Chapter 13
Ezra Taft Benson
Thirteenth President of the Church

Ezra Taft Benson

HIGHLIGHTS IN THE LIFE OF EZRA TAFT BENSON

Age

Events

 

He was born 4 August 1899 in Whitney, Franklin County, Idaho, to George T. and Sarah Dunkley Benson.

12

His father left to serve in the Northern States Mission (8 Apr. 1912).

15

He began attending Oneida Stake Academy, Preston, Idaho (1914).

19

He attended Utah State Agricultural College (fall, 1918).

21–23

He served in the British Mission (14 July 1921–23).

26

He graduated from BYU with a degree in animal husbandry and agronomy (spring, 1926).

27

He married Flora Smith Amussen (10 Sept. 1926); he graduated from Iowa State College with a master’s degree in agricultural economics (13 June 1927).

29

He became a University of Idaho Extension Service agent (4 Mar. 1929).

36

He received a fellowship award and moved to Berkeley, California, where he began graduate studies (1 Aug. 1936).

39

He was set apart by Elder Melvin J. Ballard as president of the Boise Stake (27 Nov. 1938); he began serving as executive secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives in Washington, D.C. (15 Apr. 1939).

40

He was set apart as president of the Washington D.C. Stake (30 June 1940).

44

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

46–47

He reopened missionary work and supervised the distribution of welfare supplies in war torn Europe; he served as president of the European Mission (22 Dec. 1945–22 Dec. 1946).

49

He was elected a member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America, succeeding President George Albert Smith (23 May 1949).

53

He was sworn in as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (20 Jan. 1953).

64

He was called by President David O. McKay to serve as president of the European Mission (18 Oct. 1963).

74

He became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (30 Dec. 1973).

78

He received the George Washington Medal Award from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania (2 May 1978).

86

He became President of the Church (10 Nov. 1985).

87

Stake seventies quorums were discontinued (4 Oct. 1986).

88

He dedicated the Frankfurt Germany Temple (28 Aug. 1987).

89

The Second Quorum of the Seventy was organized (1 Apr. 1989); he received the Bronze Wolf, the highest award given by world Scouting (1 Apr. 1989).

90

He received the Presidential Citizens Medal from U.S. President George H. W. Bush, naming him “one of the most distinguished Americans of his time” (Aug. 1989); he participated in the dedication of the Portland Oregon Temple (19 Aug. 1989).

91

Twenty-nine missions were created (1990).

93

His beloved wife, Flora, died (14 Aug. 1992).

94

He died in Salt Lake City, Utah (30 May 1994).

“In the mid-fifties a young man working in Washington, D.C., became acquainted with Ezra Taft Benson, then secretary of Agriculture. After observing the Secretary function in his demanding, often controversial, post while trying to retain the dignity and deportment of an apostle, the man asked Elder Benson how he managed to handle everything. Elder Benson replied, in words to this effect, ‘I work as hard as I can and do everything within my power. And I try to keep the commandments. Then I let the Lord make up the difference.’ There, in a nutshell, lies the formula to President Benson’s life and to his success” (Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography [1987], vii–viii).

His Great-Grandfather Was an Apostle

Ezra T. Benson (1811-69)

Ezra T. Benson (1811–69), great-grandfather of Ezra Taft Benson

Ezra Taft Benson was named after his great-grandfather, whom Brigham Young called during the exodus to the Salt Lake Valley to be an Apostle. He was the first Apostle called after the death of the prophet Joseph Smith. “It was on the trail that Ezra T. was called to the Quorum of the Twelve. . . . President Young instructed Ezra, in part, ‘If you accept this office, I want you to come immediately to Council Bluffs, to prepare to go to the Rocky Mountains.’ Ezra Benson, at age thirty-five, was ordained an apostle on July 16, 1846, by President Young and promised that he should yet have ‘the strength of Samson.’ Nearly a year later, he was in the first company of pioneers that entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. He spoke in the first sacrament meeting held there, and then headed back across the trail to inform other companies en route that a place of settlement had been located.

George T. Benson Jr.

George T., Ezra Taft Benson’s father

“During subsequent years Ezra would serve a number of missions, Europe and Hawaii among them, travel in and out of Salt Lake City, and play a key role in colonizing the Great Basin, particularly Tooele, Utah, where he milled lumber, and later, Cache Valley [in Idaho]” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 6–7).

A Prophet Is Born

Ezra Taft Benson as a baby

Ezra Taft Benson at three months old

“On October 19, 1898, Sarah [Sophia Dunkley] and George [Taft Benson Jr.] were married in the Logan Temple. The small home they had built and furnished themselves [a mile and a half northeast of Whitney, Idaho,] was ready for occupancy. While not elaborate, it was adequate for a young couple in love. . . .

“George thrived on working in the soil and living by the law of the harvest—that you can only reap what you sow. . . . He was a man of sterling character who felt that no one owed him a living and whose ambition was to help his children help themselves. His wife had qualities to match, particularly when it came to rearing children.

“When Sarah learned they were to be blessed with their first child, she and George were ecstatic. They prayed and planned together about their family, and eagerly awaited the baby’s arrival.

“On August 4, 1899, as Sarah’s labor began, George administered to her. Dr. Allen Cutler attended her in the bedroom of their farm home, with both grandmothers, Louisa Benson and Margaret Dunkley, there. The delivery was protracted. As the baby, a large boy, was delivered, the doctor couldn’t get him to breathe and quickly laid him on the bed and pronounced, ‘There’s no hope for the child, but I believe we can save the mother.’ While Dr. Cutler feverishly attended to Sarah, the grandmothers rushed to the kitchen, praying silently as they worked, and returned shortly with two pans of water—one cold, the other warm. Alternately, they dipped the baby first in cold and then in warm water, until finally they heard a cry. The 11 3/4 pound boy was alive! Later both grandmothers bore testimony that the Lord had spared the child. George and Sarah named him Ezra Taft Benson.

“From the time he could walk, ‘T.’, as young Ezra was nicknamed, was his father’s shadow—riding horses, working in the fields, hitching up the horse and buggy for meetings, playing ball and swimming in the creek. He had a rich sense of heritage, stemming from his birthright as Ezra T. Benson’s eldest great-grandson, but also because he idolized his father and, as a young boy, felt an unusual sense of security and deep pride in who he was. Years later, after George Benson died, his eldest son overheard one of the few non-Mormons in Whitney say, ‘Today we buried the greatest influence for good in Cache Valley.’ Without question, George Benson was a powerful influence in the life of his eldest son” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 12–14).

He Was Raised in a Wonderful Family

Sara Vincent Benson and the Benson children

Sarah Benson and her children, near the time her husband was called on a mission, 1912. Ezra Taft Benson is 14 years old and the tallest of the children.

The Benson home had a warm, enjoyable atmosphere. The children felt that their family was ideal, and their parents adored each other. The farm was a place of hard work and all the family shared the chores. Cultivating potatoes, herding cattle, expanding their home, fixing machinery, and planting sugar beets were some of the tasks that filled their days.

The children learned to work at an early age. Ezra Taft Benson “was only four years of age when he drove a wagon team for the first time, but as he grew up on the farm, his chores went to every phase of agricultural life. He learned the meaning of work and loved it. As one evidence of his industry, when only 16 years of age he single-handedly thinned an entire acre of sugar beets in only one day. He was paid $12 for the work.

“Even with his busy life at work and in school, he always found time to engage in sports, basketball and baseball being his favorites. He played basketball as a boy with President Harold B. Lee, who also grew up in Idaho. They were boyhood friends.

“He attended the Oneida Stake Academy at Preston, Idaho, and traveled from his home to school by horseback or buggy in warm weather and by sleigh in winter” (Mark E. Petersen, “Ezra Taft Benson: ‘A Habit of Integrity,’” Ensign, Oct. 1974, 23).

“George Benson was by nature a happy man. First thing in the morning he shouted, ‘Let a little sunshine in. Clear the darkened windows, open wide the door, let a little sunshine in.’ If the season was warm, he would open the front door, then call his children—‘Ezra, Joe, Margaret, time to get chores done’—and shake the stove vigorously. The boys’ room was directly upstairs, and that was the sign they had better get up. . . .

“Most Saturdays were half-holidays. Around one in the afternoon, the work stopped, and the family joined in everything from horse and foot races to baseball games and small rodeos, where the boys tried to ride calves. Swimming, hiking, and picnicking were favorite activities. It was said that Sarah could pack the finest picnic basket in the valley. The Bensons had the first phonograph in the area, and the boys had a basketball court with backboards at both ends and a dirt playing surface that George rolled until it was smooth and packed solid. The Benson farm was a gathering place for young people” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 21–22).

His Father Was Called on a Mission

“In this childhood setting—one he later called ‘ideal’—Ezra Taft Benson learned how to sacrifice to reap a spiritual harvest. He was just twelve when his father, George Benson, was called to serve an eighteen-month mission in the midwestern United States. There were seven children in the Benson home when their father left for the mission field, with the eighth soon to be born. And Ezra, as the oldest son, had to carry much of the responsibility for the farm. One of President Benson’s most vivid memories of his father’s absence was of gathering around the kitchen table to hear his mother read her husband’s weekly letters. ‘There came into that home a spirit of missionary work that never left,’ recalled President Benson. All eleven Benson children later served missions” (“President Ezra Taft Benson: A Sure Voice of Faith,” Ensign, July 1994, 10).

George T. Benson and his sons

George T. Benson (far right) and his seven sons. Ezra is next to his father.

He Learned Much from His Early School Experiences

Ezra Taft Benson attended the Oneida Stake Academy in Preston, Idaho. It was a Church-sponsored school where morning devotional and prayer began each day’s activities. It was there he first met Harold B. Lee, who was a year ahead of him in school. They became good friends and both sang in the school’s first choir. Ezra’s interests were mainly in the areas of agriculture and vocational training. He believed that a man should be able to fix anything.

He shared the following experience he had in high school:

“I rode horseback three miles each way to get to high school and in bad weather it was a problem sometimes to make my eight o’clock class on time. Like others, I often missed school to help on the farm, especially in the fall, until after harvest, and in the spring, during planting season.

“The one man other than my father who made the most lasting impression was an uncle, Serge B. Benson. He taught me in three different classes—but above all, he taught me lessons in moral, physical, and intellectual courage that I have tried to apply in later life. He reinforced my parents’ emphasis on honesty, on standing by the truth at all costs.

“Sometimes the cost came high.

“One day in the middle of an important examination in high school, the point of my lead pencil broke. In those days, we used pocket knives to sharpen our pencils. I had forgotten my penknife, and turned to ask a neighbor for his. The teacher saw this; he accused me of cheating. When I tried to explain, he gave me a tongue-lashing for lying; worse, he forbade me to play on the basketball team in the upcoming big game.

Ezra Taft and Orval Benson

Ezra Taft Benson (sitting), age 18, and his brother Orval, age 14

“I could see that the more I protested the angrier he seemed to become. But, again and again, I stubbornly told what had happened. Even when the coach pleaded my cause, the teacher refused to budge. The disgrace was almost more than I could bear. Then, just minutes before the game, he had a change of heart, and I was permitted to play. But there was no joy in it. We lost the game; and though that hurt, by far the deeper pain was being branded a cheat and a liar.

“Looking back, I know that lesson was God-sent. Character is shaped in just such crucibles.

“My parents believed me; they were understanding and encouraging. Supported by them, Uncle Serge’s lessons in courage, and a clear conscience, I began to realize that when you are at peace with your Maker you can, if not ignore human criticism, at least rise above it.

“And I learned something else—the importance of avoiding even the appearance of evil. Though I was innocent, circumstance made me look guilty. Since this could so easily be true in many of life’s situations, I made a resolution to keep even the appearance of my actions above question, as far as possible. And it struck me, too, that if this injustice happened to me, it could happen to others, and I must not judge their actions simply on appearances” (Cross Fire: The Eight Years with Eisenhower [1962], 17).

He Enjoyed Playing Basketball

Ezra Taft Benson enjoyed sports, especially basketball. His father loved the game and supported his sons whenever they competed. George Benson encouraged all seven of his sons to play basketball. He issued a challenge through the Franklin County Citizen that his family would take on any other family in basketball. Ezra felt that they were probably fortunate that they did not have any other family take up the challenge. (See Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 38.)

Scouting Became a Lifelong Love

President Benson with scouts in 1977

Ezra Taft Benson was a life-long scouter. Here is President Benson at a National Scout Jamboree in Moraine Park, Pennsylvania, 1977.

Ezra Taft Benson was a lifelong supporter of Scouting. He received the three highest national awards in Scouting—the Silver Beaver, the Silver Antelope, and the Silver Buffalo—as well as world Scouting’s international award, the Bronze Wolf.

“Ezra had a desire to be ‘a leader of boys,’ and in 1918 he got his first formal opportunity when Bishop Benson called his grandson, Ezra, as assistant Scoutmaster to twenty-four lively, mischievous Scouts. (He later became Scoutmaster.) Ezra took to the assignment like a veteran. In those days the YMMIA sponsored choruses for the teenage boys, and the Scoutmaster was expected to get them to practice. The choirs sang not only for pleasure and entertainment but also in competitions. After weeks of practice and pushing and prodding on Ezra’s part, his choir won first place in the Franklin Stake competition, which qualified them to compete in the Logan Tabernacle against six other winning groups. This was a big event for the boys, some of whom had never been as far from home as Logan.

“To motivate his troop, Ezra promised them—‘in a moment of anxiety or weakness,’ he wasn’t sure which—that if they won the regional competition, he would lead them on a thirty-five-mile hike across the mountains to Bear Lake.

“On the night of the competition each choir drew lots for placement. The Whitney chorus drew last place, which prolonged their anxiety. When they were finally announced, twenty-four boys marched up the aisle and on stage while the pianist played ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’ Ezra crouched between two benches to direct their performance. ‘They sang as I’d never heard them sing, and of course I’d not tell the story had we not won first place in Logan,’ he said.

“A promise made is a debt unpaid, and the Scouts had barely been declared the winners when they gathered around their Scoutmaster to remind him of the hike. At a subsequent prehike planning session, one twelve-year-old Scout excitedly suggested, ‘Mr. Scoutmaster, I’d like to make a motion. We should all clip our hair off so we will not be bothered with combs and brushes on the trip.’ The older Scouts squirmed (crewcuts, they thought, would not attract young women), but the motion carried—not, however, before one of the older Scouts said, ‘How about the Scoutmasters?’ It was Ezra’s turn to squirm.

“The following Saturday Ezra took his place in the barber’s chair, with twenty-four Scouts looking on. As the barber neared the end of Ezra’s haircut, he said, ‘If you’ll let me shave your head, I’ll cut the hair of the rest of your boys for nothing.’ Two days later, twenty-four Scouts and one bald Scoutmaster, with his bald assistants, set out for Bear Lake. The ten-day hike was ‘glorious nevertheless,’ filled with fishing, camping, hiking, swimming, and camaraderie. ‘One of the joys of working with boys is that you get your pay as you go along,’ Ezra later explained. ‘You can observe the results of your leadership daily. . . . Such satisfaction cannot be purchased at any price; it must be earned.’ [See Ezra Taft Benson, “Scouting Builds Men,” New Era, Feb. 1975, 14–18.]” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 42–44).

He Was Called as a Missionary to England

Ezra Taft Benson as a missionary

A missionary to the British Isles, 1921–23
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In the early 1850s when many of the Saints were moving to the Great Salt Lake Basin, the missionaries in Great Britain were enjoying great success. Church membership in Great Britain was then double that in the United States. Many of the British converts eventually migrated to America and settled in the western frontier. By the early 1900s, however, anti-Mormons had created a hostile environment that made missionary work difficult in Great Britain. Motion pictures and publications of the time depicted Mormons as deceptive and immoral.

In 1921, Ezra Taft Benson was called to serve a mission in England. In 1922, Elder David O. McKay, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was called as the mission president and found England flooded with the vilest slander against the Church. It was in this atmosphere that Elder Benson served.

“A series of one-liners in his journal indicates the challenges [Elder Benson faced]: ‘Cussed by a little 18 yr. old maid . . . tracting among the rich—enjoyed it in spite of their bitterness’; ‘detectives on our trail at present’; ‘two ministers watching us tract. ha! Rain and snow.’ Maids in some wealthy homes usually answered the door, and some subsequently accused the missionaries of trying to lure them away. An anti-Mormon lecture, ‘Inside of Mormonism,’ was held one evening while the Saints were holding an MIA meeting. ‘Town in uproar about Mormons. All of vast assembly voted to have us put out of town,’ Ezra wrote on March 30, 1922. He penned a rebuttal for the Cumberland News denouncing lies published about Mormonism.

“Despite the rejections, Ezra kept his sense of humor (‘Went tracting, was kicked out twice is all’) and perspective (‘Kids yelling Mormons! as we go down to church, but thank the Lord I’m one’). But conditions continued to intensify to the point where the missionaries even called on the police for protection. In April 1922, while trying to rent a hall for a meeting, Ezra lamented, ‘Searched in vain for a hall but no success. The world seems to be against the work of the Lord.’

“Opposition notwithstanding, some good came of the anti-Mormon tirades. The Millennial Star, reporting on a meeting held in Grimsby on March 31, 1922, noted, ‘It was the unanimous opinion that more good than harm was resulting. All the meetings are better attended than they have been for years past and many new friends are being made’” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 58).

Ezra Taft Benson with fellow missionaries

Missionaries to the British Isles. Elder Ezra Taft Benson is seated on the far right, next to his mission president, David O. McKay, and Sister McKay, 1922.

He Married Flora Amussen, His Lifelong Companion

Flora Amussen Benson

Flora Amussen Benson
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Ezra Taft Benson married Flora Smith Amussen on 10 September 1926 in the Salt Lake Temple. She was the daughter of a Danish pioneer who immigrated from Denmark. Her father was a jeweler and watchmaker. Some of Ezra’s friends felt he had no chance of dating her. He “recalled that he was spending a weekend with his friends in Logan, Utah, when he first saw his future bride. ‘We were out near the dairy barns when a young woman—very attractive—drove by in her little car on her way to the dairy to get some milk,’ he remembered. ‘As the boys waved at her, she waved back. I said, “Who is that girl?” They said, “That’s Flora Amussen.” I told them, “You know, I’ve just had the impression I’m going to marry her”.’

“His friends laughed and told him, ‘She’s too popular for a farm boy.’ Young Ezra simply said, ‘That makes it all the more interesting.’

Ezra Taft Benson on mountaintop

Hiking Mount Timpanogos, in Utah, 1926. Ezra is in the center.

“After a ‘wonderful courtship,’ he was called on a mission to Great Britain. Flora had graduated from Brigham Young College (which offered a high school curriculum from 1909 until it closed in 1926) and would be attending Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University).

“‘When I came back, we resumed our courting,’ President Benson related. ‘Then to my great surprise, Flora received a mission call to go to the Hawaiian Islands. I was really pleased to see her have this opportunity to go. She saw it as an opportunity for me to graduate from college.’

“Brother Benson graduated from Brigham Young University in 1926, the same year Sister Benson completed her mission. They married when she returned, and the couple moved to Ames, Iowa, where President Benson had been granted a seventy-dollar-a-month scholarship to study agriculture at Iowa State College (now Iowa State University).

Ezra Taft Benson in cap and gown

Graduation from Brigham Young University, 1926

“After Brother Benson finished his graduate studies and received his master’s degree in 1929, the Bensons moved to an eighty-acre farm near Whitney, Idaho. Brother Benson became a county agricultural agent, an Extension Service economist, and a marketing specialist for the University of Idaho” (“President and Sister Benson Celebrate 60th Wedding Anniversary,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 99).

He Wanted to Help Farmers

Ezra Taft Benson with his children

Ezra Taft Benson with his children, Boise, Idaho, late 1930s

“Ezra Taft [Benson] returned to Whitney[, Idaho,] with a master’s degree and an eagerness to help other farmers improve their crops. He was so helpful, in fact, that his neighbors drafted him as county agricultural extension agent.

“For the next fifteen years, his work in agriculture and his Church service increased in scope and influence. At thirty-one, he went to Boise, where he was agricultural economist and marketing specialist for the University of Idaho and where he founded a farmers’ cooperative council. In Boise he also served as stake MIA superintendent, counselor in a stake presidency, and stake president. At thirty-nine, he was offered a position in Washington, D.C., as executive secretary of a national organization representing more than two million farmers and forty-six hundred cooperative farming groups. He accepted the job only after he was assured that he would not have to lobby at cocktail parties or compromise his standards in any way. By age forty, he was serving as stake president for the second time—this time of the newly formed Washington (D.C.) Stake” (“President Ezra Taft Benson,” Ensign, July 1994, 12–13).

When he worked as an agricultural economist and marketing specialist for the University of Idaho, “he observed situations that didn’t make sense—farmers who raised grain yet scrimped to buy high-priced puffed wheat in a box; who bought the fruit the family ate rather than raising fruit on idle acres; who left valuable equipment outside to rust in winter without taking preventive measures. He cried with men whose homesteads had been in their families for decades and who knew nothing other than tilling the soil, but who couldn’t afford to stay on the farm.

“After his first tour of the state, Ezra came to appreciate more fully the Prophet Joseph Smith’s counsel to the Latter-day Saints that men should be taught correct principles and then allowed to govern themselves. ‘I had a firm philosophy,’ Ezra said. ‘You cannot help people permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves. I had to help the people stand on their own feet’” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 107).

He Was Called to the Apostleship

Elders Benson and Kimball

Elders Spencer W. Kimball and Ezra Taft Benson were both sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in October 1943.

“On 26 July 1943, Ezra Taft Benson’s true vocation of serving in the kingdom became his full-time occupation when President Heber J. Grant called him to be the youngest member of the Quorum of the Twelve. He was set apart on October 7 of that year, the same day as Elder Spencer W. Kimball, whom he would follow as President [of the Church]” (“President Ezra Taft Benson,” Ensign, July 1994, 14).

On 26 July Ezra received a phone call asking him to meet with President Grant “at his summer home in a nearby canyon. . . .

“. . . Ezra was immediately shown into President Grant’s bedroom, where the aged prophet was resting. At the President’s bidding, Ezra closed the door and approached him, sitting down on a chair next to the bed. President Grant took Ezra’s right hand in both of his and, with tears filling his eyes, said simply, ‘Brother Benson, with all my heart I congratulate you and pray God’s blessing to attend you. You have been chosen as the youngest member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles.’

Elder Ezra Taft Benson

Elder Ezra Taft Benson

“The shock registered in Ezra’s face. He felt as if the earth were sinking from beneath him. He had had no premonition of the calling. Later he recorded his feelings: ‘The announcement seemed unbelievable and overwhelming. . . . For several minutes [I] could say only, “Oh, President Grant, that can’t be!” which I must have repeated several times before I was able to collect my [thoughts] enough to realize what had happened. . . . He held my hand for a long time as we both shed tears. . . . For over an hour we were alone together, much of the time with our hands clasped warmly together. [Though he was] feeble, his mind was clear and alert, and I was deeply impressed with his sweet, kindly, humble spirit as he seemed to look into my soul.

“‘I felt so utterly weak and unworthy that his words of comfort and reassurance which followed were doubly appreciated. Among other things he stated, “The Lord has a way of magnifying men who are called to positions of leadership.” When in my weakness I was able to state that I loved the Church he said, “We know that, and the Lord wants men who will give everything for His work.”

