It is a great honor but a very humbling experience indeed to stand before you on this solemn occasion, to try to express my feelings for one whom I loved so much, and to realize that he was a prophet of God placed here upon the earth to direct the affairs of the Church in these latter days.
I have been greatly touched by the things said by Elder Hinckley, who has been so closely associated with President Lee in his travels throughout the world, and in his expression of love and his testimony regarding this great leader; and also by President Romney, who has been so closely associated with him for over 30 years, working with him in the Welfare Program, as a member of the Council of the Twelve, and then as a counselor to him in the First Presidency.
President Lee’s passing is a great shock to all of us, the greatest shock I’ve experienced in my life, and our sadness cannot be adequately expressed. I felt very bad to be away at the time of his passing. I received a phone call from his devoted secretary, Arthur Haycock, stating that he was very ill, and suggesting that I should return as soon as possible. Within an hour he called again to say, “The Lord has spoken.”
This to me was very significant: the Lord had spoken. It is hard for us to understand why a man with such great ability, at his age, and who was so devoted to the work, and giving such outstanding leadership, should be called home so suddenly.
However, we must realize that our ways are not the ways of the Lord. He must have a great mission to perform on the other side of the veil. I am sure his passing is no sadness for him, but it is a great loss to all of us—his friends, his family, his community, his church, and to the world.
The first time I really remember having become acquainted with President Harold B. Lee was when he came to Calgary 20 years ago to organize the Calgary Stake. He, with Elder Mark E. Petersen, was given that assignment. At that time I was chosen as the first president of the stake, and received from him some very thoughtful and helpful counsel, advice, and direction as to how the stake should be operated.
It was so evident to me at that time that President Lee was a natural leader, that he knew the Lord and was devoted to his work; and I thought at the time of the statement: “… This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3.) It was evident that he loved the Lord and was prepared to serve him with all his heart, with all his mind and strength. I had heard him speak in general conferences, and was greatly influenced by his sermons and his instructions and encouragement to the people.
My next close association with President Lee was when I became a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles. He was always ready to counsel, advise, and give assistance whenever I called upon him.
When I was called by President McKay to be his second counselor in the First Presidency, though President Lee had been a member of the Council of the Twelve for approximately 30 years, he, a senior member, supported me in that position and worked with me, showing me every respect and courtesy a junior member could have shown to a senior member in such a position. I always admired him for this, and loved him, realizing again more fully than ever before that he was a true servant of the Lord. He had only one thing in his mind, and that was to serve the Lord, do his will and keep his commandments, and help build the kingdom of God here upon the earth.
Following President McKay’s death, when President Joseph Fielding Smith was made President of the Church, I had the great privilege, opportunity, and blessing of working with President Lee as a counselor to this great president, President Smith. His knowledge of the gospel, his understanding of mankind, his leadership ability, and his testimony were a great strength to me. I learned to love him and to appreciate and respect him as one of the Lord’s anointed. He was always so thoughtful of President Smith and ready to uphold him and support him in everything he did, always showing his love, respect, and desire to support the Prophet.
Following the death of President Smith, President Lee became President of the Church, and he honored me by asking me to be his first counselor with President Romney as his second counselor, a very faithful servant of the Lord whom I’ve learned to love as one fully dedicated. In all of these positions I have felt inadequate, and felt the need of calling upon the Lord regularly, and leaning upon him and the Prophet for guidance. I have always been so thankful that his help was forthcoming, as I needed it in my great feelings of inadequacy.
It has been a real opportunity, privilege, and blessing to be able to work so closely with these three prophets of God, to sit at their feet and see how the Lord works through them, and I bear testimony without reservation that these men were prophets of God. There has never been any question in my mind about President Lee as a prophet, and I was so pleased that members of the Church as a whole accepted him so quickly and so completely, and were prepared to follow him as one speaking for the Lord.
I have always found it easy to follow him as a prophet in the manner the Lord prescribed when he said:
“… thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
“For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.
“For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. …” (D&C 21:4–6.)
The Lord was speaking to the Church then, and I admonish the Church to follow whoever is appointed as a Prophet to preside over this Church.
“For thus saith the Lord God: Him have I inspired to move the cause of Zion in mighty power for good, and his diligence I know. …” (D&C 21:7.)
