Jay M. Todd, “President Howard W. Hunter: Fourteenth President of the Church,” Ensign, Jul 1994, 2
On Monday, May 30—Memorial Day, a U.S. holiday honoring those who have died, particularly those who have died defending freedom—President Ezra Taft Benson peacefully passed away at 2:35 p.m. from heart failure. With his death, the mantle of priesthood leadership in the kingdom of God on earth peacefully passed to the Lord’s senior living Apostle, President Howard W. Hunter, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Five days after President Benson’s death, funeral services were held on Saturday, June 4, in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. Speakers were, in order of their speaking, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve, President Thomas S. Monson and President Gordon B. Hinckley, respectively Second and First Counselors to President Benson in the First Presidency, and President Howard W. Hunter (see pages 32 to 42 for their funeral addresses). Opening and closing prayers at the funeral were offered by Elder David B. Haight and Elder Richard G. Scott, both of the Quorum of the Twelve. The Tabernacle Choir sang four favorites of President Benson: “An Angel from on High,” “How Great Thou Art,” “Love at Home,” and “O Divine Redeemer.” Prior to the funeral, a family prayer was given by Mark A. Benson, a son. President Benson’s body was laid to rest 110 miles north of Salt Lake City in the small town of Whitney, Idaho, where he was born and reared and where he was buried next to his wife, Flora Amussen Benson, who died in 1992. Reed Benson, a son, dedicated the grave.
The next morning, Sunday, June 5, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles met in the Salt Lake Temple to consider the reorganization of the First Presidency, which is automatically dissolved at the death of the President. President Howard W. Hunter, by virtue of his seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve, was ordained and set apart by his fellow Apostles as the fourteenth President and prophet, seer, and revelator of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with President Gordon B. Hinckley, new President of the Quorum of the Twelve, serving as voice.
Called to serve as counselors to President Hunter were the same brethren who had served President Benson as counselors—President Gordon B. Hinckley as First Counselor and President Thomas S. Monson as Second Counselor. President Hunter then set apart President Hinckley as First Counselor and as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and President Monson as Second Counselor. Inasmuch as President Hinckley is serving in the First Presidency, President Boyd K. Packer was set apart by President Hunter as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The action of the day left a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve, which is expected to be filled before or during the October semiannual general conference of the Church. A general sustaining of the First Presidency and the President and Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve will take place in stake conferences between now and October conference, at which time will be held a formal Solemn Assembly of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wherein members of the Church will have the opportunity to sustain the action performed on Sunday by the Quorum of the Twelve.
At 9:00 a.m. on Monday, June 6, a press conference was held in the Church Administration Building to announce the previous day’s actions. President Hunter said the following:
“Our hearts have been very tender since the death of our friend and brother Ezra Taft Benson. We love him very much and will miss his company and sweet counsel. I have felt his loss in a particularly personal way in light of the new responsibility that has come to me since his passing. I have shed many tears and have sought my Father in Heaven in earnest prayer with a desire to be equal to the high and holy calling which is now mine.
“My greatest strength through these past hours and recent days has been my abiding testimony that this is the work of God and not men, that Jesus Christ is the authorized and living head of this church and He leads it in word and deed. I pledge my life, my strength, and the full measure of my soul to serving Him fully.
“I express deep love for my wife and my family, who have given me great comfort and encouragement for this new task that lies ahead. I also express my deepest love and thanks to President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson, who have accepted the call to serve as my counselors. I express my love and appreciation to the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and to the other General Authorities of the Church. These are men I hold in high esteem and for whom I have great love and respect.
“To the membership of the Church in every country of the world and to people everywhere I extend my love.
“There are two invitations I would like to leave with the members of the Church as we strive to keep the commandments of God and receive the full measure of His blessings. First of all, I would invite 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.
“Secondly, and in that same spirit, 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.”