“‘He told of the action taken in a special meeting of the First Presidency and the Twelve two weeks before and that the discussion regarding me had been enthusiastically unanimous. . . . I feel confident that only [through] the rich blessings of the Almighty can this ever be realized.’

“The President asked Ezra to attend general conference in October, when he would be sustained and ordained. He also told him that his grandfather and other faithful progenitors were rejoicing at this appointment of a descendant to the apostleship” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 174–75).

He Went on a Mission to Help the Suffering Saints of Europe

Elder Benson and Max Zimmer with crates of relief supplies

Elder Benson and Max Zimmer in the warehouse of the International Red Cross at Geneva, Switzerland, inspecting supplies to be sent to the Saints in Europe, 1946

“In December 1945, Elder Benson was assigned to preside over the European Mission in the aftermath of World War II. Specifically, his commission was to reopen missions throughout Europe and to distribute food, clothing, and bedding to the suffering Saints.

“On an almost eleven-month mission of love, Elder Benson traveled more than sixty thousand miles to Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Scandinavia—often in freezing weather in unheated trains and planes. With typical optimism, he organized the ‘K-Ration Quartet’ with his traveling companions, to sing away the tedious and uncomfortable hours.

“Time and time again, when permission to enter war-torn countries or to distribute supplies seemed impossible to obtain, Elder Benson appealed to the Lord to open the way. Barrier after barrier was dissolved, and thousands of tons of Church welfare supplies were sent to the Saints in Europe. During this mission, Elder Benson also dedicated Finland for the preaching of the gospel.

Viewing destruction of WWII

Post World War II devastation, 1946

“Elder Benson met in bombed-out schoolhouses and meetinghouses with Saints who had lost homes, families, health—everything except their devotion to the gospel. The scenes of starvation and destruction never faded from President Benson’s memory. Nor did the faces and the faith of his beloved European brothers and sisters, of whom he often spoke throughout his life. Eighteen years later, Elder Benson again presided over the European missions, this time with headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany. He always took special joy in seeing stakes, missions, and temples established in Europe” (“President Ezra Taft Benson,” Ensign, July 1994, 14).

In August 1946 “Elder Benson learned that Elder Alma Sonne, an Assistant to the Twelve, had been called to succeed him in Europe. The news was unexpected. He had planned to be in Europe for another six months and believed there was much left to do. But he was delighted to be going home. In a moment of rare reflection, he admitted that the previous months had been ‘a bit rough and rugged, but the Lord has sustained me in a most remarkable way.’

Elder Bensin with Church members in Poland

Elder Benson and a group of Saints in Poland, 1946

“But because word of the change came so suddenly, Elder Benson wondered if his performance had been acceptable. Then an unusual experience allayed his fears, and he recorded it in his journal: ‘Last night, in a dream, I was privileged to spend, what seemed about an hour, with Pres. George Albert Smith in Salt Lake. It was a most impressive and soul-satisfying experience. We talked intimately together about the Great Work in which we are engaged and about my devoted family. I felt the warmth of his embrace as we both shed tears of gratitude for the rich blessings of the Lord. . . . The last day or so I have been wondering if my labors in Europe have been acceptable to the First [Presidency] and the Brethren at home and especially to my Heavenly Father. This sweet experience has tended to put my mind completely at ease, for which I am deeply grateful.’

Elder Benson in Europe after WWII

Welfare supplies for war torn Europe, 1946

“Shortly thereafter Elder Harold B. Lee wrote Ezra, ‘The brethren are united in the feeling that you have performed a glorious mission and a work that could hardly have been accomplished by one of lesser courage and ability . . . and with undaunted faith in the power of the Lord to overcome obstacles’” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 224).

He Was United States Secretary of Agriculture

Ezra Taft Benson taking oath

Elder Ezra Taft Benson being sworn in as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture by Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, with U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower looking on, January 1953

“In 1952, Elder Benson was astonished to receive a telephone call informing him that U.S. President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower, a man he had never met, wanted to talk to him about becoming U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Farm leaders had recommended Ezra Taft Benson as the best man for the job. With Church President David O. McKay’s blessing and President Eisenhower’s assurance that he need never endorse a policy that he did not agree with, Elder Benson became Secretary Benson. The Benson family returned to Washington, D.C., for the eight years of the Eisenhower administration” (“President Ezra Taft Benson,” Ensign, July 1994, 14–15).

The years he served politically (1953–61) were challenging years. “Early on, Elder Benson sought a blessing from the First Presidency. Assisted by J. Reuben Clark, President McKay pronounced words of comfort and counsel on the apostle’s head: ‘You will have a responsibility, even greater than your associates in the cabinet because you go . . . as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are entitled to inspiration from on high, and if you so live and think and pray, you will have that divine guidance which others may not have. . . . We bless you, therefore, dear Brother Ezra, that when questions of right and wrong come before the men with whom you are deliberating, you may see clearly what is right, and knowing it, that you may have courage to stand by that which is right and proper. . . . We seal upon you the blessings of . . . sound judgment, clear vision, that you might see afar the needs of this country; vision that you might see, too, the enemies who would thwart the freedoms of the individual as vouchsafed by the Constitution, . . . and may you be fearless in the condemnation of these subversive influences, and strong in your defense of the rights and privileges of the Constitution’” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 258–59).

Ezra Taft Benson walking in dusty field

Secretary Benson inspecting a farm during a drought

While Elder Benson served as Secretary of Agriculture, he faced many hostile groups who, after hearing him, were convinced that he was an honest man. A number of his critics became his advocates. Many times he convinced those same groups that his views were the best and that all could benefit if they supported him. President Eisenhower recognized that much of his administration’s popularity, especially in the south, was due to his Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson.

“For a man who opposed big government, Ezra was taking the reins of an enormous department. The USDA housed one tenth of its 78,000 employees in the combined Administration and South buildings in Washington, D. C., containing between them nearly five thousand rooms and eight miles of corridors. The remainder were scattered in ten thousand locations throughout the United States and in fifty countries. His 1953 budget, $2.1 billion, was, next to the Treasury, the largest for any civilian department. He and his staff would oversee food needs for 160 million Americans” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 260).

“In that period, controversy was raging about how to stabilize supply and demand in an uncertain farm economy, and Ezra Taft Benson’s face appeared on the covers of national magazines as he dealt with the problem. He spoke forthrightly, without regard for how popular his opinion might be. Speaking to farmers and politicians, he dared to suggest that the solutions to economic and political problems are based on spiritual and moral principles, without which no nation can have prosperity or peace. In Washington, Elder Benson instigated the practice of opening Cabinet meetings with prayer, and the Bensons presented a family home evening program to the Eisenhowers” (Ensign, July 1994, 15).

Ezra Taft Benson on cover of Time magazine

Time magazine’s “Man of the Year,” 13 April 1953. Secretary Benson was on the cover of several national magazines.

“As U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson spent eight years in what he called ‘the cross fire’ of national politics. . . . He was one of only two Cabinet members who lasted both terms of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration. . . .

“Taking his post, he found himself in the ‘hot seat’—advocating unpopular but later proven sound farm policies and programs.

“In Cross Fire, a book he wrote about his Cabinet years, he declared, ‘In politics . . . it helps to have a hide like an elephant.’

“His critics were so vocal that another Cabinet officer once remarked, ‘Every night when I go to bed I thank God I’m not the Secretary of Agriculture.’

Eisenhower cabinet meeting

The Eisenhower cabinet. Secretary Benson is third from the right. He served as Secretary of Agriculture from 1953–61.

“Though the tide of public opinion often washed against him, time proved him a wise, competent Secretary, and one of the most popular who ever served.

“Secretary Benson declared: ‘The supreme test of any government policy, agricultural or other, should be, “How will it affect the character, morale, and well-being of our people?”’

“Standing firm in his beliefs, he won the farm vote in 1956 and again in 1960. As years passed, many critics became advocates” (Gerry Avant, “8 Years in ‘Cross Fire’ of U.S. Politics,” Church News, 4 June 1994, 17).

“Throughout the Cabinet years, Elder Benson maintained a calm in the face of criticism so fierce that it amazed even those who disagreed with his policies. A plaque on his desk reading ‘O God, give us men with a mandate higher than the ballot box’ explained one reason for his equanimity: Ezra Taft Benson merely did what he thought was best, not what might have been politically expedient. He later told the other reason: ‘I have prayed—we have prayed as a family—that we could avoid any spirit of hatred or bitterness’ (in Conference Report, Apr. 1961, p. 112)” (Ensign, July 1994, 15).

Ezra Taft Benson talking to farmers

Secretary Benson talking with farmers in Nebraska

The Bensons Were a Close Family

Ezra Taft Benson family with U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Benson family with U.S. President Eisenhower (center)

“President Benson’s family—with their musicales, home evenings, and prayers for each other—was always his refuge and support. The Washington press was astounded that Elder and Sister Benson felt no qualms about refusing social invitations when a child’s concert or a daddy-daughter scavenger hunt was at stake” (Ensign, July 1994, 15).

“When he was asked to an important dinner by a Cabinet officer, [Ezra Taft] Benson said, ‘Sorry, I have a date with my daughter Bonnie.’

“The date was a father-daughter party and scavenger hunt at the Mormon Church. After a supper, at which each girl served her father, everybody joined the scavenger hunt. The first father-daughter team to come back with the stipulated ‘treasure’ won the evening’s prize.

“Residents of the area around the church were rather startled that night to answer their doorbells and find the broad-shouldered Secretary of Agriculture and a 14-year-old girl asking for such things as a green toothpick, an old shoelace, a 1952 calendar, and last September’s issue of a news magazine. The Benson team was so fleet, however, that it won first prize: a chest filled with ‘dollars’ (chocolate candy). ‘He was happier about this,’ said a fellow church member, ‘than an invitation to the White House.’ Such simple family enterprises afford him a measure of relaxation that would be hard to find at functions of state” (Roul Tunley, “Everybody Picks on Benson,” American Magazine, June 1954, 108).

President Benson waving to crowd

A welcome home at an airport in 1958

“Pray for Dad”

“On an April day 21 years ago, I discovered one source of a General Authority’s strength.

“I was seated with the six children of Elder Ezra Taft Benson, one of whom was my college roommate. My interest heightened when President McKay arose and announced the next speaker. I watched respectfully as Elder Benson, whom I had not yet met, walked toward the microphone. He was a big man, well over six feet tall. He was a man with a Ph.D., a man internationally known as the United States Secretary of Agriculture and a special witness of the Lord, a man who seemed serene and sure, one who had addressed audiences throughout the world. Suddenly a hand touched my arm. A little girl leaned toward me and whispered urgently, ‘Pray for dad.’

“Somewhat startled, I thought, ‘This message is being passed down the row, and I am to pass it on. Shall I say, “Pray for Elder Benson”? Shall I say, “You’re supposed to say a prayer for your father”?’ Sensing the immediate need to act, I leaned over and whispered simply, ‘Pray for dad.’

“I watched that whisper move along the row to where Sister Benson sat, her head already bowed. . . .

“As years have passed, general conferences have come and gone, and each time President Benson has stood to speak, I have thought, ‘His children, who are scattered across the continent, are united now in prayer for their father.’

“And I have come to believe that the brief message that passed along the row some 21 years ago is the most important message a family can share. What extraordinary power and faith any man can have to meet the daily challenge of his life if somewhere in the world his daughter or son is whispering, ‘Pray for dad’” (Elaine S. McKay, “Pray for Dad,” New Era, Jan.–Feb. 1981, 7).

He Taught about the Importance of the Home

Elder Benson and family in car

On a family outing

Elder Ezra Taft Benson said: “No nation rises above its homes. In building character the church, the school, and even the nation stand helpless when confronted with a weakened and degraded home. The good home is the rock foundation—the cornerstone of civilization. There can be no genuine happiness separate and apart from a good home, with the old-fashioned virtues at its base. If your nation is to endure, the home must be safeguarded, strengthened, and restored to its rightful importance” (in Conference Report, April 1966, 130).

He Became President of the Twelve

Presidents Benson and Kimball

With President Spencer W. Kimball

On 30 December 1973, at the age of seventy-four, Elder Ezra Taft Benson was set apart as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “He had been an apostle for thirty years and from the moment his colleague who had sat next to him throughout that entire period was ordained the prophet, Ezra sustained him fully. . . .

“As for his own assignment, which had come so unexpectedly, he confided in his journal: ‘It is almost overwhelming as I contemplate . . . being called to serve as the President of the Twelve. With all my heart I will seek the inspiration of heaven and the blessings of our Heavenly Father. I know the work is true. I know that God lives and that this Church carries the name of Jesus Christ. With His aid and the aid of my Heavenly Father, I am sure I will be blessed with success in my humble efforts.’ . . .

“In April 1974 President Kimball outlined his vision of an expanded missionary program in a masterful address to Regional Representatives [see Spencer W. Kimball, “‘When the World Will Be Converted,’” Ensign, Oct. 1974, 3–14]. Elder William Grant Bangerter of the First Quorum of the Seventy recalled that President Kimball had not spoken long when ‘a new awareness seemed suddenly to fall on the congregation. We became alert to an astonishing spiritual presence, and we realized that we were listening to something unusual. . . . It was as if, spiritually speaking, our hair began to stand on end.’ When President Kimball concluded, President Benson declared in a voice filled with emotion, ‘President Kimball, through all the years that these meetings have been held, we have never heard such an address as you have just given. Truly there is a prophet in Israel.’ That night Ezra recorded in his journal, ‘It is my prayer that Brother Kimball will live for many, many years. The Lord is magnifying him. The mantle of the President has fallen upon him. He . . . will be a great blessing to the entire Church’” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 426, 431).

Spirituality Is a Key to Keeping Freedom Alive

President Ezra Taft Benson was a strong advocate of freedom. On one occasion he wrote: “What can we do to keep the light of freedom alive? Keep the commandments of God. Walk circumspectly before Him. Pay our tithes and fast offerings. Attend our temples. Stay morally clean. Participate in local elections, for the Lord has said, ‘Honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold.’ (D&C 98:10.) Be honest in all our dealings. Faithfully hold our family home evenings. Pray—pray to the God of heaven that He will intervene to preserve our precious freedoms, that His gospel may go to every nation and people. Yes, in the words of the Lord Himself: ‘Stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come. . . .’ (D&C 87:8.) Those ‘holy places’ are our temples, stakes, wards, and homes” (This Nation Shall Endure [1977], 9–10).

He Became President of the Church

President Ezra Taft Benson with his Counselors

The First Presidency: Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson

On 10 November 1985, nearly twelve years after he became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Ezra Taft Benson was ordained and set apart as President of the Church. It was not a day he had anticipated. He and Sister Benson had prayed that President Kimball’s life would be prolonged. Nevertheless, he said:

“Now that the Lord has spoken, we will do our best, under his guiding direction, to move the work forward in the earth. . . .

“Some have expectantly inquired about the direction the Church will take in the future. May we suggest that the Lord, through President Kimball, has sharply focused on the threefold mission of the Church: to preach the gospel, to perfect the saints, and to redeem the dead. We shall continue every effort to carry out this mission” (quoted in Don L. Searle, “President Ezra Taft Benson Ordained Thirteenth President of the Church,” Ensign, Dec. 1985, 5).

“[President Benson] was eighty-six when the mantle of the prophet came upon him, but he was noticeably enlivened and strengthened by the call. He traveled extensively throughout the Church, dedicating temples and speaking to the Saints. . . .

“During his presidency, President Benson witnessed another remarkable set of events involving the principles of freedom he had defended so forthrightly throughout his life. Miraculously, the Iron Curtain in eastern Europe began to part for the blessing of the people he had grown to love after World War II. In 1985 the Freiberg Temple, located in the German Democratic Republic, had been dedicated—a miracle in itself. But without missionary work in that country, the Church’s growth was limited. Then, in 1988, the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic granted permission for missionaries to serve there and also for its young citizens to serve missions elsewhere.

“By 1990, winds of political change were sweeping the world. Barriers between East and West began to dissolve as the peoples of eastern Europe and other nations fervently embraced principles of democracy and religion” (Ensign, July 1994, 16, 18–19).

President Benson Loved the Book of Mormon

President Benson reading the scriptures

He had a lifetime love of the Book of Mormon

President Howard W. Hunter, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said:

“President Benson spoke lovingly and frequently of missionary work and temples and the responsibilities of the priesthood. He spoke of our pioneer heritage and the dangers of pride and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But most of all he spoke of his beloved Book of Mormon.

“Will any generation, including those yet unborn, look back on the administration of President Ezra Taft Benson and not immediately think of his love for the Book of Mormon? Perhaps no President of the Church since the Prophet Joseph Smith himself has done more to teach the truths of the Book of Mormon, to make it a daily course of study for the entire membership of the Church, and to ‘flood the earth’ with its distribution.

“At the very outset of his ministry as prophet, seer, and revelator, President Benson said unequivocally, ‘The Book of Mormon must be reenthroned in the minds and hearts of our people. We must honor it by reading, by studying it, by taking its precepts into our lives and transforming them into lives required of the true followers of Christ’” (“A Strong and Mighty Man,” Ensign, July 1994, 42).

The Book of Mormon Brings Men to Christ

President Benson speaking

President Benson speaking at general conference

President Ezra Taft Benson, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught how the Book of Mormon brings people to Christ:

“The Book of Mormon brings men to Christ through two basic means. First, it tells in a plain manner of Christ and his gospel. It testifies of his divinity and of the necessity for a Redeemer and the need of putting trust in him. It bears witness of the Fall and the Atonement and the first principles of the gospel, including our need of a broken heart and a contrite spirit and a spiritual rebirth. It proclaims we must endure to the end in righteousness and live the moral life of a Saint.

“Second, the Book of Mormon exposes the enemies of Christ. It confounds false doctrines and lays down contention. (See 2 Ne. 3:12.) It fortifies the humble followers of Christ against the evil designs, strategies, and doctrines of the devil in our day. The type of apostates in the Book of Mormon are similar to the type we have today. God, with his infinite foreknowledge, so molded the Book of Mormon that we might see the error and know how to combat false educational, political, religious, and philosophical concepts of our time” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1975, 94–95; or Ensign, May 1975, 64).

He Gave a Blessing of Increased Discernment and Understanding

Elder Benson and family sitting on fence

The Benson family visiting a ranch

At the close of the April 1986 general conference, President Ezra Taft Benson gave a prophet’s blessing:

“In our day, the Lord has revealed the need to reemphasize the Book of Mormon to get the Church and all the children of Zion out from under the condemnation—the scourge and judgment. (See D&C 84:54–58.) This message must be carried to the members of the Church throughout the world. . . .

“Now, in the authority of the sacred priesthood in me vested, I invoke my blessing upon the Latter-day Saints and upon good people everywhere.

“I bless you with increased discernment to judge between Christ and anti-Christ. I bless you with increased power to do good and to resist evil. I bless you with increased understanding of the Book of Mormon. I promise you that from this moment forward, if we will daily sup from its pages and abide by its precepts, God will pour out upon each child of Zion and the Church a blessing hitherto unknown—and we will plead to the Lord that He will begin to lift the condemnation—the scourge and judgment. Of this I bear solemn witness” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1986, 100; or Ensign, May 1986, 78).

“I Have a Vision of Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon”

President Ezra Taft Benson told Church members:

“The Book of Mormon is the instrument that God designed to ‘sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out [His] elect’ (Moses 7:62). This sacred volume of scripture needs to become more central to our preaching, our teaching, and our missionary work. . . .

“The time is long overdue for a massive flooding of the earth with the Book of Mormon for the many reasons which the Lord has given. In this age of the electronic media and mass distribution of the printed word, God will hold us accountable if we do not now move the Book of Mormon in a monumental way.

“We have the Book of Mormon, we have the members, we have the missionaries, we have the resources, and the world has the need.

The time is now! . . .

President Benson speaking

President Benson speaking at a general priesthood meeting

“I have a vision of homes alerted, of classes alive, and of pulpits aflame with the spirit of Book of Mormon messages.

“I have a vision of home teachers and visiting teachers, ward and branch officers, and stake and mission leaders counseling our people out of the most correct of any book on earth—the Book of Mormon.

“I have a vision of artists putting into film, drama, literature, music, and paintings great themes and great characters from the Book of Mormon.

“I have a vision of thousands of missionaries going into the mission field with hundreds of passages memorized from the Book of Mormon so that they might feed the needs of a spiritually famished world.

“I have a vision of the whole Church getting nearer to God by abiding by the precepts of the Book of Mormon.

“Indeed, I have a vision of flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon.

“My beloved Saints, I am now entering my ninetieth year. I am getting older and less vigorous. . . .

“I do not know fully why God has preserved my life to this age, but I do know this: That for the present hour He has revealed to me the absolute need for us to move the Book of Mormon forward now in a marvelous manner. You must help with this burden and with this blessing which He has placed on the whole Church, even all the children of Zion.

“Moses never entered the promised land. Joseph Smith never saw Zion redeemed. Some of us may not live long enough to see the day when the Book of Mormon floods the earth and when the Lord lifts His condemnation (see D&C 84:54–58). But, God willing, I intend to spend all my remaining days in that glorious effort” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1988, 3–5; or Ensign, Nov. 1988, 4–6).

He Counseled the Youth to Be Clean

Elder Benson teaching two girls

Always willing to teach

President Ezra Taft Benson gave the following counsel on chastity to the youth:

“I recognize that most people fall into sexual sin in a misguided attempt to fulfill basic human needs. We all have a need to feel loved and worthwhile. We all seek to have joy and happiness in our lives. Knowing this, Satan often lures people into immorality by playing on their basic needs. He promises pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment.

“But this is, of course, a deception. . . .

“Do not be misled by Satan’s lies. There is no lasting happiness in immorality. There is no joy to be found in breaking the law of chastity. Just the opposite is true. There may be momentary pleasure. For a time it may seem like everything is wonderful. But quickly the relationship will sour. Guilt and shame set in. We become fearful that our sins will be discovered. We must sneak and hide, lie and cheat. Love begins to die. Bitterness, jealousy, anger, and even hate begin to grow. All of these are the natural results of sin and transgression.

“On the other hand, when we obey the law of chastity and keep ourselves morally clean, we will experience the blessings of increased love and peace, greater trust and respect for our marital partners, deeper commitment to each other, and, therefore, a deep and significant sense of joy and happiness” (“The Law of Chastity,” in Brigham Young University 1987–88 Devotional and Fireside Speeches [1988], 50–51).

He Counseled Single Adult Men to Pursue the Goal of a Celestial Marriage

After counseling the young single adult men of the Church to examine their priorities, President Ezra Taft Benson said:

“May I now say an additional word about an eternal opportunity and responsibility . . . which is of greatest importance to you. I am referring to celestial marriage. . . .

President Benson playing baseball

He enjoyed playing baseball.

“. . . We want you to know that the position of the Church has never changed regarding the importance of celestial marriage. It is a commandment of God. The Lord’s declaration in Genesis is still true: ‘And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone’ (Genesis 2:18).

“To obtain a fulness of glory and exaltation in the celestial kingdom, one must enter into this holiest of ordinances.

“Without marriage, the purposes of the Lord would be frustrated. Choice spirits would be withheld from the experience of mortality. And postponing marriage unduly often means limiting your posterity, and the time will come, brethren, when you will feel and know that loss.

“I can assure you that the greatest responsibility and the greatest joys in life are centered in the family, honorable marriage, and rearing a righteous posterity. And the older you become, the less likely you are to marry, and then you may lose these eternal blessings altogether. . . .

