling of preaching repentance to the people, he accepted the responsibility and remained true to this commission all the days of his life. Because of his uncompromising defense of the Lord’s laws and principles, he was considered by many to be austere. [He] never compromised with sin, but was quick to forgive and extend a hand of fellowship to a repentant sinner. In truth, no man had greater concern and love for each church member” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, vi).

His Wife Described Him

Joseph Fielding Smith family gathering

A family gathering

In 1932, Ethel Georgina Reynolds Smith gave the following description of her husband, Joseph Fielding Smith:

“You ask me to tell you of the man I know. I have often thought when he is gone people will say, ‘He is a very good man, sincere, orthodox, etc.’ They will speak of him as the public knows him; but the man they have in mind is very different from the man I know. The man I know is a kind, loving husband and father whose greatest ambition in life is to make his family happy, entirely forgetful of self in his efforts to do this. He is the man that lulls to sleep the fretful child, who tells bedtime stories to the little ones, who is never too tired or too busy to sit up late at night or to get up early in the morning to help the older children solve perplexing school problems. When illness comes the man I know watches tenderly over the afflicted one and waits upon him. It is their father for whom they cry, feeling his presence a panacea for all ills. It is his hands that bind up the wounds, his arms that give courage to the sufferer, his voice that remonstrates with them gently when they err, until it becomes their happiness to do the thing that will make him happy.

Joseph Fielding Smith with sons

Joseph Fielding Smith with his sons

“The man I know is most gentle, and if he feels that he has been unjust to anyone the distance is never too far for him to go and, with loving words or kind deeds, erase the hurt. He welcomes gladly the young people to his home and is never happier than when discussing with them topics of the day—sports or whatever interests them most. He enjoys a good story and is quick to see the humor of a situation, to laugh and to be laughed at, always willing to join in any wholesome activity.

“The man I know is unselfish, uncomplaining, considerate, thoughtful, sympathetic, doing everything within his power to make life a supreme joy for his loved ones. That is the man I know” (quoted in Bryant S. Hinckley, “Joseph Fielding Smith,” Improvement Era, June 1932, 459).

Ethel was Joseph Fielding’s companion for over 28 years. Then, on 26 August 1937, she died. Death separated him from yet another wife. She had borne nine children and mothered eleven. She had also served for fifteen years as a member of the Relief Society General Board.

Jessie Evans Helped Add Much to His Zest for Living

Jessie Evans Smith

Joseph Fielding Smith married Jessie Evans on 12 April 1938.

“Before Ethel died she requested that Jessie Evans [a famed contralto soloist with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir] be asked to sing at her funeral service. ‘If I should ever die before you,’ she told her husband one day, ‘I want you to have Jessie Evans sing at my funeral.’ At her death Joseph Fielding sent his brother-in-law William C. Patrick to Miss Evans to make the request. . . . She had kindly complied and sang at the service. Afterward Joseph Fielding sent her a note of appreciation” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 252).

Jessie Evans responded to the note and a friendship developed between them. Soon the friendship grew into courtship and on 12 April 1938, at the age of sixty-one, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith married Jessie Ella Evans in the Salt Lake Temple.

“When the Tabernacle Choir scheduled a tour to California in 1941, with Richard L. Evans as commentator, Joseph Fielding composed a hilarious letter to Evans charging him with the care and protection of Jessie on the trip: ‘You are hereby authorized, appointed, chosen, designated, named, commanded, assigned, ordained and otherwise notified, informed, advised and instructed, two wit: . . .’ the letter began, and several paragraphs of nonsense later, ‘To see that the said Mrs. Jessie Evans Smith, is permitted to travel in safety, comfort, ease, without molestation and that she is to be returned again to her happy home and loving husband and family in the beautiful and peaceful State of Utah and to her anxious and numerous kindred. . . .’

President and Sister Smith

President and Sister Smith at the Days of ’47 parade, 1971

“Richard L. replied in part, ‘Your masterful document of August 15 has cost me a good deal of brow-wrinkling and excruciating concentration. I think without question it will go down in history with the Bill of Rights and the Magna Charta. The remarkable thing about it is, as my legal staff and I have studied it over, that it conveys to me no privileges that I did not already feel free to take and imposes on me no responsibilities that it was not already my pleasure and intention to assume. However, it is a good idea, as many men can testify, to have the consent of a husband before traveling two thousand miles with his wife.’ . . .

“Both Joseph Fielding and Jessie enjoyed a colorful cast iron plaque that hung on the kitchen wall of their apartment, stating, ‘Opinions expressed by the husband in this household are not necessarily those of the management.’ One time when she was assisting him in his office, when his secretary was on vacation, he tapped her on the shoulder as she sat at the typewriter, and said, ‘Remember, Mama dear, over here you are not the Speaker of the House!’” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 260–61).

He Enjoyed Wholesome Humor

The members of the Church everywhere were well acquainted with this respected theologian, and they welcomed his clear, unmistakable commentary on the scriptures. But there was almost universal ignorance of Joseph Fielding Smith’s remarkably humorous nature. His innate humor was unaffected and inoffensive. It sprang naturally from real life experiences. One experience Joseph Fielding liked to relate about his younger days was about a mare named Junie. He said:

“Junie was one of the most intelligent animals I ever saw. She seemed almost human in her ability. I could not keep her locked in the barn because she would continually undo the strap on the door of her stall. I used to put the strap connected to the half-door of the stall over the top of the post, but she would simply lift it off with her nose and teeth. Then she would go out in the yard.

“There was a water tap in the yard used for filling the water trough for our animals. Junie would turn this on with her teeth and then leave the water running. My father would get after me because I couldn’t keep that horse in the barn. She never ran away; she just turned on the water and then walked around the yard or over the lawn or through the garden. In the middle of the night, I would hear the water running and then I would have to get up and shut it off and lock Junie up again.

“My father suggested that the horse seemed smarter than I was. One day he decided that he would lock her in so that she could not get out. He took the strap that usually looped over the top of the post and buckled it around the post and under a crossbar, and then he said, ‘Young lady, let’s see you get out of there now!’ My father and I left the barn and started to walk back to the house; and before we reached it, Junie was at our side, somewhat to my delight. I could not refrain from suggesting to Father that I was not the only one whose head compared unfavorably with the mare’s” (quoted in Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 53–54).

President Smith playing baseball

Enjoying some baseball

He Enjoyed an Active Lifestyle

Advancing years brought concern to Joseph Fielding Smith’s family as they saw no slackening in the pace of their beloved brother and father. One biographer wrote: “Even in advanced age Joseph Fielding Smith was one of the hardest working men I knew. ‘How do you manage to get so much done?’ I once asked him. ‘It’s in the bag,’ he said. ‘In the bag?’ I asked. He pointed to a lunch sack. ‘I’m a brown bagger.’ For years he carried a sack lunch to his office, so he could keep working through the noon hour. ‘That gives me an extra 300 hours per year.’ One day a sister of his called on him at the office and scolded him for not taking a nap after lunch. She cited by name half a dozen of his associates who had long done so. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘and where are they today? All dead!’” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 3–4).

He Was Actively Involved in Sports Past His Sixty-Fifth Year

President Smith and David Smith playing handball

President Smith enjoyed playing handball with his brother David.
Photograph courtesy of Douglas Ellen Smith

Although he was an excellent swimmer, good at tennis and basketball, and enjoyed watching his sons play football, Joseph Fielding Smith’s favorite sport was handball. His son Reynolds reported that he and his brother Lewis played handball against their father, who held one hand behind his back while he “trounced” both of them.

Herbert B. Maw, a former governor of Utah who was twenty years younger than Joseph Fielding, shared an experience about a handball game with him: “I thought I would just take it easy on the old gentleman and not beat him too far. Imagine my chagrin when he gave me the trouncing of my life! I thought that I was a good handball player, but I was no competition for him at all” (quoted in Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 15).

He Enjoyed Flying

President Smith in jet cockpit

He loved to fly. President Smith sitting in a National Guard jet, 1954

One biographer wrote of his experience finding out about Joseph Fielding Smith’s hobby of flying in jet planes “at an age when many men are tucked safely away in a nursing home absorbing liniment”:

“I remember my surprise one day when I called at his office in Salt Lake City. His secretary, Rubie Egbert, said, ‘Step to the window here and maybe you can see him.’ Curious, I walked to the window. But all that I could see was a jet streaking through the blue sky high above the Great Salt Lake. Its trail of white vapor clearly marked some steep climbs, loops, dives, rolls and turns. . . .

“‘You mean he’s in that plane?’ I asked incredulously.

“‘Oh yes, that’s him all right. He’s very fond of flying. Says it relaxes him. A friend in the National Guard calls him up and says, ‘How about a relaxing?’ and up they go. Once they get in the air he often takes over the controls. Flew down to Grand Canyon and back last week, 400 miles an hour!’

“I could not resist driving to the airport to be there when he landed. As the two-place T-Bird roared down the runway to a stop, from the rear cockpit, in suit and helmet, climbed this benign old gentleman, then about 80, smiling broadly. ‘That was wonderful!’ he exclaimed. ‘That’s about as close to heaven as I can get just now.’

“At age 92 he was advanced in the National Guard to the honorary rank of brigadier-general. ‘But they still didn’t want me to fly alone.’ Later he limited his flying to commercial jetliners. . . . ‘The big planes are not so exciting as the T-Bird, but at my age it’s a real comfort to be able to move faster than sound,’ he said at 95” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 1–2).

Children Adored Him

President Smith with little girl

The prophet loved children. President Smith with his great-granddaughter Shauna McConkie at Christmas time
Photograph courtesy of Joseph Fielding McConkie

Sensitive and understanding, Joseph Fielding Smith despised misery and suffering everywhere and did all in his power to alleviate it by clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and visiting those in need. A pillar of strength and encouragement to his family and the Church, he was loved universally. He loved little children and they adored him.

“After general conference in April 1970, when President Smith was sustained, a large crowd gathered at the door of the Tabernacle to get a glimpse of him.

“A small girl wriggled out of the crowd and made her way to the President. Soon she was in his arms for a big hug. Quickly a newspaper photographer snapped a picture, and the little girl disappeared back into the crowd.

“The picture appeared unidentified in the Church News. The picture was soon after identified by the child’s grandmother, Mrs. Milo Hobbs of Preston, Idaho, [in] a letter to President Smith.

“On her birthday, [four-year-old] Venus Hobbs of Torrence, California, received a surprise telephone call from President and Sister Smith, who were visiting that week in California. They sang ‘Happy Birthday’ over the phone to her. Venus was delighted at the song, and her parents were touched with tears to think the President of the church would call.

“The parents explained that Venus had been with two aunts at conference, but had slipped away. They feared that she was lost in the crowd. When she returned they asked, ‘How did you get lost?’

“‘I wasn’t lost,’ she said.

“‘Who found you?’ they asked.

“‘I was in the arms of the Prophet,’ she replied” (“Joy of Life, Activity and People,” Church News, 8 July 1972, 7).

Children everywhere recognized the great warmth and love that emanated from President Joseph Fielding Smith. They felt free to express their love for him openly and honestly. Everywhere he went he had time for children. They enjoyed his heartfelt hugs and basked in the security of his love.

A New President Was Sustained

President Smith with his Counselors

The First Presidency: Harold B. Lee, Joseph Fielding Smith, and N. Eldon Tanner, about 1970

During the April 1970 general conference, over two-and-a-half million members of the Church reverently sustained a newly called President of the Church for the first time in nearly nineteen years. At the age of ninety-three, President Joseph Fielding Smith was the oldest man to become the President of the Church.

Some had supposed that the Lord would choose a younger man. They wondered how President Smith could endure the pressures of administering the affairs of the emerging world Church. However, the vigorous profile of President Smith’s administration left no lingering question in the minds of the Saints with respect to that concern. Two “youthful” counselors were invited to match strides with this prophet—Harold B. Lee, age seventy-two, and N. Eldon Tanner, age seventy-three.

We Must Prepare for the Lord’s Coming

President Smith with one of his books

A latter day scholar

President Joseph Fielding Smith taught about the importance of being prepared for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ:

“I was asked, not long ago, if I could tell when the Lord would come. I answered, Yes; and I answer, Yes, now. I know when he will come. He will come tomorrow. We have his word for it. Let me read it:

“‘Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming.’ (Now there is a discourse sufficient on tithing.) ‘For after today cometh the burning—this is speaking after the manner of the Lord—for verily I say, tomorrow all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, for I am the Lord of Hosts; and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.’ [D&C 64:23–24.]

“So the Lord is coming, I say, tomorrow. Then let us be prepared. Elder Orson F. Whitney used to write about the Saturday Evening of Time. We are living in the Saturday Evening of Time. This is the 6th day now drawing to its close. When the Lord says it is today until his coming, that, I think, is what he has in mind, for he shall come in the morning of the Sabbath, or seventh day of the earth’s temporal existence, to inaugurate the millennial reign and to take his rightful place as King of kings and Lord of lords, to rule and reign upon the earth, as it is his right. [See D&C 77:12.]” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:1).

“I know that there are many, and even some among the Latter-day Saints, who are saying just as the Lord said they would say, ‘The Lord delayeth his coming.’ [D&C 45:26; 2 Peter 3:3–14.] One man said: ‘It is impossible for Jesus Christ to come inside of three or four hundred years.’ But I say unto you, Watch.

“I do not know when he is going to come. No man knows. Even the angels of heaven are in the dark in regard to that great truth. [See Matthew 24:36–37.] But this I know, that the signs that have been pointed out are here. The earth is full of calamity, of trouble. The hearts of men are failing them. We see the signs as we see the fig tree putting forth her leaves; and knowing this time is near, it behooves me and it behooves you, and all men upon the face of the earth, to pay heed to the words of Christ, to his apostles and watch, for we know not the day nor the hour. But I tell you this, it shall come as a thief in the night, when many of us will not be ready for it” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:52–53).

Christ Will Come in a Day of Great Wickedness

Joseph Fielding Smith

Joseph Fielding Smith

President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that the Lord’s Second Coming would not be delayed by our unrighteousness:

“When we become ripe in iniquity, then the Lord will come. I get annoyed sometimes at some of our elders who when speaking say the Lord will come when we all become righteous enough to receive him. The Lord is not going to wait for us to get righteous. When he gets ready to come, he is going to come—when the cup of iniquity is full—and if we are not righteous then, it will be just too bad for us, for we will be classed among the ungodly, and we will be as stubble to be swept off the face of the earth, for the Lord says wickedness shall not stand.

“Do not think the Lord delays his coming, for he will come at the appointed time, not the time which I have heard some preach when the earth becomes righteous enough to receive him. I have heard some men in positions and places of trust in the Church preach this, men who are supposed to be acquainted with the word of the Lord, but they failed to comprehend the scriptures. Christ will come in the day of wickedness, when the earth is ripe in iniquity and prepared for the cleansing, and as the cleanser and purifier he will come, and all the wicked will be as stubble and will be consumed” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:3).

We Must Raise the Voice of Warning

President Smith taught: “There is no peace. Men’s hearts are failing them. Greed has the uppermost place in the hearts of men. Evil is made manifest on every side, and people are combining for their own selfish interests. Because of this I was glad to hear the warning voice raised by our beloved President [Heber J. Grant] and by his counselors, . . . and by others of the brethren who have spoken; for I think this should be a time of warning, not only to the Latter-day Saints, but to all the world. We owe it to the world to raise a voice of warning, and especially to the members of the Church” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:49).

Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie

Joseph Fielding Smith with his son-in-law Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

The Worldly Ignore the Warnings

“President Joseph Fielding Smith taught how world conditions might be made better if people would listen to the warnings of the Lord:

“The Lord intends that men shall be happy; that is his purpose. But men refuse to be happy and make themselves miserable, because they think their ways are better than God’s ways, and because of selfishness, greed, and the wickedness that is in their hearts; and that is the trouble with us today. The leaders of our nation are struggling and trying to do something to better conditions. I can tell you in a few words just how it can be done, and it is not going to be done by legislation—it is not going to be done by pouring money out upon the people.

“Temporary relief is not going to better the situation, because we will still be struggling and fighting and contending with crime, with disease, with plagues, and with pestilence, with the whirlwinds, and with the dust storms, and with the earthquakes and everything else coming upon the face of the earth, according to the predictions of the prophets—all because men will not heed the warning voice.

“When we quit loving money and get the love of gold out of our hearts and the greed and selfishness, and learn to love the Lord, our God, with all our hearts, and our neighbor as ourselves, and get on our knees and learn to pray and repent of our sins, we will have prosperity, we will have peace, we will have contentment. But the people will not repent no matter what warning is made, no matter how much their attention is called to these things; the people will not repent because their hearts are set upon evil, and destruction awaits them” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:35–36).

The Saints Can Escape Only through Obedience

Joseph Fielding Smith

Joseph Fielding Smith

President Smith taught that obedience can protect us from the plagues of the last days:

“In this day of prosperity, let us be humble and remember the Lord and keep his commandments and feel that the dangers before us are far greater than they are in the days of trial and tribulation. Do not think for a moment that the days of trial are over. They are not. If we keep the commandments of the Lord, we shall prosper, we shall be blessed; the plagues, the calamities that have been promised will be poured out upon the peoples of the earth, and we shall escape them, yea, they shall pass us by.

“But remember the Lord says if we fail to keep his word, if we walk in the ways of the world, they will not pass us by, but we shall be visited with floods and with fire, with sword and with plague and destruction. We may escape these things through faithfulness” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:34).

Everyone Should Live the Gospel

President Joseph Fielding Smith encouraged everyone to live the gospel:

“To the honest in heart in all nations we say: The Lord loves you. He wants you to receive the full blessings of the gospel. He is now inviting you to believe the Book of Mormon, to accept Joseph Smith as a prophet, and to come into his earthly kingdom and thereby become heirs of eternal life in his heavenly kingdom.

“To those who have received the gospel we say: Keep the commandments. Walk in the light. Endure to the end. Be true to every covenant and obligation, and the Lord will bless you beyond your fondest dreams. As it was said by one of old: ‘Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.’ (Eccles. 12:13.)

“To all the families in Israel we say: The family is the most important organization in time or in eternity. Our purpose in life is to create for ourselves eternal family units. There is nothing that will ever come into your family life that is as important as the sealing blessings of the temple and then keeping the covenants made in connection with this order of celestial marriage.

Joseph Fielding Smith hugging small girl

A hug from the prophet

“To parents in the Church we say: Love each other with all your hearts. Keep the moral law and live the gospel. Bring up your children in light and truth; teach them the saving truths of the gospel; and make your home a heaven on earth, a place where the Spirit of the Lord may dwell and where righteousness may be enthroned in the heart of each member.

“It is the will of the Lord to strengthen and preserve the family unit. We plead with fathers to take their rightful place as the head of the house. We ask mothers to sustain and support their husbands and to be lights to their children.

“President Joseph F. Smith said: ‘Motherhood lies at the foundation of happiness in the home, and of prosperity in the nation. God has laid upon men and women very sacred obligations with respect to motherhood, and they are obligations that cannot be disregarded without invoking divine displeasure.’ (Gospel Doctrine [Deseret Book, 1939], p. 288.). Also, ‘To be a successful father or a successful mother is greater than to be a successful general or a successful statesman.’ (Ibid., p. 285.)

“To the youth of Zion we say: The Lord bless you and keep you, which most assuredly will be so as you learn his laws and live in harmony with them. Be true to every trust. Honor thy father and thy mother. Dwell together in love and conformity. Be modest in your dress. Overcome the world, and do not be led astray by the fashions and practices of those whose interests are centered upon the things of this world.

“Marry in the temple, and live joyous and righteous lives. Remember the words of Alma: ‘Wickedness never was happiness.’ (Al. 41:10.) Remember also that our hope for the future and the destiny of the Church and the cause of righteousness rest in your hands.

“To those who are called to positions of trust and responsibility in the Church we say: Preach the gospel in plainness and simplicity as it is found in the standard works of the Church. Testify of the truth of the work and the doctrines revealed anew in our day.

“Remember the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, who said, ‘I am among you as he that serveth’ (Luke 22:27), and choose to serve with an eye single to the glory of God. Visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and keep yourself unspotted from the sins of the world” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1972, 13–14).

Presidents Smith and Tanner

President Joseph Fielding Smith and his counselor President N. Eldon Tanner at the cornerstone laying ceremony of the Ogden Utah Temple, September 1970

A New Era of Area Conferences Began

On 27–29 August 1971, in Manchester, England, President Joseph Fielding Smith met with the members at an area conference held for the first time in the Church. There was great excitement among the members of the Church and they came from many areas of Europe to hear the prophet of God. For many Latter-day Saints there, it was the first time they had been in the presence of the Lord’s representative. President Smith told them:

“It is a matter of great satisfaction to me, and I am sure to my Brethren, that the Church has now grown to the point that it seems wise and necessary to hold general conferences in various nations. . . .

“We are members of a world church, a church that has the plan of life and salvation, a church set up by the Lord himself in these last days to carry his message of salvation to all his children in all the earth.

“The day is long since past when informed people think of us as a peculiar group in the tops of the Rocky Mountains in America. It is true that the Church headquarters are in Salt Lake City, and that the Lord’s house has been erected there to which people have come from many nations to learn the law of the Lord, and to walk in his paths.

“But now we are coming of age as a church and as a people. We have attained the stature and strength that are enabling us to fulfill the commission given us by the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith that we should carry the glad tidings of the restoration to every nation and to all people.

“And not only shall we preach the gospel in every nation before the second coming of the Son of Man, but we shall make converts and establish congregations of saints among them. . . .

“And so I say, we are and shall be a world church. That is our destiny. It is part of the Lord’s program. ‘The covenant people of the Lord’ are ‘scattered upon all the face of the earth,’ and it is our commission to go into all nations and gather these elect into the Church, and to bring them to a knowledge of their Redeemer, so they shall be heirs of salvation in his kingdom” (in Conference Report, Manchester England Area Conference 1971, 5–6; or Ensign, Sept. 1971, 2–3).

“Tearful eyes watched, and voices were muted as President Joseph Fielding Smith stood at the conclusion of the first All-British General Conference. As he stood, the audience came to their feet. No one moved as the Prophet left the stand. It was as though they did not want to leave the spirit that had prevailed in the meeting. There was a sacred air about King’s Hall and as a testimony to the spirit the audience burst into spontaneous singing of ‘We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet.’

“The song ended, but the crowd lingered, hungry for the sweetness of the occasion” (J. M. Heslop, “Prophet Leads Conference; British Saints Rejoice,” Church News, 4 Sept. 1971, 3).

President Smith speaking

President Smith speaking at Kings Hall, Manchester, England, August 1971
Photo courtesy J. Malan Heslop

He Called for Greater Emphasis on Family Home Evening

Nothing sounded deeper in the heart of President Joseph Fielding Smith than the importance and sanctity of the home. His messages are replete with counsel to parents and children. One of the first concerns he dealt with as President of the Church was to bolster the home by strengthening an already revealed institution—family home evening.

President Smith announced that Monday evenings should be held inviolate as the time to gather the family and teach the gospel, and he lovingly entreated parents to take their task seriously:

“We have great concern for the spiritual and moral welfare of all youth everywhere. Morality, chastity, virtue, freedom from sin—these are and must be basic to our way of life, if we are to realize its full purpose.

“We plead with fathers and mothers to teach personal purity by precept and example and to counsel with their children in all such things.

“We ask parents to set an example of righteousness in their own lives and to gather their children around them and teach them the gospel, in their home evenings and at other times” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1970, 5–6).

He Was True and Steady to the End

The ninety-five years of President Joseph Fielding Smith’s life spanned travel by horse and buggy to the jet age. He was twenty-seven years old when the Wright brothers (inventors of the first powered airplane) made their maiden voyage at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. He viewed the invention of the airplane as fulfillment of prophecy. He loved to fly and thrived on the excitement of supersonic speed. But in a practical sense, his life was a model of simplicity. His interest was in service and not in money or popularity. He willingly gave money to those in need but was visibly embarrassed when receiving public recognition. He chose to live in a simple apartment rather than in luxurious surroundings. He preferred walking to riding, and having his wife driving their compact car rather than traveling in a chauffeured luxury limousine that was offered him.

As President Smith aged, he continued to work hard and keep his sense of humor. “When at 89 years of age he was walking down a flight of steps from his apartment, he slipped, fell, and suffered multiple fractures of his leg. But he was due at a meeting in the Temple a block away. Gritting his teeth, he walked the block, ‘limping like an old man,’ attended the meeting, walked home again, and only then, at others’ insistence, accepted medical treatment. ‘The meeting got a little long,’ he admitted. ‘But then, most meetings do’” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 4).

Joseph Fielding Smith

President Joseph Fielding Smith

President Smith passed away in Salt Lake City on 2 July 1972. In a letter to President Smith’s children, President Harold B. Lee wrote: “His passing to me was as near a translation from life unto death as I think we will see in our lifetime experience. He died as he lived and has demonstrated to all of us how one can be so honored and so privileged when he has lived so close to the Lord as has your noble patriarch and father, Joseph Fielding Smith” (quoted in Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, 384).

Chapter 11
Harold B. Lee
Eleventh President of the Church


Harold B. Lee
© Merrett Smith





He was born 28 March 1899 in Clifton, Idaho, to Samuel Marion and Louisa Emily Bingham Lee.


He attended Oneida Stake Academy (1912–16).


He taught school for four years (1916–20).


He served a mission to the western United States (1920–22).


He was a principal in the Granite School District, Salt Lake City, Utah (1923–28).


He married Fern L. Tanner (14 Nov. 1923; she died 24 Sept. 1962).


He became president of the Pioneer Stake (26 Oct. 1930); he helped develop self-help projects in his stake.


He was appointed a member of the Salt Lake City Commission (Dec. 1932).


He was called to organize the Church Security Welfare Program (1935).


He became managing director of the Church Security Welfare Program (15 Apr. 1936).


He was ordained an Apostle (10 Apr. 1941).


He toured the Orient (fall, 1954).


He toured the missions of Central and South America (1959).


He became chairman of the Church Correlation Program (4 Oct. 1961).


He married Freda Joan Jensen (17 June 1963).


He became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a counselor to President Joseph Fielding Smith (23 Jan. 1970).


He became President of the Church (7 July 1972); he organized the Jerusalem Branch (20 Sept. 1972); he presided at the second area conference of the Church, in Mexico City (26–28 Aug. 1972).


He died in Salt Lake City, Utah (26 Dec. 1973).

Reporters waited anxiously on 7 July 1972 for their first press conference with Harold B. Lee, newly ordained President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To them he said, “The safety of the church lies in the members keeping the commandments. There is nothing more important that I could say. As they keep the commandments, blessings will come” (quoted in Stephen W. Gibson, “Presidency Meets the Press,” Church News, 15 July 1972, 3).

He Had a Noble Heritage

Harold B. Lee as small boy

Five-year-old Harold B. Lee

Harold B. Lee’s great-great-great-grandfather William Lee fought and was wounded while fighting against the British in the Revolutionary War. His great-grandfather Francis Lee joined the Church in 1832 and passed through the travails of sufferings that the early Saints endured. His grandmother Margaret Lee experienced eleven pregnancies, but had no children survive until her twelfth, Samuel Lee. She died eight days after his birth.

He Was Born of Goodly Parents

Harold Bingham Lee was born in Clifton, Idaho, on 28 March 1899 to Samuel and Louisa Bingham Lee. Harold was the second of six children. Samuel Lee, Harold’s father, was a quiet, compassionate, unassuming, thoughtful man. He was a devoted husband and father and a faithful servant of the Lord. When Harold was called on a mission to Denver, Colorado, his father gave him a blessing. When he was called as an Apostle, his father again gave him a blessing. His mother, Louisa, was a strength in and out of the Lee home. She was sensitive to the Spirit and taught her son to follow the promptings of the Spirit.

He Grew Up in Clifton, Idaho

As Harold B. Lee grew up, he experienced the challenges of rural living. During his youth there were few tractors and little power machinery to cultivate, seed, or harvest crops. This rural setting provided training and blessings that were to be of great importance to his future callings in the Lord’s kingdom.

Louisa Emily Bingham Lee

Louisa Emily Bingham Lee

Later in his life, he explained what it was like: “I have thought of the discipline of the boy and girl of my youthful days in a rural community. We began to ‘do chores’ shortly after daybreak so we could ‘start’ with the day’s work by sun-up. When the day’s work was finished, we had yet to do our evening ‘chores,’ usually by aid of a lantern. Despite the fact that there were no wages and hours regulations or child labor laws, we did not seem to be stunted from our exertions. Sleep requirements did not admit of too frequent frivolities. Returns from our labors were small and usually came on a once-a-year basis at harvest time. Homes of that day went throughout the summer with but very little ready money but from our cows we were provided milk, butter and cheese; in our granaries there was usually sufficient wheat to be taken to the mill for flour and cereals. We had our own chickens and garden and fruits in season” (Decisions for Successful Living [1973], 12–13).

“Harold, Don’t Go Over There”

Harold B. Lee in front of shed

Harold B. Lee heard a divine warning to stay away from some broken-down sheds.
Courtesy of Russell D. Holt. DO NOT COPY

Harold B. Lee recalled an important incident from his youth: “As a little boy I had my first intimate touch with divinity. As a young boy I was out on a farm waiting for my father to finish his day’s work, playing about and manufacturing things to wile away the time, when I saw over the fence in the neighbor’s yard some broken-down buildings where the sheds were caving in and had rotting timbers. I imagined that that might be a castle that I should explore, so I went over to the fence and started to climb through; then I heard a voice as distinctly as you are hearing mine: ‘Harold, don’t go over there.’ I looked in every direction to see where the speaker was. I wondered if it was my father, but he couldn’t see me. There was no one in sight. I realized that someone was warning me of an unseen danger—whether a nest of rattlesnakes or whether the rotting timbers would fall on me and crush me, I don’t know. But from that time on, I accepted without question the fact that there were processes not known to man by which we can hear voices from the unseen world, by which we can have brought to us the visions of eternity” (in Conference Report, Manchester England Area Conference 1971, 141; or Ensign, Nov. 1971, 17).

