President Packer Spent His Life Sharing His Gifts with Others
Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News associate editor
- President Packer spent his life sharing his gifts with others.
- An educator by profession, President Packer was a master teacher.
- He became Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on June 5, 1994, and President of that Quorum on February 3, 2008.
“Spiritual development is really an individual effort. If you’re conscious about that, you can ever be learning.” —President Boyd K. Packer
One night after the end of World War II, President Boyd K. Packer, a U.S. serviceman, was traveling on a train to Tokyo. The train slowed down in a little town and stopped.
President Packer looked out the window and saw a little Japanese boy holding a tin can with a spoon in it. It was very cold and the boy had on a ragged shirt. His head was all covered with scabs. President Packer wondered if the little boy had an abscessed tooth, because he had tied a rag around his head.
“The tin can and the spoon were symbols of the beggar,” said President Packer nearly 60 years later in a November 6, 2004, stake conference broadcast. “What he really was asking for was something to eat. I did not have anything to give him. And then I thought, ‘I have money.’”
But as the young Boyd K. Packer hurried to the door, the train pulled away. “I had money and he needed it. I could not get it to him. Today, I can see him as clearly as I could those nearly 60 years ago.”
The experience was one he never wanted repeated. He did not want to live with a memory of something he wanted to do but could not do.
So President Packer spent his life sharing his gifts with others.
An Apostle and master teacher, he gave powerful sermons that taught doctrine and testified of Jesus Christ. Although his messages were transmitted across the globe to millions of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, his most poignant lessons were taught through personal example. Like the intricate birds he hand carved from wood, he saw potential in and had a love for all people.
President Packer died Friday, July 3, 2015, at the age of 90.
He is survived by his wife, Donna Smith Packer, and their 10 children.
Boyd K. Packer was born September 10, 1924, in Brigham City, Utah, the 10th of Ira W. and Emma Jensen Packer’s 11 children.
During his childhood in the small northern-Utah community, he suffered from polio but made a full recovery, although he suffered the aftereffects of it during the later years of his life.
During World War II, President Packer served as a bomber pilot in the Pacific Theater. He was trained to fly B-24 aircraft but ended up flying B-17s, primarily in air-sea search and rescue missions.
At the end of the war, he was sent to Osaka, Japan, where he baptized the first Church members to enter the waters of baptism in that country since the Church closed the Japanese mission years earlier.
“When I look back, some of you older people—only you older people, I suppose—can remember the devastation of the war, how cities were gone and the people were struggling,” he said in a stake conference in Japan in 2004. “But I saw the beginning of the resurrection of the Japanese. … The gospel was planted there, and it has grown and flourished.”
After he returned from military service, President Packer married Donna Smith in the Logan Utah Temple on July 27, 1947.
They lived in Brigham City, were President Packer taught seminary and served a four-year term as a member of the Brigham City Council. He also was named to the governor’s committee on Children and Youth in 1962.
President Packer was sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve April 6, 1970, filling a vacancy created when President Joseph Fielding Smith was sustained as President of the Church. He had been serving nine years, since October 1961, as an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve Apostles, during which time he was called to preside over the Church’s New England Mission, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He also served as a member of the Scriptures Publication Committee, where he was instrumental in the publishing of new editions of the scriptures.
He became Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on June 5, 1994, and President of that Quorum on February 3, 2008.
An educator by profession, President Packer was a master teacher. Before becoming a General Authority, his career included service as supervisor of seminaries and institutes of religion for the Church and as a member of the administrative council of BYU.
His own career as a teacher included that of a seminary teacher and coordinator of Indian affairs for the Church at the Intermountain School in Brigham City. His work included supervision of 83 seminaries for Native Americans, both at the school and on reservations in the western United States.
President Packer raised his own family on 2.5 acres of land in Sandy, Utah, were they had a garden and animals—including chickens, rabbits, dogs, and horses.
The family property, as well as his childhood home in Brigham City, became the inspiration for artistic works that included sketches, carvings, sculptures, and paintings of birds and wildlife.