In reply to President Hunter’s invitation for his counselors to respond, President Hinckley said: “It is an honor to work in any capacity in this church, and it will be an especial honor and privilege to work with President Hunter, with whom I have been closely associated for the past thirty-three years. He is a man of great capacity, a man of kind and gracious ways and of total devotion to the work of the Lord. There is much to be done in moving this work across the world, and we will give it our best effort as we work with our beloved leader.”
President Monson said: “President Hunter, I look forward to the opportunity to serve with you in the Presidency as your Second Counselor. We have been very closely associated for the more than thirty years I have been in the Twelve. I would like one and all to know that you are a man of talent, you are a man of great compassion, and you are a leader whose heart goes out to the hungry, to the homeless. And in the spirit of the Master, your great desire has ever been to lift others upward toward Him. God bless you in your ministry.”
In response to a press query concerning his health, President Hunter said: “I’m much improved in strength. I had a bout with my health, but it is much improved, for which I am grateful.”
President Hunter begins his service as President of the Church at the age of 86. His story is that of a most uncommon man. He was born 14 November 1907, in Boise, Idaho, to a mother active in the Church and to a nonmember father who felt that his son should wait until he was older before being baptized. When young Howard was twelve, he prevailed upon his father, who let him join the Church (his father was baptized seven years later).
As a youth, Howard was very industrious. He was the second boy in Idaho to become an Eagle Scout, worked in many kinds of part-time employment, and was an excellent student. He also loved music and played a multitude of instruments, and at age sixteen, he formed Hunter’s Croonaders, a band that played at many school and community socials in Boise. In December 1926, six months after high school graduation, he signed a contract to play on a cruise ship, and a month later he and his band embarked on a two-month cruise to the Far East. A year later, in 1928, he decided to visit a musician friend in southern California, thus beginning over three decades of life there.
Though he could earn good money playing music, he wanted more stable employment, and in 1928 he obtained work in banking. He worked in checking batch proofs, as a window teller, and as an assistant cashier. A few months after obtaining his first banking job, he met Clara Jeffs at a Church dance. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple three years later, on 10 June 1931, becoming, in time, the parents of three sons, one of whom died at the age of seven months. These were the years of the Great Depression. After the bank where he worked went out of business, 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.
Throughout this period he was continuously active in the Church, serving as a counselor in the Inglewood Ward YMMIA, as a member of the Hollywood Stake MIA board, and as ward finance chairman. In April 1940, at age 32, he began practicing law and started to build a clientele of corporate clients. In the Church he taught a junior genealogy class. Seven months later, he was called as bishop of the newly organized El Sereno Ward, Pasadena Stake, acting also as Scoutmaster part of the time. Released as bishop in 1946, he was called as president of the Pasadena Stake high priests quorum.
In 1948, at age 40, he moved to nearby Arcadia, where he served as a high councilor. In February 1950, when the stake was divided, he was called at age 42 to serve as Pasadena Stake president. This calling brought assignments on the Los Angeles Temple Committee and as chairman of the Southern California Welfare Region.
More than nine years later, on 10 October 1959, at age 51, he was sustained a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, in which calling he has quietly filled countless significant assignments and has therein influenced the entire Church.
In 1983, his wife Clara died after nearly a decade of serious health problems. Two years later, on 10 November 1985, Elder Hunter was called as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and on 2 June 1988, he was set apart as President of the Quorum of the Twelve. On 12 April 1990, he married Inis Egan.
A man with extraordinarily wide experience in Church callings and also with an immense diversity of experience as a General Authority, he now, in his thirty-fifth year as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, begins his service as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
President Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, is now in his thirty-seventh year as a General Authority, the longest serving of any living General Authority, and he is in his thirty-third year of serving as an Apostle of the Lord. He was born 23 June 1910, in Salt Lake City. In 1932 he graduated from the University of Utah and a year later entered the British Mission. At his mission’s completion in 1935, he was asked by Elder Joseph F. Merrill of the Quorum of the Twelve, president of the European missions, to report to the First Presidency on the problems of missions and missionary literature. That report changed the course of Gordon Hinckley’s life.