“I realize that some of you brethren may have genuine fears regarding the real responsibilities that will be yours if you do marry. You are concerned about being able to support a wife and family and provide them with the necessities in these uncertain economic times. Those fears must be replaced with faith.

“I assure you, brethren, that if you will be industrious, faithfully pay your tithes and offerings, and conscientiously keep the commandments, the Lord will sustain you. Yes, there will be sacrifices required, but you will grow from these and will be a better man for having met them.

“Work hard educationally and in your vocation. Put your trust in the Lord, have faith, and it will work out. The Lord never gives a commandment without providing the means to accomplish it (see 1 Nephi 3:7).

“Also, do not be caught up in materialism, one of the real plagues of our generation—that is, acquiring things, fast-paced living, and securing career success in the single state.

“Honorable marriage is more important than wealth, position, and status. As husband and wife, you can achieve your life’s goals together. As you sacrifice for each other and your children, the Lord will bless you, and your commitment to the Lord and your service in His kingdom will be enhanced.

“Now, brethren, do not expect perfection in your choice of a mate. Do not be so particular that you overlook her most important qualities of having a strong testimony, living the principles of the gospel, loving home, wanting to be a mother in Zion, and supporting you in your priesthood responsibilities.

“Of course, she should be attractive to you, but do not just date one girl after another for the sole pleasure of dating without seeking the Lord’s confirmation in your choice of your eternal companion.

“And one good yardstick as to whether a person might be the right one for you is this: in her presence, do you think your noblest thoughts, do you aspire to your finest deeds, do you wish you were better than you are?” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1988, 58–59; or Ensign, May 1988, 51–53).

He Counseled Single Adult Sisters to Keep the Goal of a Celestial Marriage

President Benson with girls

A light moment with some young women

After expressing his love and gratitude to the single adult sisters of the Church, President Ezra Taft Benson said:

“I would like to express the hope we all have for you, which is so real, that you will be exalted in the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom and that you will enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.

“Dear sisters, never lose sight of this sacred goal. Prayerfully prepare for it and live for it. Be married the Lord’s way. Temple marriage is a gospel ordinance of exaltation. Our Father in Heaven wants each of His daughters to have this eternal blessing.

“Therefore, don’t trifle away your happiness by involvement with someone who cannot take you worthily to the temple. Make a decision now that this is the place where you will marry. To leave that decision until a romantic involvement develops is to take a risk the importance of which you cannot now fully calculate.

“And remember, you are not required to lower your standards in order to get a mate. Keep yourselves attractive, maintain high standards, maintain your self-respect. Do not engage in intimacies that bring heartache and sorrow. Place yourselves in a position to meet worthy men and be engaged in constructive activities.

“But also, do not expect perfection in your choice of a mate. Do not be so concerned about his physical appearance and his bank account that you overlook his more important qualities. Of course, he should be attractive to you, and he should be able to financially provide for you. But, does he have a strong testimony? Does he live the principles of the gospel and magnify his priesthood? Is he active in his ward and stake? Does he love home and family, and will he be a faithful husband and a good father? These are qualities that really matter.

“And I would also caution you single sisters not to become so independent and self-reliant that you decide marriage isn’t worth it and you can do just as well on your own. Some of our sisters indicate that they do not want to consider marriage until after they have completed their degrees or pursued a career. This is not right. Certainly we want our single sisters to maximize their individual potential, to be well educated, and to do well at their present employment. You have much to contribute to society, to your community, and to your neighborhood. But we earnestly pray that our single sisters will desire honorable marriage in the temple to a worthy man and rear a righteous family, even though this may mean the sacrificing of degrees and careers. Our priorities are right when we realize there is no higher calling than to be an honorable wife and mother.

“I also recognize that not all women in the Church will have an opportunity for marriage and motherhood in mortality. But if those of you in this situation are worthy and endure faithfully, you can be assured of all blessings from a kind and loving Heavenly Father—and I emphasize all blessings.

“I assure you that if you have to wait even until the next life to be blessed with a choice companion, God will surely compensate you. Time is numbered only to man. God has your eternal perspective in mind” (“To the Single Adult Sisters of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 96–97).

He Counseled Fathers on Their Eternal Calling

President Benson

President Ezra Taft Benson

President Ezra Taft Benson said:

“Fathers, yours is an eternal calling from which you are never released. Callings in the Church, as important as they are, by their very nature are only for a period of time, and then an appropriate release takes place. But a father’s calling is eternal, and its importance transcends time. It is a calling for both time and eternity. . . .

“What . . . is a father’s specific responsibility within the sacred walls of his home? May I suggest two basic responsibilities of every father in Israel.

“First, you have a sacred responsibility to provide for the material needs of your family. . . .

“Second, you have a sacred responsibility to provide spiritual leadership in your family. . . .

“Mothers play an important role as the heart of the home, but this in no way lessens the equally important role fathers should play, as head of the home, in nurturing, training, and loving their children.

“As the patriarch in your home, you have a serious responsibility to assume leadership in working with your children. You must help create a home where the Spirit of the Lord can abide. Your place is to give direction to all family life” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1987, 59–62; or Ensign, Nov. 1987, 48–50).

President Benson later said:

“We once knew well . . . our Father in Heaven. . . .

“Now we are here. Our memories are veiled. We are showing God and ourselves what we can do. Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar His face is to us” (“Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” Ensign, Dec. 1988, 6).

He Counseled Mothers about the Nobility of Their Work

In a fireside address to parents, President Ezra Taft Benson spoke of the important role of mothers:

“No more sacred word exists in secular or holy writ than that of mother. There is no more noble work than that of a good and God-fearing mother. . . .

“In the eternal family, God established that fathers are to preside in the home. Fathers are to provide, to love, to teach, and to direct.

President and Sister Benson

President and Sister Benson

“But a mother’s role is also God-ordained. Mothers are to conceive, to bear, to nourish, to love, and to train. So declare the revelations. . . .

“Now, my dear mothers, knowing of your divine role to bear and rear children and bring them back to Him, how will you accomplish this in the Lord’s way? I say the ‘Lord’s way,’ because it is different from the world’s way.

“The Lord clearly defined the roles of mothers and fathers in providing for and rearing a righteous posterity. In the beginning, Adam—not Eve—was instructed to earn the bread by the sweat of his brow. Contrary to conventional wisdom, a mother’s calling is in the home, not the marketplace.

“. . . In the Doctrine and Covenants, we read: ‘Women have claim on their husbands for their maintenance, until their husbands are taken’ (D&C 83:2). This is the divine right of a wife and mother. She cares for and nourishes her children at home. Her husband earns the living for the family, which makes this nourishing possible. With that claim on their husbands for their financial support, the counsel of the Church has always been for mothers to spend their full time in the home in rearing and caring for their children.

“We realize also that some of our choice sisters are widowed and divorced and that others find themselves in unusual circumstances where, out of necessity, they are required to work for a period of time. But these instances are the exception, not the rule” (To the Mothers in Zion [pamphlet, 1987], 1–3, 5–6).

President Benson on a horse

Grand marshall of a parade in Preston, Idaho, 1976

He Warned Against Pride

President Ezra Taft Benson urged members of the Church to overcome pride with a broken heart and a contrite spirit:

“Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.

President Benson with U.S. President Ronald Reagan

President Benson meets with U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, D.C., in January 1986, to discuss the Church’s contribution of $10 million in aid to alleviate world hunger.

“The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.

“Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of ‘my will and not thine be done.’ As Paul said, they ‘seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s’ (Philippians 2:21).

“Our will in competition to God’s will allows desires, appetites, and passions to go unbridled (see Alma 38:12; 3 Nephi 12:30).

“The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives (see Helaman 12:6). They pit their perceptions of truth against God’s great knowledge, their abilities versus God’s priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works. . . .

“Pride is a sin that can readily be seen in others but is rarely admitted in ourselves. Most of us consider pride to be a sin of those on the top, such as the rich and the learned, looking down at the rest of us (see 2 Nephi 9:42). There is, however, a far more common ailment among us—and that is pride from the bottom looking up. It is manifest in so many ways, such as faultfinding, gossiping, backbiting, murmuring, living beyond our means, envying, coveting, withholding gratitude and praise that might lift another, and being unforgiving and jealous. . . .

“Pride affects all of us at various times and in various degrees. Now you can see why the building in Lehi’s dream that represents the pride of the world was large and spacious and great was the multitude that did enter into it (see 1 Nephi 8:26, 33; 11:35–36).

“Pride is the universal sin, the great vice. Yes, pride is the universal sin, the great vice.

“The antidote for pride is humility—meekness, submissiveness (see Alma 7:23). It is the broken heart and contrite spirit (see 3 Nephi 9:20; 12:19; D&C 20:37; 59:8; Psalm 34:18; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2). . . .

“God will have a humble people. Either we can choose to be humble or we can be compelled to be humble. Alma said, ‘Blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble’ (Alma 32:16).

“Let us choose to be humble. . . .

“Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion. I repeat: Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion.

“We must cleanse the inner vessel by conquering pride (see Alma 6:2–4; Matthew 23:25–26)” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1989, 3–7; or Ensign, May 1989, 4–7).

We Believe in Christ

President Benson with his Counselors

The First Presidency: Gordon B. Hinckley, Ezra Taft Benson, and Thomas S. Monson

Throughout his ministry, President Ezra Taft Benson bore strong testimony of Jesus Christ and His power to change lives:

“The question is sometimes asked, ‘Are Mormons Christians?’ We declare the divinity of Jesus Christ. We look to Him as the only source of our salvation. We strive to live His teachings, and we look forward to the time that He shall come again on this earth to rule and reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In the words of a Book of Mormon prophet, we say to men today, ‘There [is] no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent’ (Mosiah 3:17)” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [1988], 10).

“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1985, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 1985, 6).

“Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life (see Matthew 10:39)” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 361).

He Received a Presidential Citation

“The U.S. Presidential Citizens Medal was presented Aug. 30 [1989] to President Ezra Taft Benson for ‘a lifetime of dedicated service to country, community, church and family.’

“Brent Scowcroft, assistant to President George Bush for national security affairs and a former Utahn, presented the medal on behalf of President Bush, who expressed his regrets for not being able to present it in person.

Presidents Benson and Hinckley with U.S. President George H. W. Bush

U.S. President George H. W. Bush, President Ezra Taft Benson, and President Gordon B. Hinckley

“The White House announced the award in July. It was the first made by President Bush since he took office.

“‘President Bush is honoring you as one of the most distinguished Americans of your time,’ Scowcroft told the 90-year-old Church leader, who was U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1953 to 1960.

“‘This is an unusual medal,’ he said. ‘It was established in 1969 by executive order for the purpose of recognizing citizens of the United States who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or fellow citizens.

“‘President Bush feels that your long and distinguished life of service to your country, to its citizens, and, indeed, to all mankind is uniquely representative of the values that this medal is designed to recognize,’ Scowcroft told President Benson.

“President Benson replied, ‘I don’t merit this honor.’ Scowcroft countered, ‘Yes, you certainly do. Richly so.’

“The text of the citation accompanying the medal reads:

“‘The President of the United States of America awards this Presidential Citizens Medal to Ezra Taft Benson. A lifetime of dedicated service to your country, community, church and family make Ezra Taft Benson one of the most distinguished Americans of his time. As agriculture adviser to Presidents Roosevelt and Eisenhower, leader of his Church, and 60-year friend of the Boy Scouts of America, he has worked tirelessly. His devotion to family and commitment to the principles of freedom are an example for all Americans’” (“Prophet Receives U.S. Presidential Medal,” Church News, 2 Sept. 1989, 4).

The Passing of a Prophet

President Benson

President Ezra Taft Benson

President Ezra Taft Benson died of heart failure Monday, 30 May 1994, at the age of ninety-four. He had served as a General Authority for over fifty years. Throughout his life he had faithfully served the Lord, the Church, his family, and country. As a tribute to his lifetime of service, President Ezra Taft Benson received fourteen honorary degrees from American colleges and universities.

He chose to be buried in Whitney, Idaho, the small farming community where he was born, next to his beloved wife, Flora, who had passed away in August 1992. They had been married sixty-six years.

Chapter 14
Howard W. Hunter
Fourteenth President of the Church

Howard W. Hunter
© Portraits by Merrett

HIGHLIGHTS IN THE LIFE OF HOWARD W. HUNTER

Age

Events

 

He was born 14 November 1907 in Boise, Idaho, to John William and Nellie Marie Rasmussen Hunter.

3

He contracted polio and recovered (1911).

12

He was baptized in an indoor swimming pool (4 Apr. 1920).

15

He earned the rank of Eagle Scout (11 May 1923).

19

He set sail aboard the SS President Jackson with “Hunter’s Croonaders,” a dance band and the ship’s orchestra, for a two-month Oriental cruise (5 Jan. 1927).

21

The Great Depression began in the United States (Oct. 1929).

22

He received his patriarchal blessing (Mar. 1930).

23

He married Claire Jeffs (10 June 1931; she died 9 Oct. 1983).

31

He graduated cum laude, third in his class, from law school (1939).

42

He was called as president of the Pasadena California Stake (25 Feb. 1950).

46

He was sealed to his parents in the Mesa Arizona Temple (14 Nov. 1953).

51

He was ordained an Apostle by President David O. McKay (15 Oct. 1959).

62

He was called as Church Historian (24 Jan. 1970).

77

He was set apart as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (10 Nov. 1985).

80

He became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (2 June 1988).

81

He dedicated the BYU Jerusalem Center (May 1989).

82

He married Inis Bernice Egan (12 Apr. 1990).

85

He was confronted by a threatening intruder while speaking at the BYU Marriott Center, Provo, Utah (7 Feb. 1993).

86

He became President of the Church (5 June 1994).

87

He presided over the creation of the Church’s two thousandth stake—the Mexico City Mexico Contreras Stake (11 Dec. 1994); he died in Salt Lake City, Utah (3 Mar. 1995).

 

John and Nellie Hunter

John and Nellie Hunter, Howard W. Hunter’s parents

President Howard W. Hunter could well have been describing his own life when he said:

“There is no such thing as instant greatness. This is because the achievement of true greatness is a long-term process. It may involve occasional setbacks. The end result may not always be clearly visible, but it seems that it always requires regular, consistent, small, and sometimes ordinary and mundane steps over a long period of time. . . .

“True greatness is never a result of a chance occurrence or a one-time effort or achievement. It requires the development of character. It requires a multitude of correct decisions for the everyday choices between good and evil. . . .

“As we evaluate our lives, it is important that we look, not only at our accomplishments, but also at the conditions under which we have labored. We are all different and unique individuals. We have each had different starting points in the race of life. We each have a unique mixture of talents and skills. We each have our own set of challenges and constraints to contend with” (“What Is True Greatness,” in Brigham Young University 1986–87 Devotional and Fireside Speeches [1987], 115).

He Was of Scottish Heritage

Howard W. Hunter as baby

Howard W. Hunter, about 6–8 months old

The Hunter clan settled in Scotland during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. There they built Hunterston Castle near Hunter’s Toune (town). “On May 2, 1374, Scotland’s King Robert II signed a piece of parchment confirming a royal charter of land to William Hunter, the laird (lord, or owner) of Hunterston Castle, ‘for his faithful service rendered and to be rendered to us.’ . . .

“John Hunter, Howard W. Hunter’s great-grandfather, was born in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, not far from Hunterston Castle. . . .

“In 1860 missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brought the message of the restored gospel to Paisley, and among those whom they baptized were John and Margaret [his wife] Hunter. At the time the Church was encouraging new converts to gather with the Saints in the Salt Lake Valley, and the missionaries urged John and his family to emigrate. This presented a difficult problem, for John would have to give up a prosperous business, and the family, a comfortable home. . . .

“. . . When they reached the Salt Lake Valley in late September 1860, John soon became disenchanted and, as his son John [Howard W. Hunter’s grandfather] described it, ‘finally detached himself and family from the Church, . . . leaving the family in a strange country without a guide’” (Eleanor Knowles, Howard W. Hunter [1994], 1–2, 4).

His Parents and Early Years Helped Shape Him

Howard Hunter age 2

Howard W. Hunter, about 2 years old, 1909

“In 1904, Nellie Marie Rasmussen, who would become President Hunter’s mother, traveled from her home in Mt. Pleasant, Utah, to visit an aunt in Boise, Idaho. While there, she met John William Hunter. They courted for the next two years; however, he was not a member of the Church at the time, and Nellie, not wanting to marry out of the Church, returned to Mt. Pleasant. But John persisted, and they were married 3 December 1906. The couple moved to Boise, where they rented a little house on Sherman Street. Howard William Hunter was born in Boise on 14 November 1907, and his sister, Dorothy, was born two years later” (James E. Faust, “The Way of an Eagle,” Ensign, Aug. 1994, 4).

Howard Hunter age 5

Howard W. Hunter, about 5 years old

Howard’s mother was active in the Church all her life and encouraged Howard to participate in all of the Church activities available in Boise, Idaho. Occasionally, Howard’s father would attend Church with Nellie and the children. Howard was not allowed to be baptized when he was eight years old because his father felt that he was not old enough to make such choices on his own. But when Howard was twelve years old he approached his father and asked that he be allowed to be baptized. He wanted earnestly to receive the Aaronic Priesthood and be allowed to pass the sacrament. His father consented and he was baptized on 4 April 1920. Eleven weeks after his baptism he was ordained a deacon. “I remember the first time I passed the sacrament,” he said. “I was frightened, but thrilled to have the privilege. After the meeting the bishop complimented me on the way I had conducted myself. The bishop was always so thoughtful of me” (quoted in J. M. Heslop, “He Found Pleasure in Work,” Church News, 16 Nov. 1974, 4).

Experiences of His Early Youth Showed His Determination and Strength

Howard Hunter age 12

Howard W. Hunter, about 12 years old, 1919

“Not long after Dorothy [Howard W. Hunter’s sister] was born, Nellie sterilized some water by boiling it in a pan on the living-room stove that the family used for heat. She had taken it off the stove and, because it was too hot to hold, set it on the floor when Howard came running through the house. He fell headlong into the pan, throwing his left hand in front of himself, and it was badly scalded. In his history many years later he described what happened:

“‘A call was made to the doctor and he recommended that my arm be packed in mashed potatoes and bandaged. Some of the neighbor ladies came in to help. I can remember sitting on the drain board in the kitchen while boiled potatoes were mashed and packed around my arm and cloths were torn into strips to make a bandage. Fortunately the serious burn did not hinder the growth of my arm, but I have carried the scar all my life’” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 18).

“Young Howard sold newspapers on a street corner in Boise. His family lived near the country club, so he frequently caddied for golfers there. He framed pictures in an art store, delivered telegrams, did odd jobs in a department store. Because of his success with a project at his after-school job in a drugstore, he won a correspondence course in pharmacy and completed it before he was out of high school.

Howard and Dorthy Hunter swimming

Howard W. Hunter, about 8 years old, with his sister Dorothy

“It seemed that whatever good thing he set his mind to do, he succeeded. In 1919, when funds were being raised for a new chapel in Boise, Howard, a deacon, was the first to offer a pledge. He donated twenty-five dollars—not a small sum for a boy of twelve” (Don L. Searle, “President Howard W. Hunter, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” Ensign, Apr. 1986, 22).

He Had Many Talents

Howard W. Hunter as teenager

Howard W. Hunter

“‘My mother said that from the time he was a baby, he always kept perfect time’ to music, recalls [Howard W. Hunter’s] sister, Dorothy Hunter Rasmussen. ‘He has perfect pitch,’ she says, and ‘a beautiful voice.’ Those musical talents would become important in his life.

“But some other qualities showed up early, too. ‘He was always a very good student,’ Sister Rasmussen says. He had ‘this driving ambition, and he had a brilliant mind.’ And yet his ambition and intelligence were tempered with love and compassion. He would win other boys’ marbles in play—and then decline to keep them. He once turned down a job he wanted when he learned that another boy would be let go to make a place for him” (Searle, Ensign, Apr. 1986, 22).

“For the most part Howard did well in school. However, he claims he did have two handicaps: ‘I was not good in sports and I had a problem telling colors—not all colors, but shades of red, green, and brown.’

“He devised an ingenious way to solve his color-blindness problem. He would put his crayons at the top of his desk, and when the art teacher asked the students to pick up a crayon of a certain color, he would run his finger over the crayons on his desk and Beatrice Beach, who sat behind him, would touch him on the shoulder when he came to the right one. He was embarrassed to admit to the teacher that he couldn’t distinguish the colors.

“As for Howard’s other ‘handicap,’ his lack of interest in sports, the closest he got to even attending an athletic contest was when he went to football games one year in high school and called in the scores to the local newspaper. He enjoyed reading, writing, and most other academic subjects, but he didn’t always work hard to master them. He had many other interests as well, such as a succession of after-school and summer jobs” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 32).

He Became an Eagle Scout

Howard Hunter in scout uniform

He was one of the first Eagle Scouts in Idaho.

The scouting program was only a decade old when Howard W. Hunter became involved in it. At one point he realized that if he continued earning merit badges at the pace he was going, he would be the first Eagle Scout in Idaho.

“When Howard returned from camp that year, he had passed nine more merit badges. These badges, and one he had earned before camp, were awarded at a court of honor September 14, 1922, at a joint meeting of the Rotary Club and the Boise Council, with the mayor and other prominent men of the city present.

“‘By the time the court of honor was held,’ Howard said, ‘I had qualified for fifteen merit badges and for the Life Scout and Star Scout awards. Only six more were required for the rank of Eagle Scout. The scouting magazine had carried stories of boys who had gained the rank of Eagle, but we were told there had not yet been one in Idaho. The race was on between Edwin Phipps of Troop 6 and me.’

“When the next court of honor was held, both boys had earned twenty-one merit badges, the number necessary for Eagle rank, but Edwin had completed all the required ones, while Howard still lacked the required badges in athletics, civics, and cooking. Thus, Edwin received his Eagle in March 1923, two months before Howard received his” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 39–40).

He has since been recognized as the second Eagle Scout in Boise and possibly the entire state of Idaho.

He Was a Young Entrepreneur

“Another boyhood pursuit [of Howard W. Hunter] was picking up broken alarm clocks that had been discarded. He took them apart, repaired and lubricated them, and got them in working order. Then he would sell them for pocket money.

“One job Howard tried was sorting lemons, separating the green ones from the yellow ones. This was one of the few tasks for which he had no aptitude whatever—being colorblind, he could not tell the difference! Interestingly, he later went on to become somewhat of an expert on bananas” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 6).

He Organized Hunter’s Croonaders

Howard Hunter as young man with saxaphone

Howard W. Hunter holding a saxophone

“During Howard’s second year in high school, he entered a sales contest sponsored by Sampson Music Company. Purchasers of merchandise in the store received one point for every dollar spent and could designate which contest entrant would receive the points. Howard encouraged all his friends and acquaintances to shop at Sampson’s, and the points credited to him gave him the second-place prize, a marimba. He soon taught himself to play it well enough to perform at school, church, and other programs, and then as part of a dance orchestra.

“‘Most orchestras were not large enough to have a marimba player unless he doubled on other instruments,’ Howard explained, ‘so I commenced to play drums as well. As I played more and more on a professional basis, I started to play saxophone and clarinet and later added the trumpet.’ He also played the piano and the violin, which he had studied for about a year each while in elementary school.

