“I am grateful that the days of my probation have come in this dispensation, in which the light of revealed truth shines in all its effulgent glory,” said President Marion G. Romney. “I know of no other time in which I would have preferred to live.” (Ensign, Oct. 1983, p. 7.)
The ninety years of President Romney’s mortal probation came to an end on Friday morning, 20 May 1988, at his home in Salt Lake City. As a General Authority for more than forty-seven years—longer than any other living person—President Romney had spent his life sharing the “effulgent glory” of the gospel’s revealed truths.
In 1941, President Romney became the first man to be called as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve. Then in 1951, he was ordained an Apostle. He later served as Second Counselor in the First Presidency to both President Harold B. Lee and President Spencer W. Kimball, then as First Counselor to President Kimball. On 10 November 1985, he returned to the Quorum of the Twelve as its president.
Marion George Romney was born on 19 September 1897 in Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, to George S. and Artemesia Redd Romney. An early childhood illness almost took his life, but he was healed through a priesthood blessing—with the promise that he would live to accomplish a great mission.
Later, when fourteen-year-old Marion and his family were fleeing from the Mormon colonies in Mexico to escape the turmoil of the 1912 Mexican Revolution, they were confronted by soldiers who took all their money—twenty pesos—and aimed their guns at them. “I think one of the most exciting moments of my life was when I looked up the barrels of those rifles,” he recalled years later. “I offered a prayer to my Heavenly Father to spare my life. For some reason, these Mexicans did not fire, and we continued on safely to the railroad station. For the preservation of my life on this occasion I have always been very grateful to the Lord, and this experience has given me a desire to live in such a manner as to demonstrate to the Lord my appreciation.” (Instructor, July 1943, p. 401.)
President Romney’s life of faithfulness and service was an eloquent expression of that appreciation. As his family moved from Mexico to Texas, then to California, Idaho, and Salt Lake City, Marion—the oldest of ten children—worked as a farmhand and as a carpenter to help support the family and to enable his father to finish his university degree. After serving in the U.S. Army and graduating from Ricks Normal College in Rexburg, Idaho, Marion was offered a scholarship to continue his university education. He turned it down, however, and used all of his savings—plus some borrowed money—to serve a mission in Australia. Afterward, he worked full time to support himself through college and law school.
After receiving his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Utah, he practiced law in Salt Lake City and served as assistant county attorney, assistant district attorney, assistant city attorney, and state legislator. A member of academic and legal honor societies, he received an Exemplary Manhood Award and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Brigham Young University.
Through these experiences, the principles of self-reliance, honesty, industry, and thrift became an integral part of his life and emerged as some of the great themes of his ministry. For almost fifty years, he was one of the great forces behind the Church’s welfare program. While serving as a young bishop, Marion G. Romney was among the first to hear the Brethren encourage the Saints to store food and other commodities. With characteristic obedience, he immediately built shelves in his home. As stake president, he developed the new program further. When called as a General Authority, he served as Assistant Managing Director of the Church welfare program for eighteen years and then as General Chairman of the Church Welfare Committee. As a member of the First Presidency, he continued to give direction to the work.
“The process of giving exalts the poor and humbles the rich,” he told Church members. “In the process, both are sanctified. The poor, released from the bondage and limitations of poverty, are enabled as free men to rise to their full potential, both temporally and spiritually. The rich, by imparting of their surplus, participate in the eternal principle of giving. Once a person has been made whole, or self-reliant, he reaches out to aid others, and the cycle repeats itself . …
“The principle of self-reliance is spiritual, as are all the principles of the welfare program. This is not a doomsday program, but a program for today.” (Ensign, Nov. 1982, p. 93.)
Through the years, President Romney also supervised missionary work in Mexico, Europe, South Africa, and Asia. He was particularly delighted to be able to return to Mexico in 1961 and organize the first Spanish-speaking stake in the Church.
He also served as chairman of the Church’s Home Teaching and Family Home Evening committees. A quiet, unassuming man uninterested in the honors of men, he once said, “I can honestly testify that there is no activity that I am engaged in, in all my church work, that I get more joy out of than I do visiting my home teaching families.” (Church News, 15 July 1972, p. 7.)
