Harold Bingham Lee: Humility, Benevolence, Loyalty


Delivered at President Lee’s funeral, December 28, 1973.

Harold Bingham Lee:

My beloved brethren and sisters: Never have I felt more keenly the need for direction of the Holy Spirit. Never have I wished so much to speak with inspiration. I humbly seek the guidance of that quiet power which comes from above.

In a measure I speak for my Brethren of the Twelve and others of the General Authorities of the Church, each of whom could pay a more eloquent tribute and each of whom is deserving of the opportunity, for each of us has been warmed repeatedly by the sunlight of the faith, of the kindness, of the wisdom, of the divinely given inspiration which has flowed to us from President Harold B. Lee, the prophet of the Lord.

As I look over this vast congregation, as I see this veritable garden of floral tributes, as I have noted the hundreds of telegrams and other expressions of love and sympathy, there have crowded across my mind the images of a hundred contrasting scenes of his earlier life—of days of struggle and poverty and anonymity; and I have marveled at the manner in which the Lord has magnified his chosen servant.

A man is in large measure the product of those qualities of mind and body, and even of spirit, bequeathed him by his forebears. President Lee’s was a tremendous heritage. His early American ancestor was left for dead in one of the battles of the Revolutionary War, in an era when men pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to bring to pass this nation under God. Small wonder that our president had such love for this land and reverence for its founding fathers.

I recalled a day last May when we stood before the crumbling house of another of his forebears, a man who embraced the faith that acknowledged Joseph Smith a prophet and who in the city of Joseph built a home with a window that looked toward the temple of God and another that looked across the Mississippi to the hills of Iowa that rolled into the western sunset, a home from which he was driven by the Illinois mob to seek asylum in these valleys of the West.

I remembered the walk of last summer through the quiet cemetery in Meadow Valley, now known as Panaca, Nevada. There lie the remains of President Lee’s grandparents, pioneers of faith who, in response to a call from Brigham Young, left their homes in this valley to move again into the wilderness, to grub sagebrush, to plow and to plant, and to enlarge the borders of Zion.

I thought of the story told me by President Lee of his grandmother who so wished for a child and lost eleven of them. Then came another, premature, and so tiny that a finger ring could be slipped on his arm. The mother died from her travail, and the infant was nurtured by an aunt of whom I have heard President Lee speak with reverent affection, for that tiny child became the father of the man we honor today. At the age of 18 he left Nevada and went to Idaho where he found his bride, a gifted and musical girl, beautiful, dark-haired, and dark-eyed.

Clifton was not much of a town then, nor is it today. The Lees lived out on “the string,” about three miles north of the store. The string was a dirt road—dusty in summer, snow-clogged in winter, and miry muddy in the spring and fall. Here was born the eleventh President of the Church, and here he grew in this farm community where life was an unrelenting and usually unrewarding struggle with the elements.

I heard him tell a group of children in Europe not long ago of an experience of those days on the farm. As a little boy he went one day with his father to the fields. His father went off in one direction, leaving the boy to wander in another. Young Harold saw a group of old tumbledown farm buildings across the fence. To the little boy they looked like castles to be explored. He started through the fence, but then he heard a quiet voice which said, “Harold, don’t go in there.” He looked around to see if his father had spoken, but his father was far off in the field. Without challenging the warning or questioning its source, he turned and fled the place. He never knew the reason for that warning, but accepted it for what he felt it to be. That characteristic of listening to the whisperings of the still small voice was practiced throughout his life.

It is a long odyssey from that Idaho farm to this Tabernacle where thousands gather in respect and love to pay him honor and acknowledge the power of God in his life. But with all of the triumph of that life, there has also been much of sorrow, much of struggle, much of adversity, much of disappointment, of frustration, of bitter defeat. But be it said to his eternal credit that wherever circumstances knocked him down, as they frequently did, he stood again where he had fallen and then moved on to greater achievement. Perhaps even in this travail there was the molding power of the Lord in his behalf, for out of that chastening process there came a refinement, a patience, a polish, an understanding, a grace beautiful to witness and marvelous in its expression.

Last evening, as I reflected on this responsibility of saying something here today, I shuffled through some papers on my desk. One was a handwritten memorandum from him which was signed HBL. As I looked at those initials, each appeared to grow into a word—HUMILITY, BENEVOLENCE, LOYALTY. Harold Bingham Lee—man of humility, man of benevolence and love, man of loyalty.

Ours was the rare privilege of traveling with President and Sister Lee many thousands of miles in the British Isles, in Europe, in Israel, and in other lands. No one could have that experience without coming to know that here was a humble man—a man without arrogance, void of officiousness, never haughty or noisy or offensive. His was not a groveling humility, but rather that of which the Master spoke when he declared on the Mount: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5.)

That meekness denotes teachableness, a willingness to listen, a willingness to learn as well as to impart. He somehow became in very deed the fulfillment of the words of the Lord: “He that would be first among you, let him be the servant of all.” (See Mark 9:35; Mark 10:44.)

President Lee recently stated to a group of college students: “My whole soul pleads that I may so live that if the Lord has any communication that he would wish me to receive for my beloved people that I could be a pure vessel through which that message could come.” (Address at Ricks College, Oct. 26, 1973.)