“In the fall of 1924, after playing with several orchestras, Howard organized his own group, which he named Hunter’s Croonaders. That November and December the group played for six dances, and the next year they had fifty-three dance engagements at public halls and restaurants, private parties and wedding receptions, schools and churches, civic clubs and fraternities. Most of the work was in Boise and nearby towns, but occasionally the group played a little farther afield” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 45–46).

Howard Hunter and his band

He formed a five-piece orchestra called the Croonaders. Howard W. Hunter is in the center, holding the saxophone.

In 1926 Howard was offered an opportunity to form a five-piece orchestra for a two-month cruise to the Orient on the passenger liner SS President Jackson. The group was hired to play background music for movies shown on the ship. They also played classical music for dinner and ballroom dancing.

A Sunday School Lesson Encouraged Him to Receive His Patriarchal Blessing

“In the young adult Sunday School class [Howard W. Hunter] experienced a major turning point in his hunger for gospel knowledge. In his history he wrote:

“‘Although I had attended Church classes most of my life, my first real awakening to the gospel came in a Sunday School class in Adams Ward taught by Brother Peter A. Clayton. He had a wealth of knowledge and the ability to inspire young people. I studied the lessons, read the outside assignments he gave us, and participated in speaking on assigned subjects. I suddenly became aware of the real meaning of some of the gospel principles, an understanding of the degrees of glory, and the requirements of celestial exaltation as Brother Clayton taught and instructed us. I think of this period of my life as the time the truths of the gospel commenced to unfold. I always had a testimony of the gospel, but suddenly I commenced to understand.’

“The subject of one of Brother Clayton’s lessons in early March 1930 was patriarchal blessings. ‘I had never really understood patriarchal blessings, but now they had meaning,’ Howard wrote. ‘That day I went to see Brother George T. Wride, the stake patriarch, and he asked me to come to the office in the mission home behind the Adams Ward Chapel the next Sunday.’

“That March Sunday, after talking with Howard for a few minutes, Brother Wride laid his hands on the young man’s head and gave him a patriarchal blessing.

“The blessing stated that Howard was one ‘whom the Lord foreknew,’ and that he had shown ‘strong leadership among the hosts of heaven’ and had been ordained ‘to perform an important work in mortality in bringing to pass [the Lord’s] purposes with relation to His chosen people.’ He was promised that if he remained faithful, he would have showered upon him ‘intelligence from on high,’ he would be ‘a master of worldly skill and a teacher of worldly wisdom as well as a priest of the most high God,’ and he would use his talents in serving the Church, would sit in its councils, and would be known for his wisdom and righteous judgments” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 70–71).

He Married Clara Jeffs

Clara Jeffs as a teenager

Clara May Jeffs as a teenager

A friend introduced Howard W. Hunter to a young lady at a young adult dance in California on 8 June 1928. “Her name was Clara (Claire) Jeffs. Attracted to her at once, Howard said to Claire: ‘Why don’t you ever go out with me?’ She said, ‘Why don’t you ask me?’ Soon she and Howard began dating. They became engaged early in 1931 and were married [in the Salt Lake Temple] on June 10 that year” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 7).

“As his wedding day approached, Howard made another major decision. For several years he had played with orchestras at dances and parties, in public ballrooms, and on radio and the stage. ‘It was glamorous in some respects,’ he reflected, ‘and I made good money, but the association with many of the musicians was not enjoyable because of their drinking and moral standards.’ Such associations were not compatible with the lifestyle he envisioned with a wife and family, so he decided to give up professional music.

“On June 6, 1931, four days before their wedding, Howard played his last engagement at the Virginia Ballroom in Huntington Park. After he got home that night, he packed up his saxophones and clarinets and his music and put them away. He had already sold his drums and marimba and packed up his trumpet and violin.

Howard and Claire Hunter

Howard and Claire Hunter

“‘Since that night,’ he said, ‘I have never touched my musical instruments except on a few occasions, when the children were home, [and] we sang Christmas carols and I accompanied on the clarinet. Although this left a void of something I had enjoyed, the decision has never been regretted’” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 81).

Early Married Life Was Sweet

Howard and Claire Hunter and sons

Howard W. Hunter with his wife, Claire, and their sons Richard and John
DO NOT COPY

“Howard and Claire began married life in a furnished apartment overlooking the ocean at Hermosa Beach [in California]. Each morning, he recalled, ‘we were up early. I put on my swimming trunks, ran across the beach, and dived into the breakers. After a vigorous swim and a warm shower, breakfast was ready. It took only fifteen minutes to drive to the bank in Hawthorne and I was ready for the day’s work. We often went swimming together in the evening after I got home, and we usually walked down the beach under the stars before we went to bed. Even though the days were warm, the sea breeze made the evenings cool and comfortable, and the pounding surf was a lullaby.’

“When they rented the apartment, he said, they knew they couldn’t afford to live there long—‘but we wanted the luxury of a nice place to start our marriage.’

“Soon afterwards they moved to a three-room unfurnished house within walking distance of the bank at Hawthorne. Claire had a bedroom suite and they bought a few other furniture and household items, but they were determined . . . not to go into debt. ‘For this reason we didn’t have all the things we wanted, but we had what we needed to make us comfortable,’ Howard said” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 83).

He Was Interested in Law

Howard W. Hunter

Howard W. Hunter

“After the bank where he worked went out of business [during the Great Depression], 24-year-old Howard sold soap door to door, helped in road surveying, and painted bridges.

“In 1934 a major development occurred for him when he obtained work in the title department of the Los Angeles County Flood Control District. He learned that he had an aptitude for understanding legal work, and at age 26 he made a momentous decision to study law. After taking prerequisite classes, he entered Southwestern University law school, from which he graduated four years later while working full-time, taking classes at night, and welcoming three babies into the family” (Jay M. Todd, “President Howard W. Hunter: Fourteenth President of the Church,” Ensign, July 1994, 6).

“It was a momentous decision for the Hunters when Howard decided to go to law school. . . . ‘I worked eight hours a day and took most of my classes at night. I did my studying at night and over the weekend,’ President Hunter recalls. At first, he would study until two in the morning. Then he found it was less taxing if he went to bed earlier and got up at two in the morning to study.

“It was, he says, a period of rigorous training that helped him learn the discipline required to handle the demands of a career, Church work, and family life. He graduated cum laude” (Searle, Ensign, Apr. 1986, 23).

One week after graduating third in his class, he began preparing for the California bar exam. He was informed that only one in three participants would pass the exam.

Howard and Claire Hunter

Howard and Claire Hunter

“Howard took the examination, ‘one of the most grueling experiences of my life,’ October 23, 24, and 25 [1939]. ‘After the third day I was completely exhausted. I had done my best but there was the anxiety of not knowing whether or not that was good enough.’

“The wait seemed interminable, for ‘several years of intense work was all focused on the results of one single event.’ He knew that if he received a thin letter, it meant he had not passed the examination. A thick letter would include not only a letter with the happy news that he had passed, but also several application forms for admission to the bar and the courts.

“It was on the morning of December 12 that Claire called me at the office and said the postman had just brought a letter from the Committee of Bar Examiners,’ he recalled. ‘Is it a thick or a thin letter?’ I asked. ‘A fat one,’ she replied. I felt a surge of blood to my head and I closed my eyes and waited for her to open and read the letter. The hard work and the sacrifices we had made were at a successful conclusion.’ And his professor was right: Of 718 who took the examination that session, 254, or 35.4 percent, passed. Nearly two-thirds failed” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 93).

He Was Called to Be a Bishop and Then a Stake President

In August 1940, Bertrum M. Jones, president of the Pasadena Stake, called Howard W. Hunter to serve as bishop of the new El Sereno Ward. “Howard was stunned. ‘I had always thought of a bishop as being an older man,’ he recalled, ‘and I asked how I could be the father of the ward at the young age of thirty-two. They said I would be the youngest bishop that had been called in Southern California to that time, but they knew I could be equal to the assignment. I expressed my appreciation for their confidence and told them I would do my best.’

Howard W. Hunter and Pasadena stake presidency

The stake presidency of the Pasadena California Stake (early 1950s)

“Still shocked, he went home and shared the news with Claire. ‘We recalled the decision we made to get married instead of going on a mission, and that someday we would fill a mission together,’ he said. ‘Perhaps this was that mission in a different form than what we had expected’” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 94).

Howard, Claire, and John Hunter at Taj Mahal

Howard W. Hunter with his wife Claire and his son John at the Taj Mahal, in India, 1958
DO NOT COPY

Nearly ten years later, “in February 1950, Elders Stephen L Richards and Harold B. Lee were assigned to divide the Pasadena Stake, and they called Howard W. Hunter to be the president of the Pasadena Stake. He had no hesitation accepting this call. A meticulous journal keeper since his youth, he wrote this response: ‘I could well understand the comments of the brethren when they told us we had been selected because of the strength of our wives. Claire . . . always stood close by with support and understanding during the years in law school, while I served as bishop, and in every office I have held’” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 8).

He Was Called to Be an Apostle

President Howard W. Hunter

President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, about 1988

“A dramatic change occurred in the life of Howard W. Hunter on 9 October 1959. He and Claire had gone to Salt Lake City to attend the October general conference, and Howard received a note saying President David O. McKay would like to visit with him. President McKay informed him: ‘Tomorrow you’re going to be sustained as a member of the Council of the Twelve” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 8–9).

In his account of the experience, Elder Hunter wrote:

“President McKay greeted me with a pleasant smile and a warm handshake and then said to me, ‘Sit down, President Hunter, I want to talk with you. The Lord has spoken. You are called to be one of his special witnesses, and tomorrow you will be sustained as a member of the Council of the Twelve.’

“I cannot attempt to explain the feeling that came over me. Tears came to my eyes and I could not speak. I have never felt so completely humbled as when I sat in the presence of this great, sweet, kindly man—the prophet of the Lord. He told me what a great joy this would bring into my life, the wonderful association with the brethren, and that hereafter my life and time would be devoted as a servant of the Lord and that I would hereafter belong to the Church and the whole world. He said other things to me but I was so overcome I can’t remember the details, but I do remember he put his arms around me and assured me that the Lord would love me and I would have the sustaining confidence of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve.

“The interview lasted only a few minutes, and as I left I told him I loved the Church, that I sustained him and the other members of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, and I would gladly give my time, my life, and all that I possessed to this service. He told me I could call Sister Hunter and tell her. . . . I went back to the Hotel Utah and called Claire in Provo, but when she answered the phone I could hardly talk” (quoted in Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 144–45).

“After his name had been presented in general conference and he had been sustained, President Clark invited him to take his place with the Twelve on the stand. He recalled, ‘My heart increased its pounding as I climbed the steps. Elder Hugh B. Brown moved over to make room for me and I took my place as the twelfth member of the Quorum. I felt the eyes of everyone fastened upon me as well as the weight of the world on my shoulders. As the conference proceeded I was most uncomfortable and wondered if I could ever feel that this was my proper place’” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 9).

Elder and Sister Hunter with family members

Elder and Sister Hunter with their first grandson, Robert Mark Hunter, child of Lourine and John Hunter, October 1959
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He Expressed His Feelings about Being an Apostle

Elders Hunter and Packer

With Elder Boyd K. Packer

“Elder Hunter has never ceased to marvel at the privilege he has had each week to meet with the First Presidency and the Twelve in the temple to partake of the sacrament, petition the Lord in prayer, and discuss the affairs of the Lord’s kingdom. ‘The meeting of this council in the temple is an experience which makes one feel he should be better and do better,’ he wrote in 1967. ‘There is kindness, unity and love.’

“Many such expressions are tempered with feelings of wonder at being so blessed, such as these: ‘Sitting with this group of my brethren makes me feel my inadequacies, but always brings a resolution to try harder.’ ‘Times like these make me feel my own insignificance and unworthiness to be allowed such privileges and blessings.’ ‘These meetings are highlights in my life and always leave me with the question as to why I was selected and why I am privileged to sit in this council.’ ‘I left the temple today, as I have on previous occasions, feeling my inadequacies and wondering why I was selected for this association. I always resolve to attempt to do better and strive to be the example of what is expected’” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 226–27).

He Taught about True Religion

Elder Hunter speaking in conference

Speaking in the Salt Lake Tabernacle

Elder Howard W. Hunter explained:

“There is a great difference between ethics and religion. There is a distinction between one whose life is based on mere ethics and one who lives a truly religious life. We have a need for ethics, but true religion includes the truths of ethics and goes far beyond. True religion has its roots in the belief in a supreme being. Christian religion is based upon a belief in God the Eternal Father and in his Son Jesus Christ and in the word of the Lord as contained in scripture. Religion also goes beyond theology. It is more than just a belief in Deity; it is the practice of the belief. . . .

“True religion to the Christian is demonstrated by a real belief in God and the realization that we are responsible to him for our acts and conduct. A person who lives such religion is willing to live the principles of the gospel of Christ and walk uprightly before the Lord in all things according to his revealed law. This brings to a man or a woman a sense of peace and freedom from confusion in life and gives an assurance of eternal life hereafter” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1969, 112).

He Traveled the World in His Apostolic Calling

Elder Hunter speaking to group outdoors

Teaching in the Holy Land

One duty of an Apostle is to take the gospel to the world, and Elder Howard W. Hunter traveled the world meeting with the Saints in many lands. He traveled more than two dozen times to the Holy Land conducting business for the Church and helped establish friendships with both Jewish and Arab leaders throughout the Middle East. These friendships eventually helped the Church secure permission to build the Jerusalem Center. He loved to travel to the Holy Land with other members of the Twelve and renew friendships with those he knew. By 1993 he had visited almost every major Islamic nation in the world. He often reminded the Saints that the Jews and the Arabs are both children of promise and that they should not take sides.

“Heavenly gifts and attributes were honed as he went time, time, and time again to Jerusalem in the Holy Land. Jerusalem was like a magnet to him. His leadership in acquiring the land and building the Jerusalem Center of Brigham Young University was truly inspired. His desire to be where the Savior walked and taught seemed insatiable. He loved all the sights and the sounds. He especially loved the Galilee. But he loved one place most of all. He would always say, ‘Let’s go to the Garden Tomb just once more, for old time’s sake.’ There he would sit and meditate as though he were piercing the veil between himself and the Savior” (James E. Faust, “Howard W. Hunter: Man of God,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, 27).

His Love of the Holy Land Led to Special Assignments

In 1961 Elder Howard W. Hunter, along with Elder Spencer W. Kimball and their wives, went on a trip to Egypt and the Middle East. In a letter to their associates in the Quorum of the Twelve, the two Apostles wrote:

“We were in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve where Christ was born. There were some 20,000 others there from every land and of every color, race, language and creed. But when we went down to Shepherds’ Field, we were all alone in the dark. That is, it would have been dark but for the bright moonlight and the starry sky. We sang softly to ourselves: ‘Far, far away on Judea’s plains, shepherds of old heard the joyous strains: Glory to God in the highest.’ Here no mosques nor cathedrals marred the scene and we felt a sweet spirit and could well believe that few changes had taken place here since the holy night. . . .

“. . . In and around and through Jerusalem we visited most of the traditional places.

“We four walked the few miles from Bethany up to the Mount of Olives and down into Jerusalem—the path He followed so many times. We climbed the hill which could well be Calvary—Golgotha, and sat and lingered to read of the cruel arrest, trial, persecution and crucifixion of our Savior.

“We went with the sorrowing crowd down the hill and spent considerable time in the tomb and the garden which are claimed to be the excavated places. We had a good spiritual warm feeling here. We felt sure it could well be the authentic place. And the Gospels had a new meaning as we read them on the spot.

“And from the Mt. of Olives we read of the ascension. This was a glorious experience. . . . We believe these travels will have made us more aware of the realness of the past; the relationship of the past to the present; and our debt to our Lord whose life and death and sacrifice seem even more real” (quoted in Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 163–64).

“In the Middle East, Elder Hunter met heads of state and other government leaders, yet he also conversed with camel drivers and servants. He was entertained in palaces and in Bedouin tents; rode in limousines and on mules and camels; ate sumptuous meals and simple peasant food. He related to individuals in all walks of life because of his genuine interest in people. He attended lectures and read extensively about the Middle East, and his knowledge of these countries opened doors and resulted in valuable friendships for the Church. . . .

“As a result of Elder Hunter’s understanding of this special place, the First Presidency assigned him to spearhead two significant undertakings of the Church in the Holy Land: the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden and the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 210–12).

The Orson Hyde Memorial Garden Was Constructed

“On October 24, 1841, Elder Orson Hyde of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was in Palestine, as the Holy Land was then known, on a special mission for the Church. . . . As he stood on the [Mount of Olives,] across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem, he offered a prayer, dedicating the land of Palestine for the building up of Jerusalem and the gathering of Abraham’s posterity.

“On October 24, 1979, President Spencer W. Kimball stood on that same hill to dedicate a memorial garden commemorating Elder Hyde’s prayer. Elder Howard W. Hunter was present on that occasion, having taken a major role in raising funds and in the negotiations leading to the construction of the garden.

Elder Hunter and Teddy Kolleck at outdoor podium

Elder Hunter meets with Teddy Kolleck, mayor of Jerusalem, at the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden dedication, 1979

“Groundwork for this project was laid when President Harold B. Lee, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Twelve, and President Edwin Q. Cannon Jr. of the Swiss Mission visited Israel in September 1972. They met with representatives of the Israeli ministries of religion, foreign affairs, and tourism, and explored the possibility of a monument to Orson Hyde in Jerusalem.

“Three months later, on December 19, 1972, Elder Hunter wrote in his journal: ‘Because I am going to the Holy Land next week, the First Presidency called me to their meeting this morning and asked if I would meet with the group leader [for the Church] in Jerusalem and with the mayor, if necessary, regarding a monument to the prayer of Orson Hyde in Jerusalem.’

“In Jerusalem on New Year’s Day, Elder and Sister Hunter looked at possible sites for the monument. He reported to President Lee on his impressions of the sites visited, but nothing was decided at that time. Two years later, the City of Jerusalem invited the Church to participate in a green-belt park development surrounding the walls of the Holy City. After a visit to Jerusalem, Elder Hunter reported that the proposed site, located on the Mount of Olives, would be the largest single tract in the park. Thus the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden began to be a reality” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 212–13).

“All Are Alike unto God”

Elders Faust, Hunter, and Holland and family members

With Elders James E. Faust (third from right) and Jeffrey R. Holland (far right) and family members at the Garden Tomb, May 1985

During the time the Church was engaged in the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden project, Elder Howard W. Hunter taught:

“As members of the Lord’s church, we need to lift our vision beyond personal prejudices. We need to discover the supreme truth that indeed our Father is no respecter of persons. Sometimes we unduly offend brothers and sisters of other nations by assigning exclusiveness to one nationality of people over another.

“Let me cite, as an example of exclusiveness, the present problem in the Middle East—the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews. . . .

“We have members of the Church in the Muslim world. . . . Sometimes they are offended by members of the Church who give the impression that we favor only the aims of the Jews. The Church has an interest in all of Abraham’s descendants, and we should remember that the history of the Arabs goes back to Abraham through his son Ishmael.

“Imagine a father with many sons, each having different temperaments, aptitudes, and spiritual traits. Does he love one son less than another? Perhaps the son who is least spiritually inclined has the father’s attention, prayers, and pleadings more than the others. Does that mean he loves the others less? Do you imagine our Heavenly Father loving one nationality of his offspring more exclusively than others? As members of the Church, we need to be reminded of Nephi’s challenging question: ‘Know ye not that there are more nations than one?’ (2 Nephi 29:7).

“At the present time we are engaged in a project of beautifying the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem by a garden, in memory of Orson Hyde, an early apostle of the Church, and the dedicatory prayer he offered on that site. It is not because we favor one people over another. Jerusalem is sacred to the Jews, but it is also sacred to the Arabs.

“A cabinet minister of Egypt once told me that if a bridge is ever to be built between Christianity and Islam it must be built by the Mormon Church. In making inquiry as to the reason for his statement I was impressed by his recitation of the similarities and the common bonds of brotherhood.

“Both the Jews and the Arabs are children of our Father. They are both children of promise, and as a church we do not take sides. We have love for and an interest in each” (“‘All Are Alike unto God,’” 1979 Devotional Speeches of the Year [1980], 35–36).

The Jerusalem Center Was Built

BYU Jerusalem Center

The BYU Jerusalem Center

BYU Jerusalem Center

The BYU Jerusalem Center

“While plans were proceeding on the Orson Hyde project in Jerusalem, Elder Hunter was also searching and negotiating for a site for a center to house the Brigham Young University semester-abroad program and the Jerusalem branch and district of the Church.

“However, finding a suitable site, coming up with a suitable architectural plan, and negotiating the way through countless bureaucratic requirements would not be easy. . . .

“The search for a site began in earnest in 1979, when the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden was nearing completion. On February 8, 1979, Elder Hunter met with a group of General Authorities and BYU officials to determine if the Church should consider building in Jerusalem.

“Two months later Elder Hunter, Elder James E. Faust, and Church Commissioner of Education Jeffrey R. Holland met with the First Presidency and, Elder Hunter wrote, ‘recommended the purchase of land in Jerusalem and the construction of a building for a branch chapel, . . . also housing and classrooms for the BYU studies-abroad program.’ The proposal was approved, and Elder Hunter was ‘authorized to seek out and negotiate for a parcel of property.

“That decision set in motion countless meetings, telephone calls, and trips to Israel, as Elder Hunter learned about Israel’s complex laws governing transfer of property and other requirements that must be met before construction could start. . . .

“The site the Church favored was one that President Kimball had visited when he was in Jerusalem to dedicate the Orson Hyde gardens. Owned by the Israeli government, it was on the Mount of Olives, adjacent to Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus and near the site of a proposed Israeli Supreme Court building. . . .

“Finally, in January 1981 Elder Hunter received word that the registration of Brigham Young University in Israel had been approved, paving the way for the acquisition of land there. Four months later the Israel Lands Authority agreed to lease to BYU approximately five acres of the land the Church had sought, for a term of forty-nine years with an option to renew for an additional forty-nine years. . . .

“After nearly three years of negotiations and lengthy reviews, David Galbraith [who was called by President Harold B. Lee in 1972 to be the first branch president in Israel] called Elder Hunter on September 27, 1983, and told him that the plans had been approved by the Jerusalem District Council. . . .

“But that did not end the problems in getting the center built. Though the Church’s intention to build an educational center had been posted much earlier, opposition by both Jews and Arabs escalated dramatically as soon as construction work began at the site. ‘The Jews have a fear that our presence in Jerusalem is a means of proselyting, and the Arabs are concerned because we are building on what they consider to be occupied land,’ Elder Hunter reported to the First Presidency after a trip to Jerusalem in February 1985 to try to defuse the opposition.

“Articles in Jerusalem newspapers called on the Knesset to rescind permission to proceed with the project, and protestors increased their pressure on public officials and threatened violence at the construction site. . . .

“The issue of proselyting was central to the position of the Jews. The Church had agreed, as a condition for building in Jerusalem, not to engage in proselyting, a position reiterated in a Church News article in which a Church spokesman pointed out, ‘Where missionary work is against the law, we don’t do it’ [Church News, 28 July 1985, 4]. However, the protestors refused to accept this assurance, and the controversy continued to rage.

“Meanwhile, construction of the center moved ahead. Elder Hunter and Elder Faust flew to Jerusalem again in May 1986. ‘The afternoon [of May 21] was spent touring the building,’ Elder Hunter wrote. ‘The heavy construction work is nearly all completed and by October the student quarters will be ready for occupancy. . . . We have delivered to each of the 120 members of the Knesset a copy of a letter signed by 154 members of the U.S. Congress from both parties making a joint appeal to allow the completion of the BYU Center for Near Eastern Studies in Jerusalem’” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 215–20).

