Elder Derek A. Cuthbert: British Leader Is “At Home” in the Lord’s Work


One day in 1840, Elder Orson Pratt of the Council of the Twelve walked through Edinburgh, Scotland, to the hill known as “Arthur’s Seat,” where Elder Pratt dedicated the city for missionary work. In his prayer, he asked the Lord for two hundred souls to join the Church—a prayer the Lord answered before Elder Pratt completed his mission.

On New Year’s Day, 1976, a mission president named Derek A. Cuthbert of the Scotland Edinburgh Mission climbed the same hill, now known as “Pratt’s Hill” to Scottish Saints, for the same purpose. He, together with a group of missionaries, rededicated themselves for missionary work and asked the Lord for three hundred men to strengthen the Church there. Again, the Lord responded; before the end of President Cuthbert’s mission, almost exactly that many new brethren were baptized in the Scotland Edinburgh Mission.

That mission president is now Elder Derek A. Cuthbert of the First Quorum of the Seventy, a reserved, quiet gentleman known for his conscientious work and skill as an administrator. He is the latest in a distinguished line of British general authorities that has included President John Taylor, Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency, James E. Talmage of the Council of the Twelve, John Longden, assistant to the Council of the Twelve, and B. H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy. Elder Cuthbert, the first General Authority to be called while living in Britain, prizes his English heritage, but he says he feels at home wherever the Lord wants him to be. People often ask him now where his home is and he replies: “Our home is in heaven. Where is yours?” Elder Cuthbert adds, “I hope that doesn’t sound presumptuous, but our home is in heaven, we trust.”

Elder Derek Cuthbert

Elder Derek Cuthbert in his office.

Elder Cuthbert’s first earthly home was the ancient city of Nottingham, England, where he was born 5 October 1926 in the Nottingham suburb of Sherwood. Christened Derek Alfred, in honor of an uncle killed in France during World War I, he was one of two sons of Harry Cuthbert, publishing manager for a Nottingham newspaper, and Hilda May Freck. (His brother, Dr. Norman Harry Cuthbert, now serves as a senior lecturer in the School of Management at the University of Bradford, in England.)

World War II broke out when he was just thirteen, and he remembers cycling to the Nottingham High School many times while the air raid sirens were sounding. The school, founded in the days of King Henry the Eighth, gave him a great foundation of academic skills and moral values during those troubled times. His teen years were a succession of air raid drills and preparations to defend his homeland against invasion; at fourteen he joined the officer training corps, and, two years later, the Home Guard.

Although Nottingham was not heavily bombed, he and his family suffered the privations of war, including rationing of food and clothing.

His rations for a week could be placed on one large dinner plate. “Our gardens sustained us,” he recalls. “There was a national campaign for growing gardens, called ‘Dig for Victory.’” Now, of course, Elder Cuthbert takes very seriously President Spencer W. Kimball’s advice to learn garden cultivation as a part of provident living.

The war did not eliminate the English schoolboy’s enthusiasm for sports. Derek Cuthbert excelled in field sports such as running and javelin and discus throwing, winning the Victor Ludorum (champion of the games) trophy in high school. He was also on his school’s top teams in rugby and cricket.

After marriage to his childhood sweetheart, Muriel Olive Mason, he spent three years in the Royal Air Force. Trained in the Japanese language at the University of London, he went overseas to Rangoon, Burma, just in time for the Japanese surrender; he then saw service in Hong Kong, and India. After his return to England, he worked in the Air Ministry, tracing, sometimes through dental records, airmen missing in action in the European war. “It was a sad business,” he remembers.

January of 1948 was momentous for the Cuthbert family: on the second, Derek left the Air Force; on the eighth, he started his studies at the University of Nottingham; and on the twelfth, the Cuthberts’ first child, Janis, was born. On a “Forces’ Education” scholarship, the young father completed his studies of economics and law in just two and one-half years, graduating with honors. Then he joined British Celanese Limited as a management trainee in their textiles, chemicals and plastics operations, becoming an expert on petroleum chemical economics. Eventually, he worked his way up to financial manager for a factory with more than ten thousand employees, with responsibilities for budgetary control, cost reduction and labor productivity.

