It would be difficult for anyone who has met or heard Elder Robert L. Simpson not to recognize that here is a man who has genuine interest in and concern for others. How appropriate that such personal makeup should symbolize the character of the new managing director of the Church’s Social Services!
Prior to his call in 1961 to serve as first counselor to Bishop Vandenberg, Elder Simpson spent most of his life in Southern California, where he matured, attended college, and from which area he was called to serve in the New Zealand Mission.
For the next nearly twenty years he worked for a major California telephone company, serving as plant engineer, public relations supervisor, and head of the accounting office.
During those years he served in a ward bishopric, on a stake high council, as stake mission president, stake YMMIA superintendent, seminary instructor, LDS Servicemen’s coordinator in North Africa and the Middle East, and president of the New Zealand Mission. Just a few months prior to his mission presidency, the New Zealand Temple and college were dedicated.
Elder Simpson is married to the former Jelaire Kathryn Chandler, also of Southern California, and they have had four children; two sons and a daughter are living. He is now 56 years of age. (For further biographical information see Improvement Era, December 1961 and November 1967.)
In his new assignment, Elder Simpson succeeds Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Council of the Twelve. Elder Ashton will serve as an adviser to the Social Services, replacing Elder Marion G. Romney of the Council of the Twelve. The following interview further elaborates the new calling of Elder Simpson.
Q. How do you feel about the role of the Church’s Social Services?
A. If anyone were to choose what might be considered getting down to the grass roots of pure religion, this would be of prime consideration. I’ve often thought that if the Savior were here among us, these are the types of problems with which he would be anxious to cope. At least, you derive that outlook from the accounts given in the New Testament of Christ’s concern for those with problems. This assignment involves human problems that seem to be beyond the ability of the individual alone to repair.
It is interesting to me that about eight years ago I served as a member of the Youth Guidance Committee, which was a forerunner of this present social services program with its great potential working through the bishops and stake presidents all over the Church.
Q. Briefly, how are stake social services committees developing throughout the Church?
A. There is a wide variation in development, depending upon the needs and also the number of trained Latter-day Saints living in a given area. The program contemplates that every stake will assign the needed number of high councilors to a special social services committee. These high councilors will then take the lead in utilizing qualified and worthy Latter-day Saints in the stake who might be assigned to help our members in such areas as medicine, counseling, law, psychiatry, business, and so on.
These people are to be drawn upon through recommendation of the bishop to the stake president. They may work together or individually with members who may be referred to them. We already have had many thrilling success stories to show how we are helping our own people to overcome serious problems or difficulties in their lives.
Q. What are the major areas assigned to Social Services?
A. We’ve been assigned the unwed mother, problems attendant to use of alcohol and drugs, Latter-day Saint prisoners, runaway youth, extreme family and marital difficulties. In addition, we are assigned other areas that are of a social nature: adoption, care of the blind, and the foster home program for the Indian youth.
Q. Which problem is bigger, drug abuse or alcoholism?
A. Drug abuse is certainly an item on many persons’ minds, but alcoholism continues to be the number one drug problem. It far exceeds drug abuse as far as wrecking homes and providing social problems for communities and deaths on the highway. For example, a few weeks ago a set of statistics was released from the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Admittedly, these are only statistics from America, but they reflect a problem that is worldwide. The report stated that the cost of coping with alcoholism is 15 billion dollars a year in the U.S. Also, alcoholism takes an average of ten to twelve years off the life of the alcoholic, and 28,000 traffic deaths in the U.S. per year are attributed to alcoholism.
Of course, in the Church we are concerned from the social aspect. We don’t regard the alcoholic as a person who is a violent transgressor of the moral code. It’s all the things that alcoholism leads to that concern us. We look at the alcoholic as a person who is ill, one who has a serious malady that needs correction, and now we have some effective ways of dealing with the problem.
Drugs are primarily a teenage and young adult problem, and alcoholism is basically an adult problem. Medical science informs us that some people have a body metabolism that makes them very vulnerable to alcohol. Now, since no one knows what alcohol is going to do to him, that first drink is very dangerous because a person just might be introducing something into his system that may lead to lifelong addiction and misery.
Q. What about the Church’s work with those members who find themselves in prison?
A. This has been one of our most gratifying accomplishments, to be able to establish a way to keep in touch with those few Saints who are in prison, even excommunicated members of the Church in prison. Through the priesthood, we use home teachers and family home evenings in our attempt to rehabilitate our people. We have volunteer families come and befriend the prisoners. There are some fine stories of rehabilitation.
Q. About how many Indian youth are presently placed with foster families for the school year?
A. We’re placing approximately 6,000 Indian youth. This is a bright light on the horizon for our Indian brothers and sisters. And while they have opposition within their own ranks from some Indians who don’t want the Indian people weaned away from certain aspects of their Indian culture and habits, we know that as long as the Indian lives in present-day society, he must be prepared to deal with the modern world. Otherwise he is relegated to something less than he could be, something less than he might enjoy.
The Church has been called by the Lord to concern itself with the plight of our Indian brothers and sisters, and we are unashamedly and proudly assisting in the development of this great people.
Q. As you look back, what are the highlights of the past ten years in the Presiding Bishopric?
A. Without any question, the opportunity of working with youth. I am particularly happy with the new achievement program for the youth. This has been a very exciting program to be a part of—making it possible for youth to set their own goals and helping them to accomplish those goals. I plead with parents to turn this week to their teenage sons and daughters and to review with them their progress on this year’s set of goals. If the parents will only become knowledgeable about the desires of their children and then help them move toward those goals, what joy and love would develop within the homes of the Church!