Twice in his life, people urged Richard Scott to refuse mission assignments—once when he was a young man and later when he was called to be a mission president. In both cases, they warned him that his career as an engineer would be seriously jeopardized. But both times, he chose to accept the call.
“When I was very young,” he says, “I made a covenant with the Lord that I would devote my best energies to his work. I have repeated that covenant throughout the years.”
As Elder Scott has honored that promise, the Lord has blessed him. For example, when he returned home from his first mission, he was selected to be on the immediate staff of U.S. Navy Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, working on the development of nuclear submarines. In accepting the assignment, he found himself in a significantly higher position than his former professor who had urged him not to serve a mission. “It was a powerful testimony to me of how the Lord blessed me as I put my priorities straight,” he says.
More recently, the former nuclear engineer accepted another calling—this time as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He had served as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy since April 1977, and in the Presidency of that Quorum since October 1983.
Just two days before conference, after a meeting of the General Authorities in the Salt Lake Temple, President Benson called him into his office. “With tenderness and love and great understanding that I will never forget,” says Elder Scott, “he extended this call, which would, of course, completely overwhelm anyone. It did me. I couldn’t help crying. And then President Benson very kindly spoke of his own call to give me reassurance. He witnessed how my call had come. I will always remember that thoughtfulness and understanding of the prophet of the Lord.” Elder Scott was sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve on 1 October 1988.
Richard G. Scott was born in Pocatello, Idaho, to Kenneth Leroy and Mary Eliza Whittle Scott on 7 November 1928. About four years later, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Richard spent most of his growing-up years. At that time, his father was not a member of the Church, and his mother was not active. But the lives of the Scott family were deeply influenced by the example of great leaders in the Washington, D.C., area.
“When Ezra Taft Benson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, was serving as U.S. secretary of agriculture, he asked Dad to work as assistant secretary of agriculture, says Elder Scott.” The example of President Benson—his integrity, his devotion, his great ability to defend principle—very deeply touched my father. As that relationship grew, President Benson had a significant influence in Dad’s conversion. When Kenneth Scott was baptized, Elder Ezra Taft Benson confirmed him a member of the Church. Later, Kenneth became a sealer in the Washington Temple; he and his wife served in the temple for over ten years.
Meanwhile, young Richard met and dated Jeanene Watkins, daughter of the late Arthur V. Watkins, United States senator from Utah. They both graduated from George Washington University, he in mechanical engineering, she in sociology—and then they both served missions, he in Uruguay, and she in the northwestern U.S. Of that experience, he observes, “All I cherish in life began to mature in the mission field.” Two weeks after he returned, they were married in the Manti Temple.
For twelve years, Richard Scott worked with Admiral Rickover in the development of nuclear powered systems—not only for military submarines and other naval vessels, but also for the first commercial land-based nuclear power plants. During that time, he completed the equivalent of a doctorate in nuclear engineering at the Oak Ridge School of Reactor Technology in Tennessee, and he served as president of a seventies quorum and as stake clerk.
Then came the call to serve as president of the Argentina North Mission, from 1965 to 1969. There his love for the Lord deepened and he met treasured friends among the missionaries and members. Upon returning, he worked with former Rickover associates in a private consulting firm specializing in nuclear engineering. At the same time, he served in the Washington D.C. Stake presidency and later as Regional Representative. In 1977, eight years after returning from Argentina, he was called to be a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
As a new General Authority, he served for a year as Managing Director of the Priesthood Department, with responsibilities for the Relief Society and the Melchizedek Priesthood. Then for about six years he served as Executive Administrator in Mexico and Central America; he and his family lived in Mexico City for three of those years. His fluent Spanish, his warm leadership style, and his sincere love for the Latin-American people endeared him to the local Church members and leaders. “They’re wonderful, loving members of the Church who have a desire to serve the Lord and obey his commandments,” he says. “It’s very easy for anyone who works with them to have deep love and high regard for them.”
After returning from Mexico, he became Managing Director of the Family History Department. When called to the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1983, he became Executive Director of the department. A great asset for him in that assignment was the love he and Sister Scott have for family history. Since his father was a convert, there has been a great deal of research to do over the years on his family line, and they, along with his parents, have dedicated much time to it.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with very devoted people at Church headquarters,” he says. “We have been led to some fascinating uses of technology in family history. Following the guidelines established by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, we’ve found ways that will do away with much of the busy work that has been associated with family history research.
“Of course, even with the aid of computers, there is and always will be a requirement for individual involvement in this work,” he says, “so that Church members will have the great spiritual experiences that accompany it, and will feel the spirit of the work.”
The Scotts have seven children, five of whom are living: Mary Lee, who is finishing her doctorate at UCLA; Kenneth W. of Salt Lake City; Linda (Mrs. Monte Mickle) of Houston, Texas; David M., of Salt Lake City; and Michael W., who is studying in Israel. They have three grandchildren. Although all the children have left home now, theirs is a close family, says Sister Scott. “We just have a wonderful time when we get together!”
Those close family ties are a natural extension of the love Elder and Sister Scott have had for each other over the years. “We’ve been in love since the first moment we met!” says Sister Scott. “He’s my best friend.” They enjoy hiking and birding together. And they both love to paint—he watercolors; she uses pastels. “This has been his way to relax,” she says. But, he adds, time precludes dabbling very often these days.
Anyone who has heard Elder Scott speak knows of his intense love for the
Book of Mormon—a friend that has sustained him over the years. He has found particular comfort from this friend since his call to the Quorum of the Twelve. “The changes in our lives because of the call I have received are so profound and so far-reaching that they affect every aspect of our lives and everything we think about and do. During this period since that call came, the Book of Mormon has been a very powerful helpmate.”
He also speaks as one who has felt the Spirit of the Lord often, both in his personal life and in his Church work. “The wonderful, incomprehensible blessing is that everyone can have a very close, personal feeling about the Savior and our Father in Heaven. He doesn’t make that exclusive to individuals who have callings or who have some particular need. These individual experiences are sacred and usually, unless prompted by the Spirit, we do not talk about them. But the wonder is that we can feel close to both our Father in Heaven and the Savior in prayer, in pondering the scriptures, in service to other individuals, and in time of need. Often, when we don’t even recognize there is a need, that feeling of nearness comes.”
As he addressed the Church at conference the day after being sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve, he publicly renewed the covenant he made with the Lord as a young man: “To live to be worthy to know the will of the Lord and to live to have, with his help, the capacity and courage to carry out that will—and to desire nothing else.”