President Marion G. Romney: A Symbol of Righteousness


Spencer W. Kimball
President Marion G. Romney

Having been reared as were numerous Mormon people of his period, President Marion G. Romney learned independence early in his life. Not only since his ordination as a member of the Council of the Twelve on October 6, 1951, but all his life, he has shifted for himself and his loved ones. The welfare plan to which he gave his guiding hand and his rich inspiration was really not a beginning but a continuation of a way of life he had known already through his life. His experience had extended far beyond stake and ward. It had begun and remained a family venture from his childhood. It came naturally to him.

Marion G. Romney was born September 19, 1897, in Colonia Juarez, Mexico, of American parents, George S. Romney and Artemesia Redd Romney. His schooling was received from the colonist schools. It was supplemented in Oakley, Idaho, and later at Ricks Academy (now College) at Rexburg, Idaho, after revolutionary activities of rebels in northern Mexico forced the colonists to move north.

He was graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor of science degree in 1926 and a bachelor of laws degree in 1932; he was later awarded a doctor of laws degree. His training in the field of law has been of great value to us in our discussions since his call as a General Authority, as moral matters relating to community political activities have come up for discussion.

After being admitted to the bar, he practiced law for eleven years and served as assistant county attorney, assistant district attorney, and assistant city attorney. He also served in the state legislature and in the U.S. Army.

His leadership is manifest in that he has also held leading positions. He presided over the 33rd Ward in Salt Lake City as bishop, and some people still call him bishop. He presided over the Bonneville Stake as president. Then, on April 6, 1941, he began the more than thirty-one years he has served as a General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the first ten years as an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve and the latter twenty years as one of the Council of the Twelve. He has served in every office, calling, and committee with distinction.

Much of his thought for thirty years has been with his brethren in missionary work, and some of his special assignments have been the work in Mexico and in Europe and Asia. Along with his missionary work comes his work with home teaching, to which he has given such emphasis—even to the extent that he has asked his bishop to give him a home teaching assignment and a young companion. His philosophy is that if there’s a stranger in your neighborhood today, a home teacher should be appointed; he needs a friend. If there is a stranger tomorrow, the home teachers need checking.

And if you believe there is righteousness in attending sacrament meeting, go to his ward and there you will find him every Sabbath when he has no more immediate and compelling assignment. Step into the Romney home about mealtime and you may hear a normal night-and-morning prayer something like the kind that has been emanating from that home for nearly half a century. If the tithing records were open, here again you would find the Romney family living the gospel, keeping the commandments, and loving the Lord. His mind is one of those rare ones that is saturated with a consciousness of God.

Knowing of the circumstances under which his family was forced to leave Mexico the cruel exodus, the limitations imposed on the families, and the many antagonism—we wondered about his innermost feelings toward the Mexican people. But when he was assigned to Mexico as his special area of responsibility, it was gratifying to see the interest he took in that country and that people. He began to study their language and think their thoughts and feel their needs and have close empathy for them. As a result, the Mexican Saints have been much blessed. Vision is what you would call it —the kind of forward planning he did there. Today we have thousands of Mexican children who are in school of some kind mostly because of the farsightedness of President Romney.

Some of us thought he had come to love the Mexicans especially until there was a change in the world assignments of the brethren and he was assigned to South Africa, western Europe, Scandinavia, and Asia. The interest he showed in the peoples of these lands, their needs and problems, equaled that shown toward the Mexican people, so we concluded that there was no personality in this, but that this great man recognized his extensive duty in every direction where he was assigned, and his love for humanity was as big as the world of humanity. To paraphrase a thought of Henry Van Dyke, he has learned to speak in hundreds of languages to the heart of man; he has been in the palace to tell the monarch that he is a servant of the Most High, and into the cottage to assure the peasant that he is a son of God.

And now his assignment has changed again and his heart enlarges and includes the people of every nation. Having traveled the world so completely, he has a knowledge of these diverse peoples and their cultures and their problems and needs. Now his field is to the world.

It is most pleasing to the people of the Church and a great satisfaction to see the growth and advancement of a son of Zion in his progress to the leadership of the Church. You see him climbing the ladder—deacon, priest, elder, missionary. He is made a bishop, a stake president, an Assistant to the Twelve, an apostle. And now he stands with President Harold B. Lee and President Nathan Eldon Tanner in the First Presidency of the Church.