In 1972 we walked together in the Holy Land. In a quiet corner in Bethlehem we read together the account of the coming to earth of the Only Begotten of the Father, the mighty Jehovah, the Creator of this earth, who came as a babe in a manger when there was no room in the inn; and with humbled hearts we marveled that the Son of God should be so born and reflected on the words of the angel to Nephi: “… Knowest thou the condescension of God?” (1 Ne. 11:16.)

We dipped our hands in the waters of Jordan and thought of that Perfect One who was there baptized that he might fulfill all righteousness. We stood in Capernaum and reflected on the miracles of his ministry—of the blind made to see, of the lame who walked, of the dead restored to life. In the courtyard of Herod we painfully recalled the scourging, the mockery of the purple robe, and the crown of thorns.

We left the city walls and saw the hill on which stood a lonely cross where the Son of God was sacrificed for the sins of the world. We gathered at the Garden of the Tomb, in a meeting which will never be forgotten by those present. Here President Lee expressed his feeling that here, indeed, was placed the body of the crucified Lord, and that here occurred the miracle of miracles when the stone was rolled away, the tomb was made empty, and the Redeemer triumphantly broke the bonds of death.

On that sacred occasion, when moonlight filtered through the leaves of the olive trees and he whom we sustained as prophet spoke in humble quiet testimony, we felt something of heaven. I saw that night President Harold B. Lee as a man of true humility, with the faith of a child, standing in the stature of a prophet who bore witness of the living reality of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Man of benevolence. Legion are those who could testify of his kindness. Much has been written, and more will be said of his great service in the Church Welfare Program.

But there have been other more intimate expressions of his love. I know of no man who went more frequently to the hospital to visit the sick, to comfort, to bless. There sits a man in this hall today who could testify of his coming in the hours of the night in a time of desperation; and in the authority of the holy priesthood in him vested, he laid his hands upon that man’s head and rebuked the very powers of death.

He has on occasion found it necessary to act with resolution against those in transgression, but at the same time he has sorrowed with them, has put his arms about them, and has reached out in love to help them come back.

Like the Master whom he served, he has gone about doing good. In the missions and stakes of England and Europe, I have seen young people eagerly press about him with tears in their eyes and smiles, sweet and beautiful, upon their faces. I have seen missionaries sit enraptured as he taught them from the scriptures, speaking, like the Master, “as one having authority.”

I have seen a congregation of little children in Nottingham, England, sit almost motionless for an hour as he spoke their language and led them to understand the sacred truths of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. I have seen elderly men and women weep as he blessed them—all of this because of love, that love which is of the very essence of the spirit of the Christ, whose servant he was.

Harold B. Lee, man of loyalty—loyalty to principle, loyalty to country, loyalty to family, loyalty to God.

He was fully aware of the great and sacred trust placed upon him as a servant of the Lord. He was loyal to that trust. He never hesitated to bear witness of the truth. It was done without offense and without arrogance, but it was likewise done in such fashion as to leave no doubt in the minds of those who heard him of his convictions concerning the principles and the doctrines by which he lived and taught.

He taught loyalty to country, no matter what flag one lived under. He frequently quoted that great article of our faith: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the Law.” (A of F 1:12.)

He was loyal to his family. In a time when storms are battering family life and in many instances making wrecks of this most sacred of human institutions, he taught with power and conviction and example the sanctity of the home, the divinity of its creation, and its place in the eternal plan of the Almighty. That conviction found expression in his home, and the love of children for father and grandchildren for grandfather was eloquent testimony of those who loved him most dearly.

I have heard him speak in hallowed affection of her who preceded him in death, the mother of his own children. I have listened with appreciation as he has spoken of her who has been his remarkable companion these past ten years—“My lovely Joan,” as he called her.

Loyalty to God and his Son, the resurrected Lord. This was the flawless gem in the crown of his life. He was wont to say, “Never think of me as the head of this Church. Jesus Christ is the head of this Church. I am only a man, his servant.” Of him, the Lord, he taught with a remarkable capacity as a teacher. Of him he testified with a persuasiveness almost irresistible. A business leader said to him one day, “I believe in the Lord, but I do not have a testimony of the living Lord.” President Lee replied, “Then you lean on my testimony while you study and pray until your own is strong enough to stand alone.”

Now he is gone. Reporters and others have spoken of his passing as “untimely.” I believe and know that the death of no man of God is ever untimely. Our Father sets the time. The Lord has declared through revelation:

“Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die, … [but] those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them.” (D&C 42:45–46.)

We sorrow, properly, for our loss is great. We weep for we loved him, but we know that he has not tasted of death but has merely gone hence to prepare for glad reunions which shall follow if we shall live worthy of his company. I am as certain that his passing was as much the will of the Lord as was his preservation and preparation through the years for the high and holy calling which he filled so nobly.

The Lord bless his beloved companion, his children, his grandchildren, and all of us who looked to him for strength and received it, I humbly pray, as I bear solemn witness that he was truly a prophet of God, a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name I testify of these things, even the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.