Looking Back: Prophet Salvaged Trip for Caribbean Saints with Late-Night Meeting
Contributed By Gerry Avant, senior contributing editor
President Spencer W. Kimball is remembered as a compassionate man. Numerous stories tell of his kindness, consideration, and caring nature. Let me add one more account, one of how he reached out to a group of Caribbean Saints to encourage and lift them up even when it wasn’t convenient for him to do so.
He was on Church business in Florida when his sister, Alice Kimball Nelson, died on Thursday, March 5, 1981. He was scheduled to dedicate the site for the Atlanta Georgia Temple on Saturday, March 7, and then preside over and address a member meeting in Puerto Rico on Sunday, March 8, and in the Dominican Republic on Monday, March 9. Realizing the members’ disappointment would be immeasurable should he cancel his visits to Georgia and the Caribbean, he kept on schedule and arranged to attend his sister’s funeral upon his return home.
I have no way of knowing the weight President Kimball felt upon his shoulders that week, but I can attest that the trip was strenuous. I met up with him and those traveling with him in Atlanta and then went with them to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
In both of the islands, President Kimball spoke at member meetings and met with missionaries and local leaders and government and civic representatives.
I was exhausted by the time the last member meeting concluded Monday evening in Santo Domingo. After the meeting, I interviewed some members, ate dinner, and was wearily making my way across the lobby of the hotel, where the meeting had been held, when President Kimball’s personal secretary, D. Arthur Haycock, stopped me and asked if I wanted to go to another meeting.
“Now?” I asked. He said, “Yes.” I thought he was kidding. Then I realized he wasn’t.
It was going on 11 p.m. Brother Haycock told me that about a hundred members from the Puerto Plata Branch had missed the meeting that evening because their bus had broken down. They rode in extremely crowded circumstances, with some sitting on others’ laps and some in the aisle of the bus. Under ordinary circumstances they would have arrived in Santo Domingo in about four hours. They left Puerto Plata at 1:30 p.m. When they arrived at the hotel, about 10 p.m., the member meeting was over and the conference hall was empty. They were disappointed and tearful. They had traveled to Santo Domingo at great sacrifice, including a day’s wages lost and money for transportation.
Brother Haycock told me that President Kimball had already gone to his room and dressed for bed when he learned of the Puerto Plata members. He told Brother Haycock to ask them to wait in the conference hall; he would dress and go down to meet them.
Brother Haycock was on his way back from delivering President Kimball’s message when I met up with him at that late hour. As he returned to President Kimball’s room, I went into the conference hall to wait with the members. They looked tired, but I could tell there was an air of anticipation as they waited for the prophet in the hall that earlier held some 1,500 members, about 300 of whom stood since the congregation exceeded its seating capacity. The members from Puerto Plata were about to have a more intimate meeting with President Kimball.
They stood as President Kimball entered the conference hall. He greeted them, thanked them for coming, and apologized for making them wait for him. The members looked at each other and at him, smiled, and shook their heads. They seemed surprised that he would apologize to them when they were the cause of him staying up so late.
President Kimball recapped the message he had delivered earlier at the member meeting and then asked if they had any questions he might answer for them. They looked timid, too shy to speak up. Gradually, a few raised their hands and asked their questions.
I found it remarkable that President Kimball, at age 86 and tired after several days of traveling and speaking at multiple meetings while mourning his sister’s death, would take the time to hold an extra meeting and answer questions. By that time, it was close to midnight.
Here was our beloved Church President willing to go the extra mile at personal sacrifice. I was privileged to witness this moment as a prophet salvaged a trip for a group of members in the Caribbean.