Derek and Muriel Cuthbert had always been religious people. During their youth, both had studied the Bible as part of the “religious instruction” program of English schools. In the Church of England, Derek had grown up assisting the minister and singing in the choir. They had no interest in changing their religion, however, and had it not been for a curious fact about Muriel’s ancestry, they might never have listened to Latter-day Saint missionaries.

Muriel Cuthbert’s great-grandmother had joined the Church in the 1880s, along with a son and daughter. The son had emigrated to Wyoming to be with the Saints, while Muriel’s grandmother remained in England, losing contact with the Church. Eventually, Muriel met two cousins, descendants of her grand-uncle, who had come from Utah to do genealogical work. She later learned that another cousin was in England as a missionary.

One day in August 1950, Muriel noticed three young men knocking on doors along her street. They were going to close their work in the area, but decided to try one more door. It turned out to be the Cuthberts’. Recognizing them as Mormon elders, Muriel invited them in immediately, wondering if they might know of her cousin. They replied that they did; but they also wasted no time in asking her if she could believe in a modern-day prophet.

This question had occurred to her before. She had, in fact, asked her minister about the same subject; he had replied that it wasn’t necessary to have a prophet in our day. So the missionaries began teaching the Cuthberts. At first, Derek said to them, “We are interested in what you teach, but we will never join your church.” One of the elders went home and wrote in his journal that the Cuthberts would join within six months.

And they did. Derek found his attachment to his former church was mostly a matter of tradition; he soon realized that he did not really accept many of the doctrines it taught, such as the idea of a “closed canon” of scripture. He was impressed with the sincerity of the missionaries. When they showed him a card containing reproductions of characters Joseph Smith had copied from the gold plates, Derek felt a spiritual certainty that the Book of Mormon was of God—even before he read it. After participating in a discussion about the importance of priesthood authority, he was convinced that a change of religions was necessary. In January of 1951, Derek and Muriel Cuthbert joined the Church.

“Before we were baptized, we vowed that the Church would be our life,” says Elder Cuthbert. “We have never had one doubt, nor one regret.” Nevertheless, life for the Cuthberts has not been, as Robert Browning said, “roses, roses, all the way.” (“The Patriot.”) It was not easy to be a Latter-day Saint in England at that time. Though at first some of their neighbors shunned them and crossed the street to avoid meeting them after their baptism, the Cuthberts tried to keep up their friendships. Soon the neighbors’ prejudices melted away.

No one in their little branch had a telephone or a vehicle, and communication within the mission was difficult. Derek was soon called to the British Mission M.I.A. board and spent most of his weekends on a train, traveling from district to district and carrying instructional materials with him; he usually returned on Sunday evenings. The rest of the family took the bus to Church services.

Although Derek was advancing in his company, the depressed economy of England during the 1950s meant low pay and few luxuries. In order to attend the dedication of the Swiss Temple in 1955, Derek spent his last few pounds for railway tickets, while Muriel packed enough food for him to take along for the two and one half days.

Despite these challenges, the Cuthberts found joy in Church service. A year after their baptism, they went to London for a meeting in the Battersea Town Hall with President David O. McKay. More than a thousand Saints were present, and the Cuthberts were deeply impressed when, at the conclusion of the meeting, the president shook hands and spoke with every person there. When President McKay returned to England in 1958 for the dedication of the London Temple, the Cuthberts were the first family sealed there. (Last year, they marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the London Temple and of their own sealing for time and all eternity.)

Derek’s business associates saw the fruits of Church service in his life and were very understanding about Church-related trips and conferences, although these took most of his annual holiday entitlement. He left his company temporarily during the early 1960s in response to an invitation to establish Deseret Enterprises, an agency established to handle supplies for the expanding Church in Europe and the British Commonwealth. When he had finished this assignment, British Celanese took him back gladly, although it was not company policy. He became assistant to the managing director and later Commercial Manager for Chemicals and Plastics. In this capacity he was responsible for overseas projects and agents; this entailed much international travel, to Canada, the United States, Mexico, South America, Japan and most of the European countries.