Bearing powerful witness of the Savior, he told members: “We not only believe in Him; we know Him. He is the rock of our salvation. He is the Head of this church. … I know that He now lives and that because He lives we too shall live.” (Address delivered at Ann Arbor, Michigan, Area Conference, 21 Sept. 1980, pp. 7–8.)
Second only to his love of the Savior was his love for his wife, Ida Jensen Romney. He was smitten the first time he saw her “golden hair and her smiling face. I have never seen any girl since that time that I cared about.” (Church News, 15 Dec. 1973, p. 5.) They were married on 12 September 1924 in the Salt Lake Temple. “My wife has been a support and guidance all through my life,” he said before her death in 1979, “and when I have been discouraged, she has made me feel that she had the confidence that I could succeed, and so I have kept going.” (Church News, 15 July 1972, p. 7.)
The Romneys were the parents of four children; one lived only six days, and another was stillborn. Their two surviving sons are Richard J. of Winters, California, and George J. of Salt Lake City. The Romneys also have eight grandchildren and thirteen great-grandchildren.
In a moving tribute to his close friend and counselor, President Spencer W. Kimball once said: “His prayers are so earnest … that we know the Lord is listening. His sincerity is of such quality that it touches the listeners, and all of us feel that because President Romney is praying, we are all closer to our Father in Heaven. … All is holy where this man kneels.” (Ensign, Nov. 1972, pp. 26–27.)
Upon President Romney’s death, the First Presidency issued the following statement:
“The major missions of the Church will forever reflect the kindliness, wisdom, gospel scholarship, and faith of President Marion G. Romney. His lifetime of service reached across borders and into the hearts and homes of people throughout the world.
“President Romney taught with the conviction born of a life immersed in the study of scriptures. His understanding and exposition of gospel principles will stand as a testament to his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and will be a beacon to others who seek to follow the Savior, who is ’the way, the truth, and the life.’
“He will be remembered and cherished for his pioneering role in the establishment of the welfare services efforts of the Church. President Romney embodied in his own life the principles of thrift, industry, and human dignity that should characterize personal and family preparedness and service to one another.
“We extend our love and condolences to his family and express appreciation to them for this giant of a man. We are grateful for the friendship, wisdom, and counsel that have blessed us during his forty-seven years as a General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Marion G. Romney’s ministry was one of gratitude to the Lord. And his life is a fulfillment of his childhood desire to “live in such a manner as to demonstrate to the Lord my appreciation.”
The following excerpts are from the funeral proceedings held May 23 in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
A spiritual giant has been laid to rest! There are no words to adequately express my estimate of Marion G. Romney. He is an exemplar of everything a Saint should be.
Brother Romney was one of the great theologians of the Church. He knew the scriptures and he quoted from them extensively. His own grandfather gave him a patriarchal blessing when he was a young boy. In this blessing he was promised that he would be “mighty in expounding the scriptures.” The Church can attest to the fulfillment of that prophecy.
President Romney has deservedly been called in the Church, “Mr. Welfare.” He, with Harold B. Lee, was the first to be called to establish the welfare program as it is known today. This program was not a beginning for Marion G. Romney, but an extension of a personal philosophy born out of struggle and independence.
To that assignment he brought two remarkable traits. First, he had a philosophy that one should work for what one receives. Second, he had a natural compassion and sympathy for those who have met with misfortune. As a result, today we have a unique Christian concept of “pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.” (James 1:27.)
You have never heard a man pray until you have heard President Romney pray. Many men say prayers, but few talk to the Lord. President Romney was one who knew how. None of his Brethren had any question about his nearness to the Lord. His prayers were so earnest and his appeals so sincere, none could doubt that the Lord was near to him. President Kimball once said of him, “All is holy where this man kneels.”
His loyalty to Church leaders is renown. To President Romney, this was not just blind obedience. Instead, it was receiving the witness in one’s own heart that their counsel was inspired and therefore could be accepted without reservation.
