To you, Inis, to the family of Howard W. Hunter, to one and all whose hearts are heavy today, may I paraphrase the poet’s words:
How far is Heaven?
It’s not very far;
With one such as Howard,
It’s right where we are!
The heavenly music of this angelic choir, accompanied by the almost silent sobbings of little children and the rustling of a thousand handkerchiefs pressed to weeping eyes, bespeak our love for our prophet dear, President Howard W. Hunter.
Last Friday morning God touched him, and he slept. Left behind was his pain-tormented body and worldly cares as our most-traveled General Authority bid mortality good-bye and commenced yet another assignment in his eternal journey.
“A light from our household is gone; a voice we loved is stilled. A place is vacant in our hearts that never can be filled.” Such is the feeling today of one and all who revered President Howard W. Hunter. His final words were not a sermon of length nor a detailed code for our conduct, but rather, a divine message from his heart to our hearts. It is powerful. It is penetrating. It is memorable. To those who were attending him, he said simply, “Thank you,” and then was gone.
From high places, from humble cottages, from this land and other lands have come an avalanche of condolences and expressions of sympathy. Perhaps the statement from the heart of a child best reflects our collective feeling when, upon learning of his passing, she said, “I’m so sad. I loved him.” All of us who knew Howard W. Hunter have reflected on our association with this gentle giant of a man. And we are the better for it.
My first introduction to President Hunter was when he served as president of the Pasadena California Stake and had responsibility to coordinate local arrangements for the dedication of the Los Angeles (California) Temple. It was my privilege to print the tickets. His assignment was mammoth. I saw only that portion which pertained to the tickets, which were color coded, intricately labeled, and numbered in the most orderly fashion I had ever seen. He generously gave credit to others and insured that his name was not excessively featured, even though he had been a driving force behind these monumental undertakings.
The years passed and again we were together, he as an Apostle attending a stake conference and I as a member of the Priesthood Genealogy Committee assigned to accompany him. This and other assignments together are treasured memories. His kindness to me and the sweet manner he exemplified to all endeared him to everyone. He greeted me as I entered the outer office of President David O. McKay almost thirty-two years ago and was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. His firm grip of my hand, the smile on his lips, and the tears in his eyes helped prepare me for that sacred call. We have never been too far from each other since that day.
For many years President Hunter was the General Authority adviser to the Primary Association. He was ideal for this assignment, for no one could have loved little children more than he did. On one occasion, it had been proposed that the Primary Association, like the other auxiliary organizations, would yield to the recommendation to give up its annual sacrament meeting program. When all others had conceded the issue, Elder Hunter made a deliberate yet brilliant defense of the Primary’s record of performance in this annual meeting and a persuasive appeal to “let the children have their moment in the sun.” Elder Harold B. Lee brought the meeting to its close with the comment, “If I were ever in difficulty and wanted a brilliant defense attorney, Brother Hunter, you would be my choice. The Primary will continue with its annual sacrament meeting program.” And it has!
“Stand ye in holy places, and be not moved,”1 was effectively taught by Howard W. Hunter throughout his life.
Just a month ago I was to speak to a large gathering of young people at the Marriott Center at Brigham Young University, with the message being conveyed by satellite transmission to audiences in many other locations. My message for that occasion was on the life and ministry of Howard W. Hunter. That very Sunday morning, accompanied by his faithful secretary, Lowell Hardy, I went to President Hunter’s condominium and was greeted by President Hunter and Sister Hunter. He was alert and communicative. We visited briefly. He smiled frequently and seemed to feel much improved. I asked if I could take his love to the young people. He responded, “I want you to do that. I wish I were going with you! I love them with all my heart.”
Still basking in the glow of that experience, I fulfilled my commission given by President Hunter. The audience was overjoyed to hear from him. They loved the prophet. I told them of Sir Thomas More, a statesman and author of an earlier period, one who suffered isolation and scorn because of his steadfastness in cleaving unto his beliefs. A book and a film, each entitled A Man for All Seasons, tell the story of his life. I said to those young people, “Today, amid the conflicts of our time and the turbulence we frequently encounter, we reach out for one such. Our Heavenly Father provided for us ‘a man for all seasons.’ His name is President Howard W. Hunter. He is our prophet, seer, and revelator. He is an island of calm amidst a sea of storm. He is like a lighthouse to the mariner who is lost. He is your friend and my friend.”
In my message, I described President Hunter as a legend, even a life, of virtues. I chose to speak of six such virtues from his life: courtesy, humility, deliberateness, love, scholarship, and loyalty.
Like the Master, Howard W. Hunter grew from humble beginnings to a magnificent mission to the entire world. He, too, “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”2 He, too, lifted up the hands which hung down.3 He, too, remembered the fatherless and the widows in their affliction.4 He, too, gave of himself for the blessing of others.
Amanda Bradley must have had one such as Howard W. Hunter in mind when she said, “Someone who takes time to think of other people’s needs, and warm so many hearts with gentle words and thoughtful deeds; someone who’s so glad to share, so glad to help and give and care, adds something very special to the world.”
His mission was marked by monumental events. The World Conference on Records and the expansion of family history work, his leadership of the Twelve, his pioneering efforts in bringing to fruition the BYU Jerusalem Center and the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii, his dedication of the Orlando Florida and Bountiful Utah Temples are but a few. Truly he was a pioneer, one who, according to Webster, goes before, showing others the way to follow.
How pleased he was that there had been an upsurge in temple activity since his presidential proclamation to live more Christlike lives and to be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. He said, “The temple is a place of beauty, it is a place of revelation, it is a place of peace. It is the house of the Lord. It is holy unto the Lord. It should be holy unto us.”5 A holy man, Howard W. Hunter signed his message with his long and fruitful life.
From the islands of the sea, from the hamlets in faraway places with strange-sounding names, to the hearths and homes of the many whom he touched comes a resounding expression of gratitude: “Thank you, Father, for such a man as President Hunter.”
One of the most personally satisfying and spiritually rewarding experiences of my life has been to serve, along with President Hinckley, as a Counselor to President Howard W. Hunter in the First Presidency of the Church. We could not possibly have had a better role model to follow. His life has been rich, his love far-reaching, his testimony of the truth ever firm.
The gospel which he taught provides the assurance that all is well with our friend and father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and husband. His indomitable spirit has gone home to that God who gave it life. His record is known in heaven, and there his natural modesty will of necessity yield its treasure trove of good deeds and faithful service. There he is welcomed by his beloved Claire, the wife of his youth, the mother of his children and companion of countless journeys in the service of the Master. There, too, is his namesake, the boy he lost in childhood, waiting to welcome home his father.
To you, Inis, his beloved wife and companion who has ministered to him so faithfully and wonderfully, he would comfort, “Be of good cheer; we will be together again.” President Hunter would remind you and all of us of the Savior’s words, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”6 “I go to prepare a place for you … ; that where I am, there ye may be also.”7
And to the children, his own and all others, would come his gentle guidance and fervent hope from the book of Third John, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”8
President Howard W. Hunter lived as he taught, after the pattern of the Savior whom he served. One day in a moment of quiet reflection, President Hunter shared with me his personal philosophy with the expression, “I feel ours is the mission to serve and to save, to build and to exalt.” He was truly a prophet, a seer, and revelator for our time. Howard, our beloved friend, we loved you here. We will love you there. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.