Derek’s management skills helped him in assignments of ever-increasing responsibility in the Church. As the first British stake president he presided over the third stake created in Britain (the Leicester Stake). Later he was set apart by President Spencer W. Kimball as president of the Birmingham Stake, where he was serving when called as Regional Representative of the Twelve for the British Isles. In this capacity he helped prepare for the first area conference ever held in the Church, at Manchester, England, in 1971.

When President Joseph Fielding Smith arrived to conduct the conference, Elder Cuthbert drove him around Manchester and learned that President Smith had served his entire mission at the turn of the century in Nottingham. President Smith was advanced in years, but, Elder Cuthbert recalls, “It was a most remarkable thing to see him gain strength and speak so powerfully to the Saints. After the conference ended, the twelve thousand Saints stood and sang on and on to President Smith and the Brethren.”

The area conference came during a new era of rapid expansion for the Church in Great Britain. Although thousands of Saints had been baptized and emigrated from Britain to America during the nineteenth century, the Church experienced a new beginning after the disruptions of the two world wars. “When I joined in 1951, there was one mission with fourteen mission districts in all of Britain,” Elder Cuthbert remembers. “We now have forty stakes and eight missions, with beautiful chapels and a temple.”

Elder Cuthbert contributed to this growth during his three years (1975–1978) as a mission president. Under his direction, thirty-five new units of the Church were established in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which the Scotland Edinburgh Mission covered. There are now several stakes in the same area.

All this was not accomplished without opposition. “Although there is much civil strife in Northern Ireland,” Elder Cuthbert says, “the conflict is limited and the missionary work is not suffering at all. In fact, it is increasing in effectiveness.” However, the efforts of the missionaries were temporarily hampered by misunderstandings with officials and some clergymen in Inverness, Scotland. The newspapers carried headlines: “Kirk [Church of Scotland] Declares War On Mormons.” Even the British Broadcasting Corporation wanted to know what the controversy was about. But many people spoke up on behalf of the Church in the special public meeting held, and many misunderstandings were resolved. “We benefited somewhat from the publicity, inasmuch as many became curious about our efforts. We felt a great sustaining influence during this time of real growth,” Elder Cuthbert says.

It was toward the end of his term as mission president, in March 1978, that Derek Cuthbert received a telephone call from President Spencer W. Kimball in Salt Lake City. “Is Sister Cuthbert with you?” asked the familiar voice. The president went on to interview Brother Cuthbert and call him to serve as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. “It overwhelmed us,” Elder Cuthbert recalls. “And it was difficult to leave our native land for America, particularly since we had been teaching the British Saints for twenty-eight years that ‘non-emigration’ was the policy of the Church! But we were glad to serve the Lord in any capacity.”

After he finished his mission in Scotland, Elder Cuthbert’s initial assignment as a General Authority was to serve as Area Supervisor for Idaho. This was his first experience with welfare production, farms, and the challenge of managing the needs of a large Church population. His later Area assignments have included the British Isles, Central Canada, the American Midwest, and Africa; and presently he is a counselor in the Europe Area Presidency.

His two years in the Services in the Far East have helped Elder Cuthbert appreciate the challenges faced by Third World peoples, so it is appropriate that he is now helping to direct the fledgling Church missions in West and Southern Africa. “They are very receptive, spiritual people,” he says of the approximately four thousand Latter-day Saints in Nigeria and Ghana. Serious drought, food shortages, and political unrest have not stopped the progress of missionary work in these two countries. Elder Cuthbert also supervises the members in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) and the Republic of South Africa, where the Johannesburg Temple is currently being constructed.

Elder Cuthbert’s responsibilities have never kept him from a devotion to physical and mental improvement. He is particularly fascinated by the study of languages and has found time to learn the rudiments of French, German, Japanese, Latin, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, and Afrikaans. He has also worked with a tutor in Portuguese in order to be able to communicate with the Brazilian saints during conference assignments there. His goal is to be able to bear his testimony to people all over the world in their own tongues. He continues his interest in games as diverse as rugby and cricket; he even enjoys judo, but now only as a spectator. Despite a slight lameness caused by peripheral neuropathy, he remains physically active. His main hobby, apart from languages, is Old English illuminated writing.