His Mother Saved Him from Two Near-Fatal Accidents

Harold and Perry Lee

Harold (sitting) and his older brother Perry

“Louisa’s patriarchal blessing had mentioned her gift of healing, and her inspiration had preserved Harold’s life on several occasions. At age eight, his mother sent him for a can of lye, high on a pantry shelf, to make soap with. He slipped and the can tipped its deadly contents all over him. Immediately Louisa grabbed Harold so he wouldn’t run, kicked off the lid of a large vat of pickled beets, and splashed cup after cup of red vinegar juice all over his head and body, neutralizing the lye. What could have been a tragedy was averted because of her inspired action.

“While working in the fields in his teens, Harold gashed an artery on a broken bottle. Louisa stopped the bleeding, but the wound became infected. She took a clean black stocking, burned it to ashes, opened his wound, and rubbed the ashes into it very thoroughly. It healed quickly after this” (Jaynann Morgan Payne, “Louisa Bingham Lee: Sacrifice and Spirit,” Ensign, Feb. 1974, 82–83).

Financial Depression Was Looked Upon as an Opportunity to Learn and Grow

Harold B. Lee as teenager

Harold B. Lee as a high school student

President Harold B. Lee explained how the hardships he went through as a youth helped him develop an understanding of others’ needs: “Yes, we might have been close to the poverty line in the days of my youth. But out of that period came training and compensations that never could have come, I think, if we had been living in the lap of luxury. We didn’t starve. We had food to eat, and Mother knew how to make over the clothes for her boys. I never had what they called a ‘boughten suit’ until I went to high school, but I always thought I was well dressed. After I filled a mission, I came back home and went to the University of Utah to get a teaching certification, and ofttimes I walked to and from school. I didn’t have the money to ride because I needed the money to buy books” (Ye Are the Light of the World: Selected Sermons and Writings of President Harold B. Lee [1974], 344–45).

His Mother’s Care Had a Lasting Impression on Him

Harold B. Lee with students

Harold B. Lee (front row, second from right) with friends in front of the Oneida Stake Academy, Preston, Idaho, in 1916

Soon after his call to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Harold B. Lee paid the following tribute to his mother:

“I have been blessed with a splendid father and a grand and lovely mother, one who didn’t display often her affection, but showed her love in tangible ways that, as a child, I came early to recognize as true mother love.

“As just a high school boy I went away on a high school debating team. We won the debate. I came back and called mother on the telephone only to have her say: ‘Never mind, Son. I know all about it. I will tell you when you come home at the end of the week.’ When I came home she took me aside and said: ‘When I knew it was just time for this performance to start I went out among the willows by the creek side, and there, all by myself, I remembered you and prayed God you would not fail.’ I have come to know that that kind of love is necessary for every son and daughter who seek to achieve in this world” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1941, 120).

He Was a Gifted and Hardworking Student

Harold B. Lee with basketball team

He enjoyed playing basketball. Harold B. Lee is standing second on the right.

Harold B. Lee completed the eighth grade at the Clifton, Idaho, grammar school by age thirteen. His parents were supportive of their son continuing his education and sent him to the Oneida Stake Academy. The academy, founded in 1888 in Franklin, Idaho, had been moved to Preston in 1898. It offered courses in science, mathematics, biology, business, history, and physical education. There were special courses in carpentry, music, and missionary work. Harold gave special attention to music his first two years. He played the alto and French horns and later took up the baritone horn. As he grew in stature he took a more active role in sports, with basketball being his favorite. During his senior year, his school activities included reporting for the school newspaper and debate. He graduated in the spring of 1916.

He Received His Teaching Certificate

Harold B. Lee and another student

Debating champions. Harold B. Lee is on the right.

Harold B. Lee explained what he did to qualify for a teaching certificate:

“In the summer of 1916, at the age of seventeen, I attended the Albion State Normal School at Albion, Idaho, to receive preparatory training to become a teacher. This was a fine school, providing me some of the finest teachers of my lifetime. The laws of Idaho required a rigid test in fifteen subjects in order to qualify, and I spent a very strenuous summer in intensive study, losing twenty pounds in weight, but [I] gained my objective, passing the required examination with an average grade of 89 percent.

“Albion was a quaint little old-fashioned town twenty or thirty miles from the nearest railroad at Burley, Idaho. Practically nothing was there but the school, which was splendid. There were no amusements except at the school, and the old board sidewalks indicated the general backwardness of the inhabitants. Removed as it was from all attractions that might detract from school, I think I never absorbed so much knowledge as during the summers of 1916 and 1917 when I earned my second- and third-class certificates” (quoted in L. Brent Goates, Harold B. Lee: Prophet and Seer [1985], 48).

He Taught for Four Years before His Mission

After his first summer at Albion State Normal School, Harold B. Lee was prepared to begin teaching. His first teaching position was in a one-room schoolhouse in Weston, Idaho, with twenty-five students in grades one through eight. A coin was flipped to see if his salary would be sixty or sixty-five dollars a month. Harold lost. He spent many long hours preparing a curriculum that would meet the needs of such a diverse group of students. He was strict, but fair, and earned the respect of his students.

At age eighteen, Harold became the principal of a school in Oxford, Idaho. As an addition to the regular curriculum, he established the Oxford Athletic Club and started a women’s choir. He was also called to be the elders quorum president. He later wrote about his time at the school:


Harold B. Lee’s first teaching appointment was at the Silver Star School, in Weston, Idaho, from 1916–18. He was also the principal there.

“I was principal of this school for three winters and was there during the severe influenza epidemic of 1918, our school being quarantined for some months. We had just reopened the school when every family but two came down with the disease, and it became necessary for neighboring towns to assist in supplying food and nursing until their recovery. . . .

“Because my father had financed me through school, and I was staying at home, I turned over my paychecks from teaching school to him and then paid my extra expenses by playing in a dance orchestra” (quoted in Goates, Harold B. Lee, 53).

He Received a Mission Call

Harold B. Lee as missionary

Elder Harold B. Lee as a missionary in the Western States Mission, 1920–22

In September 1920, at the age of twenty-one, Harold B. Lee received a letter from President Heber J. Grant calling him to the Western States Mission, with headquarters in Denver, Colorado. His mission call meant that the Lee family would need to get by without Harold’s income. It also meant that they would have to support their son and brother in the mission field.

After serving for nine months, Elder Lee was called to preside over the Denver Conference. His mission president, John M. Knight, told him, “I am just giving you a chance to show what is in you” (quoted in Goates, Harold B. Lee, 62). He earned the respect of his mission president, his fellow missionaries, and the members of the Church.

One highlight of his mission was being invited by President Knight to tour the mission. On one occasion, President Knight was unable to be present the first two days of meetings with the Saints in Sheridan, Wyoming. The leaders in Sheridan were disappointed with the prospect of spending two days with such a young and inexperienced priesthood leader; however, after being instructed by Elder Lee, when President Knight joined them two days later they wanted to hear more from the young missionary.

Elder Lee was released from his mission in December 1922. He recorded in his journal: “When the [mission] president announced that I was released, he said that it would bankrupt the English language to tell how much he thought of me and said that I had been on the firing line from the time I had arrived in Denver” (quoted in Goates, Harold B. Lee, 72).

He Married Fern Tanner

Harold B. Lee and Fern Lucinda Tanner

While on his mission, Harold B. Lee became acquainted with Fern Lucinda Tanner, a sister missionary from Utah. After their missions, they renewed their friendship in Salt Lake City and were married in the Salt Lake Temple on 14 November 1923.
Photograph courtesy of L. Brent and Helen Goates

One of the great blessings of Harold B. Lee’s mission was meeting Sister Fern Tanner. Upon his return, he renewed his association with this fellow missionary and she became his wife on 14 November 1923. Soon after his mission he also paid a courtesy call to a former missionary companion’s girlfriend, Freda Jensen. Freda never married the missionary. She remained unmarried until the death of Fern Tanner Lee. She then, forty years after their first meeting, became the wife of Harold B. Lee.

The Lord Prepared Him to Serve the Needy

A severe financial depression hit the United States in October 1929. By 1930, when Harold B. Lee was thirty-one, unemployment had risen drastically and credit was not available. More than half of the members of the Pioneer Stake in Salt Lake City, Harold’s stake, were out of work. In October he was called as president of the stake. He worried about the welfare of his members. He wept and prayed, and finally inspiration came. Programs were set up to care for those in need.

Pioneer Stake bishops' storehouse

Harold B. Lee was a pioneer in welfare services. The Pioneer Stake bishops’ storehouse was organized in 1932. A dirty warehouse at 33 Pierpont Avenue in Salt Lake City was converted into a bright and cheerful place.
Photograph courtesy of Bethany Lempierie

President Marion G. Romney, who was a member of the First Presidency, spoke of those early years:

“Soon after I met him I learned that he then lived in a modest cottage on Indiana Avenue. It was equipped in part with furniture fashioned by his own hands. The other furnishings were made by his accomplished wife. That humble home was hallowed by the love he bore to his sweetheart and two bright-eyed little girls, Maurine and Helen.

“Our nation was at that time in the midst of the great depression of the 1930s. He was the president of Pioneer Stake. Few people in the Church were more severely punished by want and discouragement than were the members of his stake. Although harassed with the problems incident to securing for himself and his loved ones the necessities of life, he grappled mightily with the larger problem of looking after the needs of the total membership of his stake.

“Many there were in that day who, having faltered, turned to state and federal governments for help. Harold B. Lee was not among them. Taking the Lord at his word that man should earn his bread in the sweat of his face and convinced that all things are possible to him that believeth, he struck out boldly with the fearless ingenuity and courage of a Brigham Young to pioneer a way whereby his people could, by their own efforts and the help of their brethren, be supplied the necessities of life.

“Directed by the light of heaven, through building projects, production projects, and a variety of other rehabilitation activities, he gave a demonstration of love for his fellowmen seldom equalled in any generation.

“Those who were close to him in those dark days know that he wept over the suffering of his people, but more than that, he did something for them.

Harold B. Lee and Church leaders

The Church Security program, later known as the Church Welfare program, was initially directed by Harold B. Lee. He is shown explaining a project to Elders George Albert Smith, Marion G. Romney, and Ezra Taft Benson.

“With all his heart he loved and served his fellowmen. He loved the poor, for he had been one of them. ‘I have loved you,’ he said. ‘I have come to know you intimately. Your problems, thank the Lord, have been my problems, because I know as you know what it means to walk when you have not the money to ride. I know what it means to go without meals to buy a book to go to the University. I thank God now for those experiences. I have loved you because of your devotion and faith. God bless you that you won’t fail.’ (General Conference address, April 6, 1941.)” (“In the Shadow of the Almighty” [funeral address], Ensign, Feb. 1974, 96).

He Sought Earnestly to Know the Needs of the Saints

Harold B. Lee

Harold B. Lee

President Harold B. Lee shared the following experience that occurred when he was a stake president:

“The first Christmas after I became stake president, our little girls got some dolls and other nice things on Christmas morning, and they immediately dressed and went over to their little friend’s home to show her what Santa Claus had brought them. In a few moments they came back, crying. ‘What in the world is the matter?’ we asked. ‘Donna Mae didn’t have any Christmas. Santa Claus didn’t come.’ And then belatedly we realized that the father had been out of work, and there was no money for Christmas. So we brought the little ones of that family in and divided our Christmas with them, but it was too late. We sat down to Christmas dinner with heavy hearts.

“I resolved then that before another Christmas came, we would be certain that every family in our stake had the same kind of Christmas and the same kind of Christmas dinner that we would have.

“The bishops of our stake, under the direction of the stake presidency, made a survey of the stake membership, and we were startled to discover that 4,800 of our members were either wholly or partially dependent—the heads of families did not have steady employment. There were no government make-work projects in those days. We had only ourselves to whom we could look. We were also told that we couldn’t expect much help from the general funds of the Church.

“We knew that we had about one thousand children under ten years of age for whom, without someone to help them, there would be no Christmas, so we started to prepare. We found a second floor over an old store on Pierpont Street. We gathered toys, some of which were broken, and for a month or two before Christmas parents came to help us. Many arrived early or stayed late to make something special for their own little ones. That was the spirit of Christmas giving—one had only to step inside the door of that workshop to see and feel it. Our goal was to see that none of the children would be without a Christmas. We would see that there was Christmas dinner in all the homes of the 4,800 who, without help, would otherwise not have Christmas dinner.

Harold B. Lee

Elder Harold B. Lee, about 1942

“At that time I was one of the city commissioners. The night before Christmas Eve, we had had a heavy snowstorm, and I had been out all night with the crews getting the streets cleared, knowing that I would be blamed if any of my men fell down on the job. I had then gone home to change my clothes to go to the office.

“As I started back to town, I saw a little boy on the roadside, hitchhiking. He stood in the biting cold with no coat, no gloves, no overshoes. I stopped and asked where he was going.

“‘I’m going uptown to a free picture show,’ he said.

“I told him I was also going uptown and that he could ride with me.

“‘Son,’ I said, ‘are you ready for Christmas?’

“‘Oh, golly, mister,’ he replied, ‘we aren’t going to have any Christmas at our home. Daddy died three months ago and left Mama and me and a little brother and sister.’

“Three children, all under twelve!

“I turned up the heat in my car and said, ‘Now, son, give me your name and address. Somebody will come to your home—you won’t be forgotten. And you have a good time; it’s Christmas Eve!’

“That night I asked each bishop to go with his delivery men and see that each family was cared for, and to report back to me. While waiting for the last bishop to report, I suddenly, painfully, remembered something. In my haste to see that all my duties at work and my responsibilities in the Church had been taken care of, I had forgotten the little boy and the promise I had made.

“When the last bishop reported, I asked, ‘Bishop, have you enough left to visit one more family?’

“‘Yes, we have,’ he replied.

“I told him the story about the little boy and gave him the address. Later he called to say that that family too had received some well-filled baskets. Christmas Eve was over at last, and I went to bed.

“As I awoke that Christmas morning, I said in my heart, ‘God grant that I will never let another year pass but that I, as a leader, will truly know my people. I will know their needs. I will be conscious of those who need my leadership most’” (Ye Are the Light of the World, 345–47).

Harold B. Lee’s experiences in his youth and in caring for the people of his stake helped prepare him for a future calling.

The First Presidency Called Him to Further Develop the Church Welfare System

Harold B. Lee in lei

Elder Harold B. Lee in Hawaii, 1945

The early 1930s were characterized by such phrases as “soup kitchens” and “bread lines.” The Great Depression had hit the United States and 25 percent of the normal labor force was unemployed. Other countries were in as bad or even worse condition. Church members were not exempt from the effects of this period, for many had grave financial problems. The Pioneer Stake of Salt Lake City, for example, had over 50 percent of its male population unemployed. But the Lord had been inspiring his prophets to prepare the Church for such times of difficulty, and the president of that stake, Harold B. Lee, was called to assume an important responsibility in such preparations. In 1941, then newly called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Harold B. Lee testified of the Lord’s hand in establishing the Church welfare program:

“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. . . . 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.

“My humble place in this program at that time was described. I left there about noon-time, feeling quite as I do now. I drove with my car up to the head of City Creek Canyon. I got out, after I had driven as far as I could, and I walked up through the trees. I sought my Heavenly Father. As I sat down to pore over this matter, wondering about an organization to be perfected to carry on this work, I received a testimony, on that beautiful spring afternoon, that God had already revealed the greatest organization that ever could be given to mankind, and that all that was needed now was that that organization be set to work, and the temporal welfare of the Latter-day Saints would be safeguarded. . . .

