My dear brethren and sisters and friends, I am deeply honored to be invited to participate in these sacred services. I am humbled also by the awesome responsibility placed upon me as I speak to you about the loss of my best friend, President Spencer W. Kimball. For the past twelve years, I have had the high privilege of working at President Kimball’s elbow as his personal secretary. In that capacity, I have traveled the world with him and have come to know and love him as few could.
In his travels, President Kimball has met with kings and presidents and prime ministers and with humble, faithful people from every walk of life. With all of them, he was the same. He was equally at home in the Oval Office of the White House, in the palaces of kings, in a grass house on a Pacific island, or in a hogan on an Indian reservation. All were his friends—rich or poor, high station or low, member or nonmember of the Church. He had that great capacity to make all with whom he met feel completely at ease. In the eventful and wonderful years of President Kimball’s presidency, I’ve observed his daily acts of kindness, courtesy, and thoughtfulness, his love and compassion. He was never too busy to lend a listening ear or a helping hand.
President Kimball attended a conference in the Dominican Republic held in the ballroom of a large hotel in Santo Domingo. Following the meeting, President Kimball shook hands with the hundreds of Saints who were assembled, so it was nearly midnight when he got in bed.
A short time later, I learned that a group of nearly one hundred Saints had just arrived from the far end of the island. They had put planks across the bus aisles to sit on so that all could crowd in. Their old weather-beaten bus had broken down en route. They were bitterly disappointed to miss seeing the prophet.
I suggested to them that we could hold another meeting in the morning before we left on the plane. But I found that that was not possible because they had to return the same night to be ready to report to work the first thing in the morning, and the trip would take several hours.
I knocked on President Kimball’s door, and he opened it dressed in his pajamas. I advised him of the situation and suggested that I’d be glad to carry his message of love and blessing to the Saints before they started their homeward journey.
He said, “Oh, that wouldn’t be fair, would it? You wait a couple of minutes and I’ll dress, and we’ll hold another meeting.”
And that’s what we did. By two in the morning, the President was back in bed and the Saints were headed for home, rejoicing.
My association with President Kimball has been a close and treasured one. Can you imagine what it’s like to work year after year only a few feet away in an office that adjoins that of the prophet, separated only by an open door? The letters and phone calls and personal visits pour in by the hundreds, day after day. They represent a cross section of the membership of the Church over the world and cover the whole range of human relations. Some letters are heartbreaking, some are humorous, and some contain the confessions of a troubled, sin-bound soul. All were turning to one whom they knew to be their friend.
A little girl wrote and asked the President to help her find a home for three little kittens. She had talked to her bishop, and she had called the “humanasty” (the Humane Society), but with no success. She said the kittens had as much right to live as anyone else.
Two little boys ages six and eight wrote to the President and said that they had fasted and prayed and they’d been extra good, but still nothing had happened to solve their terrible problem. Their daddy wanted to leave home and marry some other woman, and they didn’t want him to. Their mother cried all the time. Couldn’t President Kimball please talk to their father?
A man wrote, seeking consolation and the “balm of Gilead” for his broken heart. He had just backed his truck over and killed his little two-year-old boy, who was the very light of his life.
We attended a great conference in Manila in the Philippines, where twenty thousand Saints were present. At the close of the meeting, we were trying to make our way to the car through the vast throngs that were pressing in from every side to see the President or shake his hand. A young missionary spoke to the President. With tears in his eyes, he said that his companion was homesick and discouraged and wanted to go home. In the midst of all the pressures of that inopportune moment, President Kimball said, “Bring him to me.”
He took the young missionary and sat in the car alone with him for a while. He talked with him. He counseled him. He encouraged him. He prayed with him. He held him in his arms. The young man stepped out of the car smiling and renewed, declaring that now everything was fine and he was going to remain in the mission field.
President Kimball went about doing good. He always had time for those who needed a favor or a blessing. We attended a conference in the southern United States and stayed in the home of one of the Saints. The parents had two little boys who slept on bunk beds. The boys wanted the President to sleep in their room. The President never could refuse a little boy or little girl; he was just putty in their hands.
So we slept on those lumpy bunk beds with the squeaky springs. I lay awake all night so I would not snore or move and wake the President. I think he enjoyed the experience more than I did. Certainly the boys did, as they slept that night out in back in a tent.
We went to a conference in the eastern United States where President Kimball met a man who had the same last name. The missionaries had been teaching him the gospel, and when he learned that his cousin Spencer was coming to town, he “adopted” the President and was with us nearly every minute that we were in the city. He became very fond of President Kimball and was impressed with his work and his spirit. He rode to the airport with us, and on the way he turned to me and offered the highest compliment that he could imagine, which came from his own church background. He said, “Your church ought to make my cousin Spencer a saint.”
President Kimball was riding in the front seat, but he overheard what had been said. He turned around quickly and said, “Nobody can make me a saint. I have to do that for myself.”
Before closing, I want to pay tribute to the wonderful nurses who have cared for President Kimball these last four years with tenderness and love and gentle, professional expertise that is unexcelled anywhere. The doctors have been so kind and helpful, responding graciously to every need at a moment’s notice. The Church security men, likewise, have been attentive, thoughtful, and considerate—far above and beyond any call of duty. I make special note of the unwavering attention, service, and devotion of President Kimball’s sister-in-law, Winifred Eyring. She has indeed been a ministering angel to both President and Sister Kimball.
President Kimball was no ordinary man. He has been the finest example of faith and courage and long-suffering and patience that I have ever known.
Sister Kimball, you and I have had many quiet talks about your dear husband. I join with you, LeVan, Olive Beth, Andrew, Edward, and companions, your twenty-seven grandchildren, and your fifty-three great-grandchildren in profound grief and sympathy and sense of great loss.
In the nearly fifty years that I have worked at the Church offices under six Presidents of the Church, I have never known of a time of more loyalty, more devotion, or more unity among the faithful Saints and the chosen leaders of the Church; and this will continue and grow under the next President, soon to be chosen by the Lord. I bear witness that I know the Lord called and prepared President Kimball to become His prophet, just as He will raise up another in his place to carry on the great work of the Restoration and to direct His Church and kingdom here upon the earth, and I do so humbly in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.