Spencer Woolley Kimball was born on 28 March 1895 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Andrew and Olive Woolley Kimball. When he was three years old, his family moved to the small town of Thatcher, Arizona. After serving in the Central States Mission, he returned to Thatcher, where he met a young schoolteacher named Camilla Eyring. Spencer and Camilla married on 16 November 1917. Nearly 26 years later, while serving as stake president in Safford, Arizona, Spencer was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and was ordained by President Heber J. Grant on 7 October 1943. Spencer W. Kimball was ordained and set apart as President of the Church on 30 December 1973. President Kimball was a dynamic leader with great vision, presiding over an unprecedented expansion in both missionary work and Church membership. He died on 5 November 1985. This is an excerpt from his first general conference address, delivered on 1 October 1943.
This is the great day of my life. I have seen hands raised many times in my life, but never have they meant quite so much as they meant today when you raised your hands to sustain and support me.
I feel extremely humble in this calling that has come to me. Many people have asked me if I was surprised when it came. That, of course, is a very weak word for this experience. I was completely bewildered and shocked. I did have a premonition that this call was coming, but very brief, however. On the 8th of July, when President [J. Reuben] Clark called me, I was electrified with a strong presentiment that something of this kind was going to happen. As I came home at noon, my boy was answering the telephone, and he said, “Daddy, Salt Lake City is calling.”
I had had many calls from Salt Lake City. They hadn’t ever worried me like this one. I knew that I had no unfinished business in Salt Lake City, and the thought came over me quickly, “You’re going to be called to an important position.” Then I hurriedly swept it from my mind, because it seemed so unworthy and so presumptuous, and I had convinced myself that such a thing was impossible by the time that I heard President Clark’s voice a thousand miles away saying, “Spencer, this is Brother Clark speaking. The Brethren have just called you to fill one of the vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.”
Like a bolt of lightning it came. I did a great deal of thinking in the brief moments that I was on the wire. There were quite a number of things said about disposing of my business, moving to headquarters, and other things to be expected of me. I couldn’t repeat them all. My mind seemed to be traveling many paths all at once—I was dazed, almost numb with the shock; a picture of my life spread out before me. It seemed that I could see all of the people before me whom I had injured, or who had fancied that I had injured them, or to whom I had given offense, and all the small petty things of my life. I sensed immediately my inability and limitations, and I cried back, “Not me, Brother Clark! You can’t mean that!” I was virtually speechless. My heart pounded fiercely.
I recall two or three years ago, when Brother [Harold B.] Lee was giving his [first] address as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ from this stand, he told us of his experience through the night after he had been notified of his call. I think I now know something about the experience he had. I have been going through it for 12 weeks. I believe the Brethren were very kind to me in announcing my appointment when they did so that I might make the necessary adjustments in my business affairs, but perhaps they were more inspired to give me the time that I needed of a long period of purification, for in those long days and weeks I did a great deal of thinking and praying, and fasting and praying. There were conflicting thoughts that surged through my mind—seeming voices saying: “You can’t do the work. You are not worthy. You have not the ability”—and always finally came the triumphant thought: “You must do the work assigned—you must make yourself able, worthy, and qualified.” And the battle raged on.
I remember reading that Jacob wrestled all night, “until the breaking of the day” [Genesis 32:24], for a blessing; and I want to tell you that for 85 nights I have gone through that experience, wrestling for a blessing. Eighty-five times, the breaking of the day has found me on my knees praying to the Lord to help me and strengthen me and make me equal to this great responsibility that has come to me. I have not sought positions nor have I been ambitious. Promotions have continued to come faster than I felt I was prepared for them.
I remember when I was called to be a counselor in the stake presidency. I was in my 20s. President [Heber J.] Grant came down to help bury my father, who was the former stake president, and reorganize the stake. I was the stake clerk. I recall that some of my relatives came to President Grant, unknown to me, after I had been chosen, and said, “President Grant, it’s a mistake to call a young man like that to a position of responsibility and make an old man of him and tie him down.” Finally, after some discussion, President Grant said very calmly, but firmly, “Well, Spencer has been called to this work, and he can do as he pleases about it,” and, of course, when the call came, I accepted it gladly, and I have received great blessings therefrom.
A few days ago one of my well-to-do clients came to me and said, “Spencer, you’re going away from us?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, this is going to ruin you financially,” he continued. “You are just getting started well; your business is prospering. You are making a lot of money now, and the future looks bright yet. I don’t know how you can do this. You don’t have to accept the call, do you?”
And I said, “Brother, we do not have to accept any call, but if you understand the Mormon way of life, those of us who have been reared in the Church and understand the discipline of the Church, we just always do accept such calls.” And I further said to him: “Do you remember what Luke said? ‘For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth’ (Luke 12:15), and all the bonds, lands, houses, and livestock are just things that mean so little in a person’s abundant life.” …
In these long weeks since July 8th, I can tell you that I have been overwhelmed and have felt that I was unable to carry on this great work; that I was unworthy; that I was incapable because of my weaknesses and my limitations. I have felt many times that I was up against a blank wall. And in that interim I have been out in the desert and in high mountains alone, apart, and have poured out my soul to God. I have taken courage from one or two scriptures which constantly came to my mind and of which people continued to remind me. One was from Paul, and as I felt so foolish, small, and weak, I remembered that he said: “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; … that no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Cor. 1:25–29).
When my feeling of incompetence wholly overwhelmed me, I remembered the words of Nephi when he said: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Ne. 3:7). I want to tell you that I lean heavily on these promises, that the Lord will strengthen and give me growth and fit and qualify me for this great work. I have seen the Lord qualify men. In my Church experience I have helped to make many bishops. I have seen them grow and prosper and become great and mighty men in the Church; men who were weak and men who were foolish, and they became strong and confounded the wise, and so I rely upon that promise of the Lord that He will strengthen and empower me that I may be able to do this work to which I have been called.
As I read the scriptures about the Apostles of old, I found them starting out in their ministry with much less strength, and they increased in might and power. I found Paul saying toward the end of his career, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). …
I appreciate deeply the unparalleled honor that has come to me. I shall do my utmost to show my appreciation to my Lord and my Brethren by being a faithful servant. I am grateful for the opportunity of working with these honored and great men of the Authorities toward whom I have always had almost a worshipful devotion. I glory in the opportunity to serve the people of this Church, to share their disappointments and sorrows, and their joys and achievements.
I know that this is the Church and kingdom of God. It has been a part of me. Whenever it has prospered, I have gloried in it. When it was criticized, it has hurt me, for it seemed a part of my very being. Every fiber in my body bears witness that this is the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fulness. I testify to you that this is the work of God, that Jesus is the Christ, our Redeemer, our Master, our Lord, and I bear testimony to you in all sincerity and in deepest humility.