Friend to Friend

From a personal interview by Janet Peterson with Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve

Print Share
    Elder Russell M. Nelson

    “My life was made sweet by my parents, Edna and Marion C. Nelson; my sisters, Marjory and Enid; and my brother, Robert,” said Elder Russell M. Nelson. “My parents were model parents, and with them the family always came first; it does with me and my wife too. In my childhood virtually every night was family home evening. Of course, there wasn’t television then, and family finances were limited, so we played games in the evening or read or sang.

    “Mother was an accomplished musician. She was a noted singer when my father met her while on assignment as a reporter for the Deseret News. He was covering a Tabernacle Choir concert in which my mother was a guest soloist. He was immediately impressed with her, and theirs was a storybook romance. While my parents may have had differences of opinion, as children we were never aware of any. They always supported each other, and we learned early that we couldn’t play one against the other.”

    Elder Nelson remembers “how beautifully Mother sang to me whenever I was weary or not feeling well. She would cuddle me close to her and sing ‘Carry Me Back to Old Virginny.’ To this day I can hardly sing that song without getting a lump in my throat because of its special significance. Mother taught me how to pray, and she listened patiently to my nightly prayers.

    “Daddy had a little morning ritual of coming into our rooms and singing this verse to us: ‘Up! Up! The sun is up. The dew is on the grass.’ It was always good to hear his voice, even when I was not too keen on getting up.

    “One of the first things my parents acquired for their home was a piano. Mother sent me for piano lessons. But at about age ten, I decided that I would rather work in my dad’s office than sit long hours practicing the piano. Much to Mother’s dismay, I terminated her plans for my musical career. Of course I have lived to regret that shortsighted action. I have since spent many hours trying to teach myself to play the piano and the organ. I believe my deceased mother would be happy knowing that I now play the organ at the regular meetings of the General Authorities in the temple.”

    Working as an errand boy in his father’s advertising business, Elder Nelson says that he learned to appreciate both the value of work and the people he met. His father had built his advertising business with the hope that his sons would join him. When Elder Nelson decided to become a doctor, his father may have been “somewhat disappointed.”

    Elder Nelson had found that he had “a flair for the exact sciences—mathematics, chemistry, and physics. I did well in those subjects, and I reasoned that through medicine I could couple the exact sciences with my desire to serve other people. When my father learned of my plans, he was very supportive and said, ‘Well, if you want to do it, be the best.’”

    From his parents Elder Nelson feels that he “learned to love and to be concerned about other people. Even today my father, who is now eighty-eight years old, is an example to me of a loving and caring person. I don’t know which came first, his love for other people or his work in the advertising and public relations field, but certainly the two aided each other. He always emphasized the importance of learning people’s names and extending little courtesies—a birthday card, a get-well card, a personal note.

    “Family vacations were the highlight of the year for our family. I’ve heard Daddy recall times when he had to borrow money for those family vacations, but both he and Mother felt that it was a good investment. Daddy felt that vacations were for Mother as well as for himself and us children, so he arranged it so that she wouldn’t have to cook or make beds or wash dishes. When we took a vacation, it was a vacation for everyone.

    “Our immediate family was very important, but our extended family was equally important. At least once a month all of Daddy’s brothers and sisters and their companions got together for picnics and games of horseshoes. Nothing delighted me more than being able to compete with my uncles at playing horseshoes.

    “Three of my four grandparents were living all through my childhood, and their influence was great. My daddy’s mother, Grandmother Nelson, was born in Norway, and she was part of a handcart company. The faith of my grandparents and their parents is something that I still treasure.

    “All eight of my great-grandparents were converts to the Church. They came from four different countries: England, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. All eight of them joined the Church there and eventually settled in the little town of Ephraim, Utah!

    “My message to the children of the Church is to honor not only your earthly parents but your Heavenly Parents as well. That means that you also honor the parents of the children who will be born to you. And that means that you should live righteously now so that when you have children, they’ll be proud of you.”