As those who have spoken before me have so well stated, he has filled every position from MIA teacher to President of the Church in an outstanding manner, and has made a real contribution in every position he held. Though they have said it better than I could, I should like to emphasize the fact that during his term in the Council of the Twelve, he made great contributions in many areas, and since becoming President of the Church, the Church has made tremendous progress.
Just to repeat: In the Welfare Program he has made an outstanding contribution giving the leadership that the Lord wanted it to have. It has been recognized throughout the country and in many parts of the world as the most effective welfare program in existence.
Under his direction in the correlation program, instruction materials have been prepared and correlated, and also materials for training bishops and teachers. He emphasized the importance of home evening and the solidarity of the home. And then he introduced the new Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood MIA programs, showing his great interest in the youth and in the unmarrieds, striving to make everyone feel wanted by providing special activities for them. In the Internal and Public Communications Departments much progress has been made.
His whole desire was to spread the gospel and to help the people understand the mission of Jesus Christ, which he did so ably. He never missed an opportunity to bear his testimony and answer questions and explain the principles of the gospel. When VIP’s from all parts of the world called on the First Presidency, they never left without it being made clear to them that the Church of Jesus Christ was here upon the earth, and that it had the same organization which Christ set up during his earthly ministry, with the same gospel being taught, which if accepted it would bring peace and righteousness to the world.
Just a few days ago when the ambassador of Iran was visiting the First Presidency and discussing conditions in the world, particularly in the Middle East, President Lee made this significant and meaningful statement. With full conviction but with all humility, he said: “We think the only solution to this difficult problem is for all of us to belong to the one true church of Christ. When that happens, we will realize that we are all children of the same God, and that we ought not to quarrel with each other, but that we should love one another.”
Then he went on to say: “This reminds me of the statement of George Bernard Shaw, who said that if we all realized that we are sons and daughters of the same God, we wouldn’t be shouting at one another and quarreling, but we would love one another.”
He concluded with this remark: “Why is it that they are shouting at one another in the Middle East? It is because they don’t really believe in the one and true living God, and they are not members of the true church of Jesus Christ. If they would accept this, we would have peace, and the same would be true throughout the world.”
He was always very careful not to criticize or belittle any individual or any church, but was emphatic in his belief and conviction and in claiming that if the world would accept Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, and accept and follow his teachings and become members of his church, we would have peace in the world and all of our problems would have a solution.
His influence was felt for good wherever he went, and with whomever he was associated. As we came out of our December meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, to which all of the General Authorities had been invited, and where President Lee had counseled and instructed the brethren and had borne his testimony, I said to President Romney, “There is no greater evidence that we have been listening to a prophet of God than what we have heard this day.” President Romney replied: “I agree fully. There is no question about it. The Spirit of the Lord has borne witness unto my soul that he is a Prophet.”
Our beloved President was always working as though he had a deadline to meet, and that he must meet it while running at high speed. He never thought of his own comfort or convenience. We urged him on many occasions to take a little respite, to relax and rest, but he seemed never to be concerned about himself. He wanted to be of service to his fellowmen, and I am sure he believed as the Lord has said, “… Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40.)
He was determined to do all in his power to further the work of the Lord and to build people. He loved and showed an interest in everyone, and was loved by them.
As he was speaking to the Beneficial Life Insurance Company Christmas party, he offered a beautiful prayer of supplication at the close of his message. He prayed that the Spirit of him whose birth we were commemorating would be felt throughout the world, and that the message of peace on earth and a feeling of goodwill might permeate the hearts of all people. He prayed that peace and righteousness might prevail and that the Lord’s will might be done on earth as it is in heaven; and prayed further that each and every one of us would accept Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, and, by keeping his commandments and loving one another, contribute to the cause of peace and righteousness. As he pled with the Lord, he was filled with emotion.