“It was in August of that same year. . . . At that time there was an upturn in business, so much so that some were questioning the wisdom of this kind of activity, and why hadn’t the Church done it before now? There came to me, in that early morning hour, a distinct impression that was as real as though someone had spoken audibly, and this was the impression that came, and has stayed with me through these years: There is no individual in the Church that knows the real purpose for which the program then launched had been intended, but hardly before the Church has made sufficient preparation, that reason will be made manifest, and when it comes it will challenge every resource of the Church to meet it. I trembled at the feeling that came over me. Since that day that feeling has driven me on, night and day, hardly resting, knowing that this is God’s will, this is His plan. The only thing necessary today is that the Latter-day Saints everywhere recognize these men, who sit here on the stand, as the fountainheads of truth, through whom God will reveal His will, that His Saints might be preserved through an evil day.

“. . . I know that the work that we are now advancing and unfolding has still greater potential possibilities. They will come to the extent that the Latter-day Saints will learn to do what they are told, but not until; and some of the grandest things yet to come can only come if and when we learn to listen to these men who preside as prophets, seers and revelators” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1941, 120–22).

He Was Called as an Apostle

Harold B. Lee and family

Elder Harold B. Lee, his wife, Fern, and their daughters, Maurine and Helen, around the time of his call to the apostleship, 1941

President Heber J. Grant called Harold B. Lee as an Apostle of the Lord. He was ordained on 10 April 1941. Years later, he shared his feelings about the call:

“I shall never forget my feelings of loneliness the Saturday night after I was told by the President of the Church that I was to be sustained the next day as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles. That was a sleepless night; there ran through my mind all the petty things of my life, the nonsense, the foolishness of youth. I could have told you about those against whom I had any grievances and who had any grievance against me. And before I was to be accepted the next day, I knew that I must stand before the Lord and witness before him that I would love and forgive every soul that walked the earth and in return I would ask him to forgive me that I might be worthy of that position.

“I said, as I suppose all of us would say as we are called to such a position, or any position, ‘President Grant, do you feel that I am worthy of this call?’ And just as quick as a flash, he said, ‘My boy, if I didn’t think so, you would never be called to this position.’

Elder and Sister Lee

Elder Harold B. Lee and his wife, Fern

“The Lord knew my heart and he knew that I was not perfect and that all of us have things to overcome. He takes us with imperfections and expects us to begin where we are and make our lives conform fully with the principles and doctrines of Jesus Christ.

“The following day I went to the temple where I was ushered into the room where the Council of the Twelve meet with the presidency each week in an upper room of the temple. I thought of all the great men who have occupied those chairs and now here I was, just a young man, 20 years younger than the next youngest of the twelve, I was being asked now to sit in one of those chairs. It was frightening and startling.

Elder Lee and other Apostles

An Apostle quartet, with Elder Harold B. Lee at the piano. Left to right: Elders Mark E. Petersen, Matthew Cowley, Spencer W. Kimball, and Ezra Taft Benson

“And then one of the radio committee who had a Sunday night program said, ‘Now you know that after having been ordained, you are a special witness to the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ. We want you to give the Easter talk next Sunday night.’ That was to bear testimony of the mission of the Lord concerning his resurrection, his life, and ministry, so I went to a room in the Church Office Building where I could be alone, and I read the gospels, particularly those that had to do with the closing days and weeks and months of the life of Jesus, and as I read this I realized that I was having a new experience.

“It wasn’t any longer just a story; it seemed as though I was actually seeing the events about which I was reading, and when I gave my talk and closed with a testimony, I said, ‘I am now the least of all my brethren and want to witness to you that I know as I have never known before this call came that Jesus is the Savior of this world. He lives and he died for us.’ Why did I know? Because there had come a kind of a witness, that special kind of a witness, that may have been that more sure word of prophecy that one must have if he is to be a special witness” (“Speaking for Himself: President Lee’s Stories,” Ensign, Feb. 1974, 18).

Shortly after his call he toured missions and military bases throughout the world, delivered radio sermons entitled “Youth and the Church,” and labored diligently as an advisor to the Primary and Relief Society organizations. He organized two missions in South America and the first stake in England.

He Loved All People

Elder Lee with soldiers in Korea

Elder Harold B. Lee in Korea, 1954

Referring to the night before his sustaining as an Apostle, Elder Harold B. Lee related: “I know there are powers that can draw close to one who fills his heart with . . . love. . . . I came to a night, some years ago, when on my bed, I realized that before I could be worthy of the high place to which I had been called, I must love and forgive every soul that walked the earth, and in that time I came to know and I received a peace and a direction, and a comfort, and an inspiration, that told me things to come and gave me impressions that I knew were from a divine source” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1946, 146).

The Principles of Priesthood Correlation Were Developed

In 1960, under the leadership of President David O. McKay, the First Presidency sent the following letter to the General Priesthood Committee, which was under the direction of Elder Harold B. Lee:

“We of the First Presidency have over the years felt the need of a correlation between and among the courses of study put out by the General Priesthood Committee and by the responsible heads of other Committees of the General Authorities for the instruction of the Priesthood of the Church.

“We have also felt the very urgent need of a correlation of studies among the Auxiliaries of the Church. . . .

Elder Lee with boy

Elder Lee with four-year-old Scotty Hafen, March of Dimes poster child, 1974

“We think that the contemplated study by the Committee now set up should have the foregoing matters in mind. We feel assured that if the whole Church curricula were viewed from the vantage point of what we might term the total purpose of each and all of these organizations, it would bring about such a collation and limitation of subjects and subject matters elaborated in the various Auxiliary courses as would tend to the building of efficiency in the Auxiliaries themselves in the matter of carrying out the purposes lying behind their creation and function.

“We would therefore commend to you Brethren of the General Priesthood Committee the beginning of an exhaustive, prayerful study and consideration of this entire subject, with the cooperative assistance of the Auxiliaries themselves so that the Church might reap the maximum harvest from the devotion of the faith, intelligence, skill, and knowledge of our various Auxiliary Organizations and Priesthood Committees” (quoted in Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1967, 98–99).

These revealed principles were later known as the principles of priesthood correlation. As they were gradually unfolded before the Church, and particularly to the priesthood leaders, it became evident that this was not just an administrative program to facilitate improved communication and a more effective curriculum; it was the design of the Lord to establish a program of defense against some of the insidious designs of the adversary that were intended to thwart and break down the family and the kingdom of God.

In 1961 Elder Harold B. Lee was appointed chairman of the Church Correlation Committee. Past experience had taught him the challenge of such an assignment. With faith and courage he counseled with other leaders and formulated a plan that spoke of renewed effort in welfare, missionary work, genealogy, education, home teaching, and family home evening. The entire strength of the Church was being marshaled to bless and sustain the home.

The Priesthood Is Expected to Lead

Elders Lee and Hinckley in Greece

Elders Harold B. Lee and Gordon B. Hinckley at the Parthenon, in Athens, Greece, 1972

Elder Harold B. Lee testified of the Lord’s guidance in developing a Church correlation program:

“Sometimes the startling nature of my assignment has required courage almost beyond my strength. I come to you tonight subdued in spirit, I come to you with a sincere witness that the Lord is revealing and working through channels that he has appointed. Don’t you ever let anybody tell you, the membership of the Church, that the Lord is not today revealing and directing and developing plans which are needed to concentrate the entire forces of this Church to meet the challenge of the insidious forces at work to thwart and to tear down and to undermine the church and kingdom of God.

“I bear you my solemn witness that I know that God is directing this work today and revealing his mind and will. The light is shining through, and if we can get the priesthood now to come alive and to put into full gear the full strength of the priesthood, we shall see some of the most wonderful developments and some of the greatest things happen to the forces which the Lord can set in motion that we have ever known in this dispensation” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1962, 83).

“The Whole Effort of Correlation Is to Strengthen the Home”

Elder Harold B. Lee taught about “four important factors . . . in developing effective correlation. First, we must see that the whole effort of correlation is to strengthen the home and to give aid to the home in its problems, giving it special aid and succor as needed.

“Second, the strength of the priesthood must be fully employed within the total responsibility of priesthood quorums as clearly set forth in the revelations.

“Third, we must survey the purposes lying behind the creation and purpose of each auxiliary organization.

“And fourth, the prime and ultimate objective of all that is done is the building up of a knowledge of the gospel, a power to promulgate the same, a promotion of the faith, growth, and stronger testimony of the principles of the gospel among the members of the Church” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1964, 80–81).

Church Programs Support the Home

In the October 1967 general conference, Elder Harold B. Lee re-emphasized the need for the various Church programs to support the home: “Again and again has been repeated the statement that the home is the basis of a righteous life. With new and badly needed emphasis on the ‘how,’ we must not lose sight of the ‘why’ we are so engaged. The priesthood programs operate in support of the home; the auxiliary programs render valuable assistance. Wise regional leadership can help us to do our share in attaining God’s overarching purpose, ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.’ (Moses 1:39.) Both the revelations of God and the learning of men tell us how crucial the home is in shaping the individual’s total life experience. You must have been impressed that running through all that has been said in this conference has been the urgency of impressing the importance of better teaching and greater parental responsibility in the home. Much of what we do organizationally, then, is scaffolding, as we seek to build the individual, and we must not mistake the scaffolding for the soul” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1967, 107).

He Was Refined through His Trials

Elder Lee and Freda Joan Jensen

He married Freda Joan Jensen on 17 June 1963

Prophets of God are not immune to the tests and trials of life. They are prepared in the crucible of adversity and suffering. Harold B. Lee’s life received the polishing and refinement that can come only from the touch of the Master’s hand. Through this process he gained experiences that were for his good and for the good of the Lord’s kingdom. The deaths of loved ones, personal physical suffering, and calls that seemed impossible were but a few of his experiences.

Fern, his beloved wife of thirty-nine years, died in 1962. Several months later, Elder Lee shared what he learned: “In 1958, just after I had returned with my sweet companion from the Holy Land, I addressed myself to this studentbody on the subject, ‘I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked.’ I described the paths and the lanes we had traveled in that Holy Land where the Master had traveled. But the experiences of the last five months have impressed upon me how short-sighted then was my view of the path where Jesus walked. I have come to learn that only through heartbreak and a lonely walk through the valley of the shadow of death do we really begin to glimpse the path that Jesus walked. Only then can we come to claim kinship with Him who gave His life that men might be” (Building Your House of Tomorrow, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [13 Feb. 1963], 11).

Three years later, in 1965, Elder Lee endured the loss of his daughter Maurine. He was in Hawaii, away on Church conferences, when he received word of her serious illness and then, shortly thereafter, of her death. Speaking of the anguish of heart in such experiences, he said:

“Many times I personally have wondered at the Master’s cry of anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane. ‘And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.’ (Matt. 26:39.)

“As I advance in years, I begin to understand in some small measure how the Master must have felt. In the loneliness of a distant hotel room 2,500 miles away, you, too, may one day cry out from the depths of your soul as was my experience: ‘O dear God, don’t let her die! I need her; her family needs her.’

President Lee

President Harold B. Lee

“Neither the Master’s prayer nor my prayer was answered. The purpose of that personal suffering may be only explained in what the Lord said through the Apostle Paul:

“‘Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;

“‘And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;’ (Heb. 5:8–9.)

“So it is in our day. God grant that you and I may learn obedience to God’s will, if necessary by the things which we suffer” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1965, 130–31).

His Life Was Spared by Inspiration

Although our prayers may not always be answered in the way we desire, the Lord is keenly aware of each of us and our unique challenges. As we seek to do His will and obey His commandments, He will guide and protect us until our days are finished here on this earth. Elder Harold B. Lee shared an example of the guidance and protection he received in his life:

“May I impose upon you for a moment to express appreciation for something that happened to me some time ago, years ago [March 1967]. I was suffering from an ulcer condition that was becoming worse and worse. We had been touring a mission; my wife, Joan, and I were impressed the next morning that we should get home as quickly as possible, although we had planned to stay for some other meetings.

“On the way across the country, we were sitting in the forward section of the airplane. Some of our Church members were in the next section. As we approached a certain point en route, someone laid his hand upon my head. I looked up; I could see no one. That happened again before we arrived home, again with the same experience. Who it was, by what means or what medium, I may never know, except I knew that I was receiving a blessing that I came a few hours later to know I needed most desperately.

“As soon as we arrived home, my wife very anxiously called the doctor. It was now about 11 o’clock at night. He called me to come to the telephone, and he asked me how I was; and I said, ‘Well, I am very tired. I think I will be all right.’ But shortly thereafter, there came massive hemorrhages which, had they occurred while we were in flight, I wouldn’t be here today talking about it.

“I know that there are powers divine that reach out when all other help is not available” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1973, 179).

Following the Prophet Protects the Sanctity of Our Homes

In a 1970 general conference address, President Harold B. Lee, then a counselor in the First Presidency, compared avoiding near tragedy on a space flight to being guided to safety in a troubled world:

“Some months ago, millions of watchers and listeners over the world waited breathlessly and anxiously the precarious flight of Apollo 13. The whole world, it seemed, prayed for one significant result: the safe return to earth of three brave men.

President Lee and Elder Benson

President Harold B. Lee and Elder Ezra Taft Benson

“When one of them with restrained anxiety announced the startling information, ‘We have had an explosion!’ the mission control in Houston immediately mobilized all the technically trained scientists who had, over the years, planned every conceivable detail pertaining to that flight.

“The safety of those three now depended on two vital qualifications: on the reliability of the skills and the knowledge of those technicians in the mission control center at Houston, and upon the implicit obedience of the men in the Aquarius to every instruction from the technicians, who, because of their understanding of the problems of the astronauts, were better qualified to find the essential solutions. The decisions of the technicians had to be perfect or the Aquarius could have missed the earth by thousands of miles.

President Lee and his Counselors being sustained

Sustaining the new First Presidency: Marion G. Romney, Harold B. Lee, and N. Eldon Tanner

“This dramatic event is somewhat analogous to these troublous times in which we live. . . . Many are frightened when they see and hear of unbelievable happenings the world over—political intrigues, wars and contention everywhere, frustrations of parents, endeavoring to cope with social problems that threaten to break down the sanctity of the home, the frustrations of children and youth as they face challenges to their faith and their morals.

“Only if you are willing to listen and obey, as did the astronauts on the Aquarius, can you and all your households be guided to ultimate safety and security in the Lord’s own way” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 113).

President Lee

President Harold B. Lee

In a later address that same general conference, President Lee said: “Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet, ‘as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; . . . as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.’ (D&C 21:4–5.) There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.’ (D&C 21:6.)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 152).

He Became President of the Church

President Joseph Fielding Smith called Elder Harold B. Lee to be a counselor in the First Presidency in 1970; two years later, on 7 July 1972, President Lee was ordained President of the Church. Church members had felt his influence for over thirty years as an Apostle, and now they would feel his firm hand as President of the Church. He spoke of the priesthood as the greatest power on earth, of the family as the most important of all our labors, of enemies within the Church, and that the safety of the Saints was in giving strict obedience to God’s prophet. He had a Christlike combination of love and firmness for those found in transgression. He reached out in love to help them along the path of repentance. He was concerned about the widowed, the handicapped, and the unmarried.

Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said of President Lee: “Loyalty to God and his Son, the resurrected Lord. This was the flawless gem in the crown of his life. He was wont to say, ‘Never think of me as the head of this Church. Jesus Christ is the head of this Church. I am only a man, his servant.’ Of him, the Lord, he taught with a remarkable capacity as a teacher. Of him he testified with a persuasiveness almost irresistible. A business leader said to him one day, ‘I believe in the Lord, but I do not have a testimony of the living Lord.’ President Lee replied, ‘Then you lean on my testimony while you study and pray until your own is strong enough to stand alone’” (“Harold Bingham Lee: Humility, Benevolence, Loyalty,” Ensign, Feb. 1974, 90).

His Heart and Mind Went Out in Love to Every Latter-day Saint

President Lee in Jerusalem

President Lee at the Garden Tomb, Jerusalem, September 1972
Photograph by J. Theodore Brandley

President Harold B. Lee said: “Now I want to tell you a little sacred experience I had following the call to be the president of the Church. On the early morning thereafter with my wife I kneeled in humble prayer, and suddenly it seemed as though my mind and heart went out to over three million people in all the world. I seemed to have a love for every one of them no matter where they lived nor what their color was, whether they were rich or poor, whether they were humble or great, or educated or not. Suddenly I felt as though they all belonged to me, as though they were all my own brothers and sisters” (in Conference Report, Mexico and Central America Area Conference, Aug. 1972, 151).

He Had Proven Himself before God and His People

In his first general conference address as President of the Church, Harold B. Lee looked back at his life and contemplated experiences he had passed through that had sometimes been difficult to understand:

“The day after this appointment, following the passing of our beloved President Smith, my attention was called to a paragraph from a sermon delivered in 1853 in a general conference by Elder Orson Hyde, then a member of the Twelve. This provoked some soul-searching in me also.

President Lee speaking in Germany

President Lee, with interpreter, speaking at the Olympic Hall in Munich, Germany

“The subject of his address was ‘The Man to Lead God’s People,’ and I quote briefly from his sermon: ‘. . . it is invariably the case,’ he said, ‘that when an individual is ordained and appointed to lead the people, he has passed through tribulations and trials, and has proven himself before God, and before His people, that he is worthy of the situation which he holds. . . . that when a person has not been tried, that has not proved himself before God, and before His people, and before the councils of the Most High, to be worthy, he is not going to step in and lead the Church and people of God. It has never been so, but from the beginning some one that understands the Spirit and counsel of the Almighty, that knows the Church, and is known of her, is the character that will lead the Church.’ (Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, p. 123.)

“As I have known of the lives of those who have preceded me, I have been made aware that each seemed to have had his special mission for his day and time.

“Then, with searching introspection, I thought of myself and my experiences of which Orson Hyde’s appraisal had made reference. Then I recalled the words of the Prophet Joseph’s characterization of himself, which seemed somewhat analogous to myself. He said:

“‘I am like a huge rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priestcraft, lawyer-craft, doctor-craft, lying editors, suborned judges and jurors, and the authority of perjured executives, backed by mobs, blasphemers, licentious and corrupt men and women—all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus will I become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty. . . .’ (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 304.)

“These thoughts now running through my mind begin to give greater meaning to some of the experiences in my life, things that have happened which have been difficult for me to understand. At times it seemed as though I too was like a rough stone rolling down from a high mountainside, being buffeted and polished, I suppose, by experiences, that I too might overcome and become a polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty.

“Maybe it was necessary that I too must learn obedience by the things that I might have suffered—to give me experiences that were for my good, to see if I could pass some of the various tests of mortality” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1972, 19–20; or Ensign, Jan. 1973, 24–25).

The Members of the Church Must Prepare Themselves for the Conflict with Evil

Presidents Lee and Kimball

President Harold B. Lee and President Spencer W. Kimball, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, at the area conference in Munich, Germany, August 1973. More than 14,000 Church members attended from eight European countries.

President Harold B. Lee taught:

“The members of this church throughout the world must brace themselves for the never-ending contest between the forces of righteousness and the forces of evil. . . .

“If we follow the leadership of the priesthood, the Lord will fulfill his promise contained in the preface to his revelations, when Satan would have power over his own dominion. This was his promise: ‘. . . the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst, and shall come down in judgment upon . . . the world.’ (D&C 1:36.)

“I earnestly urge all our people to unite under the true banner of the Master, to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ so powerfully that no truly converted person could ever be aligned with these controversial concepts and procedures contrary to the Lord’s plan of salvation” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1972, 63–64; or Ensign, Jan. 1973, 62–63).

Safety Comes from Keeping God’s Commandments

President Harold B. Lee said: “I am convinced that the greatest of all the underlying reasons for the strength of this church is that those who keep the commandments of God are 100 percent behind the leadership of this church. Without that united support it would be readily understood that this church could not go forward to meet the challenges of the day. Our call is for the total membership of the Church to keep the commandments of God, for therein lies the safety of the world” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1973, 10; or Ensign, July 1973, 6).

The Church Is a Defense and a Refuge

When he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Harold B. Lee said:

“Almost imperceptibly we see the hand of the Lord moving to do things, and this I construe to be a consolidation of the forces of the Lord under the direction of the prophet, just as in an army, in order to meet a superior force of the enemy in numbers, the forces of our opposition to the forces of evil must be consolidated in order to give them the most effective possible defense.

“We are in a program of defense. The Church of Jesus Christ was set upon this earth in this day ‘. . . for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it should be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.’ (D&C 115:6.)” (in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1961, 81).

President Lee

President Harold B. Lee

On another occasion he quoted a prophecy of President Heber C. Kimball as being applicable to our day:

“President Heber C. Kimball, shortly after the Saints had arrived here in the mountains—and some, I suppose, were somewhat gloating over the fact that they had triumphed for a temporary period over their enemies—had this to say: ‘. . . we think we are secure here in the chambers of the everlasting hills, where we can close those few doors of the canyons against mobs and persecutors, the wicked and the vile, who have always beset us with violence and robbery, but I want to say to you, my brethren, the time is coming when we will be mixed up in these now peaceful valleys to that extent that it will be difficult to tell the face of a Saint from the face of an enemy to the people of God. Then, brethren, look out for the great sieve, for there will be a great sifting time, and many will fall; for I say unto you there is a test, a TEST, a TEST coming, and who will be able to stand? . . .

“‘Let me say to you, that many of you will see the time when you will have all the trouble, trial and persecution that you can stand, and plenty of opportunities to show that you are true to God and his work. This Church has before it many close places through which it will have to pass before the work of God is crowned with victory. To meet the difficulties that are coming, it will be necessary for you to have a knowledge of the truth of this work for yourselves. The difficulties will be of such a character that the man or woman who does not possess this personal knowledge or witness will fall. If you have not got the testimony, live right and call upon the Lord and cease not till you obtain it. If you do not you will not stand.

“‘Remember these sayings, for many of you will live to see them fulfilled. The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If you do not have it, how can you stand?’ (Life of Heber C. Kimball, pp. 446, 449–450.)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1965, 128).

Then, as President of the Church, he gave the following admonition: “The greatest challenge we have today is to teach the members of this church to keep the commandments of God. Never before has there been such a challenge to the doctrine of righteousness and purity and chastity. The moral standards are being eroded by powers of evil. There is nothing more important for us to do than to teach as powerfully, led by the Spirit of the Lord, as we can in order to persuade our people in the world to live close [to] the Lord in this hour of great temptation” (quoted in J. M. Heslop, “President Harold B. Lee: Directs Church; Led by the Spirit,” Church News, 15 July 1972, 4).

The Destructive Influences of the World Are Threatening the Family

President Lee speaking

President Lee speaking in the Salt Lake Tabernacle

When he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Harold B. Lee had urged families to hold a weekly home evening: “Greater emphasis on the teaching of the children in the home by the parents was brought forth in what we call the family home evening program. This was not new. Fifty years ago it was given emphasis; and as we went back into history, we found that in the last epistle written to the Church by President Brigham Young and his counselors, it was urged that parents bring their children together and teach them the gospel in the home frequently. So family home evening has been urged ever since the Church was established in this dispensation” (in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1967, 101).

Later, with the adversary ever increasing his attack on the family, President Lee spoke out:

“These are challenging times. Around the world there are influences which would strike at the home, at the sacred relationships of husband and wife, of parents and their children. The same destructive influences face our unmarried adult members of the Church.

“How fortunate we are in the midst of all this to have the teachings of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the head of the Church. His words, and those of his prophets, are ours to help us strengthen our homes and bring more peace and happiness into them.

“There is no other people on the face of the earth, whom I know anything about, who have the lofty concepts of marriage and the sacredness of the home as do the Latter-day Saints. In a revelation given in our day the Lord said: ‘Marriage is ordained of God unto man. Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation.’ (D&C 49:15, 16.)

“There are, however, unmistakable evidences that the same dangers that are abroad in the world are now among us and are seeking to destroy this God-given institution, the home” (Strengthening the Home [pamphlet, 1973], 1–2).

The Objective of the Church Is to Help the Saints Meet the Problems of the Day

President Harold B. Lee taught: “There is one grand objective in all this great Church organization. . . . That objective is to provide for and to promote the spiritual, temporal and social salvation or welfare of every one who has membership in one of these priesthood or auxiliary groups, and if each such group is moved by the power and righteousness of the principles inherent therein, ‘they will have all the power necessary to meet every problem in this modern and changing world.’ (Brigham Young.)” (Decisions for Successful Living, 211).

The Greatest Miracles Are the Healing of Sick Souls

President Harold B. Lee said: “The great call has come now in the sermons of the brethren to aid those who are in need of aid, not just temporal aid, but spiritual aid. The greatest miracles I see today are not necessarily the healing of sick bodies, but the greatest miracles I see are the healing of sick souls, those who are sick in soul and spirit and are downhearted and distraught, on the verge of nervous breakdowns. We are reaching out to all such, because they are precious in the sight of the Lord, and we want no one to feel that they are forgotten” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1973, 178).

The Passing of a Prophet

President Lee

President Harold B. Lee
© Merrett Smith. DO NOT COPY

President Harold B. Lee died on 26 December 1973. Though his administration as President of the Church lasted only eighteen months, his teachings and influence in the leading councils of the Church had been profound for decades. Some felt that his passing was untimely, but the death of a man of God is never untimely. His successor, President Spencer W. Kimball, said at his funeral, “A giant redwood has fallen and left a great space in the forest” (“A Giant of a Man,” Ensign, Feb. 1974, 86).

President Lee’s sister, Verda Lee Ross, said, “Anyone who came into his home was a prince or a princess. He treated them like royalty. He was a most gracious host. It was difficult ever to see him standing while he was with a group, because he would be kneeling down talking to a child or bent over giving comfort to an elderly person. Everyone meant something to [him]. He loved people—all people” (from an interview with members of the Lee family conducted by the CES College Curriculum staff, 6 July 1978).

Chapter 12
Spencer W. Kimball
Twelfth President of the Church

Spencer W. Kimball





He was born 28 March 1895 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Andrew and Olive Woolley Kimball.


A patriarch stated that he would work among the Lamanites.


His mother died (1906).


He graduated with highest honors from Gila Academy (1914).


He served a mission to the central United States (1914–16).


He married Camilla Eyring (16 Nov. 1917).


He was president of the Mount Graham Stake (1938–43).


He was ordained an Apostle by President Heber J. Grant (7 Oct. 1943).


He was chairman of the Church Indian Committee (1946).


He suffered cancer of the throat; one and a half vocal cords were removed (1957).


He supervised missionary work in South America (1964–67).


His book The Miracle of Forgiveness was published (1969); he became Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (23 Jan. 1970).


He was set apart as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (7 July 1972).


He became President of the Church (30 Dec. 1973).


He addressed the regional representatives of the Twelve, initiating expanded missionary work (4 Apr. 1974); he dedicated the Washington D.C. Temple (19 Nov. 1974).


He dedicated the Church Office Building (24 July 1975); fifteen stakes were created from five in Mexico City, Mexico (9 Nov. 1975); the building of temples in Brazil, Japan, Mexico, and Washington state was announced (1975).


Two revelations were added to the Pearl of Great Price (now D&C 137–38; 3 Apr. 1976); Assistants to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles became members of the First Quorum of the Seventy (1976).


The First Presidency announced the revelation that every faithful man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood (8 June 1978).

84, 86

New editions of the scriptures, cross-referenced to each other, were printed (1979, 1981).


He dedicated the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden in Jerusalem (24 Oct. 1979).


Area Presidencies were first called (1984).


A new edition of the hymnbook, with additional hymns of the Restoration, was printed; he died in Salt Lake City, Utah (5 Nov. 1985).


Spencer W. Kimball as baby with sister Ruth

One-year-old Spencer (right) with his sister Ruth

Spencer Woolley Kimball was born 28 March 1895 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Andrew and Olive Wooley Kimball. The next January, Utah was granted statehood. The Manifesto was five years old, the economy was going into an upswing, and the Saints were entering an era of relative calm.

He Grew Up in Thatcher, Arizona

When Spencer W. Kimball was three years old, his family moved to Thatcher, Arizona. There he had cows to milk, gardens to weed, and buildings to paint. He demanded much of himself. In school, in church, and at play, he sought excellence. He abstained totally from whatever would pollute the body. He was president of his deacons quorum and continued in leadership positions, serving in each position with steadfastness and devotion.

The Heritage of Spencer W. Kimball

Andrew Kimball

Olive Woolley Kimball

Andrew Kimball, father of Spencer W. Kimball

Olive Woolley Kimball, mother of Spencer W. Kimball

“Like Nephi of old, [Spencer W. Kimball] may thank the Lord that he came of goodly parentage. His two grandfathers were outstanding colonizers and peers among men. Heber C. Kimball was an apostle of the Lord, friend and disciple of the Prophet Joseph, counselor to President Young, and missionary extraordinary for his church; Edwin D. Woolley was a colorful Salt Lake leader, business manager for President Young, and a great bishop of the Thirteenth Ward for a period of forty years. His own father, Andrew Kimball, was likewise a most remarkable man. Energetic and zealous always, as an advocate of the restored gospel, he presided over the mission in the Indian Territory for ten years and at intervals returned to Salt Lake to earn a living for his family. For twenty-six and a half years, from 1898 to the day of his death, he was president of the St. Joseph Stake of Zion, the stake which had been named at the suggestion of President John Taylor in honor of the Prophet Joseph. His ability as a builder and organizer did much toward the development of a great agricultural empire in eastern Arizona, and in the years of his administration the stake developed from a few wards on the Gila River to some seventeen wards and branches of the church, extending from Miami, Arizona, to El Paso, Texas” (Jesse A. Udall, “Spencer W. Kimball, the Apostle from Arizona,” Improvement Era, Oct. 1943, 590).

His Early Experiences Prepared Him for Later Service

Andrew and Olive Kimball family

Andrew and Olive Kimball with their children, 1897. Spencer is sitting on his father’s lap.

