Elder LeGrand Richards Dies: Beloved Apostle, Missionary, Friend


As a newly sustained member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder LeGrand Richards stood before a general conference of the Church in April 1952. “For the past two hours,” he said, “I have been trying to figure out how I could measure up and not disappoint you people, and not disappoint the Lord. … I pledge you all the strength and ability that the Lord has given me to continue to help build up his kingdom on the earth.

“I thank God for the opportunities that I have enjoyed of working among you, and in his Church, the missions that I have been able to fill, and the other sundry odd jobs, because I truly love the work more than anything else in this world, and I know it is true. I could live better without the limbs of my body than I could without the testimony of the Holy Ghost and the Spirit of the Lord.”

Elder LeGrand Richards

With characteristic enthusiasm and missionary zeal, Elder Richards continued to love and serve the Saints until his death on the morning of Tuesday, 11 January 1983. “His heart was in the Lord’s work,” said his daughter, Marian R. Boyer, first counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency, “and I’m sure he’s going on to another assignment.” Elder Richards passed away peacefully at the Salt Lake home of Nona R. Dyer, a daughter with whom he had been living for the past four years. The ninety-six-year-old Apostle had been in failing health since circulatory problems had necessitated the amputation of his right leg at mid-calf in early June.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, reflected upon the personality and contribution of Elder Richards: “LeGrand Richards has been a tremendous voice. He spoke from the depths of his heart with conviction, and his words carried credibility to all who heard him. Whenever he spoke, people came awake and listened and were touched in their hearts by what he said.

“He was a man of wit and humor as well. A perennial optimist, he always saw the bright side of life. Whenever there was an adverse element introduced into our conversation, he would turn from that and look beyond the immediate problem to a brighter, happier future.

“He had a great love for the Jewish people. He wanted to see the development of the Orson Hyde Memorial Gardens in Jerusalem carried forward, and through his own efforts raised a million dollars or more to make that possible. That came of a great love for the Jewish people and a great enthusiasm for what he regarded as their destiny as a people.

“He reached out to help people. He didn’t worry as much about the institution as he did about the individual. We all felt the power of his love and the strength of his spirit and the brightness of his optimism.”

At the time that Elder Richards was called to the Quorum of the Twelve, he had served as Presiding Bishop for fourteen years. His family name was not new to the Quorum of the Twelve; his grandfather, Franklin D. Richards, and his father, George F. Richards, had each served not only in the Quorum, but as its President.

LeGrand Richards was born in Farmington, Utah, on 6 February 1886, the son of George F. and Alice A. Robinson Richards. His youth was spent on the family farm in Tooele, Utah, where he and his brothers worked with their father, simultaneously hoeing in the fields and carrying on lively gospel discussions. After graduation from high school, young LeGrand completed an eighteen-month business college course in twelve months in Salt Lake City; then, at nineteen, he accepted a call to the Netherlands Mission. It was the first of his four missions, of which he later said, “I had such wonderful experiences that at times it almost seemed that I walked and talked with the Lord.”

Home again, he obtained, among other work, employment auditing reports in the Presiding Bishop’s Office. On 19 May 1909 he married Ina Jane Ashton in the Salt Lake Temple. After more than sixty-eight years of devotion to each other and to the Lord, Sister Richards died in 1977.

Shortly before his death, recalled Nona Dyer, Elder Richards spoke lovingly of a reunion with his beloved “Inie.” “He said to me one day that when he saw Inie, ‘I’ll fold her in my arms and tell her it’s completed, and she’s mine forever.’” Added Marian Boyer, “Mother would get very anxious to have him come home during her last year or so when she was so ill. She’d start calling the office at 3:30 or 4:00 P.M., saying, ‘Isn’t it time to bring daddy home?’ Just last week, I said to my husband, ‘I’m sure Inie’s saying it’s time to bring daddy home now.’”

Following his mission and marriage, Elder Richards held several jobs in Utah, Oregon, and California, and opened his own real estate business in Salt Lake City, in which he was involved at the time of his call as a General Authority.

At the age of twenty-seven, he was called to preside over the Netherlands Mission, where he had served as a missionary just a few years earlier. Later he was to serve again as a missionary in the Eastern States, then as president of the Southern States Mission. “He held a special love for all his missionaries,” said Sister Dyer. “For example, we still hold, and have held for over forty years, meetings for the LeGrand Richards Southern States Mission, once a year in October.”

