Brethren, dearest Sister Kimball, members of the family, and brothers and sisters, it is with a heavy heart and sorrowing spirit that I stand at this podium today in deep mourning at the passing of our beloved prophet, seer, revelator, President, and friend—Spencer Woolley Kimball. Even as I weep, I want to pay a much-deserved tribute to him who has labored so diligently to bless our lives with his prophetic insight and his love.
Shortly after I had been sustained as the general president of the Relief Society, President Kimball called me into his office to ask me if we would be interested in erecting a monument to the Relief Society in Nauvoo, Illinois, the city where the Relief Society was founded. We were pleased and overwhelmed with the opportunity that would be afforded the women of the Church to unite in that effort.
From the beginning, when the idea was presented to the women of the Church, until the very monuments were lovingly placed in the garden, President Kimball showed a continuing interest in the progress that was being made. One time he called and asked me if we would like him to help make the women aware of the effort as he traveled throughout the Church. He even suggested that he would take some pictures so that the sisters could envision the finished project.
When the money was raised, the statuary in place, and the dedication services organized, President and Sister Kimball went to Nauvoo and spent the entire three days of dedication there. Neither the hot, muggy weather nor the torrential downpours distracted him from making that a deeply spiritual experience. Through it all, we could sense his feelings for us; he continually reassured us that the purposes of the Lord would be brought to pass.
We learned something of him from this. We learned of his great sensitivity to the concerns of others, of his sensitivity to each member of the Church—in fact, to the great diversity of all who were part of his responsibility. We saw him quietly and lovingly reach out to people from all walks of life, to all of God s children. He had a great gift. He humbly and ably represented the whole of humanity while at the same time touching each individual. He had Christlike characteristics of perceptiveness to human needs and struggles and a recognition of the worth of each human soul.
In 1978, the Relief Society wheat storage program ended. This action concluded a sacred trust begun over a century before. It was undertaken as a hedge against hunger in a day of need. With the inauguration of a Church-wide grain storage program under the Welfare Services Department, the Relief Society trust funds and the wheat gleaned were to be made part of the whole Church program. It was a tender moment when President Kimball called me to stand for a moment by his side, and then he asked me to call for a sustaining vote regarding the action from the women present in that welfare session of the general conference of the Church.
To me, President Kimball demonstrated a recognition of stewardship and the responsibility we each have to fulfill it. That experience was also a demonstration of his value and acknowledgment of the contribution and worth of each one in the work of the Church. With his spontaneous love, he created a strong sense of the bonding of brotherhood and sisterhood under priesthood direction. His continual involvement in fulfilling his own stewardship was illustrated by the words “Do it!” and “Lengthen our stride.” He leaves us his keen sense of individual worth, combined with personal investment in that which is important. His years of service mark the response of the Church to the complex issues of the world that require personal investment and ready action.
I can almost hear President Kimball’s whispered voice say: “It is true of all of us that, as we progress spiritually, our sense of belonging, identity, and self-worth increases. Let us create a climate in which we encourage the sisters of the Church to have a program of personal improvement. It ought to be a practical and realistic program. … Yet it ought to cause them to reach for new levels of achievement … to find real self-fulfillment through wise self-development in the pursuit of righteous and worthy endeavors.” (Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 104.)
Occasionally my husband and I visited with President and Sister Kimball in their home, and they were also in ours. One memorable visit was after President Kimball had had open-heart surgery. It was about the third day after he was home, but the first day he had decided to go without any pain medications. We could sense his suffering and determined to stay but a moment.
As I was to leave the next day for my first overseas assignment, I had secretly hoped that President Kimball might say or do something that would quiet my anxious heart. But I could see there was no way he could or should be concerned about it. As part of the conversation, I did briefly mention that I would leave the next day for Australia. When it was time to go, President Kimball started to get up from the couch.
“Please don’t get up,” we entreated.
He firmly said, “I want to!” He stood and kissed my cheek and said, “You will do fine, and the Lord will bless you in your assignment.”
I could not imagine such openness, such personal accessibility, and such tenderness in responding to others. He could feel my concern, albeit unspoken, and he lifted me beyond myself. He brought us all within the circle of his love—love that could be felt by all of the Church. Even little children could feel it. One child, responding to his warmth and kiss, said, “He is the example of my Savior and my Redeemer.”
He lived and conveyed that love to her and to us. Many of us understand. And some of us even respond. But President Kimball both understood and responded. He was a sweet, tender soul whose love laced our lives.
Two memorable experiences took place on business trips with President and Sister Kimball. The first was when Sister Kimball, with her zest for learning, wanted to ride on a glass-bottomed boat. The weather had been bad but had cleared a little on that last day before we were to leave. And she expressed again her desire to go out on the water. We went out, but it wasn’t long before Sister Kimball was made ill by the motion of the boat. As she went over to the side, President Kimball went with her, and he attended to her every need, as she had done so many times in the days of his illness. Both of them are gifted in boundless love, and at that moment I saw a love and adoration I will always cherish.
Love enhanceth all things; love healeth all things. President Kimball loved all things—all of God’s creations. His devotion, born of that love, made it imperative that he not leave his beloved Camilla. He was by her side. He was steadfast in his devotion to her and to what was right throughout his entire life. He knew what was important, and he knew what was right and wrong. He understood the gospel principles upon which such decisions should be based. He could separate the wheat from the tares.
In the Colorado Rockies, I asked President Kimball a searching question. “When you create a world of your own, what will you have in it?” He looked around at those mountains for a few moments before he answered, and then he said, “I’ll have everything just like this world because I love this world and everything in it.”
Softness of spirit, combined with undeviating zeal—and the consistency of this combination—is his mark firmly imprinted upon each of us and upon all the world. It is easily understood in President Kimball’s words: “The opposition against righteousness has never been greater, but the opportunities for fulfilling our highest potential have also never been greater. What is our greatest potential? Is it not to achieve godhood ourselves? … Perhaps the most essential godlike quality is compassion—compassion that is shown in unselfish service to others, that ultimate expression of concern for others that we call love.” (Woman, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979, pp. 2–3.)
Today, even as I weep, my mind returns to a holy spot overlooking the Sea of Galilee where President Kimball loved to be. It was there that Jesus delivered an important message of love. And in that sacred place, I considered the blessedness of President Kimball’s remarkable life—how his character and actions were in perfect harmony with the truths taught by Jesus the Christ.
I love President Kimball. I honor him as a man called of God, chosen before this world was to bless the world with the total dedication of his love. And I do it humbly and gratefully and in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.