Those of us who knew him well and had worked with him for many years were not surprised at his choice as counselor to President Lee. To the last man we support him in this advanced calling and will do all in our power to contribute toward the advancement of the work under the capable hands of these three men—the Presidency.

“Every child comes with a message that God is not yet discouraged with man,” says Tagore, and certainly the Lord has just been waiting for Marion G. Romney to finish his homework, gain the varied experience, and ready himself for his great responsibility.

Take a spirit of God; give to him mortality through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Ephraim. Let him be born in any land on the high seas or a mountain top, in this century or that; let him be born in a great metropolitan city or in a pasture; let him be gorged with the richest food or deprived with only a part of what a growing boy might desire and need. Take this man-child and let him inherit from Abraham his great faith, from Isaac his integrity, from Jacob his influence with twelve stalwart leaders of the tribes, and from Joseph his great foresight and inspiration and revelation and leadership. Give this child an Artemesia Redd for a mother and George S. Romney for a father and eight lovely sisters and a brother to test him and try him and stir him and lead him and push him and demand of him; and you have a Marion G. Romney.

The strong qualities of leadership and character of our President Romney seem to have been present in his ancestors. Miles Romney and his wife, Elizabeth Gaskell, newly married, were shopping on Market Street in Preston, England, when they heard Orson Hyde and Heber C. Kimball preaching the gospel. Though they did not join the Church for two years, until 1839, they were impressed; and after they became members, they moved to America and to Nauvoo, Illinois.

At Nauvoo, Elizabeth traded her paisley shawl for a lot on which to build and they had a small one-room cabin, while Miles worked on the Nauvoo Temple. Here it was that their son Miles Park, who was to become head of the large Romney family, was born. The family eventually crossed the plains to the Salt Lake Valley, where George worked for a time on the Salt Lake Temple. While they were at the tithing office one day, President Brigham Young talked to them and called them to go south to the “Muddy Mission,” and from there the family settled in St. George, Utah, which became, more or less, headquarters of the Romney family.

There were great people on the other side of President Romney’s family also. Solomon Chamberlain, the grandfather of Artemesia Romney, joined the Church with Brigham Young and knew Joseph Smith’s family personally. He crossed the plains with President Young and, according to tradition, drove his wagon.

It was from stalwarts like these people that President Romney came. He seems to have lost nothing in the down-draft. Rather he seems to have dropped any weaknesses from his ancestors, modified any eccentricities, should there be any, and solidified and incorporated into his own life the good from them all.

The story of the Romney family in Mexico began in 1885 when, with other Saints, they were allowed by the Mexican authorities to colonize in northern Mexico, and it was there that Marion G. Romney was born in 1897.

You who have ever traveled long distances, day after day, rocky and rutty roads or no roads at all with no sign posts, no written directions into a new world where there are many obstacles—uncrossable rivers, unclimbable mountains, unendable trails, and a going down of the sun many times and then only to arrive at a beginning community where there are no buildings to rent, no canals to turn river water on thirsty dry land, no fences, no ready materials for building, no schools, no evidences of culture; where new people after much long and hard tribulations have arrived and then begun from the first scratch of the soil, the planting of the first seed, the setting of the first post, the digging of the first shovelful of dirt in the canal beginnings, and then wait, wait, wait—then you may have some idea of those hardy souls who opened up this new wilderness.

Some of this beginning work was already started when the Romneys came to the Piedras Negras River valley, but there was still much to do to make a fierce, wild, and new land habitable; in those years of beginnings it was hard work such as would save our staggering world if brought into play, until one after another of the projects became a reality, and a habitable and comfortable and lovely community became theirs.

Too much praise cannot be given to the elder statesmen of these Mexican communities. The standards of the Church were taught with such vigor, the integrity of their youth was built to such a high standard, the habits and desires were of such a high nature that we who lived out in the states noted at once that the foundation on which the youths from Mexico stood was as strong as Gibraltar. Isolated as they were from the vices of the big cities of the states, it seemed the lessons of life became a part of their lives more than of those across the border north; and today, sixty years later, the implant on those well-trained colony people is still not worn off in most cases. Certainly Marion G. Romney is one of those who was strengthened by the virtues of such a community and such a life and such training by such parentage.