President Packer’s art—created over eight decades—offered respite from his daily cares and duties and has taught many others about the wonders of the Lord’s creations.
In his 2012 book, The Earth Shall Teach Thee, he wrote of the spiritual relevance behind his artistic creations. “It seems appropriate now that my artwork can serve to illustrate one of the most fundamental messages of the gospel: that God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all things that are in them, that all nature bears testimony of that divinely directed creation, and that there is complete harmony between nature, science, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Much of his artwork will now be permanently on display at the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum at Brigham Young University.
On September 23, 2012, President Packer dedicated the Brigham City Utah Temple. “I marvel at the privilege to just come into this temple, to be able to participate today,” he said of the dedication. He noted that being able to dedicate the temple was “a source of great joy to me. … It is very moving to come back to Brigham City and to come into this house of the Lord.”
Throughout his Church career, President Packer was also known for his quick wit and sense of humor.
For example, while speaking to college-age young adults during a CES fireside address on February 2, 2003, he begged the women to make sure the men they date treat them appropriately.
If they don’t, he added, “break it up! Send him a letter. Stamp it ‘second-class male.’”
Looking back on his life during a Church News interview on his 85th birthday, President Packer was asked what advice he would give to a young man.
He was quick with his answer: “I would tell him to stay in harmony with the great plan of redemption, to live the gospel, to gain a testimony—not just an impression but a certain testimony—that the gospel is true and Jesus is the Christ, that the Atonement is a great healer. Spiritual development is really an individual effort. If you’re conscious about that, you can ever be learning.
“I would tell him to keep a sense of humor. It’s critically important. If you get wound up tight, you can’t see the comical side of things. Like many other things, a sense of humor has to be cultivated.
“I would tell that young man to get the best education he could get—which does not always equate to the best schooling—to be always learning, to have a curiosity about him.
“I would tell him to develop a little courage. It would be sad to be afraid all the time. The doctrines of the gospel are powerful and sustaining principles so that you can live with assurance and without fear even in times of serious challenges.
“I would tell the young man, ‘Don’t be afraid of the future. Don’t be afraid to marry, for instance. You can’t have everything certain before you take that step. You take that step and everything works out.’”
He said that he would encourage the young man to move forward. “I’ve never been a very good veteran in looking back at things of the past. I’ve learned that you don’t go back in life. You don’t go back to the old town or the old way of life. The magic is gone, and you just move ahead” (Church News, Sept. 19, 2009).
Perhaps no story better summarizes President Packer’s life—and his insight, love, and compassion—more than an interaction he had with an orphaned street child in Cuzco, Peru, in 1964.
In Faith Precedes the Miracle, President Spencer W. Kimball described the scene in which a little boy came to the open doorway of the chapel during the sacrament service.
“Almost unobserved, he slyly came to the sacrament table and, with a seeming spiritual hunger, leaned against the table and lovingly rubbed his unwashed face against the cool, smooth white linen,” President Kimball wrote.
The child was sent back into the street by a woman sitting on the front row. “A bit later the little urchin, seemingly compelled by some inner urge, overcame his timidity and came stealthily, cautiously down the aisle again, fearful, ready to escape if necessary,” President Kimball wrote.
“From his seat on the stand, Elder Packer caught his eye, beckoned to him, and stretched out big welcoming arms. After a moment’s hesitation, the little Lamanite ragamuffin was nestled comfortably on his lap, in his arms, the tousled head against the great warm heart—a heart sympathetic to waifs, and especially to little Lamanite ones.”
So often during his life, President Packer testified of his Savior Jesus Christ through word and deed.
Speaking in sacrament meeting in his home ward in the Sandy Utah Cottonwood Creek Stake on December 19, 2010, President Packer testified of the reality of the Savior.
“I want our family to know that they have heard Grandpa bear his testimony,” he said. “I know that Jesus is the Christ, that He lives, that the gospel is true, and that I know Him when I see Him, and I know His voice when I hear Him. I want you little ones to remember that you heard your grandfather bear a special witness of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the gift of the Holy Ghost.”