A week later Brother Hinckley, age 25, was asked to work for the Church to assist a new committee consisting of six members of the Twelve in using the latest communication technology in missionary work. For the next two decades, he worked on projects such as filmstrips, motion pictures, pamphlets, tracts, books, recordings, radio programs, the Church exhibit at the San Francisco World Fair, the translation of the Book of Mormon and other scriptures into other languages, and, in the 1950s, the production of temple materials for different languages.
In 1937, two years after beginning his Church employment, he married Marjorie Pay; they are the parents of five children. Beginning in 1946, he served as a second and first counselor in the Salt Lake East Millcreek Stake presidency. In 1956 he was called to serve as stake president. Two years later, in 1958, he was called as Assistant to the Twelve, and on 30 September 1961 he was sustained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Two decades later, on 23 July 1981, he was called to serve as a Counselor in the First Presidency to President Spencer W. Kimball; and on 2 December 1982, he was called to serve as Second Counselor in the First Presidency. On 10 November 1985, he was called to serve as First Counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson.
He now begins his service as a counselor to another President of the Church, the third he has served as counselor. President Hinckley is in his thirteenth year as a counselor in the First Presidency.
President Thomas S. Monson, Second Counselor in the First Presidency to President Howard W. Hunter, is in his thirty-first year as an Apostle of the Lord and as a General Authority. He was born 21 August 1927 in Salt Lake City and grew up as a youth and teen working with his father in a printing business. Learning to work while young helped prepare him for his future. Following his graduation from high school at age sixteen, he attended the University of Utah for one year before enlisting in the U.S. Navy toward the end of World War II.
After returning home, he reentered the University of Utah, and in 1948, at age 21, he graduated cum laude in business administration and married Frances Johnson. He and Sister Monson are the parents of three children. Then began a series of inspiringly early career appointments and also callings in Church service.
In his career, he went from advertising sales to management at the Deseret News (over which he later would become president and chairman of the board) to general manager of Deseret Press, one of the largest printing establishments west of the Mississippi River. In Church service, at age 22 he was called as a bishop of the large Salt Lake City urban ward in which he was born and reared; at age 27 he was called as a counselor in the Salt Lake Temple View Stake presidency; and in 1959, at age 31, he was called as president of the Canadian Mission. A year following his return from his three years’ mission presidency, he was sustained on 4 October 1963, at age 36, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
For the next twenty-two years, he served in many capacities as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve (early in that period also completing an MBA degree from Brigham Young University). For twenty-five years he has served as a member of the National Executive Board of Boy Scouts of America, where he continues to serve. On 10 November 1985 he was called as Second Counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson and has been in the First Presidency for the past eight and a half years.
President Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is now in his thirty-third year of service as a General Authority. He was born in the northern Utah community of Brigham City on 10 September 1924. Some months after graduating from Brigham City high school, in 1943, in the midst of World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force, subsequently trained as a pilot, and was assigned to fly bombers in the Pacific.
Upon returning home from the war, he entered Weber College in nearby Ogden and met Donna Smith. They were married on 27 July 1947 and are the parents of ten children. At age 25, he entered the Church Educational System in 1949, the year he graduated from Utah State University in Logan (receiving a master’s degree there in 1953, and later a doctorate in 1962 from BYU). He taught seminary in his home town of Brigham City, also serving as Coordinator of Indian Affairs for the Church at the nearby Intermountain Indian School. At age 30, when he was appointed assistant administrator of seminaries and institutes in the CES, he had served a four-year term as city councilman and had served in the Church as a teacher, assistant stake clerk, and high councilor.
In 1961, at age 47, he was called as an Assistant to the Twelve. Several years later he served as president of the New England Mission, headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. On 5 April 1970 he was sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He begins his service as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve in his twenty-fifth year as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.^ Back to top