Elder Richard G. Scott Forsook Scientific Career for Full-Time Church Service

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 22 September 2015

Elder Richard G. Scott died Tuesday, September 22, 2015, at the age of 86 from causes incident to age, while surrounded by his family at his home in Salt Lake City.

Article Highlights

  • Elder Richard G. Scott left his position on the staff of U.S. Naval Admiral Hyman Rickover to preside over the Argentina North Mission.
  • The admiral told him never to come back, but Elder Scott insisted in passing on his work to someone else.
  • When the admiral called him in to talk to him, he questioned why he was leaving. Elder Scott gave him a Book of Mormon and told him that a prophet of God had called him, and he would go.

“I told him, ‘Unless you bar me from the facility, I’m going to come in and turn my work over to someone else.’” —Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve

Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints died Tuesday at 1:45 p.m. MDT from causes incident to age, while surrounded by his family at his home in Salt Lake City. He was 86.

Funeral services will be held in the Tabernacle on Temple Square on Monday, September 28, 2015, at 11:00 a.m. MDT. LDS.org will stream the live event from the home page.

A nuclear engineer by profession, Elder Scott became a full-time minister of Jesus Christ and His gospel.

A graduate of George Washington University in mechanical engineering with post-graduate work in nuclear engineering at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Elder Scott served on the immediate staff of U.S. Naval Admiral Hyman Rickover from 1953 to 1965. His civilian role on the admiral’s staff was to direct the development of nuclear fuel for a wide variety of naval and land-based power plants.

In an interview conducted by Sheri Dew and presented on the Mormon Channel, Elder Scott discussed his experience working with Admiral Rickover.

“He was the father of the nuclear navy,” Elder Scott said. “He was not an engineer. He understood hardly anything about the technical aspect, but he was a genius in putting together the right organizations to get things done.”

It was while he was working for the admiral that Elder Scott’s call came to preside over the Argentina North Mission for the Church.

“We were in the middle of some testing of new concepts, and I knew if I told him about my call before I told him the results of those concepts, he would be upset, but I felt it was the only thing to do.”

True to the prediction, the admiral was upset.

“He threw things from his desk around the room. I think it was a surprise to him that someone in a key part of a very important program would be called to other service. His immediate reaction was, ‘You can’t leave for a year.’ I explained to him that this call came from one that I recognize as a prophet of God, and I felt I needed to.”

The admiral said, “If you can’t stay for a year, then you’re through now; I don’t want to talk to you again.”

Richard Scott replied, “Unless you bar me from the facility, I’m going to come in and turn my work over to someone else.”

Elder Scott’s father influenced his choice of career as an engineer by teaching him and his brother Gerald to work with their hands using power tools.

Later, he asked for and received an appointment with the admiral and, in an effort to help him understand, presented him with a copy of the Book of Mormon, saying, “I thoroughly enjoy what I’m doing here, but a prophet of the Lord has asked me to preside over one of the missions of the Church.”

Admiral Rickover then said, “When you finish your mission, come back; I want you to work for me.”

Richard Gordon Scott was born November 27, 1928, in Pocatello, Idaho, to Kenneth Leroy and Mary Whittle Scott, who took him to Washington, D.C., at age 5, where Kenneth served with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, later becoming an assistant secretary of agriculture under U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, who was also a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the time.

Elder Benson would influence the father of Elder Scott to join the Church. He would eventually be called to be a sealer in the Washington D.C. Temple.

On July 16, 1953, the year he went to work for Admiral Rickover, Elder Scott married Jeanene Watkins in the Manti Utah Temple.

After his service as mission president, Elder Scott never returned to work for Admiral Rickover but worked as a private consultant for nuclear power companies. Meanwhile, he served as a regional representative in the Uruguay, Paraguay, North and South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington D.C. areas, eventually being called as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy on April 2, 1977.

He would serve in the Presidency of the Seventy from October 1, 1983, until being called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on October 1, 1988.

Elder Scott was deeply in love with his wife, Jeanene, who died May 15, 1995. He never remarried.

Sister Jeanene Scott and Elder Richard G. Scott.

In response to a question in the Mormon Channel interview, he said, “I didn’t lose her. She’s on the other side of the veil. We’ve been sealed in that holy ordinance of the temple and will be together forever. And at critical times in my life, when I need help, I can feel impressions come through the veil in such a real way that I just thank Jeanene.”

Elder Scott said he was influenced in his choice of career as an engineer by his father, who taught him and his brother Gerald to work with their hands using power tools.

Later in life, that creativity was channeled into art. In late 2010, 15 of his paintings were displayed in Deseret Book’s downtown Salt Lake City store.

In late 2010, 15 of Elder Scott’s paintings were displayed in Deseret Book’s downtown Salt Lake City store.

In an interview with the Church News on that occasion, Elder Scott said that about 50 years earlier he and Sister Scott went to visit a friend who was a commercial artist specializing in watercolors.

“It was fascinating to me,” he said. “I decided I wanted to try that. I did, and I was not very successful. Then I heard of an art teacher who was coming to town. I took four lessons from him, which equipped me with greatly improved skills and an understanding about art.”

He said his avocation had opened his eyes to the beauty around him. “For me, painting clears my mind. I think we discover we’re capable of things we’ve never dreamed of.”

Elder Scott was fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and once said that knowing those two languages plus English gave him the capability to speak to 86 percent of the active members of the Church in their own tongue.

Prior to general conference, he would prerecord his sermon in Spanish and Portuguese so that speakers of those languages tuning in to the live broadcast could hear his message in their languages as he delivered it in English.

“I get responses from all over the world of gratitude,” he said. “Instead of listening to a translator, they hear in a voice they recognize the message. They seem to appreciate that.

He also was adept, in the delivery of his conference sermons, of looking directly into the lens of whichever television camera was transmitting his image at any given moment, conveying to the viewer a feeling of caring and intimacy.

He became known for his sensitive treatment in his general conference sermons of difficult subjects such as sexual immorality and abuse.

In an April 2000 conference address, he spoke on the sanctity of womanhood.

“Satan … well knows women are the compassionate, self-sacrificing, loving power that binds together the human race,” he said. “He would focus their interests solely on their physical attributes and rob them of their exalting roles as wives and mothers. He has convinced many of the lie that they’re third-class citizens in the kingdom of God. That falsehood has led some to trade their divinely given femininity for male coarseness.”

The saving power of the Atonement of Christ was a frequent subject of Elder Scott’s messages.

In October 2013, he said, “The joyful news for anyone who desires to be rid of the consequences of past poor choices is that the Lord sees weaknesses differently than He does rebellion. Whereas the Lord warns that unrepented rebellion will bring punishment, when the Lord speaks of weaknesses, it is always with mercy.”

At the conclusion of his Mormon Channel interview, he said, “Someday, we may find out the millions of times we’ve been protected and watched over that we’re not even conscious of. In my prayers, I try to acknowledge to the Lord the guidance and blessings I receive, even the countless ways that I don’t recognize but realize are there. It is not hard to trust our Father in Heaven and His holy Son, Jesus Christ, when we recognize what They do for us and how deeply They love each one of us.”