Elder Richard L. Evans: Apostle of the Lord (1906–1971)


When Elder Richard L. Evans on November 1, 1971, moved quietly away from this mortal life, he left a void immense and unmeasurable. He was spared suffering, yet he lingered long enough to permit his loved ones time to prepare for acceptance of the seemingly inevitable, so his passing was not the shock to those near at hand that it was as it became known across a community and a nation and the world. In far places and high places and humble homes and incredulous hearts the impact crescendoed in the way the words of the poet suggest:

“Like when a lordly cedar, green with boughs,
goes down with a great shout upon the hills,
and leaves a lonely place behind.”

Richard Evans was a famous person, revered as an apostle of the Lord by the worldwide membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, loved and respected by millions as the originator of “The Spoken Word” of the Tabernacle Choir broadcast from Temple Square in Salt Lake City, and widely known in more than a hundred countries as president of Rotary International. For more than forty years his incisive, comforting, motivating inspiration reached into the homes and lives of multitudes. Fourteen books and great articles and sermons provide in print enduring expressions of his wisdom and his wit, his penetrating observations, and his unwavering faith. When he died, even those who knew him best were amazed at the breadth and the depth of feeling of the responses to his passing.

Elder Richard L. Evans

Elder Richard L. Evans Apostle • Editor • Friend

To millions he was the image of the Church. To multitudes of persons who were not well acquainted with the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was the only church they knew and the only religion they formally experienced. Countless others arranged their worship around his broadcasts. The impact of his personality was, if anything, even greater as he stood in person before numerous audiences across the earth and in his own inimitable way taught men the meaning of life and called them to repentance and to a greater sense of responsibility to themselves, to each other, and to God.

Presidents and magistrates and great numbers of common folks mourned his death and took time to express their sorrow and their love to his bereaved family.

Yet none of this was portended in the humble beginnings of his birth. The youngest of nine children, he lost his father in an accident when he was ten weeks old, and his life and character were shaped by a loving mother in a family held together with sacrifice and courage and faith. The Lord and his Church were the center of their lives. With little else to go on, they grew up trusting and loving God and praising his mercy and his goodness.

No one laid out a pleasant path to prominence in this world for Richard Evans. He recalled at various times that he didn’t remember ever going to school without doing some outside work to help earn his way. He raised and sold flowers, carried a paper route, worked behind a soda fountain, drove trucks, sold woolen goods, worked in advertising and printing businesses and railroad surveying crews, and along the way began to function in the fledgling business of radio. His early life involved determined self-effort to acquire the training and skills that he continued to develop with the help of the Lord into so broad and manifold a capacity.

After attending LDS University, where he was prominent in activities and a member of the Utah State high school championship debating team, he studied at the University of Utah but interrupted his education to accept a mission call. For nearly three years he served in Great Britain, becoming associate editor of the Millennial Star and later mission secretary of the European Mission, which assignment occasioned for him wide travels in the countries of Europe. Significant in his mission service was the opportunity for close association with Dr. James E. Talmage and Dr. John A. Widtsoe, great men of intellect and learning and culture who found in their young colleague the seeds of significant accomplishment, and undertook to nurture the promise.

After his mission Elder Evans became associated with radio station KSL in Salt Lake City and reentered the University of Utah, from which he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees, with honors. During this time and subsequently he became recognized as an outstanding radio announcer and executive. As an announcer he handled many major network and local assignments. He eventually became a director of the radio station, and later the television station, and was also a member of the board of directors of Bonneville International Corporation.

The worldwide prominence of Richard L. Evans began in 1930 with his assignment as producer and announcer on the recently established Tabernacle Choir nationwide broadcast. He was producer for the program, and he wrote and delivered his always timely, provocative, and uplifting short, sermons every Sunday morning for more than forty years, until the time of his death. On a few occasions while he was absent on other assignments his recorded messages were still heard, and as he lay in the hospital on the last Sabbath morning of his mortal life, his voice, by recording, was on coast-to-coast networks issuing a challenge for courage in time of adversity.