The Israeli cabinet gave permission for the center to proceed. In March 1987 students moved into the center while it was still under construction and a lease was signed in May 1988. President Hunter dedicated the center on 16 May 1989.

He Taught about Developing Spirituality

Elder Howard W. Hunter said:

“Developing spirituality and attuning ourselves to the highest influences of godliness is not an easy matter. It takes time and frequently involves a struggle. It will not happen by chance, but is accomplished only through deliberate effort and by calling upon God and keeping his commandments. . . .

“Part of our difficulty as we strive to acquire spirituality is the feeling that there is much to do and that we are falling far short. Perfection is something yet ahead for every one of us; but we can capitalize on our strengths, begin where we are, and seek after the happiness that can be found in pursuing the things of God. . . .

“None of us has attained perfection or the zenith of spiritual growth that is possible in mortality. Every person can and must make spiritual progress. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the divine plan for that spiritual growth eternally. It is more than a code of ethics. It is more than an ideal social order. It is more than positive thinking about self-improvement and determination. The gospel is the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ with his priesthood and sustenance and with the Holy Spirit. With faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to his gospel, a step at a time improving as we go, pleading for strength, improving our attitudes and our ambitions, we will find ourselves successfully in the fold of the Good Shepherd. That will require discipline and training and exertion and strength. But as the Apostle Paul said, ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.’ (Philip. 4:13)” (in Conference Report, Mar.–Apr. 1979, 34–36; or Ensign, May 1979, 25–26).

He Was Well Fed by the Saints

Elder Hunter in kitchen apron

Helping with Christmas dinner, 1983

Elder Howard W. Hunter traveled many places throughout the world and faced a variety of challenges. He wrote about one surprising challenge that he faced as a General Authority:

“It’s almost impossible for General Authorities of the Church to keep slender. Every weekend we stay at the home of a stake president, and his wife always goes to every effort to cook, bake and spread the table with an abundance of everything. I never object because I have no dislikes—there is nothing I don’t enjoy. Most people like baked ham and fried chicken and so do I, but recently I have had so much that I can’t look a pig or chicken squarely in the eye without a guilty feeling for the dislike I feel is commencing to creep in. . . .

“I am grateful for the wonderful people with whom we stay each weekend and I appreciate their goodness to us, but as I passed [a hamburger restaurant] on the way home, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t a hamburger and a malt make a wonderful banquet?’” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 172–73).

He Was Interested in South and Central American Archaeology

Elder Hunter by pyramid in Central America

He enjoyed visiting the sites of Mesoamerica and made a number of trips to those areas.

Elder Howard W. Hunter had a deep love of the Book of Mormon and for its divine mission. He was also interested in the historical and archeological details it contained. On 26 January 1961, he was appointed the chairman of an advisory board for the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF). He served as chairman for twenty-four years. This organization associated with BYU-sponsored archaeological work in southern Mexico and northern Central America. “Its goal was to search for sites connected with the descendants of Lehi. Some of these sites were very primitive, and his assignment literally took him into the jungle. Elder Hunter learned to survive such conditions by eating boiled eggs and bananas” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 10).

“Elder Hunter took an active interest in the foundation, meeting often with board members and personally inspecting the archaeological sites two or three times a year. He also took a strong fatherly interest in the staff workers and their families. His expeditions, often combined with Church assignments, took him into primitive—at times even dangerous—areas, and he immersed himself in learning as much as possible about the ancient civilizations and artifacts” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 198–99).

He Set A New Record

Elder Hunter with missionaries

Greeting a group of missionaries

During a trip to Mexico in November 1975, Elder Howard W. Hunter established a record thus far unequaled in the history of the Church. “Assisted by Elder J. Thomas Fyans, who was then serving as an Assistant to the Twelve, Elder Hunter had been assigned to realign several stakes in Mexico. After meeting with the regional representatives and the mission president and reviewing information provided by the stake presidents, he determined that the five existing stakes, together with some branches from the Mexico City Mission, should be made into fifteen stakes.

“‘Our purpose,’ he wrote in his journal, ‘was to reduce the size of the stakes, to better align them, to reduce travel of members, and also to provide for the rapid growth that is taking place in Mexico. It was the consensus that smaller stakes can be better trained, that leadership can be more effective, and the anticipated growth of about 1,000 members commencing by March will be better fellowshipped’” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 202).

His Wife Died

Claire Hunter

Claire Hunter

Since the early 1970s, Elder Howard W. Hunter’s wife, Claire, had suffered serious health problems. “In May 1981, Claire suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. The doctors’ prognosis: she probably would not be able to walk again. When she was released from the hospital two and a half weeks later, she was in a wheelchair, still unable to walk. Two weeks later Howard wrote hopefully, “Although the doctors have said she would not be able to walk again, she is now able to stand if she is supported, and this morning by [my] holding her hands and leading her, she was able to walk from the bedroom to the kitchen.’

“Dorothy Nielsen, Howard and Claire’s dear friend and neighbor across the street, remembers being present when Howard returned home from the office or a trip. He would help Claire to her feet from her wheelchair and, supporting her tightly, whirl her around the room just as he had done when they went dancing so many years before. He took her regularly to her favorite hair dresser for permanents and shampoos, and even though she couldn’t communicate, he would talk to her and tell her about his day and share news with her about family and friends” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 267–68).

“In 1983 his beloved wife, Clara Jeffs Hunter, passed away. . . . President Hunter [had] tended to her needs, providing loving care with respect and an uncommon devotion for many years, with a complete disregard for his own health. But there was a reward, for as diminished as she was, Claire would smile and respond only to him. The tenderness so evident in their communication was heartrending. We have never seen such an example of devotion of a husband to his wife. Theirs was a many-splendid love affair. Love is service” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 10).

He Spoke to Concerned Parents

Elder Hunter with child and baby

He often spoke of parent-child relationships.

Elder Howard W. Hunter taught consoling doctrine to parents who felt discouraged because of wayward children:

“There are many in the Church and in the world who are living with feelings of guilt and unworthiness because some of their sons and daughters have wandered or strayed from the fold. . . .

“At the outset we understand that conscientious parents try their best, yet nearly all have made mistakes. One does not launch into such a project as parenthood without soon realizing that there will be many errors along the way. Surely our Heavenly Father knows, when he entrusts his spirit children into the care of young and inexperienced parents, that there will be mistakes and errors in judgment. . . .

“What more challenging responsibility is there than working effectively with young people? There are numerous variables that determine the character and the personality of a child. It is probably true that parents are, in many or perhaps most cases, the greatest influence in shaping the life of a child, but sometimes there are other influences that also are very significant. . . .

“. . . Remember that ours was not the only influence that contributed to the actions of our children, whether those actions were good or bad.

“. . . Know that our Heavenly Father will recognize the love and the sacrifice, the worry and the concern, even though our great effort has been unsuccessful. Parents’ hearts are ofttimes broken, yet they must realize that the ultimate responsibility lies with the child after parents have taught correct principles. . . .

“A successful parent is one who has loved, one who has sacrificed, and one who has cared for, taught, and ministered to the needs of a child. If you have done all of these and your child is still wayward or troublesome or worldly, it could well be that you are, nevertheless, a successful parent. Perhaps there are children who have come into the world that would challenge any set of parents under any set of circumstances. Likewise, perhaps there are others who would bless the lives of, and be a joy to, almost any father or mother.

“My concern today is that there are parents who may be pronouncing harsh judgments upon themselves and may be allowing these feelings to destroy their lives, when in fact they have done their best and should continue in faith” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1983, 91–94; or Ensign, Nov. 1983, 63–65).

We All Face Adversity in Our Lives

President Hunter

President Howard W. Hunter

Trials were a part of Howard W. Hunter’s life. He learned much by staying faithful during his times of difficulty. His experience assisted him in teaching the Saints:

“We will all have some adversity in our lives. I think we can be reasonably sure of that. Some of it will have the potential to be violent and damaging and destructive. Some of it may even strain our faith in a loving God who has the power to administer relief in our behalf.

“To those anxieties I think the Father of us all would say, ‘Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?’ And of course that has to be faith for the whole journey, the entire experience, the fulness of our life, not simply around the bits and pieces and tempestuous moments. . . .

“. . . Jesus was not spared grief and pain and anguish and buffeting. . . .

“Peace was on the lips and in the heart of the Savior no matter how fiercely the tempest was raging. May it so be with us—in our own hearts, in our own homes, in our nations of the world, and even in the buffetings faced from time to time by the Church. We should not expect to get through life individually or collectively without some opposition” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1984, 43; or Ensign, Nov. 1984, 34–35).

He Became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

President Hunter

President Howard W. Hunter

“On Friday, May 20, 1988, Marion G. Romney, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, died at his home in Salt Lake City. Thirteen days later, at the weekly temple meeting on June 2, Howard W. Hunter was sustained and set apart as president of the Twelve.

“Though it had been one year since his back surgery and he was still struggling to regain the use of his legs, President Hunter was determined to let nothing deter him from fulfilling his responsibilities in presiding over the quorum. Having served as acting president of the quorum for more than thirty months, he was well aware of what those responsibilities were” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 287).

He Had Faith to Walk Again

President Hunter in wheelchair

President Hunter was told he might never walk again.

In a 1991 general conference address, Elder Rulon G. Craven spoke of President Howard W. Hunter’s determination to walk again:

“Many will remember a number of years ago President Hunter was informed that he would not walk again. However, his faith and determination was greater than that message. Daily, without fanfare and the knowledge of others, he went through some very strenuous physical therapy exercises with determination, faith, and the vision that he would walk again. During those difficult months, his Brethren of the Twelve were praying for him daily in their quorum meetings and in their private prayers.

“Months later, on a Thursday morning, I went to President Hunter’s office to discuss an agenda item for the temple meeting that morning. I found he left early and was informed that he was walking to the temple. I questioned that information and then hurried to catch up with him. When I caught up with him, he was walking with the help of a walker. We walked together to the elevator and then up to the fourth floor. We went down the hall to the upper room of the temple. When their president walked into that room, the Twelve stood and began to clap their hands. They tenderly watched him walk over to his chair and let his body down into the chair. Then with magnificent love, honor, and tenderness, each of the Twelve went up to him and extended to him an affectionate touch, kiss on the forehead, and a hug, showing their great love and admiration for him. They all sat down, and President Hunter thanked them and said, ‘I was not supposed to walk again, but with the Lord’s help and my determination and, most important, the faith of my Brethren of the Twelve, I am walking again.’ President Howard W. Hunter is an example of maintaining faith and determination in the face of adversity” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1991, 35–36; or Ensign, May 1991, 28–29).

President Hunter

President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Elder James E. Faust, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, wrote of how President Hunter kept his sense of humor during his health challenges:

“When it was difficult for him to walk or even stand, he surprised the congregation in general conference by addressing them from a wheelchair. His gentle humor shines through the opening sentences: ‘Forgive me if I remain seated while I present these few remarks. It is not by choice that I speak from a wheelchair. I notice that the rest of you seem to enjoy the conference sitting down, so I will follow your example’ [in Conference Report, Oct. 1987, 68; or Ensign, Nov. 1987, 54].

“In April 1988, with the aid of a walker, he stood at the pulpit to deliver his conference message. Near the middle of the talk he lost his balance and fell backwards. President Monson, Elder Packer, and a security guard quickly lifted him up on his feet, and he continued his talk as though nothing had happened. At the close of the conference session, with his ever-present sense of humor intact, he said: ‘I landed in the flowers!’” (Ensign, Aug. 1994, 10). He broke three ribs when he fell (see Boyd K. Packer, “President Howard W. Hunter—He Endured to the End,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, 28–29).

We Ought to Know the Scriptures

President Hunter speaking

Speaking at general conference

Studying the scriptures was one of President Howard W. Hunter’s great loves. He taught:

“We ought to have a church full of women and men who know the scriptures thoroughly, who cross-reference and mark them, who develop lessons and talks from the Topical Guide, and who have mastered the maps, the Bible Dictionary, and the other helps that are contained in this wonderful set of standard works. . . .

“Not in this dispensation, surely not in any dispensation, have the scriptures—the enduring, enlightening word of God—been so readily available and so helpfully structured for the use of every man, woman, and child who will search them. The written word of God is in the most readable and accessible form ever provided to lay members in the history of the world. Surely we will be held accountable if we do not read them” (Eternal Investments [address to religious educators, 10 Feb. 1989], 2–3).

Presidents Hunter and Benson and other leaders

Shaking hands with President Ezra Taft Benson

We Should Center Our Lives on Christ

President Howard W. Hunter loved the Savior and often taught the Saints to follow the Lord’s teachings and example in their lives: “Please remember this one thing. If our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong. On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and his teachings, no other success can ever be permanently right” (“Fear Not, Little Flock,” Brigham Young University 1988-89 Devotional and Fireside Speeches [1989], 112).

He Married Inis Bernice Egan

President Hunter and his bride Inis Bernice Egan

President Hunter and Inis Bernice Egan were married on 12 April 1990.

Almost seven years after his wife died, President Howard W. Hunter had a surprise announcement to make to his Brethren of the Twelve. “Near the end of the Twelve’s meeting on Thursday, April [12], 1990, after all agenda items had been covered, President Hunter asked, ‘Does anyone have anything that is not on the agenda?’ Having been forewarned privately that their president had something he wanted to bring up if there was time at the end of their meeting, none of those present said anything. ‘Well, then,’ he continued, ‘if no one else has anything to say, I thought I’d just let you know that I’m going to be married this afternoon.’

“. . . Then President Hunter, in his very modest way, explained, ‘Inis Stanton is an old acquaintance from California. I’ve been visiting with her for some time, and I’ve decided to be married.’ . . .

“At two o’clock that Thursday afternoon, Howard W. Hunter and Inis Bernice Egan Stanton knelt at the altar in one of the sealing rooms of the temple, and President Hinckley performed the sealing ceremony and pronounced them husband and wife” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 291–92).

On his wedding anniversary two years later, President Hunter wrote in his journal that the last two years had been happy ones. Inis had traveled extensively around the world with him, and he commented on how she made their home a delight. President Boyd K. Packer shared an experience that further illustrates his love for his wife:

“Three days before President Hunter’s passing, Elder Russell M. Nelson and I visited with the President. He was seated in the sunroom which overlooks the temple and the gardens. We knelt before him, each holding one of his hands. As we talked with him, he kept looking over his shoulder into the living room and then called to his wife, Inis.

“Ever present and ever attentive, she responded immediately and asked what he needed. He said, ‘You are too far away; I want you close to me.’ I said, ‘President, she was only thirty feet away.’ He said, ‘I know, that’s too far’” (Ensign, Apr. 1995, 30).

He Gave Counsel to the Sisters

In an address to the women of the Church, President Hunter counseled them to stand with the Brethren and to seek service over status:

“As our Lord and Savior needed the women of his time for a comforting hand, a listening ear, a believing heart, a kind look, an encouraging word, loyalty—even in his hour of humiliation, agony, and death—so we, his servants all across the Church, need you, the women of the Church, to stand with us and for us in stemming the tide of evil that threatens to engulf us. Together we must stand faithful and firm in the faith against superior numbers of other-minded people. It seems to me that there is a great need to rally the women of the Church to stand with and for the Brethren in stemming the tide of evil that surrounds us and in moving forward the work of our Savior. Nephi said, ‘Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men, [women, and children].’ (2 Ne. 31:20.) Obedient to him we are a majority. But only together can we accomplish the work he has given us to do and be prepared for the day when we shall see him. . . .

Howard W. Hunter with wife and daughters

President and Sister Hunter with his daughters, October 1994

“Sisters, continue to seek opportunities for service. Don’t be overly concerned with status. Do you recall the counsel of the Savior regarding those who seek the ‘chief seats’ or the ‘uppermost rooms’? ‘He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.’ (Matt. 23:6, 11.) It is important to be appreciated. But our focus should be on righteousness, not recognition; on service, not status. The faithful visiting teacher, who quietly goes about her work month after month, is just as important to the work of the Lord as those who occupy what some see as more prominent positions in the Church. Visibility does not equate to value” (“To the Women of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, 96–97).

He Was Calm When His Life Was Threatened

Howard W. Hunter

President Howard W. Hunter

“President Hunter [was] always . . . a man of great resolution. On 7 February 1993, he was on the Brigham Young University campus to speak at a nineteen-stake fireside and Church Educational System broadcast. As President Hunter rose to address the nearly twenty thousand young adults assembled in the Marriott Center, an assailant threatened him, shouting, ‘Stop right there!’ The man claimed to have a bomb and a detonator and ordered everyone to leave the stand except President Hunter. Many people did leave, yet President Hunter resolutely stayed at the pulpit, with two security guards. Although threatened by what looked like a gun, President Hunter firmly declined to read the written statement the man handed to him. When students spontaneously began to sing ‘We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet,’ the assailant was momentarily distracted. A security guard rushed him and took him into custody. Other security guards lowered President Hunter to the floor for safety.

“There was, of course, a considerable commotion in the audience, but soon a reasonable calm returned. After a few moments to collect himself, President Hunter made a second approach to the microphone and read the opening line of his prepared text: ‘Life has a fair number of challenges in it.’ He stopped, looked over the audience, and added, ‘As demonstrated.’ Then he went on with his message as though nothing had happened” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 11–12).

He faced a similar threat on another occasion. President Boyd K. Packer explained: “We accompanied him to Jerusalem for the dedication of the BYU Center. As I was speaking, there was some excitement in the back of the hall. Men in military uniforms had entered the room. They sent a note to President Hunter. I turned and asked for instructions. He said, ‘There’s been a bomb threat. Are you afraid?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Neither am I; finish your talk’” (Ensign, Apr. 1995, 29).

He Became President of the Church

President Hunter and his Counselors

The First Presidency at a press conference: Gordon B. Hinckley, Howard W. Hunter, and Thomas S. Monson

On 5 June 1994, Howard W. Hunter was ordained and set apart as the fourteenth president of the Church. He had served for over three decades as a General Authority. During a press conference held the next day, he invited “all members of the Church to live with ever more attention to the life and example of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially the love and hope and compassion He displayed.

“I pray that we might treat each other with more kindness, more courtesy, more humility and patience and forgiveness. We do have high expectations of one another, and all can improve. Our world cries out for more disciplined living of the commandments of God. But the way we are to encourage that, as the Lord told the Prophet Joseph in the wintry depths of Liberty Jail, is ‘by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; . . . without hypocrisy, and without guile’ (D&C 121:41–42).

“To those who have transgressed or been offended, we say, come back. To those who are hurt and struggling and afraid, we say, let us stand with you and dry your tears. To those who are confused and assailed by error on every side, we say, come to the God of all truth and the Church of continuing revelation. Come back. Stand with us. Carry on. Be believing. All is well, and all will be well. Feast at the table laid before you in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and strive to follow the Good Shepherd who has provided it. Have hope, exert faith, receive—and give—charity, the pure love of Christ” (quoted in Todd, Ensign, July 1994, 4–5).

Though his service as President of the Church was a short nine months, President Hunter’s example and teachings were endearing to the Saints.

Every Member Should Be Temple Worthy

First Presidency in white clothes

The First Presidency at the Bountiful Utah Temple dedication
Photo Courtesy of Deseret News

With his invitation to follow the Savior’s life and example with greater diligence, President Howard W. Hunter said:

“I also invite the members of the Church to establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of their membership and the supernal setting for their most sacred covenants. It would be the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church be temple worthy. I would hope that every adult member would be worthy of—and carry—a current temple recommend, even if proximity to a temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it.

“Let us be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. Let us hasten to the temple as frequently as time and means and personal circumstances allow. Let us go not only for our kindred dead, but let us also go for the personal blessing of temple worship, for the sanctity and safety which is provided within those hallowed and consecrated walls. The temple is a place of beauty, it is a place of revelation, it is a place of peace. It is the house of the Lord. It is holy unto the Lord. It should be holy unto us” (quoted in Todd, Ensign, July 1994, 5).

He Bore a Strong Witness of Christ

President Hunter in academic gown and lei

Participating in graduation exercises in Hawaii
Photo Courtesy of Deseret News

During his first general conference address as President of the Church, and what was to be his last general conference, President Howard W. Hunter left the Saints with his witness of Jesus Christ and the Church:

“My greatest strength through these past months has been my abiding testimony that this is the work of God and not of men. Jesus Christ is the head of this church. He leads it in word and deed. I am honored beyond expression to be called for a season to be an instrument in his hands to preside over his church. But without the knowledge that Christ is the head of the Church, neither I nor any other man could bear the weight of the calling that has come.

“In assuming this responsibility, I acknowledge God’s miraculous hand in my life. He has repeatedly spared my life and restored my strength, has repeatedly brought me back from the edge of eternity, and has allowed me to continue in my mortal ministry for another season. I have wondered on occasion why my life has been spared. But now I have set that question aside and ask only for the faith and prayers of the members of the Church so we can work together, I laboring with you, to fulfill God’s purposes in this season of our lives” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 6; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 7).

Seek a Christlike Life

In a Christmas devotional, President Howard W. Hunter encouraged people to follow the Savior’s example: “This Christmas, ‘Mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again.’ (Adapted from an unknown author.)” (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed. Clyde J. Williams [1997], 270–71).

He Was Paid a Final Tribute

Howard W. Hunter

President Howard W. Hunter

President Howard W. Hunter passed away on 3 March 1995. At President Hunter’s funeral service, President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

“A majestic tree in the forest has fallen, leaving a place of emptiness. A great and quiet strength has departed from our midst.

“Much has been said about his suffering. I believe that it went on longer and was more sharp and deep than any of us really knew. He developed a high tolerance for pain and did not complain about it. That he lived so long is a miracle in and of itself. His suffering has comforted and mitigated the pain of many others who suffer. They know that he understood the heaviness of their burdens. He reached out to these with a special kind of love.

“Much has been said about his kindness, his thoughtfulness, his courtesy to others. It is all true. He surrendered himself to the pattern of the Lord whom he loved. He was a quiet and thoughtful man. But he also could be aroused to voice strong and wise opinions. . . .

“Brother Hunter was kind and gentle. But he also could be strong and persuasive in his statements. As has been said, he was trained in the law. He knew how to present a matter. He laid out the various premises in orderly fashion. He moved from these to his conclusion. When he spoke we all listened. His suggestions most often prevailed. But when they were not accepted, he had the flexibility to withdraw his advocacy, to accept the decision of the President of the Church, his prophet, and to thereafter go throughout the Church furthering with conviction the conclusion that was reached and the program determined upon. . . .

“Howard W. Hunter, prophet, seer, and revelator, had a sure and certain testimony of the living reality of God, our Eternal Father. He voiced with great conviction his witness of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of mankind. He spoke with love for the Prophet Joseph Smith, and for all those who succeeded him in the line of succession until President Hunter’s own time. . . .

“May God bless his memory to our great good” (“A Prophet Polished and Refined,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, 33–35).

Chapter 15
Gordon B. Hinckley
Fifteenth President of the Church

Gordon B. Hinckley

HIGHLIGHTS IN THE LIFE OF GORDON B. HINCKLEY

Age

Events

 

He was born 23 June 1910 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Bryant S. and Ada Bitner Hinckley.

8

He was baptized by his father (28 April 1919).

20

His mother died (9 Nov. 1930).