One example will illustrate: On one occasion the Church leaders published a tersely-worded editorial that disapproved of a trend of the political administration then in power. President Romney confided to one of his associates: “When I read that editorial, I knew what I should do, but that wasn’t enough. I knew that I must feel right about following the counsel of the Church leaders and know that they were right. That took a whole night on my knees to accomplish.” What a great example of one who followed the counsel of his leaders on the basis of personal revelation!
President Romney loved the Book of Mormon. Over a quarter of a century ago I listened in the Tabernacle as he bore this testimony:
“A few years ago as I began to practice law, members of my family were a little uneasy. They were afraid I would lose my faith.
“I wanted to practice law, but I had an even greater desire to keep my testimony, and so I decided upon a little procedure which I recommend to you. For thirty minutes each morning before I began the day’s work I read from the Book of Mormon … and in just a few minutes a day I read the Book of Mormon through, every year, for nine years.
“I know that it kept me in harmony, so far as I did keep in harmony, with the Spirit of the Lord. It will hold us as close to the Spirit of the Lord as anything I know.”
Today I echo his inspired counsel and commend that practice to all. The Book of Mormon is truly the keystone of our religion, and I personally believe that the success of President Romney is rooted in his diligent study and living of the precepts set forth in that sacred volume of scripture.
I saw much of him in health and in sickness, and my appreciation, respect, and love for him strengthened through the years.
I loved him for his humor. For him life was filled with humor, none of it ever salty, but most of it very subtle.
I respected him for his tremendous mental capacity. He was a man of intelligence. He had a remarkable power of concentration as he read and studied. He was gifted with a rare capacity for scholarship. He had excelled in his studies as a student of the law. He prepared all of his presentations as a practicing attorney would, with infinite care and research. He similarly studied the gospel. No one among his brethren was an abler student of the Book of Mormon. He read it scores of times. He read it deliberately, carefully; he pondered it and prayed over it. He loved the Book of Mormon, and no one ever said anything critical of it that he could not overcome with conviction and persuasion. Its words of power and truth became the foundation of numerous talks which he gave. His discourses were not flowery. They were profound and convincing.
I loved him for his prayers. I have never heard any man pray quite as Marion G. Romney prayed. So many of our prayers are like one-way telephone conversations in which we ring a number, place an order, and then hang up. Brother Romney’s prayers were simple, yet wonderfully profound. Whenever he prayed it seemed to me that he did so as he must have done when he was a small, innocent boy in Mexico. There was no element of sophistication. There was no guile. There was no pretense. There was little in the way of lofty language or elaborate phrasing. Rather, there was conversation. He spoke with God his Eternal Father as if he were facing a friend, talking with him in a conversation, expressing his feelings and his needs.
I loved him for the quality of his leadership. He was not one to declaim loudly from the pulpit. He spoke quietly, methodically, reasoning as he went along. He always knew his objective. He could not be turned from it. He quietly plowed his furrow, and when others of us saw it, we noted that it was straight because he had kept his eye on his goal. He won the respect of those who followed him because of his consistency of purpose and his absolutely undeviating and unflagging allegiance to the work of the Lord which he regarded above all else. His strength was in his example. His ability to teach came of a deep understanding that resulted from study and prayer. He was absolutely fearless in stating his beliefs and his purposes.
We all loved him for his love for the Lord. He believed implicitly in the first and great commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” (Matt. 22:37.)
He spared not himself in carrying out his assignments in the work of the Lord. He used his strength in the service of the Lord. And I am confident that the Lord reciprocated with love for His servant Marion G. Romney. Love was of the essence of his life.
It is very fitting that the [Tabernacle] Choir sing these lovely hymns of Zion as he had requested. He said on one occasion: “I remember the devoted teachers, the songs they taught us and the lessons they gave. Our teachers taught us from the hymnbook such songs as ‘Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning,’ ‘An Angel from on High,’ ‘I Know That My Redeemer Lives,’ and ‘O My Father.’ I thank the Lord with all my soul and bless my teachers that I was taught the gospel hymns in my youth. I have hummed and sung them as I have ridden over interminable miles in my present ministry. Through their messages I have been inspired to reach heavenward.”