His broadcasting, heard by millions, brought him wide recognition and made his name a household word across the country and the world. The keen intellect, broad learning, compassionate spirit, and deep faith of the man radiated through the airwaves into countless human hearts, and his word became for many the oracle of truth.

Richard Evans had a lifelong involvement with learning. Having earned his scholastic opportunities through his own efforts, he remained deeply involved in the field of education, serving as alumni president of the University of Utah for three consecutive terms and as a member of the Board of Regents of the university for twelve years. When the Utah State Board of Higher Education was established in 1969, Elder Evans was appointed one of its original members and was serving in this assignment at the time of his death. He was for many years a member of the Board of Trustees of Brigham Young University and of the Church Education System. A number of universities gave him honorary degrees and awards in recognition of his achievements and contributions.

Elder Evans earned his graduate degree in economics and maintained a continuing interest in business and industry. He served numerous business institutions as member of their boards of directors and aided the Church in this role as well as in his ecclesiastical leadership.

The literary gift recognized in his missionary days led Brother Evans when he was thirty years old to the assignment as managing editor of the Improvement Era, where he served with distinction for more than three decades. He became senior editor of the Era and was one of those chiefly instrumental in the development and supervision of the three current Church magazines, the Ensign, the New Era, and the Friend. The writings of Elder Evans reflected always his singular capacity to report with clarity and with delightful and thought-provoking language the reflections of his superb mind, and to express his deep comprehension of life as he observed men live it and struggle with its challenges. His work was published in many national magazines and newspapers. His books and countless sermons, essays, and articles remain to bless the lives of all who may read them.

A broad scale of civic involvements were included in the multifaceted life of Richard L. Evans. Most prominent was his service to Rotary, which led him through local and district offices to the international board of directors, chairmanship of Rotary Foundation Fellowship, in 1965 to the office of president-elect, and then in 1966 the presidency of Rotary International. In these responsibilities he toured the world, speaking in scores of nations and before hundreds of clubs. His active affiliation with Rotary continued to the end of his life. He also served as member and officer of a number of other civic and social groups.

Countless honors and awards came to him, and wide interests, and he achieved uncommon accomplishment in high positions of duty and honor. But the center structure of his life and his chief concerns were his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the faith he had in the divine restoration of the gospel and of the Church and the divine calling of its leaders, and the opportunities for service that came to him through this faith. As a child in a loving Latter-day Saint family, he learned the rudiments of the industry, integrity, honesty, and devotion to duty which characterized his later ministry. He made orderly progression through gospel programs, filling offices of leadership in quorums of Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood. At thirty-two years of age he became a General Authority of the Church. His call to the First Council of Seventy brought him extensive missionary opportunity, including responsibility for many years for the vital proselyting and guide service of the Temple Square Mission. He was called by the Lord to be an apostle and a member of the Council of the Twelve in October 1953.

To his calling as an apostle, Elder Evans gave the full measure of his strength and devotion and great faith. His already heavily scheduled life took on added dimensions, and his service broadened and his influence deepened in the spirit of his new calling. His trained mind and great capacity became even more widely known, as did his delightful sense of humor, and his seasoned understanding of problems and difficulties and his love for people won for him the love, trust, and loyalty of both old and young. His understanding and teachings were timeless, spanning generations. Often his counsel was directed to youth, encouraging faith and preparation and effort and obedience and wise choices.

Wherever his speaking travels took him, in church gatherings or out of them, he preached repentance and taught enduring principles, and testified of the goodness of life and the goodness of God and of the blessing of eternal, enduring things. Mortal life to Richard Evans was a part of an eternity so real that his thinking and his expressions constantly reached out to this theme. He lived unselfishly, served God, helped his fellowmen, using his time and talents industriously for the advancement of the work of the Lord and of human good.

