The children of the world feel the loss of a great and good friend with the recent death of President N. Eldon Tanner, First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church. A valiant leader and an exemplar of righteous living and selfless service, President Tanner served as a wise and effective counselor to four Presidents of the Church.
The oldest of eight children, young Eldon was reared on a homestead near Aetna, a sparse settlement near Cardston, Alberta, Canada.
Guiding a plow behind a pair of stolid oxen was just one of the chores of rugged farm life that helped to develop the necessary abilities for the demanding responsibilities that lay ahead.
When he was twenty-one years old, Eldon Tanner became the principal and teacher of a three-room school in Hill Spring, Alberta. In addition to his teaching and administrative duties, he introduced the students to basketball, wrestling, and boxing. He also organized a Scout troop. (In later years he received the Silver Acorn award and the highest award given a Scouter in Canada, the Silver Wolf award, for his lifelong service with youth.)
In 1919 he met and married Sara Isabelle Merrill, a schoolteacher in Hill Spring. They have five daughters. On one occasion, while recalling the growing-up years of those daughters, he said, “I was so happy that while we were raising those five daughters, I never lost faith or confidence in [them]. That is the way I feel about young people today.”
After several years as a successful educator, Eldon Tanner entered public service and was eventually appointed Minister of Lands and Mines in the provincial cabinet and then Minister of Lands and Forests also. Leaving government service after sixteen years, he began a new career. He became president of Merrill Petroleum, Ltd., and director of the Toronto Dominion Bank of Canada. Later he was president of Trans-Canada Pipelines, Ltd., where he directed construction of a $350 million, 2,000-mile pipeline from Alberta to Montreal.
His service in the Church as branch president, bishop, and stake president, together with his outstanding ability as a civic and industrial leader, were invaluable assets when he was called to be a General Authority in 1960. President Tanner’s remarkable administrative ability served the Church well during a time of worldwide expansion of the Church and during the almost twenty years he served as a member of the First Presidency.
Although lauded by many for his personal and public integrity and for his singular contributions to the Church and to worthy civic enterprises, President N. Eldon Tanner will be best remembered as a willing emissary of Christ, a loyal and true friend, and for his sound and sure judgment, his gentle, sweet spirit, and his constancy in doing good.