Of all the lessons I’ve learned from this man and that we have learned—my brethren of the Twelve and we of the Church—the [greatest] lesson was centered in the subject of revelation. From him we saw by demonstration the difference between praying and simply saying prayers. Of all the men I have known, no one was more sure than Brother Romney of the process of divine revelation. If you read his sermons carefully, you will find hidden there such phrases as “I know that voice when He speaks,” and in his conversations and his talks to more intimate groups, his testimony was firm and certain and unshaken.
He said to us [one night] … , “I do not know as a member of the First Presidency of the Church any more surely that God lives than I knew as a missionary boy those many years ago in Australia. But there is this one difference: Now I know the Lord.”
While we were in New England, his lovely wife, Ida, was in perilous circumstances. She was in the hospital and finally the doctors told him that there was no hope and she was beyond help. He told me in very tender terms that after all his yearning and concern, “for the first time, my heart was filled with faith.” And he knelt down by the bed, and he blessed her to recover and to live. And she traveled around the world with him after that.
Years later, not long after Ida died, I drove him home one evening after a long meeting. It was late, and we were both very tired and said nothing to one another. As we were driving up Fourth South, he suddenly turned to me and said with some enthusiasm, “Boyd, when I think that in a few years, twenty-five at the outside, I will be on the other side with Ida, we will be together, and the frailties we know here will be gone and we will not be separated again—I am filled with such joy that I can hardly contain myself!” And so it is now that our beloved leader has gone through the veil and that reunion is taking place.
For more than a decade [Marion G. Romney] traveled the Church as Assistant Managing Director of the welfare program. Each year he visited every stake in the United States and Canada. At one time, he knew every stake president by name. Year after year the effort was the same. Every welfare project was visited, principles were taught, forms and procedures were explained, and questions were answered.
The very nature of this assignment brought him into contact with the common people of the Church. Farmers, laborers, hard-headed and practical men, priesthood leaders—and the poor—these were the ones who were touched by the welfare program. More often than not they asked Brother Romney to explain to them, in terms they could understand, exactly what the Church wanted them to do. He was always willing to oblige: “No self-respecting Church member will voluntarily shift the responsibility for his own maintenance to another,” he would say.
When confronted with those who were reluctant to share their time or means, Brother Romney would succinctly get to the heart of the problem. Again and again he would repeat, “There are only two factors in the welfare program. One of them is that those who have, give. The other is that those who do not have, work for what they get.”
He was married to his sweetheart for nearly fifty-five years. He liked to say that Ida took over where his mother left off, and made him what he was. He told numerous groups that he could not remember a day that he had been with her when they did not kneel together and pray in the morning and in the evening.
He lived the gospel in his home. He taught his children to read the scriptures. Family home evening and family prayer were regularly observed. He tried to be an example to them.
For years he served as a home teacher. This would enable him, with unassailable persuasion and great conviction, to say to his sons and to the Church, “I cannot see how a priesthood bearer can willfully refuse to do home teaching without violating the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.” He often asked to be assigned as a junior companion home teacher, however, because, as he said, humorously, that way he didn’t have to go to all the report meetings.
He was at one memorable conference when the prophet urged members of the Church to plant gardens. Brother Romney went home and dug up the lawn next to his garage, telling Ida that he wanted to be the first one in the neighborhood to do what the prophet had asked him to do.
Last of all, he would want to close the record of his mortal life with his testimony. Marion G. Romney bore witness of the Savior in many places and under many circumstances. Never did he express himself with more conviction than he did to his brethren of the Twelve one Thursday morning some years ago. He said:
“I know that this is God’s work. I know that Jesus is my Redeemer. I know it with as much certainty as I shall know it when I meet him. I know as well as Joseph Smith knew, that Jesus and the Father appeared to him. I have no desire in life which supersedes my desire to magnify this calling. There is nothing that I would prefer before it.”
Let the record show that he did magnify the callings of Apostle, husband, and father, and may God help us to keep the example of this great and good man in our hearts.