“Everything Works If You Serve the Lord,” Says Sister Durham

Contributed By Rachel Sterzer, Church News staff writer

  • 27 May 2015

Sister Mary R. Durham and Elder Mark Durham. Sister Durham was sustained as the second counselor in the Primary general presidency during the April 2015 general conference.  Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred.

Article Highlights

  • Sister Mary Durham had to learn how to establish her own married family away from her parents.
  • She had to prioritize her many responsibilities after being struck with valley fever.
  • These experiences helped her develop faith that everything works if you serve the Lord.

“When the Lord asks you to do something, He will prepare you. It’s a sweet thing. If you trust, the Lord blesses you.” —Sister Mary Richards Durham, Primary general presidency

Looking back on her life, Sister Mary Richards Durham recognizes the many learning opportunities the Lord has given her—“stepping-stones,” she said, that have pulled her out of her comfort zone, incrementally increased her abilities, and strengthened her testimony.

An important stepping-stone in her life came soon after she was first married and her husband’s work relocated them to Arizona. As a self-proclaimed “homebody,” Sister Durham said it was difficult to be away from her close-knit family for the first time just as she and her husband were starting theirs.

The ache of separation was lessened, however, as she turned to the Lord for guidance and comfort.

“That was when I really got to know the Lord and had to rely on Him. … I prayed daily for inspiration in being a mother and wife. He blessed me with many, many miracles in raising my children and supporting my husband.”

Another pivotal stepping-stone experience came as Sister Durham and her husband struggled to balance the demands of raising their seven children with work and Church responsibilities. Immersed in the minutiae of their sometimes hectic life, Sister Durham was suddenly struck with valley fever, an infection caused from breathing the dry dusts of Arizona. The infection made breathing difficult, but the pain was amplified as the medication used to treat it gave her hives that entered a secondary infection.

Laid flat in bed with sores covering her entire body, Sister Durham experienced the sustaining power of the Lord. “I could close my eyes and feel like heaven was right there,” she said. “It was like the Lord was carrying me.”

After three months and the prayers and fasting of her family and ward members, Sister Durham began to recover. The experience, although painful, caused her and her husband to reevaluate their priorities. “After that, I chose what I needed to do differently. I would ask, ‘What’s most important?’ The Lord was asking me to do something different,” Sister Durham explained.

Through the promptings of the Spirit, Sister Durham began to implement three things. First, she engaged in daily, one-hour personal scripture study. Second, she made time every day to exercise and eat healthful meals. Third, she focused on daily family prayer and scripture study.

“These priorities blessed my family by letting them know that the Lord and family come first, and as we order our lives from this perspective, everything will fall into place,” she said. A few years later, her husband was called to preside over the Japan Tokyo Mission. “All those things prepared me,” she said. “When the Lord asks you to do something, He will prepare you. It’s a sweet thing. If you trust, the Lord blesses you.” These stepping-stone experiences—in conjunction with many others—have reinforced her testimony that “everything works if you serve the Lord” and have helped prepare her for her new calling as the second counselor in the Primary general presidency.

Mary Lucille Richards was born in March 1954 in Portsmouth, Virginia, as the fourth of seven children of L. Stephen Richards Jr. and Annette Nibley Richards. As her father pursued his education to become a cardiovascular thoracic surgeon, the family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, before settling in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Mary was nurtured by the faith and love not only of her parents and siblings but also her many cousins, aunts, uncles, and a large extended family. Every summer, the entire Richards clan would gather at Hebgen Lake, where they would not only enjoy hiking and swimming, but also every Sunday everyone would gather for a gospel devotional.

At their home in Salt Lake City, it was not uncommon for her father to read the scriptures and start a gospel discussion while eating Sunday dinner. Her mother, especially, instilled in her a love of the Prophet Joseph Smith and of the Book of Mormon.

“When I would read the Book of Mormon, it felt good to me,” Sister Durham said. “Living the gospel provides a happy way of life. It wasn’t hard. It was fun.” As a young woman, she was impressed with the importance of finding a worthy young man to marry and made it a matter of daily prayer and weekly fasting. After high school she attended BYU on a dance scholarship and met Mark Durham, who was attending the University of Utah. “I immediately recognized his goodness,” she said.

The couple married in June 1974 in the Salt Lake Temple. Together they have raised seven children and have 29 grandchildren.

Sister Durham said that although she and her husband are very different, it’s their differences that make them a good team. “We complement one another and complete each other.”

The two have supported one another through many service opportunities, sometimes simultaneously—as she was called to serve as the ward Young Women president while he served in the stake presidency; as they served together in Tokyo from 2000 to 2003; and now as she serves as second counselor in the Primary general presidency and he begins his service as an Area Seventy.

Despite any contrasts in their personalities, Elder and Sister Durham have been united in their desire to create a gospel-centered home. For example, there were weeks where Elder Durham would be traveling for work but would call home so he could participate in family home evening. Every Saturday the couple would have a morning planning meeting during which they’d talk about their relationship with God, their relationship with each other, and their relationship with their children. And despite some grumblings from their children, Sister Durham would hold 6:30 a.m. family Book of Mormon study every day.

“I knew if I didn’t do it, my children wouldn’t receive the blessings, and that’s what stirred me on,” Sister Durham explained. “I promised [my children] that they would develop a relationship with their Father in Heaven by doing it.”

As a family, they enjoy the outdoors (including trips to Lake Hebgen) and many creative outlets. In trying to raise five boys in 105-degree Arizona summers, Elder and Sister Durham masterminded Durham Family Fun Day, where they encouraged their children to plan and execute a family activity. They created a variety of crafts, produced their own videos, and experimented with recipes, among other activities.

“We have seven of the most creative children you will ever meet,” Sister Durham said.

With the support of her family, Sister Durham said she is excited to be a part of the teaching of the children of the Church. One of her favorite Primary songs is “I Am a Child of God.”

“I have a real testimony of children learning they are a child of God. … We are children of a Heavenly Father who loves us. [That knowledge] gives us direction.”


Biographical information

Family: Born in Portsmouth, Virginia, on March 15, 1954, to L. Stephen Richards Jr. and Annette Nibley Richards. Married Mark Durham on June 5, 1974, in the Salt Lake Temple. Seven children: Michelle (Matt) Ricks, Mark (Meghan), Jeff (Heidi), Rachel (Chris) Gee, Ben (Jane), Matt (Anne), and Jacob (Liz); 29 grandchildren.

Education: Attended Brigham Young University with a major in dance performance.

Church service: Former member of the Primary general board, stake Relief Society president, ward Young Women president, counselor in Relief Society and Primary presidencies, Gospel Doctrine instructor, accompanied her husband as he presided over the Tokyo Japan Mission from 2000 to 2003.