As a mission president, Elder Richards became concerned with problems confronting missionaries in their approach to people of other faiths. Based on his own testimony and experience, he prepared a written guide for missionaries. The guide was later expanded to book form and was published as A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, still one of the most widely read books in the Church.

In addition to his missionary activities, Elder Richards devoted his life to enthusiastic Church service. He served as the bishop of three wards, as a branch president, on two stake high councils, and as a stake president. After serving fourteen years as Presiding Bishop, he became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1952. (For a more detailed account of Elder Richard’s life, see the Ensign, July 1982, pp. 5–13.)

Warm and loving memories have accompanied the passing of this venerable servant of the Lord. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy observed that Elder Richards has come to be “an institution” in the Church. “We’re not just losing a great Apostle,” he said; “we’re losing an era of Church history.”

Elder Ballard recalled the many opportunities he had to drive Elder Richards to Thursday morning meetings in the Salt Lake Temple. “Every time he rode with me, he taught me some very important principles. And he taught not only by the words he said, but also by his positive attitude. I don’t know anybody who was more positive than Elder Richards—even when he was in real pain. At times I could tell he was not feeling well, but through it all he would lift and inspire and motivate.

“When we were making our way down icy streets,” Elder Ballard recalled, “Elder Richards would talk about how beautiful the snow was. He wouldn’t find anything negative about cars sliding everywhere—he would just see the beauty of the new-fallen snow and talk about how great it was to be alive. And often he would sing as we drove along—‘Oh, What a Beautiful Morning’ and others. He just had a way of picking you up and making you feel like a million dollars.”

The First Presidency affirmed that “none has ever served with greater vigor, faith, and missionary zeal. … Elder Richards was a man of great faith and eternal optimism. … Despite physical limitations in later life, he carried on valiantly, never faltering and never missing an opportunity to bear his testimony to any and all who would listen. Elder Richards was a modern-day Paul. With his fellow Apostle, he could say, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.’” [2 Tim. 4:7.]

President Ezra Taft Benson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, reflected that “with the passing of our beloved colleague LeGrand Richards, the Church has seen the loss of one of its most venerable and beloved General Authorities. He has lived longer than any General Authority in this dispensation. Brother Richards was one of the Church’s greatest missionaries and one of its great leaders. He has been appropriately called ‘The Beloved Apostle.’ He shall be greatly missed among the Twelve and by all members of the Church.”

Elder LeGrand Richards gestures “I finished on time!

Always speaking without a prepared text, Elder Richards often worried broadcasters as his allotted time ticked away. Here he gestures, “I finished on time!”

His final days of service were filled with unquenchable enthusiasm—and even a bit of humor in the face of difficult circumstances. William James Mortimer, a Regional Representative and director of the Printing Services Division of the Church, recalled accompanying Elder Richards to a stake conference on May 29 and 30, 1982. He was assigned to the Salt Lake Sugarhouse Stake, where he had been a bishop in the 1920s, and was somewhat uncomfortable having to attend in a wheelchair.

Brother Mortimer said, “At the conference he explained that he was in a wheelchair because he had recently had surgery in which a toe had been amputated. He said, ‘If you’re going to die by inches, I’ve decided that it’s a lot better to die from the feet up than the head down!’”

Elder LeGrand Richards

Seated ahead of time for one of the last conferences he was able to attend.

In his last general conference talk, given in April 1982, Elder Richards said: “I thank [God] for the many beautiful truths, many of which have been proclaimed here today. This principle of eternal marriage—I just can’t imagine living on forever and forever after I pass out of this life without the companionship of my sweet wife and my children. How I thank God for them, and for the knowledge that marriage and the family unit are intended by Him, as proclaimed so plainly in the Holy Scriptures, to endure forever.

“Then I think of my children one by one (and I have over a hundred descendants!), and I see what they are accomplishing and the nobility of their lives, and I can hardly realize that I can be their daddy. I feel that that is nearer to becoming a god than anything else I can do here in mortality. And from the days of my youth and young manhood, I have tried to live before those children and descendants of mine so that if they walked in my footsteps they would be honoring their second estate and preparing themselves to have glory added upon their heads forever and forever.”

Elder Richards is survived by four daughters and two sons. His wife, a son, and a daughter preceded him in death. In addition, he is survived by 28 grandchildren, 115 great-grandchildren, and 9 great-great-grandchildren.

[photo] LeGrand and Ina Jane Ashton Richards, about 1915, when he was president of the Netherlands Mission.

[photo] Elder Richards, Presiding Bishop of the Church from 1938 to 1952, here greets conference visitors.

[photo] LeGrand at age three.