Spencer W. Kimball had many close calls with death—near drowning, accidents, extremely serious illnesses, and operations. His daughter Olive Beth Kimball Mack said:

“Dad has had a great deal of sorrow and sickness and many difficulties to overcome. These have only served to make him a stronger person, and have given him much empathy for others. . . . He lost his mother when he was eleven, and soon after, a little sister was taken. This is what he writes of this time:

“‘There came a rushing back through my memory an old picture of anguish, terror, fear, hopelessness. There we were, eight of my mother’s eleven in our parent’s bedroom. Our mother was dead, our father away, our older brother Gordon sat in the chair holding our littlest sister while she died, with all of us youngsters around the chair, frightened, and praying, and weeping. The doctor was miles away. His horse and buggy could not possibly have brought him there soon enough, and what could he do if he arrived? It seemed to be a combination of diptheria and membraneous croup, and little Rachel was literally choking to death. In terror we watched the little body fight valiantly for air and life, then suddenly relax completely. The hard fought battle was over. She had lost’” (How a Daughter Sees Her Father, the Prophet [devotional address at the Salt Lake institute of religion, 9 Apr. 1976], 3–4).

Spencer W. Kimball as boy with brothers

Eleven-year-old Spencer W. Kimball (center) with his brothers, 1906

Writing about the life of this extraordinary man, Elder Boyd K. Packer used Spencer W. Kimball’s own words to describe him:

“President Kimball once said, ‘What mother, looking down with tenderness upon her chubby infant does not envision her child as the president of the Church or the leader of her nation! As he is nestled in her arms, she sees him a statesman, a leader, a prophet. Some dreams do come true! One mother gives us a Shakespeare, another a Michelangelo, and another an Abraham Lincoln, and still another a Joseph Smith.

“‘When theologians are reeling and stumbling, when lips are pretending and hearts are wandering, and people are “running to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord and cannot find it”—when clouds of error need dissipating and spiritual darkness needs penetrating and heavens need opening, a little infant is born.’ (Conference address, April 4, 1960.)

Spencer W. Kimball and Clarence Naylor as boys

Spencer W. Kimball and Clarence Naylor

“And so came Spencer Woolley Kimball. The Lord had managed those humble beginnings. He was not just preparing a businessman, nor a civic leader, nor a speaker, nor a poet, nor a musician, nor a teacher—though he would be all of these. He was preparing a father, a patriarch for his family, an apostle and prophet, and a president for His church” (“President Spencer W. Kimball: No Ordinary Man,” Ensign, Mar. 1974, 3).

He Had Perfect Attendance at Sunday School and Primary

“From childhood he has been most conscientious in his work—nothing short of the best was good enough. For years he had a record of perfect attendance at Sunday School and Primary. One Monday he was in the field tramping hay for his older brothers when the meetinghouse bell rang for Primary.

“‘I’ve got to go to Primary,’ he timidly suggested.

“‘You can’t go today; we need you,’ they said.

“‘Well, Father would let me go, if he were here,’ the boy countered.

“‘Father isn’t here,’ they said, ‘and you are not going.’

young men on hay wagon

Life on the farm; the Kimball brothers, Gordon, Spencer, and Del, on top of a hay wagon near their Thatcher, Arizona, home
Photograph courtesy of Edward L. Kimball

“The piles of hay came pouring up, literally covering Spencer, but finally he had caught up; sliding noiselessly from the back of the wagon, he was halfway to the meetinghouse before his absence was noticed, and his perfect record remained unbroken. . . .

“. . . Like Daniel, Spencer has never defiled himself. If you were to ask him point-blank if he had always observed the Word of Wisdom, he would modestly tell you that he had never tasted tea, coffee, liquor nor tobacco” (Udall, Improvement Era, Oct. 1943, 591).

His Father Had Intimations of Young Spencer’s Future Greatness

“Ten-year-old Spencer Woolley Kimball liked to help his father with the chores. Perched on a stool, the lad sang happily as he milked one of the cows. He was completely oblivious at the moment to his father standing in the barn doorway talking to a neighbor who had just delivered a load of pumpkins for the pigs.

“‘That boy, Spencer, is an exceptional boy,’ President Kimball [Spencer’s father, a stake president] was saying. ‘He always tries to mind me, whatever I ask him to do. I have dedicated him to be one of the mouthpieces of the Lord—the Lord willing. You will see him some day as a great leader. I have dedicated him to the service of God, and he will become a mighty man in the Church.’

Spencer W. Kimball and other diary workers

Spencer W. Kimball (middle of front row) at the Globe Dairy, 1914

“Even while milking the cows, Spencer was justifying the faith and confidence of his father, for he was vocalizing with a purpose. On a piece of paper lying on the floor by the milk bucket, he had the words of the hymn he was singing. He practiced thus every day so that he could learn the words of the Church hymns by heart. He often did the same thing with verses of scripture, memorizing them for future use” (“Early Prophecies Made about Mission of Elder Kimball,” Church News, 18 Nov. 1961, 16).

When He Was Young He Set a Goal to Read the Bible

boy in bed reading by lamplight

Reading by coal oil lamp
Painting by Paul Mann. DO NOT COPY

In a 1974 general conference address, President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of the satisfaction he felt after reaching a goal he set as a youth:

“Let me tell you of one of the goals that I made when I was still but a lad. When I heard a Church leader from Salt Lake City tell us at conference that we should read the scriptures, and I recognized that I had never read the Bible, that very night at the conclusion of that very sermon I walked to my home a block away and climbed up in my little attic room in the top of the house and lighted a little coal-oil lamp that was on the little table, and I read the first chapters of Genesis. A year later I closed the Bible, having read every chapter in that big and glorious book.

“I found that this Bible that I was reading had in it 66 books, and then I was nearly dissuaded when I found that it had in it 1,189 chapters, and then I also found that it had 1,519 pages. It was formidable, but I knew if others did it that I could do it.

“I found that there were certain parts that were hard for a 14-year-old boy to understand. There were some pages that were not especially interesting to me, but when I had read the 66 books and 1,189 chapters and 1,519 pages, I had a glowing satisfaction that I had made a goal and that I had achieved it.

“Now I am not telling you this story to boast; I am merely using this as an example to say that if I could do it by coal-oil light, you can do it by electric light. I have always been glad I read the Bible from cover to cover” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1974, 126–27; or Ensign, May 1974, 88).

He Was a Scholar and an Athlete

Spencer W. Kimball with classmates

Graduation from the eighth grade. Spencer W. Kimball is in the second row, second from the right.

“The young Spencer grew to maturity at Thatcher. Having completed the public schools he entered the Gila Academy, the institution which had been established by the church early in the colonization of the valley. Later, its name was changed to the Gila Junior College. In 1914 he was graduated with highest honors and as president of his class. In addition to his scholastic achievements he was a star forward on the basketball team, and many a game was won by his accurate goal-throwing from every angle on the floor” (Udall, Improvement Era, Oct. 1943, 591).

Many years later, as he lay sleepless on a hospital bed, President Spencer W. Kimball reflected upon one of his early basketball experiences:

“I am on the basketball court. We play in our overalls and shirts with cheap rubber shoes and with basketballs of our own buying. We have beaten Globe High School on our dirt court, and we have defeated Safford and other high schools. Now, tonight, we Academy boys are playing the University of Arizona team.

“It is a great occasion. Many people come tonight who have never been before. Some of the townsmen say basketball is a girl’s game, but nevertheless they come in large numbers tonight. Our court is not quite regulation. We are used to it, our opponents are not. I have special luck with my shots tonight, the ball goes through the hoop again and again, and the game ends with our high school team the victors against the college team. I am the smallest player and the youngest on the team. I have piled up the most points through the efforts of the whole team in protecting me and feeding the ball to me. I am on the shoulders of the big fellows of the Academy. They are parading me around the hall to my consternation and embarrassment” (One Silent Sleepless Night [1975], 57).

Spencer W. Kimball with basketball team

Gila Academy basketball team, 1912–13. Spencer W. Kimball is on the far right.

He Learned to Do Things Correctly

Spencer W. Kimball as young man

Young Spencer W. Kimball

Years later, President Spencer W. Kimball told about more of his respon-sibilities growing up:

“There is the harness shed. Pa is very meticulous with the harnesses. They must always be hanging up when not on the horses. The collars must be smooth and clean, the bridles fitting just right, the blinds in place. The harness must be washed with Ivory soap frequently and then oiled, and I learn another important lesson: the leather equipment must never be dry and hard and curled.

“There is the buggy shed. The surrey and the one-seated buggy must always be in shelter from storm and sun, and they must be clean. I learn to wash vehicles and grease them. In a little pocket on the right side of the building is the axle-grease can and dauber. I lift one side at a time to the wooden horse, remove the wheel, grease the axle carefully, replace the nut, and screw it on to keep it in place. The wagons must be similarly treated as often as needed. And they must be painted too. I learn while yet a very small boy how to buy and mix paint and apply it to body and wheels and framework. The hairline of trim paint must be applied with precision. The fences must all be whitewashed and the trellis painted green. The house, the big house, needs paint too, and I climb the high ladders and paint the gable ends of the house and the trim. Pa does most of it at first, then I gradually come into the program until it is my task almost exclusively. And the barn and granary and harness shed—all must be painted at intervals. Even the mangers” (One Silent Sleepless Night, 20).

He Was a Dedicated and Committed Missionary

“While milking cows back in May 1914, . . . Spencer had received his letter from Box B, Salt Lake City, calling him to proselyte in the Swiss-German Mission. The letter, signed by Joseph F. Smith, sixth President of the Church, stated he should leave in October. Europe was an exotic, exciting prospect. The German that Spencer had studied at the Academy would give him a head start on learning the language.

Spencer W. Kimball as missionary

He was called as a missionary to the Central States Mission in 1915.

“Then in July the situation in Europe changed drastically. A Serbian student assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. On July 28 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The conflict quickly spread to Germany, Russia, France, Belgium and Britain.

“Because of the European war Spencer’s missionary assignment was switched to the Central States Mission, whose headquarters were in Independence, Missouri. He felt disappointed. But he reconciled himself to the change; this had been his father’s mission area and his stepmother’s and his brother Gordon’s. As the train crossed the Arizona and California deserts into Nevada and Utah, Spencer, a newly ordained elder, looked ahead with apprehension at the pending changes in his life, but with curiosity and excitement as well.

“Since missionaries or their families paid their mission expenses, Spencer had sold his spirited young black horse for $175, enough money to keep him for six months. To that he added his wages at the dairy. What money he still lacked, his father added. But these arrangements didn’t make for luxurious living” (Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball Jr., Spencer W. Kimball [1977], 72–73).

Spencer W. Kimball with missionary companion

Elder Spencer W. Kimball (left) and his companion Elder L. M. Hawkes, June 1915; missionaries in Missouri

Elder Kimball faced sorrow and discouragement while serving as a missionary. In May 1915 he received word from his father that his twenty-one-year-old sister, Ruth, had died. Many people were not receptive to his message and the responsibilities placed upon him were great. Yet he continued to work diligently.

After fourteen months in the mission field, he was made conference president in the Saint Louis area. This was an intimidating assignment for him. He was younger than most of the thirty-five missionaries for whom he was responsible. Yet his hard work and dependence on the Lord brought success.

Tracting and street meetings were a regular part of a missionary’s work, and Elder Kimball became creative with some of his door approaches. “He would tell missionaries a story years later about using ingenuity in making contacts. While tracting in St. Louis he noticed a piano through the partly opened door, and he said to the woman, who was in the act of shutting the door in his face, ‘You have a nice-looking piano.’

“‘We just bought it,’ said the woman, hesitating.

“‘It’s a Kimball, isn’t it? That’s my name, too. I could play a song on it for you that you might like to hear.’

“Surprised, she answered, ‘Surely, come in.’

“Sitting on the bench, Spencer played and sang, ‘O, My Father.’

“So far as Spencer knew, she never joined the Church, but it was not because he had not tried” (Kimball and Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball, 79–80).

Elder Kimball enjoyed street meetings. “A favorite place for them was at the corner of Twentieth and Franklin. While some questioned the value of these meetings, Elder Kimball never did. They gave him a sense of exhilaration unmatched by any other kind of proselyting. They also provided memorable moments such as the time when, at the end of a meeting, with not a soul in sight except the missionaries, the elder conducting solemnly announced, ‘If you’ll all give your attention, we’ll dismiss,’ or when Elder Kimball ended his talk in midsentence when the only people he could see were his three companions” (Francis M. Gibbons, Spencer W. Kimball: Resolute Disciple, Prophet of God [1995], 51).

He Found a Charming Helpmate

Camilla Eyring

Camilla Eyring

Spencer W. Kimball returned home from his mission in January 1917. That August he reported on his mission in a stake conference. At that stake conference was Camilla Eyring, a young woman to whom Spencer had been casually introduced before his mission. Four days later they met at a bus stop. Spencer reintroduced himself and they had their first personal conversation sitting together on the bus. He inquired, during the conversation, if he could call on Camilla. She responded in the affirmative.

“But she did not expect him to call unannounced. When he arrived at her home one evening soon after their bus ride she was dressed in a kimono, hair up in curlers, preparing to go dancing with a boyfriend and some other friends. Camilla did not know what to do. So she sat with young Mr. Kimball on the porch and talked, expecting his visit to end at any moment, until it became obvious he had no intention of leaving.

“‘I was in a pickle,’ Camilla later said. Though she wanted to favor Spencer, she already had a date, so she fudged. She told Spencer that a crowd was going dancing. Did he want to come? Spencer, delighted with his good luck, said yes, so when Alvin drove up in his car with the others, Camilla asked if a friend could come along. The two piled in the car and Alvin let his rage out through his foot. He drove, said Camilla, ‘like the devil was after him.’ By the time the car pulled up to the dance hall in Layton, Alvin was through with Camilla. He wouldn’t dance with her again for fifteen years. ‘I played a shabby trick,’ Camilla admitted” (Kimball and Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball, 84; see also Gibbons, Spencer W. Kimball, 63–64).

Spencer and Camilla Kimball

Spencer and Camilla Kimball, February 1918

Their relationship blossomed, and Spencer and Camilla were married on 16 November 1917. The following tribute was later paid to Camilla:

“How much a man’s success depends upon his wife! Elder Kimball has been favored with a charming helpmate who has been constant, patient, full of understanding and encouragement. Her training in, and teaching of, home economics has enabled her to feed and clothe her family well, even though the income sometimes was small. Camilla is the daughter of Edward Christian Eyring and Caroline Romney. They had come to Arizona from Mexico in 1912 as a result of the Mexican revolution. It was in 1917 when she was teaching at the Gila Academy at Thatcher that she met Spencer, and it was not many months before their courtship ripened into marriage. It is said that ‘transplanted flowers are usually the fairest’ and so it was in her case; the blue-eyed, golden-haired girl with the Spanish name, transplanted from Mexico, blossomed into glorious womanhood as an intelligent, well-trained woman, prominent in her own right” (Udall, Improvement Era, Oct. 1943, 591).

