In 1957 when Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, developed throat cancer, he went to the East for an operation. (Upon returning home, he said he had gone East and fallen among cutthroats!) As he was being prepared for the surgery, Elder Harold B. Lee was there, and just before Elder Kimball was taken into the operating room, Elder Lee said to the head surgeon, “This is no ordinary man you are operating on.” That, indeed, was true, and it has been true throughout President Kimball’s life. He is no ordinary man.
President Kimball was born and reared in humble circumstances and that humility and common touch are his hallmark. The Lord has had him under His watchcare from the very beginning, preparing him for the call that he would someday receive to be His prophet and preside over His church and kingdom here upon the earth.
The road has not been easy. President Kimball has been tried and tested all along the way. He has had typhoid, smallpox, throat cancer, heart attacks, and open heart surgery. Two years ago, he had two operations within a three-month period to remove subdural hematomas, and yet, he never wavers and never complains. He is always about his Father’s business, in season and out of season. He is one of the finest examples of faith, courage, and patience that I have ever seen.
As I work at the side of President Kimball day after day, I feel his great spirit and learn more and more of his great capacity for love and work. He loves people, and he loves to work. Almost daily I have occasion to read and reflect upon some of the beautiful sermons he has given over the years. His sermons are not only stimulating as they urge us to lengthen our stride, but they are lyrical, beautiful, powerful, and poetic. These are the titles of just a few: “Absolute Truth,” “John and Mary,” “Tragedy or Destiny,” “Love or Lust,” “Hidden Wedges,” “Broken Power Lines” and “Marriage and Divorce.”
As you know, President Kimball has always had a great love for the Lamanites. I remember the day more than 30 years ago when Elder Kimball had been an Apostle only three or four years and President George Albert Smith, whose secretary I was, called him down to his office. There President Smith asked Elder Kimball to carry on the work among the Indians. Concerning that event, President Kimball recorded the following in his journal:
“I went down to the office of President George Albert Smith at his request … relative to the Indians. We talked about the Navajos in the mission. He then said, ‘Now I want you to look after the Indians—they have been neglected. You watch all the Indians. I want you to have charge and look after all the Indians in all the world and this includes those in the Islands also.’
“I told him I would do my best.”
From time to time, I heard people criticize President George Albert Smith for spending so much time with the Lamanites. Upon such occasions, President Smith would stand up straight and tall, square his shoulders, and say, “My brother, I am an old man, and in the natural course of events, I will soon be called home, and when I get to the other side, I am going to seek our Father Lehi. When I find him, I will look him straight in the eye and say to him, ‘Father Lehi, I want you to know that while I was alive, I did everything I could for your posterity to bring to them the gospel of Jesus Christ,’ and I don’t want to have to hang my head.”
I don’t have to tell you how well President Kimball has carried out that assignment given him more than three decades ago by President George Albert Smith. The Lamanites have no better friend in all the world than President Spencer W. Kimball.
Some time ago, Sister Haycock and I accompanied President and Sister Kimball, President and Sister Tanner, and others on a visit to the Holy Land for the dedication of the Orson Hyde Memorial Gardens. While there, we visited a number of places held sacred in the memory of Christians, and particularly Latter-day Saints, because we were walking where Jesus walked.
We visited the Garden Tomb, and after sitting with President and Sister Kimball inside the tomb, we came out into the sunshine and beauty of the garden. The cameramen who recorded the trip were anxious to get pictures of President Kimball walking in the garden, but I was concerned because the path was paved with flagstones, making it rough and uneven underfoot. I cautioned President Kimball to be careful and not fall. He responded quietly and with dignity: “Don’t worry, Arthur. I am used to walking on holy ground.”
We then visited the Garden of Gethsemane. We saw the small but beautiful garden with its ancient olive trees that many believe were there when Christ knelt and prayed to his Father just before his betrayal. Again a film crew wanted to record the event for history. Our Israeli guides went to the priests in charge and asked permission for President Kimball’s party to enter the part of the garden that was fenced off. Permission to enter for five minutes would be given, the priests said, upon the payment of 5,000 Israeli pounds per person. For President and Sister Kimball and one photographer, that would be 15,000 pounds, or 450 U.S. dollars, for 5 minutes. The Israeli guides shook their heads, and one of them said, “No, this is a holy man. He came here to worship, not to pay tribute.”