Seeing his strenuous life, people were prone to ask how he could do all that he did. With Richard Evans there was one answer: work. With work were coupled other qualities of indispensable importance: planning, organization, effective use of all available time, getting started at a thing, prayer, faith, a deep abiding love—all these surrounded, permeated, undergirded for him that polar point of purpose and effort.

When others spoke of his genius, those who knew Richard Evans nodded in agreement, but those who knew him well recognized the working garments in which the genius was clothed. Early and late, in season and out of season, scarcely taking an hour for himself, Richard Evans devoted his life to the causes God chose for him and to which he chose to give his best. Of his beloved friend John A. Widtsoe it was said, “Wherever men saw blind forces at work and at play, he saw God.” So was it also with Richard Evans.

It would be enlightening to know the number of marriages he performed or the funerals at which he spoke; they were so numerous as to stagger the imagination. In moments of crisis and personal need, large numbers of people thought of Richard Evans, and they included the high-placed and the humble, members of the Church and those who were not. In his illness, friends he had met along the way traveled far distances to be at his hospital bedside and to cheer his family, and at his funeral there were represented elements of the worldwide community he had reached in his labors.

A few feet from the casket in which his body reposed at his funeral services in the Tabernacle on Temple Square sat his beloved wife Alice and the four sons born to their union, with some of their children. Nearby also were his brother and dear friend, David, and his loving sisters. On the stand in the crowded building were his associates among the General Authorities. The Tabernacle Choir sang for him, and the walls resounded with music and truthful praise, and the room was filled with love and the Spirit of the Lord.

Richard Evans loved his wife and family and found much of his inspiration and the grist for his writing and speaking in the unity and harmony of his home. He left a legacy of love and labor and of intelligent, sturdy, fearless defense of righteousness and truth. His personal conduct always coincided with his convictions. Every person’s name was safe in his home and conversation. He spoke ill of no man. He loved truth and he sought it and served it selflessly.

The name and life and ministry of Richard Evans will not be forgotten. He is and will be tenderly, gratefully remembered “this day, and always.”

Mrs. John A. Evans and her nine children about seven years after John A. Evans, the father of the family, died. Front row, left to right: Alldridge N. (deceased), Mrs. Florence Neslen Evans (mother, passed away in 1940), Richard L. (deceased), Florence E., and David W. Second row: Mary (Mrs. Rupert Soderberg), Elizabeth (Mrs. Roland G. Kaiser, deceased), John Elmer (deceased), Lucille (deceased), and Ruth (Mrs. Milton W. Cutler).

Richard at about eight years of age

Brother Evans, delivering sermonette on one of the early Tabernacle Choir broadcasts in the early 1930s

President Rulon S. Wells, senior member of the First Council of the Seventy, welcoming President Richard L. Evans at the October 1938 general conference

Brother and Sister Evans in 1938, with Richard L., Jr., (left) and John Thornley Evans

Richard Evans’s assignments were worldwide. Here he and Sister Evans return home from one of them.

A recent photograph of the Council of the Twelve. Seated, left to right: Acting President Spencer W. Kimball, Elders Ezra Taft Benson, Mark E. Petersen, Delbert L. Stapley, Marion G. Romney. Standing: Elders LeGrand Richards, Richard L. Evans, Hugh B. Brown, Howard W. Hunter, Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and Boyd K. Packer. Brother Evans became a member of this council in 1953.

As Elder Evans was called to the apostleship in 1953, he and Sister Evans were photographed with their four sons: William, 9 (front); Richard L., Jr., 18; John Thornley, 15, and Stephen, 12.

Elder Evans, president-elect of Rotary International for 1966–67, greets C. P. H. Teenstra, of Hilversum, The Netherlands, president of Rotary International, 1965–66.

“May peace be with you … this day … and always”

Sir Thomas Bennett, supervising architect of the London Temple, presents a silver trowel to Elder Evans on the day that temple’s cornerstone was laid, May 11, 1957.