“Accepting responsibility, even when I had no idea how I could do it, and then trying hard to learn what the Lord would have me do—this is what has prepared me,” said Barbara Ann Woodhead Winder, sustained on 7 April 1984 as eleventh general president of the Relief Society.
Indeed, a pattern of continual striving to serve the Lord has marked Sister Winder’s life. An early example was a calling as assistant Sunday School chorister. “I had had no musical training whatsoever,” she recalls, “and it was a very painful experience.” With time and persistence, however, she was able to teach herself basic music and was later able to serve in a stake Primary music calling. Her first Relief Society experience, too, was with music.
So it is with a feeling of peace born of experience that Sister Winder approaches her assignment to lead the 1.6-million member women’s organization. “I know the Spirit of the Lord will be there with us,” she explains. “I have developed a real testimony of priesthood calls.”
This particular call came long-distance to the mission home of the California San Diego Mission, where Sister Winder has been serving with her husband, President Richard W. Winder, for almost two years. The Winders had returned home from a day of interviewing missionaries when President Gordon B. Hinckley called. “He didn’t ask if I would accept,” recalls Sister Winder. “His only question was, ‘Are you worthy?’”
Sister Winder grew up in the East Millcreek area of the Salt Lake Valley and attended the University of Utah for several years before her marriage. But her understanding of people and the problems of the world has broadened with her travels during five years on the Relief Society General Board, as well as with the opportunity to serve people of many cultures in the San Diego Mission.
And she has come to see an important role for Latter-day Saint women. “I see so much sadness in the world,” she comments. “But I have also seen women all over the world doing beautiful things for each other and for their families. We women of the Church must refine ourselves so that we can radiate a goodness to others, and draw them to us.”
Richard Winder sees his wife’s ability to draw others to her through her warm nature as an asset in her new calling. “Wherever we go,” he observes, “people seem to feel an immediate closeness with her.” “It has always been a privilege to support Richard,” smiles Sister Winder, “as a bishop, stake president, or temple sealer. But our mission call has probably been our sweetest experience, because we have worked so closely together.” The mutual support will continue, says President Winder, although the mission will end as soon as they can be replaced.
The Winder’s four children—Richard, Jr. (and wife, Debi Buchanan), Susan (and husband, John Tanner), George (and wife, Nancy Parker), and Robert have also been a great source of support. All four, along with the Winder’s nine grandchildren, live in the Salt Lake area. In typical fashion, the family has rallied together in love and unity at their mother’s new call.
Sister Winder calls those just released from the presidency and the general board “my great teachers.” Sister Barbara Bradshaw Smith served as president for almost ten years, traveling throughout the world to teach, inspire, and advance the cause of Relief Society. Sister Marian R. Boyer had served as her first counselor since November 1978, and Sister Ann S. Reese as second counselor since October 1983.
“The women of the Church are the finest women in the world,” says Sister Winder, “and each has different gifts to give. All of us must have our own testimonies—and testimony comes through studying the scriptures and serving others.” She continues, “My great desire is that we as women be unified with the priesthood in spreading the gospel to those in need.”
A lifetime of service has prepared Sister Barbara Winder to lead the women of the Church in this great purpose.