In addition to all his many other virtues, President Kimball has a wonderful sense of humor. While traveling in Europe a couple of years ago, it became necessary to stay over for a full week before going to Poland to finalize arrangements for official recognition of the Church in that land. I thought perhaps we could use the time to climb the Matterhorn, visit the fjords of Norway, or explore beautiful England by taking a boat trip on the Thames River, but instead, President Kimball said he wanted to visit the missions in Italy, Austria, and Germany. He left it up to one of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve and myself to arrange the itinerary. We arranged special meetings each night in a different city or country.
As soon as we arrived in the first mission, President Kimball asked when the missionary meeting was to be held. I told him that we hadn’t planned any missionary meetings because all of the missionaries would be attending the general meeting that night. He said he still wanted a special missionary meeting. I told him the reason we didn’t plan a separate meeting with the missionaries was because of the time and energy required. He replied, “I know what you are trying to do. You are trying to save me, but I don’t want to be saved. I just want to be exalted!” I then went to the phone and arranged meetings all over Europe for the balance of our trip.
One day recently, about noon, I was urging President Kimball to have some lunch and then take a nap. He resisted, and I indicated that if he didn’t do as I suggested, Sister Kimball might scold me. He looked up at me and with a chuckle and a sly grin said, “Well I’d rather have her scold you than me!”
One evening President Kimball stayed late at the office, and so I continued working at my desk. It turned out that he was going to a dinner at the Lion House at 6:30 and was waiting for Sister Kimball to come and meet him so they could go to the dinner together. About 5:30, he urged me to go home, but I told him that I would stay as long as he did. He insisted, so I said, “I am torn between doing my duty to stay close to you and doing what you ask me to do.” He looked up at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “They both ought to be the same, hadn’t they?”
I was with President Kimball when I saw the mantle of presidency fall upon him the day after Christmas 1973. I had taken President Harold B. Lee to the hospital in Salt Lake the afternoon of December 26 because he was tired and the doctor thought he ought to get a rest and have a checkup. His family had gone home for a brief period, and I was alone with him in the room when he began to have difficulties. Within seconds I called a nurse and then a doctor, and immediately the alarm was sounded—“cardiac arrest.”
A team of doctors and nurses with sophisticated equipment began an heroic hour-long struggle in an effort to save his life. As I watched, I became convinced that unless the Lord did indeed work a miracle, President Lee could not live. I at once called President Romney and then reached President Tanner in Phoenix and got in touch with President Lee’s wife and family. Again convinced that unless the Lord took a hand there would be a change in the leadership of the Church, I felt that the next President of the Church should be present.
I immediately went to the phone and called President Kimball, and when he heard my voice, he responded in his usual cheerful manner, “Well, Arthur, how are you tonight?” I said, “Not very well. I am at the hospital with President Lee, and he is very ill. I think you should come at once.” He said, “I’ll be right there,” and I hung up. As I did so, I was conscious of the fact that I had not even told President Kimball which hospital we were at. Nevertheless, he was the first to arrive. Then President Romney came, and then President Lee’s wife and family.
It was on this sad occasion that I learned a great and fundamental lesson in priesthood and Church government. As you know, President Romney was a member of the First Presidency, while President Kimball was the President of the Quorum of the Twelve. As soon as President Romney arrived, President Kimball turned to him and said, “President Romney, what would you like me to do?” At the moment there seemed little that any of us could do, except pray and wait. A short time later, the doctor came and gave us the awful news that President Lee was dead. Quietly, President Romney, knowing that the First Presidency was now dissolved at that precise moment and that the mantle had fallen upon President Kimball, turned to him and said, “President Kimball, what would you like me to do?”
In a recent conference President Kimball said: “We believe that we have in this Church the answers to all questions, for the Lord is the head of the Church, and He has given us the program. Our message is what it has always been, and our hope is that our people will live the commandments of the Lord. They have been revealed in the holy scriptures and by living prophets throughout many years.”
No, President Kimball is not an ordinary man. He is a Prophet of the Lord.