21

He graduated from the University of Utah (June 1932).

22–24

He served a mission to the British Isles (1933–35).

24

He was appointed executive secretary of the Church Radio, Publicity, and Mission Literature Committee (1935).

26

He married Marjorie Pay (29 Apr. 1937).

33

He accepted a position at the Union Depot and Railroad Company in Salt Lake City (1943).

41

He was appointed general secretary of the General Missionary Committee (1951).

42

He was asked by President David O. McKay to prepare the temple presentations in non-English languages (1953).

46

He was called as president of the East Millcreek Stake (28 Oct. 1956).

47

He was sustained as an Assistant to the Twelve (6 Apr. 1958).

51

He was ordained an Apostle (5 Oct. 1961).

53

He spoke on the CBS network television program Church of the Air (6 Oct. 1963).

69

Under the direction of President Spencer W. Kimball, he read a proclamation from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles commemorating the Church’s 150th anniversary, broadcast by satellite from Fayette, New York (6 Apr. 1980).

71

He was called as a counselor to President Spencer W. Kimball (23 July 1981).

75

He was called as a counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson (10 Nov. 1985).

83

He was called as a counselor to President Howard W. Hunter (5 June 1994).

84

He became President of the Church (12 Mar. 1995).

85

He read “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” at the General Relief Society meeting (23 Sept. 1995).

86

He represented the Church on the television news show 60 Minutes (broadcast Apr. 1996); he organized additional Quorums of Seventy (increased to five quorums on 5 Apr. 1997).

87

He announced that smaller temples would be built throughout the world (Oct. 1997).

88

He addressed, by satellite, what may have been the largest gathering of missionaries ever convened to that date (21 Feb. 1999).

89

The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued the document “The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles” (1 Jan. 2000); he dedicated the Palmyra New York Temple (6 Apr. 2000).

90

He dedicated the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah (8 Oct. 2000); he traveled 250,000 miles, visited 58 countries, spoke to 2.2 million members and dedicated 24 temples (2000); he published his book Standing for Something: Ten Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes (2000); he announced the Perpetual Education Fund to assist young Church members worldwide with their education (Apr. 2001).

92

He dedicated the Nauvoo Illinois Temple (27 June 2002); he published his book Way to Be!: Nine Ways to Be Happy and Make Something of Your Life (2002).

He Descended from a Pioneer Heritage

Ira Nathanial Hinckley

Ira Nathaniel Hinckley, Gordon B. Hinckley’s grandfather

“President Hinckley’s forebear, Thomas Hinckley, served as governor of Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, from 1681 to 1692. His grandfather, Ira Nathaniel Hinckley, lost his parents and, with his brother, traveled from Michigan to Springfield, Illinois, to live with his grandparents. As a teenager he walked to Nauvoo and met the Prophet Joseph Smith” (Boyd K. Packer, “President Gordon B. Hinckley: First Counselor,” Ensign, Feb. 1986, 3).

Cove Fort

Ira Nathaniel Hinckley oversaw the building of Cove Fort in 1867.

In 1843, at the age of fourteen, Ira Nathaniel Hinckley joined the Church, and in 1850 he arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. After settling in Salt Lake City with his family, he went back East on trips to help other Saints migrate west. In 1862 he enlisted in the army to guard the transcontinental telegraph line during the Civil War. In 1867 President Brigham Young sent Ira a letter, asking him to accept a new assignment:

“‘We wish to get a good and suitable person to settle on and take charge of the Church Ranch at Cove Creek, Millard County. Your name has been suggested for this position. As it is some distance from any other settlement, a man of sound practical judgment and experience is needed to fill the place. Cove Creek is on the main road to our Dixie, Pahranagat, and Lower California, some 42 miles south of Fillmore and some 22 miles north of Beaver. If you think you can take this mission, you should endeavor to go south with us. We expect to start a week from next Monday. It is not wisdom for you to take your family there until the fort is built. . . . Should you conclude to go, let us know by the bearer of this letter, and when you start, come with conveyance to accompany us.’

“. . . Ira sent the courier back with a simple reply: ‘Say to the President I will be there on the appointed day with conveyance prepared to go’” (Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley [1996], 12).

Angeline Wilcox Noble Hinckley

Angeline Wilcox Noble Hinckley, Gordon B. Hinckley’s grandmother

His Father Was Strong and Faithful

Bryant Stringham Hinckley

Bryant Stringham Hinckley, father of Gordon B. Hinckley
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Ira Nathaniel Hinckley left his family in Coalville, Utah, until the fort at Cove Creek was ready to be occupied. While he was away, his wife Angeline Wilcox Noble Hinckley gave birth to a son, Bryant Stringham Hinckley (Gordon B. Hinkley’s father), on 9 July 1867. Ira moved his family to Cove Fort in November of 1867, and for the next seventeen years they helped travelers passing through the area find shelter, food, and safety.

“Bryant Hinckley’s earliest memories were of life at Cove Fort, where he and his brothers learned to ride almost as soon as they learned to walk. Many an afternoon found them atop the fort wall, their field glasses in hand, watching cowboys on fleet-footed ponies corral the wild horses and cattle that roamed the hills to the east. . . .

“In 1883, when Bryant was sixteen, Angeline moved to Provo so that Ira’s five oldest sons . . . could attend the Brigham Young Academy. Bryant was at an impressionable age, and the academy opened up a whole new world for the boy from rural Utah. . . .

“Upon graduation, Bryant was offered a teaching position at the academy on the condition that he obtain further training, so he later traveled east to Poughkeepsie, New York, and attended Eastman Business College, from which he graduated in December 1892. He also completed several months of graduate work at Rochester Business University before returning home in the spring of 1893 to teach at the BY Academy and, in June 1893, to marry Christine Johnson” (Dew, Go Forward with Faith, 16–18).

In early 1900 Bryant was offered and accepted the position of principal at the new LDS Business College in Salt Lake City. “His instincts for business as well as his skill as a teacher and communicator served the college well. . . . By the time he left after ten years of service, the school was considered one of the best business colleges in the country” (Dew, Go Forward with Faith, 18).

Bryant and Christine Hinckley became the parents of nine children. Tragically, on the same day their fifth child was born, their two-year-old daughter died with a severe fever, and in July 1908, after fifteen years of marriage, Christine suddenly became violently ill and was rushed into emergency surgery. All efforts to treat her were futile and she died shortly thereafter. Bryant was overwhelmed. His wife was gone and he was left alone with eight children to care for.

Gordon B. Hinckley Was Born

In time after the death of his wife, Bryant Hinckley felt that his children needed a mother and he needed a companion. At that time he was the principal of the LDS Business College, and on the faculty was a talented teacher named Ada Bitner who taught English and shorthand. After a short courtship, Bryant and Ada were married in the Salt Lake Temple on 4 August 1909.

Ada Bitner Hinckley

Ada Bitner Hinckley, mother of Gordon B. Hinckley
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“Bryant had been promised in a patriarchal blessing almost fifteen years earlier: ‘You shall not only become great yourself but your posterity will become great, from your loins shall come forth statesmen, prophets, priests and Kings to the most High God. The Priesthood will never depart from your family, no never. To your posterity there shall be no end . . . and the name of Hinckley shall be honored in every nation under heaven.’

“The day Bryant and Ada rejoiced in the arrival of their first son, they couldn’t have foreseen that he would in great measure fulfill that prophecy. Born on June 23, 1910, and given his mother’s maiden name, he would be known as Gordon Bitner Hinckley” (Dew, Go Forward with Faith, 22).

Gordon B. Hinckley as a baby

Young Gordon B. Hinckley
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He Learned Lessons in His Youth

“A spindly, frail boy susceptible to earaches and other illnesses, Gordon was a constant worry to his mother. In the evening it was common to find Ada warming two small bags of salt, which she would hold against his aching ears. . . .

“Gordon also suffered from allergies, asthma, and hay fever, and the living conditions of the day exacerbated his problems. Nearly everyone in Salt Lake City burned coal in stoves or furnaces, and the resultant soot hung over the city, particularly in the dead of winter, like a suffocating blanket. . . .

Gordon B. & Sherman Hinckley as boys

Gordon B. Hinckley (on right) with his brother Sherman, about 1913
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“The heavy concentration of soot and other pollutants was Gordon’s nemesis. At age two he contracted a severe case of whooping cough, threatening enough that a doctor told Ada the only remedy was clear, country air. Bryant responded by purchasing a five-acre farm in the rural East Millcreek area of the Salt Lake Valley and building a small summer home” (Dew, Go Forward with Faith, 24–25).

Recalling some lessons he learned during his childhood, President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

“I grew up here in Salt Lake City, a very ordinary kind of freckle-faced boy. . . . My father was a man of education and talent. He was respected in the community. He had a love for the Church and for its leaders. President Joseph F. Smith, who was President in my childhood, was one of his heroes. He loved President Heber J. Grant, who became President of the Church in 1918.

“My mother was a gifted and wonderful woman. She was an educator; but when she married, she left her employment to become a housewife and mother. In our minds she was a great success.

“We lived in what I thought was a large home in the First Ward. It had four rooms on the main floor—a kitchen, a dining room, a parlor, and a library. There were four bedrooms upstairs. The house stood on the corner on a large lot. There was a big lawn, with many trees that shed millions of leaves, and there was an immense amount of work to be done constantly.

Gordon B. Hinckley age 12

Gordon B. Hinckley, about 12 years old
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“In my early childhood, we had a stove in the kitchen and a stove in the dining room. A furnace was later installed, and what a wonderful thing that was. But it had a voracious appetite for coal, and there was no automatic stoker. The coal had to be shoveled into the furnace and carefully banked each night.

“I learned a great lesson from that monster of a furnace: if you wanted to keep warm, you had to work the shovel.

“My father had an idea that his boys ought to learn to work, in the summer as well as in the winter, and so he bought a five-acre farm, which eventually grew to include more than thirty acres. We lived there in the summer and returned to the city when school started.

“We had a large orchard, and the trees had to be pruned each spring. Father took us to pruning demonstrations put on by experts from the agriculture college. We learned a great truth—that you could pretty well determine the kind of fruit you would pick in September by the way you pruned in February. The idea was to space the branches so that the fruit would be exposed to sunlight and air. Further, we learned that new, young wood produces the best fruit. That has had many applications in life” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1993, 68; or Ensign, May 1993, 52).

The Hinckleys Held Family Home Evening

President Gordon B. Hinckley shared the following insights into his childhood:

“In 1915 President Joseph F. Smith asked the people of the Church to have family home evening. My father said we would do so, that we would warm up the parlor where Mother’s grand piano stood and do what the President of the Church had asked.

“We were miserable performers as children. We could do all kinds of things together while playing, but for one of us to try to sing a solo before the others was like asking ice cream to stay hard on the kitchen stove. In the beginning we would laugh and make cute remarks about one another’s performance. But our parents persisted. We sang together. We prayed together. We listened quietly while Mother read Bible and Book of Mormon stories. Father told us stories out of his memory. . . .

Hinckley family

Bryant and Ada Hinckley with their children, Sylvia, Gordon, Ruth, Sherman, and Ramona, about 1928
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“Out of those simple little meetings, held in the parlor of our old home, came something indescribable and wonderful. Our love for our parents was strengthened. Our love for brothers and sisters was enhanced. Our love for the Lord was increased. An appreciation for simple goodness grew in our hearts. These wonderful things came about because our parents followed the counsel of the President of the Church. I have learned something tremendously significant out of that.

“In that old home we knew that our father loved our mother. That was another of the great lessons of my boyhood. I have no recollection of ever hearing him speak unkindly to her or of her. He encouraged her in her individual Church activities and in neighborhood and civic responsibilities. She had much of native talent, and he encouraged her to use it. Her comfort was his constant concern. We looked upon them as equals, companions who worked together and loved and appreciated one another as they loved us” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1993, 71–72; or Ensign, May 1993, 54).

The Hinckley Family Valued Learning in the Home

Both of Gordon B. Hinckley’s parents were educators, and they wanted to give their children the best opportunities to learn. “As a former English teacher, Ada was well-read and a purist as far as grammar was concerned. She would not tolerate sloppy language, and her children learned to speak with precision and care. To say nothin’, or use slang of any kind, was almost unforgivable.

Bryant and Ada Hinckley

Bryant and Ada Hinckley
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“Ada had been an exceptional student, and she expected the same of her children. For years Gordon treasured a small Webster’s Handy Dictionary that carried the inscription, ‘Ada Bitner Reward for Excellence, 1889.’ Books and education were important to Bryant as well, and he had converted one of the large rooms in their home to a library that could be closed off for studying. Its bookshelves were filled with more than a thousand volumes” (Dew, Go Forward with Faith, 30).

Years later, President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke fondly of the family home library:

“When I was a boy we lived in a large old house. One room was called the library. It had a solid table and a good lamp, three or four comfortable chairs with good light, and books in cases that lined the walls. There were many volumes—the acquisitions of my father and mother over a period of many years.

“We were never forced to read them, but they were placed where they were handy and where we could get at them whenever we wished.

“There was quiet in that room. It was understood that it was a place to study.

“There were also magazines—the Church magazines and two or three other good magazines. There were books of history and literature, books on technical subjects, dictionaries, a set of encyclopedias, and an atlas of the world. There was no television, of course, at that time. Radio came along while I was growing up. But there was an environment, an environment of learning. I would not have you believe that we were great scholars. But we were exposed to great literature, great ideas from great thinkers, and the language of men and women who thought deeply and wrote beautifully” (“The Environment of Our Homes,” Ensign, June 1985, 4).

His Parents Expected the Best from Their Children

“Ironically, for all the emphasis among the Hinckleys on literature and learning, as a young boy Gordon did not like school. At age six, when he should have started first grade, he hid from his parents on the first day of school. Because he was a small child with delicate health, Bryant and Ada decided he might do better the following year attending with his [younger brother] Sherman.

Gordon B. Hinckley as boy with dog

Gordon B. Hinckley

“When the first day of school arrived a year later, Gordon ran laps around the house in an attempt to avoid his mother, but Ada prevailed. . . . It wasn’t long before Gordon joined his age group in the second grade” (Dew, Go Forward with Faith, 30–31). It wasn’t until high school that Gordon’s attitude changed dramatically.

Bryant S. Hinckley

Bryant S. Hinckley (1867–1961), father of Gordon B. Hinckley

His parents always encouraged him and the other children to do their best and certain standards and behavior were always expected. They were not strict disciplinarians, but they had a way of communicating what was expected. If needed, they assigned extra chores to those children who needed encouragement. On one occasion, in the first grade, “after a particularly rough day at school, Gordon returned home, threw his books on the table as he walked through the kitchen, and let out an expletive. Ada, shocked at his language, explained that under no circumstances would those words ever come out of his mouth again and led Gordon to the bathroom, where she generously coated a clean washcloth with soap and rubbed it around his tongue and teeth. He sputtered and fumed and felt like swearing again, but resisted the urge” (Dew, Go Forward with Faith, 33). He later said: “The lesson was worthwhile. I think I can say that I have tried to avoid using the name of the Lord in vain since that day. I am grateful for that lesson” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1987, 57; or Ensign, Nov. 1987, 46).

He Received a Patriarchal Blessing

In 1995, President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of his patriarchal blessing:

“I had a patriarchal blessing when I was a little boy, eleven years of age. A convert to the Church [Thomas E. Callister] who had come from England, who was our patriarch, laid his hands upon my head and gave me a blessing. I think I never read that blessing until I was on the boat coming over to England in 1933. I took it out of my trunk and read it carefully, and I read it every now and again while I was on my mission in England.

“I don’t want to tell you everything in that blessing, but that man spoke with a prophetic voice. He said, among other things, that I would lift my voice in testimony of the truth in the nations of the earth. When I was released from my mission, I spoke in London in a testimony meeting in the Battersea Town Hall. The next Sunday I spoke in Berlin. The next Sunday I spoke in Paris. The next Sunday I spoke in Washington, D. C. I came home tired and weak and thin and weary, . . . and I said, ‘I’ve had it. I’ve traveled as far as I want to travel. I never want to travel again.’ And I thought I had fulfilled that blessing. I had spoken in four of the great capitals of the world—London, Berlin, Paris, and Washington, D. C. I thought I had fulfilled that part of that blessing.

“I say with gratitude and in a spirit of testimony . . . that it has since been my privilege, out of the providence and goodness of the Lord, to bear testimony of this work and of the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith in all of the lands of Asia—nearly, at least—Japan, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Burma, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Singapore, what have you. I have testified in Australia, New Zealand, the islands of the Pacific, the nations of Europe, all of the nations of South America, and all of the nations of the Orient in testimony of the divinity of this work” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [1997], 422–23).

He Received a Strong Testimony of Joseph Smith

Gordon B. Hinckley as young missionary

Gordon B. Hinckley
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President Hinckley shared an experience he had as a young boy, when he came to know that Joseph Smith was a prophet:

“Many years ago when at the age of twelve I was ordained a deacon, my father, who was president of our stake, took me to my first stake priesthood meeting. In those days these meetings were held on a week night. I recall that we went to the Tenth Ward building in Salt Lake City, Utah. He walked up to the stand, and I sat on the back row, feeling a little alone and uncomfortable in that hall filled with strong men who had been ordained to the priesthood of God. The meeting was called to order, the opening song was announced, and—as was then the custom—we all stood to sing. There were perhaps as many as four hundred there. Together these men lifted their strong voices, some with the accents of the European lands from which they had come as converts, all singing these words with a great spirit of conviction and testimony:

Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.
(Hymns, No. 147 [currently no. 27].)

They were singing of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and as they did so there came into my heart a great surge of love for and belief in the mighty Prophet of this dispensation. In my childhood I had been taught much of him in meetings and classes in our ward as well as in our home; but my experience in that stake priesthood meeting was different. I knew then, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet of God.

“It is true that during the years which followed there were times when that testimony wavered somewhat, particularly in the seasons of my undergraduate university work. However, that conviction never left me entirely; and it has grown stronger through the years, partly because of the challenges of those days which compelled me to read and study and make certain for myself” (“‘Praise to the Man,’” Ensign, Aug. 1983, 2).

There Wasn’t Enough Room at the Junior High School

President Gordon B. Hinckley shared the following experience from when he entered junior high school:

“The [junior high school] building could not accommodate all the students, so our class of the seventh grade was sent back to the [elementary school].

“We were insulted. We were furious. We’d spent six unhappy years in that building, and we felt we deserved something better. The boys of the class all met after school. We decided we wouldn’t tolerate this kind of treatment. We were determined we’d go on strike.

Gordon B. Hinckley as young man

Gordon B. Hinckley

“The next day we did not show up. But we had no place to go. We couldn’t stay home because our mothers would ask questions. We didn’t think of going downtown to a show. We had no money for that. We didn’t think of going to the park. We were afraid we might be seen by Mr. Clayton, the truant officer. We didn’t think of going out behind the school fence and telling shady stories because we didn’t know any. We’d never heard of such things as drugs or anything of the kind. We just wandered about and wasted the day.

“The next morning, the principal, Mr. Stearns, was at the front door of the school to greet us. His demeanor matched his name. He said some pretty straightforward things and then told us that we could not come back to school until we brought a note from our parents. That was my first experience with a lockout. Striking, he said, was not the way to settle a problem. We were expected to be responsible citizens, and if we had a complaint, we could come to the principal’s office and discuss it.

“There was only one thing to do, and that was to go home and get the note.

“I remember walking sheepishly into the house. My mother asked what was wrong. I told her. I said that I needed a note. She wrote a note. It was very brief. It was the most stinging rebuke she ever gave me. It read as follows:

“‘Dear Mr. Stearns,

“‘Please excuse Gordon’s absence yesterday. His action was simply an impulse to follow the crowd.’

“She signed it and handed it to me.

“I walked back over to school and got there about the same time a few other boys did. We all handed our notes to Mr. Stearns. I do not know whether he read them, but I have never forgotten my mother’s note. Though I had been an active party to the action we had taken, I resolved then and there that I would never do anything on the basis of simply following the crowd. I determined then and there that I would make my own decisions on the basis of their merits and my standards and not be pushed in one direction or another by those around me.

“That decision has blessed my life many times, sometimes in very uncomfortable circumstances. It has kept me from doing some things which, if indulged in, could at worst have resulted in serious injury and trouble, and at the best would have cost me my self-respect” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1993, 69–70; or Ensign, May 1993, 53).

His Faith Transcended His Doubts

Gordon B. Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley
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“Gordon graduated from LDS High School in 1928 and enrolled in the University of Utah that fall, just a year before the onset of the Depression. . . .

“As Gordon worked his way through the university and made the transition from dependence upon his parents to personal responsibility, he, like many of his peers, began to question assumptions about life, the world, and even the Church. His concerns were compounded by the cynicism of the times. . . .

“Fortunately, he was able to discuss some of his concerns with his father, and together they explored the questions he raised: the fallibility of the Brethren, why difficult things happen to people who are living the gospel, why God allows some of His children to suffer, and so on. The environment of faith that permeated Gordon’s home was vital during this period of searching, as he later explained: ‘My father and mother were absolutely solid in their faith. They didn’t try to push the gospel down my throat or compel me to participate, but they didn’t back away from expressing their feelings either. My father was wise and judicious and was not dogmatic. He had taught university students and appreciated young people along with their points of view and difficulties. He had a tolerant, understanding attitude and was willing to talk about anything I had on my mind.’

“Underneath Gordon’s questions and critical attitude lay a thread of faith that had been long in the weaving. Little by little, despite his questions and doubts, he realized that he had a testimony he could not deny. And though he began to understand that there wasn’t always a clear-cut or easy answer for every difficult question, he also found that his faith in God transcended his doubts. Since that evening many years earlier when he had attended his first stake priesthood meeting, he had known that Joseph Smith was a prophet: ‘The testimony which had come to me as a boy remained with me and became as a bulwark to which I could cling during those very difficult years,’ he said” (Dew, Go Forward with Faith, 45–47).

His Mother Died

Ada Bitner Hinckley

Ada Bitner Hinckley (1880–1930), mother of Gordon B. Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley’s mother, Ada Bitner Hinckley died on 9 November 1930, when he was twenty years old. Speaking of his mother’s death, he said:

“At the age of fifty she developed cancer. [My father] was solicitous of her every need. I recall our family prayers, with his tearful pleadings and our tearful pleadings.

“Of course there was no medical insurance then. He would have spent every dollar he owned to help her. He did, in fact, spend very much. He took her to Los Angeles in search of better medical care. But it was to no avail.

“That was sixty-two years ago, but I remember with clarity my brokenhearted father as he stepped off the train and greeted his grief-stricken children. We walked solemnly down the station platform to the baggage car, where the casket was unloaded and taken by the mortician. We came to know even more about the tenderness of our father’s heart. This has had an effect on me all of my life.

“I also came to know something of death—the absolute devastation of children losing their mother—but also of peace without pain and the certainty that death cannot be the end of the soul” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1993, 72; or Ensign, May 1993, 54).

He Was Called on a Mission to England

Gordon B. Hinckley speaking in a park

As a missionary, speaking in Hyde Park, London, England, 22 July 1934

After graduating from the University of Utah in 1932, Gordon B. Hinckley intended to enroll at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York City, but the Lord had other plans for him. “On a Sunday afternoon not long before his twenty-third birthday, Gordon was invited to Bishop Duncan’s home. The bishop got right to the point: Had he thought of serving a mission? He was shocked. In those days of depression, missionary service was the exception rather than the rule. The distressing financial future had made the burden of supporting a missionary virtually impossible for most families; indeed, few missionaries were even being called. Nevertheless, as soon as his bishop raised the subject, he knew what his answer must be: he told Bishop Duncan he would go.

