Joan and Helen, and all the rest of you loved ones of President Lee, I don’t feel equal to this task, but I am grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to speak a few words at this sacred occasion.
My beloved fellow mourners, I stand before you today with a heavy heart. In all sincerity, I crave an interest in your prayers as I attempt to say a few words by way of tribute and love and respect to a mighty man of God, my long-time friend, President Harold Bingham Lee, prophet, seer, and revelator.
The source of his greatness was his knowledge that he lived in the shadow of the Almighty. God was his partner and his guide. With him, he was in constant communication. He accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ for what it is—the eternal truth. In it he found the key to the solution of every human need. His convictions were conceived and fortified by his experiences.
More than a quarter of a century ago, he said, “I know there are powers that can draw close to one who fills his heart with … love. … I came to a night, some years ago, when on my bed, I realized that before I could be worthy of the high place to which I had been called, I must love and forgive every soul that walked the earth, and in that time I came to know and I received a peace and a direction and a comfort, and an inspiration, that told me things to come and gave me the impressions that I knew were from a divine source.” (General Conference address, October 6, 1946.)
Humility before God and fearlessness before men were the essence of his character. His ministry has been characterized by an uncommon originality and daring. He was neither circumscribed nor restricted by the learning of the world nor by the wisdom of men. We who sat with him daily were frequently amazed at the breadth of his vision and the depth of his understanding.
As I watched and felt him ponder vital issues, I was often reminded of the statement made by the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 137.)
I am sure he often drank from the same fountain the Prophet Joseph had been drinking from when he wrote, “This afternoon I labored on the Egyptian alphabet in company with Brothers Oliver Cowdery and W. W. Phelps; and during the research, the principles of astronomy, as understood by Father Abraham and the ancients, unfolded to our understanding.” (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 286.)
I first met President Lee about forty years ago. Wearing carpenter overalls, I ran across the back lot at lunchtime to a neighboring grocery store. The operator, a Brother Tanner, introduced me to his brother-in-law, Harold B. Lee. He was dressed in striped coveralls. His left hand was on his breast, and he reached out his right to shake my hand. Captivated by his magnetic presence, I felt I had found a friend. The experiences of forty years and his last words to me, spoken as he lay on his deathbed last Wednesday afternoon, confirmed that first impression.
Soon after I met him I learned that he then lived in a modest cottage on Indiana Avenue. It was equipped in part with furniture fashioned by his own hands. The other furnishings were made by his accomplished wife. That humble home was hallowed by the love he bore to his sweetheart and two bright-eyed little girls, Maurine and Helen.
Our nation was at that time in the midst of the great depression of the 1930s. He was the president of Pioneer Stake. Few people in the Church were more severely punished by want and discouragement than were the members of his stake. Although harassed with the problems incident to securing for himself and his loved ones the necessities of life, he grappled mightily with the larger problem of looking after the needs of the total membership of his stake.
Many there were in that day who, having faltered, turned to state and federal governments for help. Harold B. Lee was not among them. Taking the Lord at his word that man should earn his bread in the sweat of his face and convinced that all things are possible to him that believeth, he struck out boldly with the fearless ingenuity and courage of a Brigham Young to pioneer a way whereby his people could, by their own efforts and the help of their brethren, be supplied the necessities of life.
Directed by the light of heaven, through building projects, production projects, and a variety of other rehabilitation activities, he gave a demonstration of love for his fellowmen seldom equalled in any generation.
Those who were close to him in those dark days know that he wept over the suffering of his people, but more than that, he did something for them.
With all his heart he loved and served his fellowmen. He loved the poor, for he had been one of them. “I have loved you,” he said. “I have come to know you intimately. Your problems, thank the Lord, have been my problems, because I know as you know what it means to walk when you have not the money to ride. I know what it means to go without meals to buy a book to go to the University. I thank God now for those experiences. I have loved you because of your devotion and faith. God bless you that you won’t fail.” (General Conference address, April 6, 1941.)
Harold B. Lee’s experience in caring for the people of his stake was in preparation for greater things to come. That was his call to the wider service in the general Church welfare program. “On April 20, 1935,” he said, “I was called to the office of the First Presidency. … My humble place in this [welfare] program at that time was described. I left there about noon … and drove … to the head of City Creek Canyon. I got out, after I had driven as far as I could, and I walked up through the trees. I sought my Heavenly Father. As I sat down to pore over this matter, wondering about an organization to be perfected to carry this work, I received a testimony, on that beautiful spring afternoon, that God had already revealed the greatest organization that ever could be given to mankind and that all that was needed now was that the organization be set to work and the temporal welfare of the Latter-day Saints would be safeguarded.” (General Conference address, April 6, 1941.)
The organization here referred to was the Holy Priesthood of God acting through the revealed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The concept there revealed to him—that the greatest organization that ever could be given to mankind and that all that was needed was to put it to work—was so impressed upon his mind that it ever after remained his basic point of reference. He was a major factor in putting it to work in the Church welfare program.
During the last fifteen or so years, his has been the predominating influence in organizing, developing, and correlating the organizations and functions of the Church. That the Church is today well on the way to being so structured that it can efficiently administer to the spiritual, temporal, and educational needs of its rapidly expanding membership is in large measure due to his genius.
He has ever loved his brethren with whom he has labored. From his own statements it is clear that one of the things that has sustained him in his boldness was his certain conviction that the leadership of the Church is inspired. Over and over again he has borne witness that the President of the Church and his counselors have been prophets of God; that as in olden times, so in our day, holy men of God speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.
“We have come to understand, and it is my firm conviction,” he said, “that the thing most needed in the Church today is a membership stimulated to action by a fervent conversion to the divinity of the calling of the brethren who preside as leaders of this Church.” (General Conference address, April 1943.)
He loved his family. The loyalty, affectionate consideration, and love for one another shown by parents, children, and grandchildren in his home has been a worthy example to the whole Church.
He loved the Lord and the truth. “God bless us,” he said, “to seek always the face of our Heavenly Father. May we without fear, even unto death, protect the fountains of truth. … May we do so willingly and with the seal of approval of our Heavenly Father upon us.” (General Conference address, Oct. 1943.)
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, I concluded an article which I had written about him in these words, “Such is Harold B. Lee who now stands, not at the end of his career, but on its threshold. He knows his course. … [He] is on his way. Behind him is a record of high attainment. Before him, ‘hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise.’ (Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Man.”) Sustained by the conviction that he lives in the shadow of the Almighty, he will not falter. The future must reckon with Harold B. Lee.” (Improvement Era, July 1953, p. 524.)
Well, since then we have been reckoning with Harold B. Lee for more than twenty years. He has not faltered. Today we mourn for ourselves at his passing. We have no need to mourn for him. He has fought a good fight. He has finished his course. He has kept the faith. There is laid up for him in the place where he has gone, a crown of glory which fadeth not away. He will dwell in yonder heavens in exaltation and eternal light with the prophets of ancient and modern times.
May we all live worthy to associate with him there I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.