Nevertheless, Elder Cuthbert’s fondest interest in life is his family—his wife, six daughters, and four sons. His daughter Janis describes the high-quality time he has spent with his children despite extremely demanding Church and business responsibilities. When the children were younger, he was seldom home in time to have dinner with the family, but the children always stayed up to talk with him as he ate. His children remember their father’s “mystery trips”: he would gather up the family for a drive, and they would go for hours, winding right and left through the beautiful Derbyshire dales to reach a favorite picnic spot. The boys and their dad would spend time climbing rocks, while the whole family enjoyed the streams and wildflowers of the open country around Nottingham. At night, Elder Cuthbert entertained the children with “pushbutton stories”—bedtime stories about a boy inventor he would make up as he went—and then he would sing to them in a gentle monotone until they were asleep.

Elder and Sister Cuthbert always made certain, despite their busy schedules, that the children were never alone. If one parent had a meeting, the other would stay home. When temple excursions required an overnight absence, Elder Cuthbert would arrange for the children to stay with the families of other Church members. When their children were small, the lack of a regular Primary moved the Cuthberts, along with the missionaries, to start one of their own; they arranged to use space in a local school building and soon were able to involve sixty or seventy neighborhood children, all nonmembers, in an LDS Primary. The result: for years the local families referred to the Cuthberts as “Brother and Sister Cuthbert.”

All the Cuthbert children gave a penny a week toward a new chapel for the members in Nottingham, and Elder Cuthbert would take his children with him to work on the building. His daughter Janis remembers many mornings, before work and school, when she spent hours with her dad putting in ceiling and floor tile. In the evenings they would go on “daddy-daughter” outings to get a hamburger and a milkshake. As his children grew, Elder Cuthbert used these opportunities to teach them, gently and unobtrusively, the principles of the gospel. He would ask them “What If” questions—for example, “What if a boy held your hand?”—and they would find themselves solving their own problems and answering their own questions.

Sister Cuthbert, along with her family duties, has always loved music and the theater. She worked for many years with the Young Women, writing pantomimes and skits and building roadshows from the ground up. She enjoys singing, sewing, and rearing her children and grandchildren. Four of her daughters—Janis Croft, Maureen Ludlow, Rosalind Jameson and Hazel Dunsmore—are married and living in Utah. Another daughter, Sheila Young, served a mission in France and now lives in England, as does her brother, David, a banker in Nottingham. Jonathan, after returning from the Colombia Bogota Mission, was graduated with a degree in five European languages from Brigham Young University. Three children—Andrew, Paul, and Jenny—are still at home with the Cuthberts in Salt Lake City.

Today, Elder Cuthbert is a cultivated example of what he once called in a conference address “maturity in the Lord.” (Ensign, Nov. 1982, p. 55.) He finds his greatest fulfillment in life through associations with his family and with other Latter-day Saints, and through his opportunity to teach the truths of the gospel. His friends in many lands are close to his heart, and, though he misses the British Isles, he carries with him the respect for learning and refinement of his English heritage. Elder Cuthbert loves his native England, in the words of Tennyson, “with love far-brought from out the storied past, and used within the present.” (“Love Thou Thy Land.”)

Above all, he loves the living Christ and bears joyful testimony on many continents of the living prophet of the Lord. For Elder Cuthbert, home is wherever he is called, and, ultimately, as he says, “We trust that our home is in heaven!”

[photo] Photo by Ray Kenning, Freelance Photographers Guild

[photo] The Cuthberts participate in a family project—Jenny, Andrew, Jonathan, Elder Cuthbert, Paul, and Muriel Cuthbert, wife of Elder Cuthbert.

[photo] Derek Cuthbert, about age six, at Seely Elementary School, Sherwood, Nottingham.

[photo] Derek and Muriel Cuthbert on their wedding day, 12 May 1945, in Nottingham, just prior to Derek’s departure to India and Burma.

[photo] Nine of the ten Cuthbert children encircle their parents in 1969, shortly after Derek was called as Birmingham England Stake President.

[photo] The Leicester England stake presidency at the London Temple in 1961; President Cuthbert is at center, flanked by his two counselors.

Breck England, father of three, is a counselor in the Bountiful Utah Central Stake mission presidency.