Leadership Opportunities Prepared Him for His Apostleship

Spencer W. Kimball

Spencer W. Kimball, about 1933

One year after his release from his mission, at the age of twenty-three, Spencer W. Kimball was called as stake clerk of the St. Joseph Stake in Safford, Arizona. Six years later, in 1924, he was also sustained as a counselor in the stake presidency. At times he served in both callings. When the stake was divided in 1938, he was called to be president of the new Mount Graham Stake. Five and a half years later, on 7 October 1943, after over a quarter of a century in stake leadership, he was ordained an Apostle and became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Spencer W. Kimball on snowshoes

Snowshoeing in Arizona; climbing Mount Graham, 1938

“[Elder] Kimball possesses so many qualities which fit him for church leadership that it is difficult to point out particular traits and say therein lies his success. Two of his outstanding characteristics are, first, his love for people, a love which begets love; people warm to his teachings; his dealings instil confidence; the well-to-do farmer or the humble laborer, the housewife or the adolescent boy or girl, all have confidence in his integrity; and second, his relentless attention to the duties of the day. . . . The new apostle has lived his life in such a manner that it would appear that he is in the presence of God at all times, and that not for one moment of his busy life has he forgotten his responsibility to his creator” (Udall, Improvement Era, Oct. 1943, 639).

Spencer W. Kimball

Spencer W. Kimball, district governor of Rotary International, 1936

Spencer W. Kimball had also spent twenty-five successful years in banking, insurance, and real estate. He helped organize the Gila Broadcasting Company and the Gila Valley Irrigation Company and served in important leadership assignments in these ventures. He was a district governor of Rotary International, president of the Safford Rotary Club, a member of the Gila Junior College Board of Trustees, a member of the Arizona Teachers Retirement Board, vice-president of the Roosevelt Council of Boy Scouts, chairman of the local USO (United Services Organization), chairman of the United War Fund campaign in Graham County, and master of ceremonies at endless Church and civic functions. As a pianist and singer he was in constant demand. For many years he was a member of a popular quartet called the Conquistadores.

Spencer W. Kimball with stake presidency

Spencer Kimball when he was a stake president, 1942 (middle of the front row)

He Was Humbled by His Calling

In the October 1943 general conference, on the day he was sustained as an Apostle, Elder Spencer W. Kimball addressed the congregation, recalling his earlier appointment to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

“I believe the brethren were very kind to me in announcing my appointment when they did so that I might make the necessary adjustments in my business affairs, but perhaps they were more inspired to give me the time that I needed of a long period of purification, for in those long days and weeks I did a great deal of thinking and praying, and fasting and praying. There were conflicting thoughts that surged through my mind—seeming voices saying: ‘You can’t do the work. You are not worthy. You have not the ability’—and always finally came the triumphant thought: ‘You must do the work assigned—you must make yourself able, worthy and qualified.’ And the battle raged on.

Spencer W. Kimball family

A family portrait

“I remember reading that Jacob wrestled all night, ‘until the breaking of the day,’ for a blessing; and I want to tell you that for eighty-five nights I have gone through that experience, wrestling for a blessing. Eighty-five times, the breaking of the day has found me on my knees praying to the Lord to help me and strengthen me and make me equal to this great responsibility that has come to me” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1943, 15–16).

He Had a Great Love for the Children of Lehi

Elder Kimball and Church leaders with Native Americans

“Look after the children of Lehi.” Elder Spencer W. Kimball, President George Albert Smith, Elder Anthony W. Ivins (standing), and Elder Matthew Cowley meet with a group of Native Americans soon after the three Apostles were called to serve on the Church Indian Affairs Committee.
Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

Elder Spencer W. Kimball explained:

“I do not know when I began to love the children of Lehi. It may have come to me at birth, because those years preceding and after I was born, were spent by my father on missions among the Indians in Indian territory. He was president of the mission. This love may have come in those first years of my childhood, when my father used to sing the Indian chants to us children and show us souvenirs from and pictures of his Indian friends. It may have come from my patriarchal blessing which was given to me by Patriarch Samuel Claridge, when I was nine years of age. One line of the blessing reads:

“‘You will preach the gospel to many people, but more especially to the Lamanites, for the Lord will bless you with the gift of language and power to portray before that people, the gospel in great plainness. You will see them organized and be prepared to stand as the bulwark “round this people.”’ . . .

“. . . We have about a half-million children of Lehi in the islands of the sea, and about sixty million of them in North and South America, about a third of them perhaps, being pure-blood Indians, and about two-thirds are mixtures, but they have the blood of Jacob in their veins.

“Someone said:

“‘If my pen might have the gift of tears I would write a book and call it “The Indian,” and I would make the whole world weep.’

Elder Kimball and Chief Dan George

Elder Kimball with Chief Dan George

“I hope I may help to make the whole world weep for the children of Lehi. Can one refrain from tears as he contemplates the fall of these people who have been brought down from culture and achievement to illiteracy and degradation: from kings and emperors, to slavery and serfdom; from landowners of vast continents, to indigent wards of governments and peons—from sons of God with a knowledge of God, to rude savages, victims of superstition, and from builders of temples to dwellers in dirt hogans. . . .

Elder Kimball visiting American Indian family

Elder Kimball in the Southwest

“How I wish you could go with me through the Indian reservations and particularly Navajo Land and see the poverty, want, and wretchedness, and realize again that these are sons and daughters of God; that their miserable state is the result, not only of their centuries of wars and sins and godlessness, but is also attributable to us, their conquerors, who placed them on reservations with such limited resources and facilities, to starve and die of malnutrition and unsanitary conditions, while we become fat in the prosperity from the assets we took from them. Think of these things, my people, and then weep for the Indian, and with your tears, pray; then work for him. Only through us, the ‘nursing fathers and mothers,’ may they eventually enjoy a fulfilment of the many promises made to them. Assuming that we do our duty to them, the Indians and other sons of Lehi will yet rise in power and strength. The Lord will remember his covenant to them; his Church will be established among them; the Bible and other scriptures will be made available to them; they will enter into the holy temples for their endowments and do vicarious work; they will come to a knowledge of their fathers and to a perfect knowledge of their Redeemer Jesus Christ; they shall prosper in the land and will, with our help, build up a holy city, even the New Jerusalem, unto their God” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1947, 144–45, 151–52).

An Apostle Is a Special Witness of Christ

Elder and Sister Kimball

Elder and Sister Kimball, shortly after he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

“After his call to the Twelve [Elder Spencer W. Kimball] suffered a series of heart attacks. The doctors said that he must rest. He wanted to be with his beloved Indians. Brother Golden R. Buchanan took him to the camp of Brother and Sister Polacca, high in the pines of Arizona, and there he stayed during the weeks until his heart mended and his strength returned.

“One morning he was missing from camp. When he did not return for breakfast, Brother Polacca and other Indian friends began to search. They found him several miles from camp, sitting beneath a large pine tree with his Bible open to the last chapter of the Gospel of John. In answer to their worried looks, he said, ‘Six years ago today I was called to be an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. And I just wanted to spend the day with Him whose witness I am.’

“His heart problems recurred, but did not slow him down for long” (Packer, Ensign, Mar. 1974, 4).

He Had Cancer of the Throat and Vocal Cords

Spencer W. Kimball

Elder Spencer W. Kimball, about 1950

In 1957, after several years of problems with hoarseness, Elder Spencer W. Kimball was diagnosed with cancer of the throat and vocal cords. The doctors said he would lose his voice, the very focal point of his life and service as an Apostle. Elder Boyd K. Packer wrote:

“This, perhaps, was to be his Gethsemane.

“He went East for the operation. Elder Harold B. Lee was there. As he was prepared for surgery he agonized over the ominous possibilities, telling the Lord that he did not see how he could live without a voice, for his voice to preach and to speak was his ministry.

“‘This is no ordinary man you’re operating on,’ Elder Lee told the surgeon. From the blessings and the prayers, an operation a bit less radical than the doctor recommended was performed.

“There was a long period of recuperation and preparation. The voice was all but gone, but a new one took its place. A quiet, persuasive, mellow voice, an acquired voice, an appealing voice, a voice that is loved by the Latter-day Saints.

“In the intervening time he could work. During interviews he tapped out on the typewriter answers to questions and spent his time at the office.

“Then came the test. Could he speak? Could he preach?

“He went back home for his maiden speech. He went back to the valley. Anyone close to him knows it is not a valley, it is the valley. There, in a conference of the St. Joseph Stake, accompanied by his beloved associate from Arizona, Elder Delbert L. Stapley, he stood at the pulpit.

Elder and Sister Kimball boarding plane

Elder and Sister Kimball leaving for South America, about 1959

“‘I have come back here,’ he said, ‘to be among my own people. In this valley I presided as stake president.’ Perhaps he thought that should he fail, here he would be among those who loved him most and would understand.

“There was a great outpouring of love. The tension of this dramatic moment was broken when he continued, ‘I must tell you what has happened to me. I went away to the East, and while there I fell among cutthroats. . . .’ After that it didn’t matter what he said. Elder Kimball was back!” (Ensign, Mar. 1974, 4).

Among his friends, he said good-bye to the past and a new voice began to be heard—no singing, but a beloved, familiar voice with a gravity of sound to match the gravity of his message.

He Had Open-Heart Surgery

Elder Kimball resting

Elder Kimball, soon after his heart surgery, about 1972
Photograph courtesy of Edward L. Kimball

The frailties of the flesh threatened again to stop Elder Kimball short of the calling for which he was being prepared. His heart condition resurfaced and required open-heart surgery to save him. Again President Lee pronounced blessings: life for the patient and divine guidance for the surgeon. Both blessings were fulfilled. A speedy recovery occurred; a prophet was saved. Two years later he became President of the Lord’s church, demonstrating remarkably vigorous health.

He Warned Against the Love of Worldly Wealth

Elder Kimball

Elder Spencer W. Kimball

Elder Spencer W. Kimball taught the following perspective on wealth and ownership:

“One day, a friend took me to his ranch. He unlocked the door of a large new automobile, slid under the wheel, and said proudly, ‘How do you like my new car?’ We rode in luxurious comfort into the rural areas to a beautiful new landscaped home, and he said with no little pride, ‘This is my home.’

“He drove to a grassy knoll. The sun was retiring behind the distant hills. He surveyed his vast domain. . . .

“. . . We turned about to scan the distance. He identified barns, silos, the ranch house to the west. With a wide sweeping gesture, he boasted, ‘From the clump of trees, to the lake, to the bluff, and to the ranch buildings and all between—all this is mine. And the dark specks in the meadow—those cattle also are mine.’

“And then I asked from whom he obtained it. The chain of title of his abstract went back to land grants from governments. His attorney had assured him he had an unencumbered title.

“‘From whom did the government get it?’ I asked. ‘What was paid for it?’

“There came into my mind the bold statement of Paul: ‘For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.’ (1 Cor. 10:26.) . . .

“And then I asked, ‘Did title come from God, Creator of the earth and the owner thereof? Did he get paid? Was it sold or leased or given to you? If gift, from whom? If sale, with what exchange or currency? If lease, do you make proper accounting?’

“And then I asked, ‘What was the price? With what treasures did you buy this farm?’


“‘Where did you get the money?’

“‘My toil, my sweat, my labor, and my strength.’

“And then I asked, ‘Where did you get your strength to toil, your power to labor, your glands to sweat?’

“He spoke of food.

“‘Where did the food originate?’

“‘From sun and atmosphere and soil and water.’

“‘And who brought those elements here?’ . . .

“But my friend continued to mumble, ‘Mine—mine,’ as if to convince himself against the surer knowledge that he was at best a recreant renter.

Elder and Sister Kimball on camels by pyramids

Elder and Sister Kimball in Egypt, 1960

“That was long years ago. I saw him lying in his death among luxurious furnishings in a palatial home. His had been a vast estate. And I folded his arms upon his breast, and drew down the little curtains over his eyes. I spoke at his funeral, and I followed the cortege from the good piece of earth he had claimed to his grave, a tiny, oblong area the length of a tall man, the width of a heavy one.

“Yesterday I saw that same estate, yellow in grain, green in lucerne, white in cotton, seemingly unmindful of him who had claimed it. Oh, puny man, see the busy ant moving the sands of the sea” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1968, 73–74).

The Gospel Solves Problems

Elders Kimball and Packer

With Elder Boyd K. Packer (far left)

In 1971, President Spencer W. Kimball, then Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught that “on this earth the Lord provided everything that man might need to make him happy. . . .

“How disturbed He must be as He looks down from His heavens, having given to man his free agency, notes how unwisely he has used it; when He sees the hundreds of millions in want, the hundreds of millions barely provided for; then the numerous who roll in wealth they cannot use.

“Certainly it is not the intent of the Lord to reverse the process and make the rich poor and the poor rich. He would like to have a nice balance, where all will work, where all will enjoy the fruits of all the earth. . . .

“Man would limit the poor by birth control and abortion. The Gospel would limit the poor by better distribution of the wealth of the world which the Lord says is plenty, and that there is ‘enough and to spare.’ ‘Man’s ways are not always God’s ways.’ . . .

“The Lord Jesus Christ came not with a sword, or jail keys, or legal powers. He came not with power of arms or ammunition, but with the law of persuasion. While he preached righteousness the world fought and sinned and died in their stench. The Gospel is to all but it is also to each. The big frustrated, corrupt and dying world can be cured but the only cure for it is applying the Gospel in our lives. Human nature must be changed and controlled. . . .

“I was in Lima. A number of men of the press from the big newspapers circled me in the mission home. . . . And when most of them had made their notes and departed seemingly satisfied, one young upstart remained to question me. His questions now centered around polygamy, racism, poverty, and war. I tried to answer meaningfully and respectfully his insinuating questions. . . . He disdainfully asked why the ‘Mormon’ Church had not cured this world of poverty. Then I turned on him and said something like this:

“Sir! What is this you ask? Do you know where poverty is born, where it resides, where it is nourished? I have traveled over your country considerably from coastline to highest mountain tops. . . . I have seen your mountain folk barely existing on primitive fare in squalid shacks, with limited food, with an absence from luxury. In your big city I see your mansions and palaces, but I also see your numerous homes of pasteboard, and tin cans, and store cartons and the emaciated bodies of your Indians from inland and upland. I have seen your cathedrals with altars of gold and silver and your beggars on the cold floors of such edifices, with their skinny arms extended and their bony hands cupped and raised to those who come to see or to worship. And you ask me about poverty. I have been through the Andes Mountains and wept for the Indians who are still persecuted and deprived and burdened and ignored. They are carrying their burdens on their backs, their commodities to market on their backs, their purchases on their backs. And when they come to your cities, I see them snubbed and ignored and unaccepted. Four hundred years you have had them. Four centuries they have been just poor deprived Indians. For many generations they have been humans merely subsisting. For four hundred years, as the Children of Israel were, they have been in veritable slavery. With their unrelenting poverty are many generations of ignorance and superstition, hunger and pestilence and convulsions of nature. And you talk to me of poverty and deprivation and suffering and want.

Presidents Kimball and Tanner

With President N. Eldon Tanner, counselor in the First Presidency

“Four hundred years you have had them. Have their morals improved, their superstitions decreased, their culture richened? Have their ideals heightened? Their ambitions stirred? Their production increased? Their faith enlarged? What have you done for them? How much better off are they today, in the Andes, than when you came four centuries ago?’ . . .

“He gathered up his papers and pencils.

“I deliberated:

“We have Indians, too—Indians who came from a desert hogan from near-starving conditions—and they are now, in one single generation, well-dressed, well-educated, filling missions, getting degrees and drawing coveted salaries, filling important responsibilities in community and nation” (The Gospel Solves Problems of the World [fireside address at Brigham Young University, 26 Sept. 1971], 2–3, 7–8).

