A few weeks ago I attended a sacrament meeting I will long remember. Following the opening greeting, hymn, prayer, announcements, the sacrament, and two numbers by a talented ward choir, the conducting officer, a member of the bishopric, stood at the pulpit to introduce me as the speaker for the services.
As I recall, his surprising, unusual, and rather lengthy introduction went something like this.
“Brothers and sisters, Elder Ashton will undoubtedly be disappointed when he hears what I am going to say right now. I heard him say once to a group of prisoners, ‘When you fellows leave the prison and go back into regular environment, don’t apologize or brag about being an ex-convict. Just go on from where you are.’” He continued with, “Many of you here in the congregation today don’t know it, but I am an ex-convict from the Utah State Prison.
“About six years ago when I first met Elder Ashton, he was in charge of the Church prison program under the Social Services Department. A few weeks later when I got better acquainted with Elder Ashton, I told him I was a pretty fair distance runner. I asked him if he thought there was a chance I could run in the Deseret News Twenty-fourth of July Pioneer Days twenty-six mile marathon race. Elder Ashton encouraged me and said he would talk to the warden about my getting out for the day to participate in the race. Elder Ashton later told me the warden agreed if he, Elder Ashton, would take the responsibility for my not running away while out for the event. Elder Ashton assumed the responsibility and told me he not only trusted me, but expected me to make a good showing in the contest.
“I’ll never forget that marathon race in July 1971. It was hot; the course was challenging; and I wasn’t in the best of shape. My only preparation had been running around the grounds in the prison when I had free time. Halfway through the race I felt completely exhausted. My legs were sore and blisters covered the soles of both of my feet. I wanted to quit. I felt I just couldn’t continue. Just as I was about to drop out, the thought flashed through my mind, ‘You can’t let Elder Ashton down. He’s counting on you.’ I trudged on, finally making it into the city and for the final laps around Liberty Park. Again I had the urge and pain necessary for stopping. Still again the impression came, ‘You can’t quit; you want Elder Ashton to be proud of you, don’t you?’ Well, I finished the race. Not among the first twenty-five, but I finished. I went back to the prison right after the race according to my agreement. Elder Ashton told me he was proud of me for finishing the race and proud to have me as a friend. I don’t mind telling you I too was a little pleased with myself for one of the few times in my life.
“It wasn’t too long after this marathon outing I was released from the prison. Just about a year later I met a lovely young lady, we had a good courtship, and some months later Elder Ashton accompanied us to the temple and performed our marriage and sealed us for time and all eternity. Tonight, six years later, I am proud to be serving in your bishopric.
“Elder Ashton will now speak to us.”