We must realize that death will come to each and every one of us. As President Lee spoke at the funeral of President Joseph Fielding Smith, he quoted from President Joseph F. Smith, the father of President Joseph Fielding Smith, these words:
“Every man born into the world will die. It matters not who he is, nor where he is, whether his birth be among the rich and the noble, or among the lowly and poor in the world, his days are numbered with the Lord, and in due time he will reach the end. We should think of this. Not that we should go about with heavy hearts or with downcast countenances; not at all. I rejoice that I am born to live, to die, and to live again. I thank God for this intelligence. It gives me joy and peace that the world cannot give, neither can the world take it away. God has revealed this to me, in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know it to be true. Therefore, I have nothing to be sad over, nothing to make me sorrowful. …
“On the contrary, it is cause for joy unspeakable, and for pure happiness. I cannot express the joy I feel at the thought of meeting my father, and my precious mother, who gave me birth in the midst of persecution and poverty, who bore me in her arms and was patient, forbearing, tender and true during all my helpless moments in the world. The thought of meeting her, who can express the joy? The thought of meeting my children who have preceded me beyond the veil, and of meeting my kindred and my friends, what happiness it affords! For I know that I shall meet them there. God has shown me that this is true. He has made it clear to me, in answer to my prayer and devotion, as he has made it clear to the understanding of all men who have sought diligently to know him.”
Then President Smith drifts into another expectation in these words:
“So I feel quite confident that the eye of Joseph, the prophet, and of the martyrs of this dispensation, and of Brigham, and John, and Wilford [and were he here now he might have added these names: Lorenzo Snow and Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, David O. McKay; and I would add Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee] and those faithful men who were associated with them in their ministry upon the earth, are carefully guarding the interests of the kingdom of God in which they labored and for which they strove during their mortal lives. I believe they are as deeply interested in our welfare today, if not with greater capacity, with far more interest, behind the veil, than they were in the flesh. …”
Then in even greater expectation, he said, “When I go, I want to have the privilege of meeting them with the consciousness that I have followed their example, that I have carried out the mission in which they were engaged, as they would have it carried out; that I have been as faithful in the discharge of duty, committed to me and required at my hand, as they were faithful in their time, and that when I meet them, I shall meet them as I met them here, in love, in harmony, in unison, and in perfect confidence that I have done my duty as they have done theirs.” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, pp. 428–431.)
The sudden passing of President Lee leaves us with this one great and important and urgent message: “Now is the time to prepare for the great day of the Lord.” Let me emphasize this by reading from the Pearl of Great Price what the Lord said, referring to his second coming:
“And they shall hear of wars, and rumors of wars.
“Behold I speak for mine elect’s sake; for nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
“And again, because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold; but he that shall not be overcome, the same shall be saved.
“And again, this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come, or the destruction of the wicked.” (JS—M 1:28–31)
“But of that day, and hour, no one knoweth; no, not the angels of God in heaven, but my Father only.
“But as it was in the days of Noah, so it shall be also at the coming of the Son of Man;
“For it shall be with them, as it was in the days which were before the flood; for until the day that Noah entered into the ark they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage;
“And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be.” (JS—M 1:40–43)
At a time like this it should be very consoling to know that we are spirit children of God, in whose image we were made. Paul wrote:
“Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Heb. 12:9.)
How wonderful it is to know that we had a premortal existence; that the earth was created as a place where we may dwell. We read the words of Abraham:
“And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
“And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
“And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” (Abr. 3:24–26.)
What a blessing it is to understand the mission of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world; that he came to earth for one purpose only, as He said:
He gave his life and was resurrected so that we could be resurrected, and he gave us the plan by which we can prepare ourselves for eternal life. This was the plan by which President Lee lived, and if you would pay tribute to him, and in your own interests, I appeal to each and every one here today to learn what this plan is, to study the gospel, and to accept and live its teachings. Let us all set about today to be worthy and ready for this stage in our existence. Death is bound to come to us and our loved ones, and it will be sweet to those who live righteously and are prepared for it.
Our prayers go out to you, Sister Lee, whom the President lovingly referred to as “My Joan, my conscience.” You were always by his side, sustaining him and helping wherever possible. Throughout the Church you gained the love of the young people, whom you understood and who love you so much.
You will be very lonely and sorrowful, and rightfully and understandably so. We who have been and who will try continually to be close to you, want you to know that we love and appreciate you, and we all express our heartfelt sympathy, and pray humbly that the Spirit and blessings of the Lord will attend and strengthen you and give you courage to carry on.
Though President Lee has no young children, I would appeal to members of his family of all ages to honor your illustrious father and grandfather by living by his code of ethics, which was the gospel of Jesus Christ, that you might be worthy to dwell with him throughout eternity. He will be interested in all that you do, and be trying to help you and guide you. I have never known one who was more interested in his family and wanted them to be successful and happy. May you all be strengthened by this experience, and have the courage and the faith and determination to carry on, and may the blessings of the Lord attend you always, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.