On the window ledge in the office of Elder M. Russell Ballard sits a nearly life-sized bust of President Joseph F. Smith, his great-grandfather. Beside it sit two other busts, of Hyrum Smith, Elder Ballard’s great-great-grandfather, and the Prophet Joseph Smith, his great-great-uncle.
On the wall opposite his desk are portraits of his two grandfathers, Elder Hyrum M. Smith and Elder Melvin J. Ballard, both former members of the Quorum of the Twelve.
There have been times when those portraits of his grandfathers have provided needed encouragement to persevere in his callings, Elder Ballard says. Now, “realizing that I have been invited to sit in the same circle they sat in during their lifetimes, there have come some special feelings.”
He alluded to those feelings during the closing session of general conference October 6, when he responded to the call to be the newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve.
“I would like also to bear witness that in my particular case the veil between here and the hereafter is rather thin. I acknowledge that it’s been a great blessing in my life to be born of goodly parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who have given everything they have been asked to give to the building of the kingdom of God on the earth.”
“I understand the source of the call,” he said. “This is our Heavenly Father’s Church. … I know, as I know I stand before you, that Jesus is the Christ, that he lives. He is very close to this work, and very close to all of us who are asked to perform the work throughout the earth in his name.”
Nine and one-half years as a General Authority have helped prepare him spiritually for his new calling, but it was not something for which he was mentally prepared that Sunday morning. As at certain other times, there had been “promptings, little nudgings” that some change might be coming in his life; he expected, however, that it might be a change in his assignment in the First Quorum of the Seventy.
The calling that did come will not change Elder Ballard’s approach to Church service. “I am deeply humbled at the confidence of the Lord and my brethren and pledge to you that I will do the very best I know how,” he said in his remarks during conference. This spirit—doing “the best I know how”—has marked his life.
A native of Salt Lake City, he was born 8 October 1928 to Melvin R. and Geraldine Smith Ballard. He has described his father as a “brilliant” man who taught him the value of hard work, and his mother as a “very soft, sweet, tender-hearted person. … During my growing-up years, she was probably my best friend.” (Friend, Feb. 1983, pp. 6–7.)
Young Russell Ballard was a leader among his peers at East High School (where he served as seminary president his senior year) and at the University of Utah. Then, as a 21-year-old missionary, he was called in 1949 as first counselor in the presidency of the British Mission.
After his mission, he went to work at his father’s car dealership. It was the beginning of a varied business career that included mining, the automotive business, and activity in real estate and investments. Professional and community service have always been a part of his life. He made time for leadership positions in professional organizations and in the Chamber of Commerce. Currently he is a member of the board of directors of Deseret Book Company and the Salt Palace Advisory Board.
When he accepted a call as president of the Canada Toronto Mission in 1974, he could not know how profoundly that decision would affect his life. But two years later, on 3 April 1976, his call to full-time Church service became permanent when he was sustained as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. He was called to the presidency of that quorum on 21 February 1980.
He was Executive Director of the Church’s Missionary Department prior to his call to the Twelve and had previously directed the Curriculum and Correlation departments.
Elder Ballard married Barbara Bowen in the Salt Lake Temple; they have seven children (five married) and eighteen grandchildren.
He speaks of his wife lovingly as a “joy, a great lady” who has been “totally and completely supportive” through his business years, his years as a mission president, and as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
This new calling, Elder Ballard says, will be a challenge. As he reflects on the spiritual power, the experience, the education of his associates in the Quorum of the Twelve, he wonders how well he will be able to contribute. But he is determined to fulfill “each assignment that is given to me with the very best of my knowledge and experience.”
“You can’t help but feel your dependence on the Lord” for direction, he says, in trying to build His kingdom. One proceeds with that building “by just doing the right things the best way you know how every day.”