“The reality of financing the mission loomed, however. Bryant assured his son they would find a way, and Sherman [Gordon’s younger brother] volunteered to help. Gordon planned to devote the modest savings he had accumulated for graduate school. Unfortunately, not long after he committed to go, the bank where he had established his savings account failed and he lost everything. But some time later the family discovered that for years Ada had nurtured a small savings account with the coins she received in change when buying groceries and had earmarked the fund for her sons’ missionary service. Gordon was overwhelmed with his mother’s years of quiet sacrifice and prescient foresight. Even after her death she continued to support and sustain him. More important was his mother’s example of consecration, and he considered sacred the money he received from her savings” (Dew, Go Forward with Faith, 56).

four missionaries

Elder Hinckley (second from right) with missionaries Angus Nicholson, Richard S. Bennett, and Ormond J. Koulam
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He received his mission call to the European Mission, with headquarters in London, England. Elder Hinckley traveled to England on a ship that docked at Plymouth the night of 1 July 1933. The next day he was assigned to go to Preston, Lancashire.

As with many missionaries, he had his discouraging moments. His allergies bothered him from all of the June grasses that were pollinating at the time he arrived. Tears from hay fever were constant, and his energy and stamina were at an all-time low. Later he recalled:

“I was not well when I arrived. Those first few weeks, because of illness and the opposition which we felt, I was discouraged. I wrote a letter home to my good father and said that I felt I was wasting my time and his money. He was my father and my stake president, and he was a wise and inspired man. He wrote a very short letter to me which said, ‘Dear Gordon, I have your recent letter. I have only one suggestion: forget yourself and go to work.’ Earlier that morning in our scripture class my companion and I had read these words of the Lord: ‘Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.’ (Mark 8:35.)

group of missionaries

Missionaries in England, 6 May 1935. Elder Hinckley is in the second row, second from the left.

“Those words of the Master, followed by my father’s letter with his counsel to forget myself and go to work, went into my very being. With my father’s letter in hand, I went into our bedroom in the house at 15 Wadham Road, where we lived, and got on my knees and made a pledge with the Lord. I covenanted that I would try to forget myself and lose myself in His service.

Gordon B. Hinckley with horse

On the East Creek farm, February 1936, soon after his mission
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“That July day in 1933 was my day of decision. A new light came into my life and a new joy into my heart. The fog of England seemed to lift, and I saw the sunlight. I had a rich and wonderful mission experience, for which I shall ever be grateful, laboring in Preston where the work began and in other places where it had moved forward, including the great city of London, where I served the larger part of my mission” (“Taking the Gospel to Britain: A Declaration of Vision, Faith, Courage, and Truth,” Ensign, July 1987, 7).

“No sooner had young Elder Hinckley thrown himself into the work in Lancashire than he received a letter calling him to London as a special assistant to Elder Joseph F. Merrill, a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles and president of the European Mission.

Gordon B. Hinckley and Joseph Fielding Smith

With President Joseph Fielding Smith, reading the booklet Truth Restored, which Gordon B. Hinckley had written

“‘We didn’t baptize many people in London in those days,’ recalls mission companion Wendell J. Ashton, ‘but Elder Hinckley was a knockout in those street meetings on Hyde Park corner. I can promise you we learned to speak quickly on our feet. And Elder Hinckley was the best of the bunch. I have always thought that he gained tremendous firsthand experience there in London’s Hyde Park doing what he would so skillfully do for the rest of his life—defend the Church and speak up courageously of its truths. He was good at it then and he is good at it now.’

“Soon enough young Elder Hinckley was back in Salt Lake City, weary, underweight, and (with grand irony in light of what lay ahead in his life) with a desire ‘never to travel anywhere again’” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “President Gordon B. Hinckley: Stalwart and Brave He Stands,” Ensign, June 1995, 8).

He Served on the Radio, Publicity, and Mission Literature Committee

Gordon B. Hinckley looking at vinyl record

He served as executive secretary of the Church Radio, Publicity, and Mission Literature Committee in 1935, where he wrote and developed many of the Church’s first public relations and visual materials.

After Gordon B. Hinckley’s mission, his mission president, Elder Joseph F. Merrill of the Council of the Twelve, asked him to report to President Heber J. Grant and the First Presidency concerning the publication of missionary materials. “A new committee of the Twelve was organized to bring to missionary work the power of the latest means of communication. Brother Hinckley was to serve as producer and secretary for the Church Radio, Publicity, and Mission Literature Committee. This was, in fact, the beginning of the Public Communications Office in the Church. His plans to go to Columbia University would be put aside. His career as a seminary teacher, for he taught half-time when he returned from his mission, would be replaced. The committee included six members of the Twelve, with Elder Stephen L Richards as chairman” (Packer, Ensign, Feb. 1986, 5).

He Found an Eternal Companion

Marjorie Pay Hinckley

Marjorie Pay Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley and Marjorie Pay had been courting each other before his mission and had become good friends. She was excited to hear of his call and encouraged him to serve. “‘Marjorie was “the girl next door” when we were growing up,’ recalls President Hinckley’s younger sister Ramona H. Sullivan, ‘only in this case it was the girl across the street. And she was very pretty. The thing I remember most about Marge in those early years is how polished and impressive she was, even as a young girl, in giving readings and performances in the meetings and activities of our old First Ward. All the other kids would just sort of stand up and mumble through something, but Marjorie was downright professional. She had all of the elocution and all of the movements. I still remember those readings she gave.’

Elder and Sister Hinckley

Elder and Sister Hinckley, April 1970
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“Although they didn’t start dating seriously until after he was home from his mission, it was one of those very youthful readings Marjorie Pay gave which first caught his attention. ‘I saw her first in Primary,’ President Hinckley says with a laugh. ‘She gave a reading. I don’t know what it did to me, but I never forgot it. Then she grew older into a beautiful young woman, and I had the good sense to marry her.’

“The Hinckleys were married on 29 April 1937 and have had born to them three daughters and two sons. . . . To this extremely close-knit family have since been added twenty-five grandchildren and thirteen great-grandchildren” (Holland, Ensign, June 1995, 10–11).

There Was a Period of Adjustment to Marriage

Elder Hinckley and President McKay at podium

With President David O. McKay at the pulpit in the Salt Lake Tabernacle

“While he continued to learn more about the administration of the Church, Gordon was also finding there was plenty to keep him occupied at home as he and Marjorie adjusted to living with each other. And there were adjustments. Shortly after they had announced their engagement, Emma Marr Petersen, Mark E. Petersen’s wife, had warned Marjorie that the first ten years of marriage would be the hardest. Her comment both puzzled and shocked Marjorie, who later admitted: ‘I was just sure the first ten years would be bliss. But during our first year together I discovered she was dead right! There were a lot of adjustments. Of course, they weren’t the kind of thing you ran home to mother about. But I cried into my pillow now and again. The problems were almost always related to learning to live on someone else’s schedule and to do things someone else’s way. We loved each other, there was no doubt about that. But we also had to get used to each other. I think every couple has to get used to each other’” (Dew, Go Forward with Faith, 118).

Elder Hinckley with his family

The Hinckley family, around the time he was called as an Assistant to the Twelve, April 1958
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He Built a Home

Elder and Sister Hinckley

Elder and Sister Hinckley
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“Shortly after he married, [Gordon B. Hinckley] tackled the formidable task of building a small home, designing it to be added upon as the family grew. Son Clark says, ‘Dad always had a plan for the future. In the house he built, he left areas for doors within walls, under the theory that as he remodeled and expanded, the doors would be needed as part of the plan.’ Eldest son Dick adds, ‘It seems our home was always a year or two behind the family growth, and Mother constantly had to deal with some unfinished aspect of home or yard. When they moved into a condominium years later,’ Mother said, ‘At last, brick walls that Dad cannot knock out or change!’” (M. Russell Ballard, “Gordon B. Hinckley: An Anchor of Faith,” Ensign, Sept. 1994, 8).

He Was Called to the Apostleship

Elder Gordon B. Hinckley

A newly called Apostle, September 1961

For twenty-three years Gordon B. Hinckley had worked at the Church headquarters and had nurtured a close relationship with many General Authorities. In 1958 he was called to serve as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Early in the morning of 30 September 1961 he received a phone call from President David O. McKay asking him to come to his office as soon as possible.

“Less than an hour later the two men sat knee to knee and President McKay explained the reason for this early visit prior to that morning’s session of general conference: ‘I have felt to nominate you to fill the vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,’ he told Elder Hinckley simply, ‘and we would like to sustain you today in conference.’ The words took Gordon’s breath away, and he searched without success for a response. How could it be, that such a call would come to him? He had known, of course, of the vacancy in the Quorum. But never for a moment had he—or would he have—thought he would be called to fill it.

Gordon B. Hinckley with his family

Elder and Sister Hinckley with their children, October 1961
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“President McKay continued: ‘Your grandfather was worthy of this, as was your father. And so are you.’ With these words, Elder Hinckley’s composure crumbled, for there was no compliment the prophet could have paid him that would have meant more. ‘Tears began to fill my eyes as President McKay looked at me with those piercing eyes of his and spoke to me of my forebears,’ he remembered. ‘My father was a better man than I have ever been, but he didn’t have the opportunities I have had. The Lord has blessed me with tremendous opportunities.’ . . .

“In a letter he pecked out on his own Underwood manual typewriter, he wrote his missionary son serving in Duisburg, Germany. ‘I thought I would let you know that I have been called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,’ he told Dick. ‘I don’t know why I have been called to such a position. I have done nothing extraordinary but have tried only to do the best I could with the tasks I’ve been given without worrying about who got the credit.’ Dick said later, ‘I could tell from the letter that Dad was overwhelmed with it all. I myself was surprised with the news. The thought had never crossed my mind that he might be called into the Twelve’” (Dew, Go Forward with Faith, 234, 236).

We Must Remember the Atonement of Jesus Christ

Elder Gordon B. Hinckley taught:

“No member of this Church must ever forget the terrible price paid by our Redeemer who gave his life that all men might live—the agony of Gethsemane, the bitter mockery of his trial, the vicious crown of thorns tearing at his flesh, the blood cry of the mob before Pilate, the lonely burden of his heavy walk along the way to Calvary, the terrifying pain as great nails pierced his hands and feet, the fevered torture of his body as he hung that tragic day, the Son of God crying out, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ (Luke 23:34.)

President Hinckley and Church leaders

At general conference

“This was the cross, the instrument of his torture, the terrible device designed to destroy the Man of Peace, the evil recompense for his miraculous work of healing the sick, of causing the blind to see, of raising the dead. This was the cross on which he hung and died on Golgotha’s lonely summit.

“We cannot forget that. We must never forget it, for here our Savior, our Redeemer, the Son of God, gave himself a vicarious sacrifice for each of us” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1975, 137; or Ensign, May 1975, 93).

He Was Called to Be a Counselor in the First Presidency

“Surely one of the most challenging moments came to the life of Gordon B. Hinckley when, in the summer of 1981, President Spencer W. Kimball called Elder Hinckley to serve as a counselor in the First Presidency. Although they were experiencing varying degrees of declining health, the First Presidency was ‘complete’ with President Kimball, President N. Eldon Tanner, and President Marion G. Romney still serving. Nevertheless, in a moment of clear revelatory inspiration and good health, President Kimball asked Elder Hinckley to join the First Presidency as ‘Counselor in the First Presidency’—an additional counselor, for which there was ample precedent in Church history.

Presidents Kimball and Hinckley

With President Spencer W. Kimball

“‘When I accepted President Kimball’s call to join them, I did not know exactly how I would function or fit in, and perhaps they did not at the time,’ says President Hinckley. ‘But the circumstances called for additional help, and I was more than willing to give it. I did not know whether it would be for a few days or a few months.’

President Hinckley with President Hunter

With President Howard W. Hunter

“As it turned out, President Gordon B. Hinckley would never again leave the First Presidency of the Church. In 1982 President Tanner passed away, with President Romney moving to First Counselor and President Hinckley being sustained as Second Counselor.

“‘That was a very heavy and overwhelming responsibility,’ he recalls. ‘It was an almost terrifying load at times. Of course, I consulted with our brethren of the Twelve.

“‘I recall on one particular occasion getting on my knees before the Lord and asking for help in the midst of that very difficult situation. And there came into my mind those reassuring words, “Be still and know that I am God” (D&C 101:16). I knew again that this was His work, that He would not let it fail, that all I had to do was work at it and do our very best, and that the work would move forward without let or hindrance of any kind’” (Holland, Ensign, June 1995, 12).

President Hinckley seated at conference

Between 1981–85, he frequently presided at general conference alone.

While serving as counselor to Presidents Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra T. Benson, and Howard W. Hunter, President Hinckley observed the physical burdens they experienced in the latter part of their lives. There were times when he presided at meetings when the President or the other counselors could not attend because of poor health. The responsibility of leadership fell upon him for many decisions that kept the Church moving forward. He accepted the overwhelming workload humbly and prayerfully.

“Elder Thomas S. Monson reflected on President Hinckley’s role during this unique period in the Church’s history: ‘President Hinckley found himself in a most challenging situation, because President Kimball was still the prophet. Even though a man may be impaired physically, he might not be impaired mentally or spiritually. President Hinckley had the unenviable task of not going too far too fast, but of going far enough. He always had the rounded ability and common sense to do what a counselor should do—that of never intruding on what belonged solely to the President’” (Dew, Go Forward with Faith, 401).

“We Cannot Forsake the Word of the Lord”

President Gordon B. Hinckley wrote:

“The Lord has given us counsel and commandment on so many things that no member of this church need ever equivocate. He has established our guidelines concerning personal virtue, neighborliness, obedience to law, loyalty to government, observance of the Sabbath day, sobriety and abstinence from liquor and tobacco, the payment of tithes and offerings, the care of the poor, the cultivation of home and family, the sharing of the gospel, to mention only a few.

“There need be nothing of argument or contention in any of them. If we will pursue a steady course in the implementation of our religion in our own lives, we shall advance the cause more effectively than by any other means.

“There may be those who will seek to tempt us away. There may be those who will try to bait us. We may be disparaged. We may be belittled. We may be inveighed against. We may be caricatured before the world. There are those, both in the Church and out, who would compel us to change our position on some matters, as if it were our prerogative to usurp authority which belongs to God alone.

“We have no desire to quarrel with others. We teach the gospel of peace. But we cannot forsake the word of the Lord as it has come to us through men whom we have sustained as prophets” (Be Thou an Example [1981], 13).

The Book of Mormon Is a Tangible Influence

Elder Hinckley and President McKay

Looking at the first Chinese copy of the Book of Mormon with President David O. McKay, January 1966

President Gordon B. Hinckley testified of the miracle of the Book of Mormon: “If there are miracles among us, certainly one of them is [the Book of Mormon]. Unbelievers may doubt the First Vision and say there were not witnesses to prove it. Critics may scorn every divine manifestation incident to the coming forth of this work as being of such an intangible nature as to be unprovable to the pragmatic mind, as if the things of God could be understood other than by the Spirit of God. They may discount our theology. But they cannot in honesty dismiss the Book of Mormon. It is here. They can feel it. They can read it. They can weigh its substance and its content. They can witness its influence” (Be Thou an Example, 103–4).

Use Your Talents to Serve and Bless Others

Addressing a group of young people, President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

“It would be a beautiful world if every girl had the privilege of marriage to a good young man whom she could look upon with pride and gladness as her companion in time and eternity, hers alone to love and cherish, to respect and help. What a wonderful world it would be if every young man were married to a wife in the house of the Lord, one at whose side he would stand as protector, provider, husband, and companion.

President Hinckley in a group of people

President Hinckley teaching

“But it doesn’t work out that way in every case. There are some, who for reasons unexplainable, do not have the opportunity of marriage. To you I should like to say a word or two. Don’t waste your time and wear out your lives wandering about in the wasteland of self-pity. God has given you talents of one kind or another. God has given you the capacity to serve the needs of others and bless their lives with your kindness and concern. Reach out to someone in need. There are so very many out there.

“Add knowledge to knowledge. Refine your mind and skills in a chosen field of discipline. Never in the history of the world have women been afforded such opportunities in the professions, in business, in education, and in all of the honorable vocations of life. Do not feel that because you are single God has forsaken you. I repeat his promise quoted earlier, ‘Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers’ [D&C 112:10].

“The world needs you. The Church needs you. So very many people and causes need your strength and wisdom and talents” (“If I Were You, What Would I Do?” Brigham Young University 1983–84 Fireside and Devotional Speeches [1984], 11).

He Taught the Importance of Motherhood

President Hinckley speaking

Speaking at general conference

In the September 1983 general women’s meeting, President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

“To you women who find it necessary to work when you would rather be at home, may I speak briefly. I know that there are many of you who find yourselves in this situation. Some of you have been abandoned and are divorced, with children to care for. Some of you are widows with dependent families. I honor you and respect you for your integrity and spirit of self-reliance. I pray that the Lord will bless you with strength and great capacity, for you need both. You have the responsibilities of both breadwinner and homemaker. I know that it is difficult. I know that it is discouraging. I pray that the Lord will bless you with a special wisdom and the remarkable talent needed to provide your children with time and companionship and love and with that special direction which only a mother can give. I pray also that he will bless you with help, unstintingly given, from family, friends, and the Church, which will lift some of the burden from your shoulders and help you in your times of extremity.

“We sense, at least in some small degree, the loneliness you must occasionally feel and the frustrations you must experience as you try to cope with problems that sometimes seem beyond your capacity to handle. . . .

President Hinckley with young women

Greeting a group of young women

“Now to others who work when it is not necessary and who, while doing so, leave children to the care of those who often are only poor substitutes, I offer a word of caution. Do not follow a practice which will bring you later regret. If the purpose of your daily employment is simply to get money for a boat or a fancy automobile or some other desirable but unnecessary thing, and in the process you lose the companionship of your children and the opportunity to rear them, you may find that you have lost the substance while grasping at the shadow. . . .

“. . . I am satisfied that [our Father in Heaven] loves his daughters as much as he loves his sons. President Harold B. Lee once remarked that priesthood is the power by which God works through us as men. I should like to add that motherhood is the means by which God carries forward his grand design of continuity of the race. Both priesthood and motherhood are essentials of the plan of the Lord.

“Each complements the other. Each is needed by the other. God has created us male and female, each unique in his or her individual capacities and potential. The woman is the bearer and the nurturer of children. The man is the provider and protector. No legislation can alter the sexes. Legislation should provide equality of opportunity, equality of compensation, equality of political privilege. But any legislation which is designed to create neuter gender of that which God created male and female will bring more problems than benefits. Of that I am convinced.

“I wish with all my heart we would spend less of our time talking about rights and more talking about responsibilities. God has given the women of this Church a work to do in building his kingdom. That concerns all aspects of our great triad of responsibility—which is, first, to teach the gospel to the world; second, to strengthen the faith and build the happiness of the membership of the Church; and, third, to carry forward the great work of salvation for the dead. . . .

“Put on thy beautiful garments, O daughters of Zion. Live up to the great and magnificent inheritance which the Lord God, your Father in Heaven, has provided for you. Rise above the dust of the world. Know that you are daughters of God, children with a divine birthright. Walk in the sun with your heads high, knowing that you are loved and honored, that you are a part of his kingdom, and that there is for you a great work to be done which cannot be left to others” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1983, 114–15; or Ensign, Nov. 1983, 83–84).

Selfishness Is a Major Cause of Divorce

President Gordon B. Hinckley taught:

“Why all of these broken homes? What happens to marriages that begin with sincere love and a desire to be loyal and faithful and true one to another?

President and Sister Hinckley by large cake

President and Sister Hinckley celebrating a wedding anniversary
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“There is no simple answer. I acknowledge that. But it appears to me that there are some obvious reasons that account for a very high percentage of these problems. I say this out of experience in dealing with such tragedies. I find selfishness to be the root cause of most of it.

“I am satisfied that a happy marriage is not so much a matter of romance as it is an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion.

“Selfishness so often is the basis of money problems, which are a very serious and real factor affecting the stability of family life. Selfishness is at the root of adultery, the breaking of solemn and sacred covenants to satisfy selfish lust. Selfishness is the antithesis of love. It is a cankering expression of greed. It destroys self-discipline. It obliterates loyalty. It tears up sacred covenants. It afflicts both men and women.

“Too many who come to marriage have been coddled and spoiled and somehow led to feel that everything must be precisely right at all times, that life is a series of entertainments, that appetites are to be satisfied without regard to principle. How tragic the consequences of such hollow and unreasonable thinking! . . .

“There is a remedy for all of this. It is not found in divorce. It is found in the gospel of the Son of God. He it was who said, ‘What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder’ (Matthew 19:6). The remedy for most marriage stress is not in divorce. It is in repentance. It is not in separation. It is in simple integrity that leads a man to square up his shoulders and meet his obligations. It is found in the Golden Rule. . . .

“There may be now and again a legitimate cause for divorce. I am not one to say that it is never justified. But I say without hesitation that this plague among us, which seems to be growing everywhere, is not of God, but rather is the work of the adversary of righteousness and peace and truth” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1991, 96–98; or Ensign, May 1991, 73–74).

Marriage Should Be an Eternal Partnership

President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

“I am satisfied that God our Eternal Father does not love His daughters less than He loves His sons. Under the gospel plan the wife walks neither ahead nor behind her husband, but at his side in a true companionship before the Lord.

Marjorie Pay Hinckley

Sister Marjorie Pay Hinckley, March 1988

“I see my own companion of fifty-two years. Is her contribution less acceptable before the Lord than is mine? I am satisfied it is not. She has walked quietly at my side, sustained me in my responsibilities, reared and blessed our children, served in many capacities in the Church, and spread an unmitigated measure of cheer and goodness wherever she has gone. The older I grow the more I appreciate—yes, the more I love—this little woman with whom I knelt at the altar in the house of the Lord more than half a century ago.

Presidents Hinckley and Monson with U.S. President Ronald Reagan

President Hinckley with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and President Thomas S. Monson, September 1982
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“I wish with all of my heart that every marriage might be a happy marriage. I wish that every marriage might be an eternal partnership. I believe that wish can be realized if there is a willingness to make the effort to bring it to pass” (“Rise to the Stature of the Divine within You,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 97).

“I believe in the family where there is a husband who regards his companion as his greatest asset and treats her accordingly; where there is a wife who looks upon her husband as her anchor and strength, her comfort and security; where there are children who look to mother and father with respect and gratitude; where there are parents who look upon those children as blessings and find a great and serious and wonderful challenge in their nurture and rearing. The cultivation of such a home requires effort and energy, forgiveness and patience, love and endurance and sacrifice; but it is worth all of these and more (“This I Believe,” Brigham Young University 1991–92 Devotional and Fireside Speeches [1992], 80).

He Became President of the Church

President Hinckley speaking

President Gordon B. Hinckley

On 3 March 1995 President Howard W. Hunter passed away. President Gordon B. Hinckley, knowing the mantle would now fall upon him to preside over the Church, needed the Lord’s assurance and confirmation. He went to the Salt Lake Temple to seek the Lord’s will. There in the meeting room of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, behind locked doors, he read from the scriptures and reflected upon the Savior’s Atonement. He studied the portraits of the prophets of this dispensation and felt that they were encouraging him and that he would be blessed and sustained in his ministry. He wrote:

“‘They seemed to say to me that they had spoken on my behalf in a council held in the heavens, that I had no need to fear, that I would be blessed and sustained in my ministry.

