Franklin D. Richards was named after his grandfather, an “outstanding missionary” and an Apostle for over fifty years. His mother, Letitia Peery, came as a five-year-old girl with her family across the plains by oxteam to Utah. His mother’s family were brought into the Church by another great missionary, Jedediah H. Grant, President Heber J. Grant’s father. This heritage of missionary work and other service in the Church has influenced Elder Richards throughout his life.
When he was eight years old, young Franklin became very ill with rheumatic fever. The doctor told his parents that he probably would not live to be eighteen. Later, when he was given his patriarchal blessing, he was promised that he would “live to a goodly age.” Elder Richards said, “I always had more faith in the patriarch than in the doctor.” Now, at the age of eighty-two, he feels that he has proven the patriarch right.
One of Franklin’s older brothers owned a farm in Downey, Idaho. His father sent the young boy each summer to the farm, according to Franklin, “to learn to work. In those days we didn’t have the modern machinery we do today. There was a lot more manpower involved in cutting grain and hauling it.”
In addition to the summer farm work, Franklin’s father kept him busy at home. To make sure he didn’t run out of jobs around the house and to develop his sense of responsibility, his father had coops and runs for fifty chickens built in the backyard. Franklin had to feed and water the chickens, keep the coops clean, and gather the eggs. Since there were more eggs laid than the family needed, he was allowed to sell the extra eggs and keep the money. Brother Richards said, “I’m grateful that I had a father and mother who taught me the joy of working, the value of spending less than I made, and the importance of paying my tithing.”
Back then tithing was paid to the bishop’s storehouse, sometimes in kind, meaning eggs, wheat, or other farm produce. During 1908, when Franklin was only eight years old, he paid $7.50 in tithing on earnings of $75.00. He still has the bishop’s storehouse receipt. In those days $75.00 was a large amount of money. It represented a lot of hard work.
The high school Franklin attended was a Church school called Weber Academy. David O. McKay, later President of the Church, was chairman of the school board. Bill Marriott, of the Marriott Hotels, and Ernest Wilkinson, who later became president of Brigham Young University, were classmates. Ernest Wilkinson and Franklin were debate partners and won the state championship one year.
After graduation Franklin received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He wondered if he accepted the appointment if he would ever serve a full-time mission. It was a difficult decision to make. Elder Richards said, “I think unknowingly I was following the advice of the Lord to Oliver Cowdery:
“‘Behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right’ [D&C 9:8].
“In effect, I was doing that, I thought about a mission and about my grandfather, and I wondered, Do I want to go to Annapolis and tie myself up or don’t I? So I studied it out, talked to several people, and reached the decision that I would prefer to go on a mission. I made it a matter of prayer, expressing my feelings to the Lord, and the Holy Ghost bore witness to me that my decision was right.”
Elder Richards has lived by mottos inspired by the counsel and example of his parents, his family, and Church leaders. “Be there,” a motto carved in wood and beautifully painted, is in his office. He said, “One of the men who most influenced my life was T. B. Evans, my stake president when I was a boy. He ran a little grocery store in Ogden, and he lived that motto. He believed that when you accept a call, you should magnify it. I grew up under his example from the time I was eight until I was eighteen.”
By example and by word, Elder Richards’ parents taught him other mottos that he has lived by: “Always follow the leaders of the Church,” and “Never turn down an opportunity to serve.” Elder Richards explained that the first of these two mottos “doesn’t mean to follow only the prophet and other General Authorities, but local authorities too.”
“In regard to the second motto,” he said, “I’ve never wanted to turn down an opportunity to serve. I get a big thrill when I see young children stand up and pray or sing in Primary. They’re following the leaders of the Church by doing these things. They’re not turning down an opportunity to serve.”