These people had all come a long way under most difficult circumstances to reach this place where freedom of religion could be enjoyed. They knew what they were doing and were willing to stand hard times, deprivation, and even persecution, if it be necessary.

Each family built itself a home, and most of them had a garden, a little orchard, a cow pasture, a little field of alfalfa, corn, and such. They had part ownership in the community cow pasture, and Marion and his contemporary boy friends drove the cows to and from pasture each day. A lesson that has lasted him a lifetime was this one from his father: “You don’t quit till you have hoed to the very end of the row.”

Being the oldest boy of the family, Marion had many obligations; and it was a little difficult for him up on the hill tending his livestock when he saw the other boys down at the school playing football or basketball. He boasts that he became so expert in milking his cows that he could squirt a stream of milk in the cat’s mouth twenty feet away. As he drove his cows down the lane between their own place and the McClellan lot, Marion found that the apples on the McClellan fence line were getting ripe. It wouldn’t do to go and pick them, but he threw rocks at the cows through the trees and almost invariably some apples would fall off. He took them to his mother.

“Those are not our apples,” she admonished. There was no more rock-throwing at the cows, and a young man learned a lesson in honesty.

I guess it was the morning of the exodus when the women and children were finding their way via carriages, buses, buggies, to the train when George S. Romney drew aside young 15-year-old Marion and told him some cold, hard facts. They, were being moved out of the country for their lives, and the yard about the station at Pearson was crowded with vehicles and horses. He made it very clear that since the men were remaining in Mexico, it would be the responsibility of Marion to be the man of the family and to look after his mother, brothers, and sisters as they approached numerous vicissitudes. New maturity settled on this young man’s shoulders, and a new meaning to life began to develop.

The family remained a short time in El Paso till their husband and father could join them; then they went to California briefly and on to Oakley, Idaho, home of Cassia Academy. It was the ambition of George S. to finish his education and work in the educational system. Accordingly, he taught at the academy. He and his brother Gaskell had their small properties there and worked and did everything in their power to build the school and the Church and their families, but it was a scant living. As payday came one month, they had only $80.00 for them all—nineteen people in the two families. Shall we pay our tithing and how can we? They were already stretching and squeezing to make ends meet. Would the Lord understand if they didn’t pay tithing now? The answer was, “Tithing must be paid,” and thinly clad Marion trudged in a cold Idaho day over to the bishop’s to deliver the money. He returned to the Romney home with the tithing receipt. Later he said it would never be that hard again to pay his tithing.

The Romney family lived three years in Oakley, three hard years, on a forty-acre farm. Young Marion often stayed out of school to help on the family farm, until the crops were harvested in the fall. He had learned carpentry work from his father, and he also used this skill to help make ends meet.

Marion’s father had gone on a mission when Marion was but eight days old. As young Marion grew up through his boyhood, a mission looked mighty misty in the distance. Because of the family’s hardships, a mission for this growing boy was quite out of the question.

But now the family had moved to Rexburg, and young Marion had a job and had saved some money. He tells the story of having gone to conference one day to hear Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Council of the Twelve, whose spiritual experiences were rather unusual and sometimes spectacular. From the end side choir seat this young man watched Brother Ballard all through the service and heard unbelievable things. A new and persistent and determined resolve formed in his mind. After the service young Marion approached his father and said, “Father, I want to go on a mission.” His father was shocked. “I have some money,” he continued, “and if you will go with me to the bank and help me borrow the balance, I will go.” The two found their way to the bank and the kind banker, with faith in him, granted the loan and Marion sailed for Australia.

What a lesson today to the tens of thousands of boys who go on missions now totally financed! What a glorious thing if all the young missionaries would save their money for their missions or possibly borrow their finances and let their missions be their own rather than accepting the funds from other people who also are making sacrifices!

Upon his return President Romney repaid his loan.

President Romney knew while yet a small boy that there were great possibilities—that he was not destined to get lost in the crowd, that the life set up for him had in it open doors and numerous opportunities.

When but a small lad between 11 and 12 he received a patriarchal blessing from his grandfather, L. H. Redd. Of the noble lineage of Abraham and Jacob, he was to be no ordinary person. He was told he had longed and looked for the privilege to perform a great and mighty work, and he was warned that necessary thereto he would need in this, the morning of his life, to seek wisdom and knowledge.