“When the World Will Be Converted”

President and Sister Kimball

President Spencer W. Kimball and his wife, Camilla

Spencer W. Kimball was set apart as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on 7 July 1972. On 30 December 1973, after the death of President Harold B. Lee, he became President of the Church, giving him the right to exercise all of the keys of Christ’s earthly kingdom.

In April 1974, in an address to regional representatives of the Church, President Kimball powerfully expressed his convictions about our missionary responsibilities to move forward with the Lord’s charge to “go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19):

“Did he mean all the nations then extant? . . .

“Do you think he included all the nations that would be organized up until that time? And as he commanded them to go forth, do you think he wondered if it could be done? He reassured us. He had the power. He said, ‘All power is given me in heaven and in earth . . . and I am with you alway.’ . . .

“. . . [The] prophets visualized the numerous spirits and all the creations. It seems to me that the Lord chose his words when he said ‘every nation,’ ‘every land,’ ‘uttermost bounds of the earth,’ ‘every tongue,’ ‘every people,’ ‘every soul,’ ‘all the world,’ ‘many lands.’

“Surely there is significance in these words!

“Certainly his sheep were not limited to the thousands about him and with whom he rubbed shoulders each day. A universal family! A universal command!

“My brethren, I wonder if we are doing all we can. Are we complacent in our approach to teaching all the world? We have been proselyting now 144 years. Are we prepared to lengthen our stride? To enlarge our vision?

“Remember, our ally is our God. He is our commander. He made the plans. He gave the commandment” (“‘When the World Will Be Converted,’” Ensign, Oct. 1974, 4–5).

Israel must be gathered, the children of Lehi raised up, the kingdom of God expanded, the world warned. Little wonder that the prophet called on us to lengthen our stride, to lift our vision. President Kimball saw the outcome through the eyes of faith.

dedication of Orson Hyde garden in Jerusalem

Dedication of the Orson Hyde Memorial Gardens in Jerusalem, Israel, 1979
Photograph by Dell Van Orden; courtesy of Church News

He Called for Better-Prepared Missionaries

President Spencer W. Kimball declared that every worthy and able young man should prepare to serve a mission:

“When I ask for more missionaries, I am not asking for more testimony-barren or unworthy missionaries. I am asking that we start earlier and train our missionaries better in every branch and every ward in the world. That is another challenge—that the young people will understand that it is a great privilege to go on a mission and that they must be physically well, mentally well, spiritually well, and that ‘the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.’

“I am asking for missionaries who have been carefully indoctrinated [taught] and trained through the family and the organizations of the Church, and who come to the mission with a great desire. I am asking . . . that we train prospective missionaries much better, much earlier, much longer, so that each anticipates his mission with great joy. . . .

“The question is frequently asked: Should every young man fill a mission? And the answer has been given by the Lord. It is ‘Yes.’ Every young man should fill a mission. [See D&C 133:8; see also D&C 63:37.] . . .

“He did not limit it.

“The answer is ‘yes.’ Every man should also pay his tithing. Every man should observe the Sabbath. Every man should attend his meetings. Every man should marry in the temple and properly train his children, and do many other mighty works. Of course he should. He does not always do it.

President Kimball

President Spencer W. Kimball

“We realize that while all men definitely should, all men are not prepared to teach the gospel abroad. Far too many young men arrive at the missionary age quite unprepared to go on a mission, and of course they should not be sent. But they should all be prepared. There are a few physically unfit to do missionary service, but Paul also had a thorn in his side. There are far too many unfit emotionally and mentally and morally, because they have not kept their lives clean and in harmony with the spirit of missionary work. They should have been prepared. Should! But since they have broken the laws, they may have to be deprived, and thereon hangs one of our greatest challenges: to keep these young boys worthy. Yes, we would say, every able worthy man should shoulder the cross. What an army we should have teaching Christ and him crucified! Yes, they should be prepared, usually with saved funds for their missions, and always with a happy heart to serve” (Ensign, Oct. 1974, 7–8).

“Who Gave You Your Voice?”

Elder Rex D. Pinegar, who was a member of the Seventy, shared the following teaching of President Spencer W. Kimball:

“While in Argentina in 1975 at the area conference, President Kimball spoke to a large gathering of youth. Shortly after he began, he set aside his prepared text and shared a personal experience with them. He asked them, ‘Who gave you your voice?’ He then told them about his experience with surgery to save his voice. He explained that the Lord had spared his voice. He said it wasn’t the same voice he had once had. He couldn’t sing as he had previously enjoyed doing, but he did have a voice. He said his voice wasn’t a pretty one, but I tell you it was beautiful in what it taught that night. As he spoke the youth responded even before the translator could interpret his words. He told those present, ‘Serving a mission is like paying tithing; you’re not compelled—you do it because it’s right. We want to go on missions because it’s the Lord’s way. The Savior didn’t say, “If it’s convenient, go,” he said, “Go ye into all the world.”’ (Mark 16:15.) President Kimball explained that it was a responsibility of young women to help young men remain worthy and to encourage them to go on missions.

President and Sister Kimball with grandchildren

President and Sister Kimball with their grandchildren, December 1974

“As the President concluded his remarks he asked, ‘Didn’t the Lord give you your voice so you could teach the gospel?’ He then testified that he had come to know that his voice and our voices are for the declaring of the gospel of Jesus Christ and for testifying of the truths revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith. President Kimball teaches us the correct perspective of life” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1976, 103; or Ensign, Nov. 1976, 67).

He Explained the Greatest Reason for Missionary Work

President Kimball with his Counselors

The First Presidency: N. Eldon Tanner, Spencer W. Kimball, and Marion G. Romney, 1980

President Spencer W. Kimball’s love of missionary work was readily apparent. He spoke of the work often: “If there were no converts, the Church would shrivel and die on the vine. But perhaps the greatest reason for missionary work is to give the world its chance to hear and accept the gospel. The scriptures are replete with commands and promises and calls and rewards for teaching the gospel. I use the word command deliberately for it seems to be an insistent directive from which we, singly and collectively, cannot escape” (Ensign, Oct. 1974, 4).

We Should Meet Our Worldwide Missionary Obligation

President Spencer W. Kimball said:

“The immensity of the work before us is emphasized as we consider the population of the world as it approaches the four billion mark.

“I am under no delusion, brethren, to think that this will be an easy matter without strain or that it can be done overnight, but I do have this faith that we can move forward and expand much faster than we now are. . . .

“When we have increased the missionaries from the organized areas of the Church to a number close to their potential, that is, every able and worthy boy in the Church on a mission; when every stake and mission abroad is furnishing enough missionaries for that country; when we have used our qualified men to help the apostles to open these new fields of labor; when we have used the satellite and related discoveries to their greatest potential and all of the media—the papers, magazines, television, radio—all in their greatest power; when we have organized numerous other stakes which will be springboards; when we have recovered from inactivity the numerous young men who are now unordained and unmissioned and unmarried; then, and not until then, shall we approach the insistence of our Lord and Master to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Ensign, Oct. 1974, 13–14).

The Gospel Shall Be Victorious

President Kimball reading as he walks

A time for pondering, 1981

President Spencer W. Kimball said:

“If we do all we can, and I accept my own part of that responsibility, I am sure the Lord will bring more discoveries to our use. He will bring a change of heart into kings and magistrates and emperors, or he will divert rivers or open seas or find ways to touch hearts. He will open the gates and make possible the proselyting. Of that, I have great faith.

“Now, we have the promise from the Lord that the evil one will never be able to frustrate totally the work that He has commanded us to do.

“‘This kingdom will continue to increase and to grow, to spread and to prosper more and more. Every time its enemies undertake to overthrow it, it will become more extensive and powerful; instead of decreasing it will continue to increase; it will spread the more, become more wonderful and conspicuous to the nations, until it fills the whole earth.’ (President Brigham Young, April conference, 1852.)” (Ensign, Oct. 1974, 13).

He Taught about the Miracle of Forgiveness

flower garden

A family flower garden, April 1978

President Kimball taught extensively the principle of repentance. His teachings have positively influenced many. Elder Boyd K. Packer recognized this great influence and wrote the following: “President Kimball himself is an experienced surgeon of sorts. Not a doctor of medicine, but a doctor of spiritual well-being. Many a moral cancer has been excised, many a blemish of character has been removed, many a spiritual illness of one kind or another has been cured through his efforts. Some on the verge of spiritual oblivion have been rescued by him. He has written a book—literally years in preparation—The Miracle of Forgiveness. Many have been protected by the counsel he has written. Countless others have been inspired to set their lives in order and have experienced that miracle” (Ensign, Mar. 1974, 5).

He Taught about True Repentance

President Kimball studying

A moment of study

President Kimball explained:

“Sometimes it is easier to define what something is by telling what it is not.

“Repentance is not repetition of sin. It is not laughing at sin. It is not justification for sin. Repentance is not the hardening of the spiritual arteries. It is not the minimizing of the seriousness of the error. Repentance is not retirement from activity. It is not the closeting of sin to corrode and overburden the sinner. . . .

“True repentance is composed of many elements, each one related to the others.

“President Joseph F. Smith covered the matter well:

“‘True repentance is not only sorrow for sins and humble penitence and contrition before God, but it involves the necessity of turning away from them, a discontinuance of all evil practices and deeds, a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good, from vice to virtue, from darkness to light. Not only so, but to make restitution so far as is possible for all the wrongs that we have done, to pay our debts and restore to God and man their rights, that which is due them from us. This is true repentance and the exercise of the will and all the powers of body and mind is demanded to complete this glorious work of repentance.’

“True repentance must come to each individual. It cannot be accomplished by proxy. One can neither buy nor borrow nor traffic in it. There is no royal road to repentance: whether he be a president’s son or a king’s daughter, an emperor’s prince or a lowly peasant, he must himself repent and his repentance must be personal and individual and humble.

President Kimball with his Counselors

The First Presidency: N. Eldon Tanner, Marion G. Romney, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Spencer W. Kimball, 1982

“Whether he be lean or fat, handsome or ugly, tall or short, intellectual or less trained, he must change his own life in a real and humble repentance.

“There must be a consciousness of guilt. It cannot be brushed aside. It must be acknowledged and not rationalized away. It must be given its full importance. If it is 10,000 talents, it must not be rated at 100 pence; if it is a mile long, it must not be rated a rod or a yard; if it is a ton transgression, it must not be rated a pound. . . .

“True repentance is to forgive all others. One cannot be forgiven so long as he holds grudges against others. He must be ‘merciful unto [his] brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually. . . .’ (Al. 41:14.)

“There must be an abandonment of the transgression. It must be genuine and consistent and continuing. The Lord said in 1832: ‘. . . go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.’ (D&C 82:7.)

“And a temporary, momentary change of life is not sufficient. . . .

Presidents Kimball and Hinckley

With his counselor President Gordon B. Hinckley (far right)

“The true confession is not only a matter of making known certain developments but it is a matter of getting peace, which seemingly can come in no other way.

“Frequently people talk about time: How long before they can be forgiven? How soon may they go to the temple?

“Repentance is timeless. The evidence of repentance is transformation. We certainly must keep our values straight and our evaluations intact.

“Certainly we must realize that penalties for sin are not a sadistic desire on the part of the Lord, and that is why when people get deep in immorality or other comparable sins, there must be action by courts with proper jurisdiction. Many people cannot repent until they have suffered much. They cannot direct their thoughts into new clean channels. They cannot control their acts. They cannot plan their future properly until they have lost values that they did not seem to fully appreciate. Therefore, the Lord has prescribed excommunication, disfellowshipment, or probation, and this is in line with Alma’s statement that there could be no repentance without suffering, and many people cannot suffer, having not come to a realization of their sin and a consciousness of their guilt.

Presidents Kimball and Hinckley

With his counselor President Gordon B. Hinckley

“One form of punishment is deprivation, and so if one is not permitted to partake of the sacrament or to use his priesthood or to go to the temple or to preach or pray in any of the meetings, it constitutes a degree of embarrassment and deprivation and punishment. In fact, the principal punishment that the Church can deal is deprivation from privileges. . . .

“True repentance must include restitution. There are sins for which restitution can be made, such as a theft, but then there are other sins that cannot yield to restitution, such as murder or adultery or incest. One of the requisites for repentance is the living of the commandments of the Lord. Perhaps few people realize that as an important element; though one may have abandoned a particular sin and even confessed it to his bishop, yet he is not repentant if he has not developed a life of action and service and righteousness, which the Lord has indicated to be very necessary: ‘. . . He that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven’” (“What Is True Repentance,” New Era, May 1974, 4–5, 7).

“Every Faithful, Worthy Man in the Church May Receive the Holy Priesthood”

Nigerian converts being baptized

Nigerians entering the waters of baptism with Elder Ted Cannon
Photograph courtesy of Edwin Q. Cannon. DO NOT COPY

“Perhaps few events have had a greater impact on the worldwide spread of the gospel than did the 1978 revelation received through President Spencer W. Kimball extending the priesthood to worthy males of all races. For some time, the General Authorities had discussed this topic at length in their regular temple meetings. In addition, President Kimball went frequently to the temple, especially on Saturdays and Sundays when he could be there alone, to plead for guidance. ‘I wanted to be sure,’ he explained [see “‘News’ Interviews Prophet,” Church News, 6 Jan. 1979, 4].

“On 1 June 1978 President Kimball met with his counselors and the Twelve and again brought up the possibility of conferring the priesthood upon worthy brethren of all races. He expressed the hope that there might be a clear answer received one way or the other. Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve recalled, ‘At this point President Kimball asked the brethren if any of them desired to express their feelings and views as to the matter in hand. We all did so, freely and fluently and at considerable length, each person stating his views and manifesting the feelings of his heart. There was a marvelous outpouring of unity, oneness, and agreement in the council’ [Bruce R. McConkie, “The New Revelation on Priesthood,” Priesthood (1981), 27].

“After a two-hour discussion, President Kimball asked the group to unite in formal prayer and modestly suggested that he act as voice. He recalled:

“‘I told the Lord if it wasn’t right, if He didn’t want this change to come in the Church that I would be true to it all the rest of my life, and I’d fight the world against it if that’s what He wanted.

“‘. . . But this revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it’ [“‘News’ Interviews Prophet,” 4].

“President Gordon B. Hinckley was at the historic meeting. He remembered: ‘There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. . . .

“‘Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing. . . .

“‘. . . Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same. . . .

“‘Tremendous, eternal consequences for millions over the earth are flowing from that manifestation. . . .

“‘. . . This has opened great areas of the world to the teaching of the everlasting gospel. This has made it possible that “every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world.”

“‘We have cause to rejoice and to praise the God of our salvation that we have seen this glorious day’ [“Priesthood Restoration,” Ensign, Oct. 1988, 70–71]” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 584).

The Church Mourned the Passing of a Giant

President Kimball

President Spencer W. Kimball

President Spencer W. Kimball died on 5 November 1985. Under his leadership the members of the Church accepted the challenge to “lengthen their stride” by increasing their efforts in missionary work, temple building, and all aspects of the gospel. He had served for thirty years as an Apostle before becoming President of the Church. Those who worked with him could barely match his pace and admired him for his many abilities. He set high standards for himself and for the Church. His declaration to “Do it” motivated everyone to do their best and not procrastinate away time that could be used to build the kingdom of the Lord.

His life was a testimony to his counsel, “Remember that those who climb to high places did not always have it easy” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1974, 113).