“‘I got on my knees and pleaded with the Lord. I spoke with Him at length in prayer. . . . I am confident that by the power of the Spirit, I heard the word of the Lord, not vocally, but as a warmth that was felt within my heart concerning the questions I had raised in prayer.’

Gordon B. Hinckley, his Counselors, and President Packer

The First Presidency during a press conference near the statue of Joseph Smith in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building
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“After his time in the temple, President Hinckley felt a measure of peace about what lay ahead. ‘I feel better, and I have a much firmer assurance in my heart that the Lord is working His will with reference to His cause and kingdom, that I will be sustained as President of the Church and prophet, seer, and revelator, and so serve for such time as the Lord wills,’ he wrote afterward. ‘With the confirmation of the Spirit in my heart, I am now ready to go forward to do the very best work I know how to do. It is difficult for me to believe that the Lord is placing me in this most high and sacred responsibility. . . . I hope that the Lord has trained me to do what He expects of me. I will give Him total loyalty, and I will certainly seek His direction.’ . . .

“President James E. Faust voiced a sentiment shared by many General Authorities: ‘I don’t know of any man who has come to the Presidency of this Church who has been so well prepared for the responsibility. President Hinckley has known and worked with every Church President from Heber J. Grant to Howard W. Hunter, and has been tutored by all of the great leaders of our time one-on-one in a very personal way’” (Dew, Go Forward with Faith, 508, 510–11).

He Is at Ease with the Media

President Hinckley with Mike Wallace

With television commentator Mike Wallace, while President Hinckley was being interviewed for a segment on the television program 60 Minutes, December 1995
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President Gordon B. Hinckley’s early assignments in public relations gave him much experience with the media. His willingness to interact with the media has given the Church unprecedented opportunities to share the message of the Restoration with the world and his interviews on radio and television have offered some people exposure to the Church for the first time.

“‘President Hinckley is helping to lead the Church out of obscurity,’ Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated. ‘The Church can’t move forward as it needs to if we are hidden under a bushel. Someone has to step out, and President Hinckley is willing to do so. He is a man of history and modernity at the same time, and he has marvelous gifts of expression that enable him to present our message in a way that appeals to people everywhere.’ . . .

Larry King and President Hinckley

Being interviewed on the Larry King Live television show
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“‘President Hinckley respects the media, but he is not afraid of them,’ explained Elder Maxwell, who witnessed his performance in similar settings. ‘And he has such a solid grasp of both Church history and facts about the Church today that he is not likely to be thrown by a question that he hasn’t already thought about or processed in his own mind. He is able to give answers of sound-bite length that are important. He is quick mentally and equal to the engagements that come up. And he doesn’t feel compelled to gloss over any of our shortcomings as a people. He doesn’t put forward any gilding or veneer. As a result, reporters respond to his genuineness. He has the capacity to connect with people from all stations and in that respect is eminently prepared to tell our story to the world’” (Dew, Go Forward with Faith, 536, 546–47).

We Believe in Christ

First Presidency and Twelve by the Christus

The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in front of the Christus statue in the North Visitors’ Center on Temple Square, 1995

During a 1995 radio interview, President Gordon B. Hinckley explained: “We are Christians. No church in the world speaks up with a stronger witness of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world than does this Church, which carries His name—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And His gospel is the gospel we teach. And the spirit of love which we exemplify is the spirit in which we try to work” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 278).

Revelation Continues

President Hinckley in the Whitmer cabin

April 1980 was the sesquicentennial of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During general conference, on 6 April 1980, Elder Hinckley presented the Proclamation of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the Peter Whitmer farm in Fayette, New York.

President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “Somebody asked Brother Widtsoe once, ‘When are we going to have another revelation? How is it that we haven’t had any revelations since the Doctrine and Covenants was compiled? How long has it been since we’ve had a revelation?’ Brother Widtsoe replied, ‘Oh, about last Thursday.’ Now, that’s the way it goes. Each Thursday, when we are at home, the First Presidency and the Twelve meet in the temple, in those sacred hallowed precincts, and we pray together and discuss certain matters together, and the spirit of revelation comes upon those present. I know. I have seen it. I was there that June day in 1978 when President Kimball received revelation, surrounded by members of the Twelve, of whom I was one at the time. This is the work of God. This is His almighty work. No man can stop or hinder it. It will go on and continue to grow and bless the lives of people across the earth” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 555).

He Explained the Need for the Proclamation on the Family

In September 1995, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” It was first read by President Gordon B. Hinckley as part of his message at the General Relief Society Meeting. Before he read it, he said: “With so much of sophistry that is passed off as truth, with so much of deception concerning standards and values, with so much of allurement and enticement to take on the slow stain of the world, we have felt to warn and forewarn. In furtherance of this we of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles now issue a proclamation to the Church and to the world as a declaration and reaffirmation of standards, doctrines, and practices relative to the family which the prophets, seers, and revelators of this church have repeatedly stated throughout its history” (“Stand Strong against the Wiles of the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 100).

President Hinckley by red brick building

Visiting Nauvoo, Illinois

At a media luncheon and press conference in May 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley offered more insight on the need for the proclamation: “Why do we have this proclamation on the family now? Because the family is under attack. All across the world families are falling apart. The place to begin to improve society is in the home. Children do, for the most part, what they are taught. We are trying to make the world better by making the family stronger” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 209).

“God Bless You, Mothers!”

President Hinckley with Church members

President Hinckley greets the Saints in Africa
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President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

“The true strength of any nation, society, or family lies in those qualities of character that have been acquired for the most part by children taught in the quiet, simple, everyday manner of mothers. What Jean Paul Richter once declared of fathers is even more true of mothers—and I paraphrase it just a little to make a point—‘What a mother says to her children is not heard by the world, but it will be heard by posterity.’ . . .

“. . . I feel to invite women everywhere to rise to the great potential within you. I do not ask that you reach beyond your capacity. I hope you will not nag yourselves with thoughts of failure. I hope you will not try to set goals far beyond your capacity to achieve. I hope you will simply do what you can do in the best way you know. If you do so, you will witness miracles come to pass. . . .

President Hinckley and U.S. President George H. W. Bush

President Hinckley with U.S. President George H. W. Bush, July 1992
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“God bless you, mothers! When all the victories and defeats of men’s efforts are tallied, when the dust of life’s battles begins to settle, when all for which we labor so hard in this world of conquest fades before our eyes, you will be there, you must be there, as the strength for a new generation, the ever-improving onward movement of the race. Its quality will depend on you” (Motherhood: A Heritage of Faith [pamphlet, 1995], 6, 9, 13).

“Rear Your Children in the Ways of the Gospel”

President Hinckley with 3 children

Enjoying some time with children

Addressing his remarks to single mothers, President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

“Whatever the cause of your present situation, our hearts reach out to you. We know that many of you live in loneliness, insecurity, worry, and fear. For most of you there is never enough money. Your constant, brooding worry is anxiety for your children and their futures. Many of you find yourselves in circumstances where you have to work and leave your children largely to their own devices. But if when they are very small there is much of affection, there is shown much of love, there is prayer together, then there will more likely be peace in the hearts and strength in the character of your children. Teach them the ways of the Lord. Declared Isaiah, ‘All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children’ (Isa. 54:13).

“The more surely you rear your children in the ways of the gospel of Jesus Christ, with love and high expectation, the more likely that there will be peace in their lives” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 99).

Young Women Should Become Well Educated

President Hinckley with young women

Enjoying some time with the young women of the Church

Speaking to the Young Women of the Church, President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “I urge each of you young women to get all of the schooling you can get. You will need it for the world into which you will move. Life is becoming so exceedingly competitive. Experts say that the average man or woman, during his or her working career, can expect to have at least five different jobs. The world is changing, and it is so very important that we equip ourselves to move with that change. But there is a bright side to all of this. No other generation in all of history has offered women so many opportunities. Your first objective should be a happy marriage, sealed in the temple of the Lord, and followed by the rearing of a good family. Education can better equip you for the realization of those ideals” (“Stand True and Faithful,” Ensign, May 1996, 92).

“The Church Is Not Complete without Temples”

President Hinckley with Elder Bangeter and model of temple

A builder of many temples; speaking with Elder W. Grant Bangerter

President Gordon B. Hinckley often spoke of the importance of temples:

“Temple building and the dedication of temples have gone on at such a pace in the last few years that some pay little attention and feel it is of small significance.

President and Sister Hinckley

President and Sister Hinckley
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“But the adversary has not been unmindful of it. The building and dedication of these sacred edifices have been accompanied by a surge of opposition from a few enemies of the Church as well as criticism from a few within. This has brought to mind a statement of Brigham Young in 1861 while the Salt Lake Temple was under construction. Evidently when someone with previous experience was asked to work on the Salt Lake Temple, he responded, ‘I do not like to do it, for we never began to build a Temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring.’

“To which Brigham Young replied, ‘I want to hear them ring again . . .’ (in Journal of Discourses, 8:355–56)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1985, 71; or Ensign, Nov. 1985, 54).

“It has been my consuming desire to have a temple wherever needed so that our people, wherever they might be, could, without too great a sacrifice, come to the House of the Lord for their own ordinances and for the opportunity of doing vicarious work for the dead. . . .

“The Church is not complete without temples. The doctrine is not fulfilled without these sacred ordinances. People cannot have a fulness of that to which they are entitled as members of this Church without the House of the Lord.

“The Lord has blessed us with the means, through the faithful consecrations of the Saints, to do that which we ought to do and must do. This is the greatest era of temple building in all the history of the world. But it is not enough. We must continue to pursue it until we have a dedicated temple within reach of our faithful people everywhere” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 629).

He Planned to Have One Hundred Temples by the Year 2000

President Gordon B. Hinckley has had the opportunity to dedicate more temples than all of the other leaders of this dispensation combined. Under his direction the Church increased its number of operating temples beyond 100. During the April 1998 general conference, President Hinckley announced the building of smaller temples and shared the plan to have 100 working temples by the year 2000:

“In recent months we have traveled far out among the membership of the Church. I have been with many who have very little of this world’s goods. But they have in their hearts a great burning faith concerning this latter-day work. They love the Church. They love the gospel. They love the Lord and want to do His will. They are paying their tithing, modest as it is. They make tremendous sacrifices to visit the temples. They travel for days at a time in cheap buses and on old boats. They save their money and do without to make it all possible.

“They need nearby temples—small, beautiful, serviceable temples.

“Accordingly, I take this opportunity to announce to the entire Church a program to construct some 30 smaller temples immediately. . . . They will have all the necessary facilities to provide the ordinances of the Lord’s house.

“This will be a tremendous undertaking. Nothing even approaching it has ever been tried before. . . . This will make a total of 47 new temples in addition to the 51 now in operation. I think we had better add 2 more to make it an even 100 by the end of this century, being 2,000 years ‘since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh’ (D&C 20:1). In this program we are moving on a scale the like of which we have never seen before. . . .

“If temple ordinances are an essential part of the restored gospel, and I testify that they are, then we must provide the means by which they can be accomplished. All of our vast family history endeavor is directed to temple work. There is no other purpose for it. The temple ordinances become the crowning blessings the Church has to offer” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1998, 115–16; or Ensign, May 1998, 87–88).

The 100th temple announced (though it was the 77th dedicated) was built in Palmyra, New York, near the Sacred Grove and the Smith family farm where Joseph experienced the First Vison. The Palmyra New York Temple was dedicated on 6 April 2000, the 170th anniversary of the organization of the Church. It also commemorated the 2000th anniversary of the birth of the Savior. Approximately 1,400 members attended the four dedicatory services and an estimated 1.3 million members participated in the dedication by means of a satellite broadcast to stake centers in the United States and Canada (see Shaun D. Stahle, “A Day of Sacred Significance,” Church News, 15 Apr. 2000, 3, 6).

The Conference Center Was Built

Conference Center

During the April 1996 general conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced that the Church would build a new assembly building. The new building would be much larger than the Tabernacle, which seats about 6,000 people, and would better accommodate more of those who wanted to attend general conference. The groundbreaking ceremony for the facility was 24 July 1997, and the enormous building was completed in three years. The newly constructed Conference Center was designed to seat more than 21,000 people and is used for many other Church and community events.

During the first general conference held in the newly completed Conference Center, in April 2000, President Hinckley said:

“We are grateful for the enthusiasm of the Latter-day Saints concerning this new meeting place. I hope that enthusiasm will continue and that we shall have a full house at every conference in the future.

“This is the newest in a series of meeting places constructed by our people. When first they came to this valley, they built a bowery. It shaded them from the sun but provided no warmth and very little comfort. Then they built the old Tabernacle. That was followed by the new Tabernacle, which has served us so very well for more than 130 years.

“Now in this historic season, when we mark the birth of a new century and the beginning of a new millennium, we have built this new and wonderful Conference Center.

“Each of the undertakings of the past was a bold venture, and particularly the Tabernacle. It was unique in its design. No one had constructed a building like that before. It is still unique. What a wonderful hall it has been and will continue to be. It will go on living, for I believe that buildings have lives of their own. It will go on serving long into the unforeseeable future.

“The building of this structure has been a bold undertaking. We worried about it. We prayed about it. We listened for the whisperings of the Spirit concerning it. And only when we felt the confirming voice of the Lord did we determine to go forward” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2000, 3; or Ensign, May 2000, 4–5).

President Hinckley with other leaders

Reviewing the Church’s program of humanitarian aid
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Pornography Enslaves

Among President Gordon B. Hinckley’s warnings about pornography, he wrote:

“Pornography, which is a seedbed for more blatant immorality, is no longer regarded as back-alley fare. In too many homes and lives, it is now regarded as a legitimate slice of entertainment. Pornography robs its victims of self-respect and of an appreciation of the beauties of life. It tears down those who indulge and pulls them into a slough of evil thoughts and possibly evil deeds. It seduces, destroys, and distorts the truth about love and intimacy. It is more deadly than a foul disease. Pornography is as addictive and self-destructive as illicit drugs, and it literally destroys the personal relationships of those who become its slaves.

“Not one of us can afford to partake of this rubbish. We cannot risk the damage it does to the most precious of relationships—marriage—and to other interactions within the family. We cannot risk the effect it will have on our spirit and soul. Salacious videotapes, 900 telephone numbers, the filth found on the Internet, sensual magazines and movies—all are traps to be avoided like the deadliest of plagues” (Standing for Something: Ten Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes [2000], 36–37).

He Prayed for the Youth of the Church

President Hinckley with young people

Visiting with the youth in Chile, 1969

During a worldwide satellite broadcast, President Gordon B. Hinckley counseled the youth of the Church to do six things:

1. Be grateful.

2. Be smart.

3. Be clean.

4. Be true.

5. Be humble.

6. Be prayerful.

At the conclusion of his address, President Hinckley offered the following prayer and blessing upon the youth of the Church:

President Hinckley greeting a crowd

Elder Hinckley visiting Mainland China, May 1980

“O God, our Eternal Father, as Thy servant I bow before Thee in prayer in behalf of these young people scattered over the earth who are gathered tonight in assemblies everywhere. Please smile with favor upon them. Please listen to them as they lift their voices in prayer unto Thee. Please lead them gently by the hand in the direction they should follow.

“Please help them to walk in paths of truth and righteousness and keep them from the evils of the world. Bless them that they shall be happy at times and serious at times, that they may enjoy life and drink of its fulness. Bless them that they may walk acceptably before Thee as Thy cherished sons and daughters. Each is Thy child with capacity to do great and noble things. Keep them on the high road that leads to achievement. Save them from the mistakes that could destroy them. If they have erred, forgive their trespasses and lead them back to ways of peace and progress. For these blessings I humbly pray with gratitude for them and invoke Thy blessings upon them with love and affection, in the name of Him who carries the burdens of our sins, even the Lord Jesus Christ, amen” (“A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for Youth,” Ensign, Jan. 2001, 11).

Salt Lake City Hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics

Temple Square

The Salt Lake Temple, with the Church Office Building (far right) decorated for the Olympics with a banner of an ice skater

From 8–24 February, Salt Lake City welcomed the world by hosting the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. It was a much anticipated event, with more than seven years of planning going into it. Thousands of volunteers gave the world exposure to the hospitality of Utah residents and did much to build relationships with nations of the world. It was “a time when people of all nations came to Salt Lake City, some with suspicions and prejudices, and left with appreciation and respect” (Sarah Jane Weaver, “Olympics Earn Friends and Respect for Church,” Church News, 2 Mar. 2002, 3).

Afterward, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “‘I think we will be pleased and benefit from [the Olympics] not only abroad but right here at home in the great relationships we’ve had in this season putting on these world games.’ . . .

“The Olympics, he said, bring out excellence in athletics and people. ‘It’s a wonderful thing that someone becomes the best in the entire world in that particular type of event. This matter of excellence is such a wonderful thing. The Olympics were designed to cultivate that. What a great thing that was. With all that, you had the fellowship, friendship, appreciation, respect and good feeling. I don’t know how we could have done any better.’

“One benefit of the Games, he said, was people getting to know Church members and tasting of their hospitality and service. ‘We’re a part of this community. We had so very many volunteers who gave unselfishly there. We’re friendly, hospitable and gracious. I think the whole world saw us as we are, and I think they came to appreciate and respect us.’ . . .

“Concluding, President Hinckley shared his love for all the world’s people—many of whom visited Utah during the Games. ‘I love people,’ he said. ‘I think I love all people. I recognize that all men and women are the sons and daughters of God and that as such all of us are brothers and sisters in a very real sense. You cannot have fatherhood without brotherhood. That’s the way I feel.’ . . .

“‘I’m glad it’s behind us, that it went so well, and I’m looking forward to new opportunities,’ he said” (Weaver, Church News, 2 Mar. 2002, 3).

The Nauvoo Illinois Temple Was Rebuilt

Nauvoo Temple

Ira Nathaniel Hinckley, President Gordon B. Hinckley’s grandfather, lived in Nauvoo as a young man when the original temple was being built, and he was part of the exodus west to escape the persecution and destruction of Nauvoo. In 1938, nearly one hundred years after the settlement of Nauvoo by the Latter-day Saints, Ira Hinckley’s son Bryant S. Hinckley, President Gordon B. Hinckley’s father, then president of the Northern States Mission, wrote in the Improvement Era of his vision of restoring Nauvoo. The year before, the Church had begun acquiring land and buildings where the Saints had lived in Nauvoo. He knew the time was right to begin the restoration of Nauvoo. He stated: “The completion of this extraordinary project will be a matter of far-reaching significance. It will bring into relief one of the most heroic, dramatic, and fascinating pioneer achievements ever enacted upon American soil. It will reveal a record of fortitude and self-reliance; of patriotic and courageous endeavor, that should stimulate faith in the hearts of all men, in a day when the strongest hesitate and falter” (“The Nauvoo Memorial,” Improvement Era, Aug. 1938, 511).

At the close of the April 1999 general conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the rebuilding of the Nauvoo Temple.

“In historic, sacred services held on Thursday, June 27, 2002—marking the158th anniversary of the martyrdoms of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum—President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the rebuilt Nauvoo Illinois Temple.

“After an absence of more than a century and a half, a house of the Lord, with all the sacred ordinances administered therein, is once again majestically gracing an elevated site in Nauvoo, Ill., overlooking a bend in the Mississippi River. The present meets the past as the newly constructed temple, which replicates the design and structure of the original temple as far as possible, becomes the latest in an unprecedented era of temple building” (“A Temple, Again, in Nauvoo,” Church News, 29 June 2002, 24).

President Hinckley chose to have the first dedicatory session on the 158th anniversary of the martyrdom of the prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum at Carthage Jail. “The first service began at 6 p.m. Central Daylight Time, which President Hinckley noted would have been 5 p.m. in Joseph Smith’s day. ‘At this hour 158 years ago in Carthage the murderous mob climbed the stairs, fired their pistols, and forced the door to the jail room,’ said President Hinckley as he recounted events leading to the martyrdom. . . .

“President Hinckley said that he felt the presence of the Father and the Son, ‘who have revealed Themselves to the Prophet Joseph who gave his life for this work. I think he must rejoice.’

“President Hinckley said that he felt the presence also of his grandfather (Ira N. Hinckley) who lived in Nauvoo as a young man, and of his father, Bryant S. Hinckley, who served as president of the Northern States Mission, which included Nauvoo. He expressed confidence that ‘so many of you feel your forebears are with us.’ . . .

“He commented on the vast number of people attending the dedicatory service in person and in designated meetinghouses throughout the world. In attendance at the temple were 1,631 members; proceedings were carried via satellite to approximately 2,300 locations in 72 countries. Of the congregation in the temple, he said, ‘I am sure there is a great unseen audience looking upon us, those who passed to the other side and see in the structure which we dedicate today a fulfillment of their hopes, their dreams, and some compensation for their tears and their indescribable sacrifices. They must have a profound love for us who have found it possible to create this magnificent building which stands as a memorial to them’” (Gerry Avant, “‘Crowning Objective of Joseph’s Life,’” Church News, 29 June 2002, 3–4).

There were twelve additional dedicatory sessions on 28–30 June. The Nauvoo Illinois Temple is the Church’s 113th temple in operation.

“I Know . . .”

Gordon B. Hinckley reading scriptures

A love of the scriptures

President Gordon B. Hinckley shared the following testimony:

“This is my opportunity to leave you my testimony of the gospel and the Lord Jesus Christ and God, my Eternal Father. Do I know that they live? Of course I do, and I think most of you do. I hope you do. I know with a certainty that God is my Eternal Father. . . . I do not know how He hears all of our prayers, I don’t know that. I just know He does because I have my prayers answered. So do you. When you think about it, I think you would say that you have had yours answered. He is my Eternal Father and I know also that the day will come when I will have to make an accounting to Him of my life and what I have done with it, how I have used it, what I have accomplished, what good I have done in this world. The books will be opened and the record will be clear and we will be judged out of the record of our lives, of that I know. I know that He is merciful. I know that He is kind. I know that He loves His sons and daughters. I know that He wants us all to be happy. I know that He wants us to make something good of our lives. I am sure of that, I am confident of that, I know that.

“I know that His Only Begotten in the flesh, His Beloved Son, is my Redeemer and my Savior and my Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, once the great Jehovah, who came to earth, born in a manger in a vassal state among a people where there was so much of hatred and meanness. He was the great Prince of Peace who taught love and kindness and forbearance, who went about doing good, healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the blind to see. He was my Savior who bled at every pore as He spoke to His Father in Gethsemane and died upon the cross for each of us and then came forth again the third day to become the first fruits of them that slept. He is my Savior and my Redeemer.

President Hinckley

President Gordon B. Hinckley

“God the Father and the risen Lord appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the grove of his father’s farm and there told him to join none of the churches and to be patient and that the Lord would use him according to His way to accomplish His purposes. Then came the Book of Mormon under the hands of Moroni, a resurrected being. Then came the Aaronic Priesthood under the hands of John the Baptist. Then the Melchizedek Priesthood under the hands of Peter, James, and John. Other keys of the priesthood were restored under the hands of Moses, Elias, and Elijah. These things are true. They are true. God bless us to be faithful to the great knowledge that we have to cultivate within our hearts a spirit of testimony and to shape our lives accordingly and draw from our lives that great happiness which will be the blessing of each of us is my humble prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 650–51).

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