As we watch him in his quest for knowledge through the various schools he attended, and under such adverse circumstances, we realize he qualified for this blessing.

He was told, “You shall be called to preach the gospel to many people. The angels of your choice have been over you and watched over you for your good.” From the time of his first mission in Australia in 1920 he has been preaching to many people, but of late years the “many” people have multiplied into millions. And to be watched over by “the angels of your choice,” what a blessing and a protection!

In one of his blessings he was thus admonished: “Remember when you feel that sweet Heavenly influence whisper peace, that the Lord is near you.” This man, Marion G. Romney, hears those whisperings often; he feels that peace as a part of his life. His brethren have no question about the nearness of the Lord to him when he prays. His prayers are so earnest, his voice so tender, his appeal so real and sincere that we know the Lord is listening. His sincerity is of such quality that it touches the listeners, and all of us feel that because President Romney is praying, we are all closer to our Father in heaven. He was given special healing power to administer to the sick and afflicted. Recently, as I myself was recovering from open heart surgery and felt very low and discouraged, he paid me a visit at my home. Before he left I asked him to give me a blessing with full confidence in the power of his faith and nearness to God.

President Romney was told, “You will be held in high honor and respected by the people, beyond your comprehension; your counsel will be sought; your posterity will honor you; your faith will carry you through. Thy faith shall unfold to you the mysteries of the Kingdom, and things which are not understood or comprehended by people shall be made plain to you. Visions of the future shall be opened unto your mind and you shall see the handiwork of the Lord in all things, for faith similar to that enjoyed by the Brother of Jared shall be yours to enjoy. … Thou shalt be called to labor further in positions of trust and leadership in the interest of the Lord’s work.”

To those of us who have known President Romney long and intimately, we have seen these long-promised blessings in fruition and have come to realize that the making of a Marion G. Romney was not the effort of a few decades, but it has been an eternal thing bringing together all the great qualities and opportunities and tests, privileges, challenges, and times into a whole to prepare this great soul for the opportunities he now has. The name of Christ and his gospel is not merely mentioned but is ploughed deep in his consciousness.

Brother Romney would be the first to emphasize that his life would have been greatly less if Ida Jensen of Idaho Falls had not come at the right time to Ricks Academy to teach school. Hired by his father, who was president of the academy, she saw Marion very soon, and a romance developed that has lasted these many years since their marriage on September 12, 1924. Ida has stood by him in adversity and glory. They have been in some serious accidents where only pure miracles have brought them and especially her back to life. She has honored him in his work and sustained him in his travels and hardships.

Marion G. and Ida Romney have had four children. Two were not privileged to live long; two sons are married and have families that are adored by their parents and grandparents. Richard, a businessman in California, and his wife, Joanne, have a grown son and daughter; and George, a Salt Lake City attorney, and his wife, Joanne, have five children ranging in age from 14 to infancy.

To get some idea of the power and strength of Marion G. Romney, one needs only to watch him work and follow him through some of the difficult situations through which he must pass.

To feel the sincerity and intensity of his feelings, one needs only to listen to him call upon his Maker and plead with him for blessings. All is holy where this man kneels.

Among the many promises given to President Romney when he was called to be a General Authority was this: “… blessed are you because of your faith in my work. Behold, you have had many afflictions … nevertheless I will bless you and your family, yea, your little ones, and the day cometh that they will believe and know the truth and be one with you in the Church.”

With new responsibilities, new opportunities, and new challenges, the prayer of his family, his friends, and the people of the Church is that the Lord will bless him with every needful blessing. He who has always swung his lantern high will swing it still much higher from now on. God bless Marion G. Romney!

[photo] Marion G. Romney as a missionary in Australia, 1921.

[photos] Left: captain of the Ricks College basketball team, 1917–20. Below: a football player in Salt Lake City, 1916.

[photos] Left: Elder Marion G. Romney, missionary in Sydney, Australia, 1922. Below: Elder Romney, as a state legislator in 1935, and with his wife, Ida Jensen Romney.

[photos] Above: Elder Romney of the Council of the Twelve in 1963. Right, photographed on Temple Square for the October 1962 Improvement Era cover.

[photo] President and Sister Romney, in a recent photograph