Friday, July 7, 1972, will go down in the annals of time as one of the important dates in the history of the Church. On the morning of that clear, warm summer day, in the sacred confines of the Salt Lake Temple, President Harold Bingham Lee was ordained and set apart by his fellow members of the Council of the Twelve as the eleventh President and prophet, seer, and revelator of the kingdom of God on earth.
The Council’s action followed by five days the death of President Joseph Fielding Smith, who passed away at about 9:25 P.M., Sunday, July 2. On Thursday, July 6, President Smith’s funeral was held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, and burial was in the Salt Lake Cemetery.
Early the next morning, members of the Council of the Twelve, the governing body of the Church following the death of a President of the Church, retired to the temple to consider the matter of reorganization of the First Presidency. President Lee, President of the Council of the Twelve by virtue of his position of seniority in that council, was ordained and set apart with President Spencer W. Kimball serving as voice. President Kimball, through his position of seniority in the Council of the Twelve, now becomes the President of the Twelve.
Following his ordination, President Lee set apart his two counselors in the First Presidency, President N. Eldon Tanner, first counselor, and President Marion G. Romney, second counselor, and President Kimball as President of the Council of the Twelve. The action of the day left a vacancy in the Council of the Twelve, which is expected to be filled at the October semiannual conference of the Church.
In a press conference following the events of the morning, President Lee commented: “The greatest message that one in this position could give to the membership of the Church is to keep the commandments of God, for therein lies the safety of the Church and the safety of the individual. Keep the commandments. There could be nothing that I could say that would be a more powerful or important message today.”
In response to a question about conditions of the world today, President Lee noted that the Prophet Joseph Smith was informed by the Lord 140 years ago that peace would be taken from the earth and Satan would have power over his own dominion. “After 140 years, is there anyone here who doubts that that time is here?” he asked. But he then noted that the Lord said he would reign among his people, and “the most powerful weapon that can ever be forged against the wickedness of the world is the powerful teachings of the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s what he gave them to us for, to combat fear and the untruth and wickedness in the world.”
Commenting about the challenges ahead, President Lee said, “We approach this task knowing that the Church is growing, which is our greatest challenge today. To keep pace with the growth and to see that the members everywhere are properly shepherded, taught, and led becomes now our greatest responsibility. Through the graces of the Almighty we have been directed to lay some cornerstones, and we hope to build on that foundation in the years that lie ahead.” He then quoted a scripture, making personal application of it, indicating that it would be the Lord who would guide the Church: “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.” (1 Ne. 4:6.)
As he introduced his counselors, President Lee said, “May I say that it is my responsibility to name counselors. We have some of the great men of the earth who form the membership of the General Authorities of the Church. Any one of them is just as qualified as any of us, or others; but to know which ones were to receive the sanction of the Lord required some soul searching, and to that task I devoted myself. I have had the witness as to the men who should be called to be my counselors. They’ve been called not by the will of men or the choice of men. They’ve been called by the direction and guidance of the Spirit of the Lord, and they are the men who are acceptable to the Lord. We know that. We have received a witness of it.”
The new First Presidency takes on a unique international flavor: President Lee was born and reared in the United States; President Tanner, although born in the United States, lived most of his life in Canada; and President Romney was born and reared in Mexico. Another item of interest is that President Tanner now will have served as counselor to three Presidents of the Church—President David O. McKay, President Joseph Fielding Smith, and now President Harold B. Lee.
The man who is now the eleventh President in this dispensation, President Lee, was born in Clifton, Idaho, on March 28, 1899, and reared on a farm.
From the time he accepted his first position, as a school principal at the age of seventeen, until he was called to the Council of the Twelve on April 6, 1941, he was an educator (a principal in Idaho and Utah), a missionary (to the Western States), a businessman, and a public official (Salt Lake City commissioner).
As president of the Pioneer Stake, he organized a bishops storehouse in 1932 to care for needy and unemployed members of his stake. When the Church consolidated such welfare programs into the Churchwide welfare plan in 1936, Harold B. Lee became the first managing director, a position he held for twenty-two years.
As a General Authority, President Lee has directed or advised many of the general Church committees and auxiliaries. In recent years he has been most closely connected with the Correlation Executive Committee, overseeing the organization and development of the program that now correlates many of the teaching and administrative programs of the Church. Since January 23, 1970, he has carried the dual responsibility of first counselor in the First Presidency and President of the Council of the Twelve. His wide experiences have thus well prepared him for the unique leadership role to which he has now been called.
President Tanner first came to the general attention of the Church when he was called to be an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve in 1960. In 1962 he was sustained as a member of the Twelve and the following year was called to be second counselor in the First Presidency under President David O. McKay, a position he also held during the administration of President Joseph Fielding Smith.
Born May 9, 1898, Nathan Eldon Tanner grew up on a farm and became an educator as a young man. He then entered government service and was elected to the Alberta provincial legislature, where he was speaker of the house. He later served as a member of the provincial cabinet and then as head of the Department of Lands and Mines before entering private industry. He was president of the vast Canadian Pipe Line Company and also president of Calgary Stake at the time he became a General Authority.
Today, as in 1970 when the following words were written, it is true that “his administrative acumen has been well used in the First Presidency as have his great qualities of fairness, integrity, and decency, which have won friends for the Church in many walks of life.” (Era, February 1970, p. 3.)
President Romney became a General Authority on April 6, 1941, when he was called to be an Assistant to the Twelve; he was named to the apostleship in October 1951.
He was born in Colonia Juarez, Mexico, on September 19, 1897. In 1912, when the Mexican revolution began, he and his family fled northward to Texas; they later settled in Rexburg, Idaho, where his father became president of Ricks College.
A lawyer by profession, President Romney has served on the boards of many business firms and educational institutions. He was a leader in developing the Church welfare plan in the late 1930s, when he was president of Bonneville Stake, and later, as a General Authority, served as chairman of the Churchwide program. His other administrative assignments have included responsibilities in the missionary program, the Church Building Committee, and the home teaching and home evening committees.
President Kimball, who becomes President of the Council of the Twelve after serving as Acting President for the past two and a half years, was born in Salt Lake City March 28, 1895, and spent most of his youth and young manhood in Arizona. Prominent in civic and business affairs, he was serving as president of the Mt. Graham Stake in Safford, Arizona, when he was called to the Council of the Twelve on July 8, 1943.
Afflicted with a malignancy in his throat, he underwent surgery for removal of one vocal cord and part of another in 1957; however, he was able to redevelop his voice and today he speaks with a deep and deliberate delivery as he bears eloquent and forceful testimony of the divinity, mission, and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. His sermons and writings, often developed through stories in parable form, are noted for their clarity of thought and uncompromising exposition of gospel principles.
The general membership and all officers and leaders of the Church will have the opportunity of sustaining these greatly respected and loved leaders in stake conferences and at the solemn assembly at the 142nd Semiannual General Conference in October.
The prayers and thoughts of members everywhere now go with President Lee and his counselors as they guide for our behalf the affairs of the kingdom.