The traveler waved off most of the dinner trays during the long and tiring thirteen-hour flight from Miami, Florida, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in October 1983. More interested in filling his mind than his stomach, he was reading a book his son had given to him on his birthday, In Search of Excellence.
Elder Charles Didier of the First Quorum of the Seventy was flying to South America as the Church’s Executive Administrator over Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. Before his airplane arrived in Buenos Aires, he had read through much of the book, then taken time to rest and to consider the work awaiting him.
It was typical of the man. In every project he has undertaken for the Church since he was baptized at twenty-two in his native Belgium, Charles Didier has been thoroughly absorbed and enthusiastic—a man joyfully doing good things in life.
Born in Ixelles, Belgium, 5 October 1935, Charles Didier recalls that his father, Andre, a Belgian Army officer, was captured at the beginning of World War II. After escaping, he stayed hidden and saw his family only during occasional surprise visits. Elder Didier looks back on a time after his own ninth birthday:
“Because the secret police were looking for him [his father], we were searched—and barely escaped. We went to where he was hiding in Antwerp Province, and from there to live with my great-grandmother in Flanders.” Then Belgium was liberated. “I vividly remember the soldiers trying to get away on bicycles, the airplanes coming, the shooting, and the Allied troops coming into the village.”
Like those around him, young Charles was educated in Catholic doctrine as a boy. He attended mass regularly, the only one in his family to do so.
In 1950, while the family was living in Namur, Belgium, and Charles was finishing junior high school, two Latter-day Saint missionaries from the United States knocked on their door. His mother, Gabrielle, let them in and listened. During Easter vacation of the following year, she was baptized in a little font in Brussels, but Charles missed the baptism. He was in Rome to see the Pope on a trip organized by the Catholic church.
Although Charles resisted invitations to attend the local branch, he did attend an English club taught by the missionaries, leaving before the evening’s youth activities started because he “didn’t want to be trapped.” But he was asked to take part in a branch play, and then his mother persuaded him to attend church with her on a Sunday. Soon his sister, Jacqueline, was baptized. When Charles left home to go to the university in Liège, he says, “I attended youth activities from time to time. I did some little things all the time but did not want to participate. I was very shy. I really did not want to be in front of people.”
Then missionary Elder Dewitt Paul challenged him, asking why he would not be baptized, since he was “doing everything a member does,” Elder Didier recalls.
“I said I didn’t see the necessity. I had a good life. I could attend and not have responsibilities. He said, ‘Let’s pray about the Book of Mormon, about Joseph Smith. Then if you have a testimony, I think you’ll recognize that you need to be baptized.’
“And so we prayed about it. I got up from that prayer with a testimony—an answer to my prayers. It was nothing like a light, a voice—just a reassuring influence: ‘Go ahead and do it. There is wisdom. This is my commandment.’” In November 1957, Charles was baptized in a swimming pool in Brussels by Elder Paul.
Traveling between Liège and Namur, he continued his studies at the University of Liège, graduating in 1959 with a degree in economics. Then he entered the reserve officer training program of the Belgian Air Force, finishing his military service as a lieutenant and radar supervisor.
A short time later, stationed only a few kilometers from Liège, he had time to go out with a brown-eyed girl he had met in the Liège Branch, Lucie Lodomez. She had served as a missionary in France with his sister Jacqueline.
When his military service was completed, Lucie and Charles were married in Liège (they were sealed in the Swiss Temple in 1962) and moved into a tiny apartment there. Charles progressed through his job with a timber products importing company, and both he and Lucie grew through Church service. He received more and more responsibility in the Church, eventually becoming president of the 100-member branch in Liège.
But after five years of working in Liège, Charles was restless. He started investigating the possibilities of teaching or continuing his education. Then came “another answer to prayer.” He was asked to move to Frankfurt, Germany, to work as assistant to John E. Carr, director of temporal affairs for the Church in Europe.
The move lasted only nine months. He was asked to go back to Liège and take over the Church distribution center. Upon his return he was immediately called again as Liège Branch president.
Then in March 1970 came the surprise of Charles Didier’s life, through a telephone call from Salt Lake City:
“It was President N. Eldon Tanner on the telephone. ‘The Lord is calling you to be a mission president. Are you ready to leave in three months and go wherever the Lord will call you?’ I said, ‘Yes.’”
Those unexpected telephone calls continued to influence his life. Three years later, shortly before he was to be released as president of the France-Switzerland Mission, there was another telephone call, this time from President Marion G. Romney. Elder Didier was called as a regional representative and at the same time appointed area manager in translation and distribution of Church materials for all of Europe.
Then, in October 1975 while he was attending conference in Salt Lake City, Elder Didier received a telephone call that President Spencer W. Kimball wanted to see him. He was called to be a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy that was to be organized.
“There are some things you plan for the future, certain things you imagine will happen to you. But when that calling of General Authority comes, you close the door and say, ‘Now I am in the hands of the Lord 100 percent. I’ll do what he asks me to do.’”
Elder Didier became the Church’s Executive Administrator for Europe, presiding over fourteen missions, from Brussels. Later, he would be assigned to supervise the Church’s activities in Canada, then, in 1981, to supervise the missions and stakes in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. With the calling of thirteen new Area Presidencies in 1984, he assumed duties as president of the South America North Area which originally included Brazil, but is now comprised of Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Surinam, Guyana, and French Guyana. Elder Didier resides in Quito, capital of Ecuador.
Though his duties as a General Authority take a lot of time and work, he still pursues a variety of interests—including gardening, fishing, watercolor painting, cooking, and reading—because he believes that you have to keep a good balance in life. His interest in linguistics is a valuable asset; in addition to his native French, he speaks English, German, Dutch, and Spanish.
A slim, agile man, Elder Didier keeps himself in good physical condition. He believes his efforts to stay in good health help him withstand the rigors of travel required of a General Authority. He and Elder Gene R. Cook of the First Quorum of the Seventy often play racketball. Observes Elder Cook:
“He’s really a good athlete. He swims a lot, can do thirty or forty laps easily. He exercises every day.”
Part of that exercise comes through physical labor. Reed Heywood, bishop of the Didiers’ home ward (Ensign Fourth, Salt Lake Ensign Stake) recalls that when Elder Didier and his sons built their home, they hauled in rocks and built a retaining wall, working to make the yard beautiful.
“I believe in the value of physical work. I need it,” Elder Didier comments. “I am secluded in an office or in meetings when I am in Salt Lake City or in South America—for eight to nine hours every day. I have a lot of energy, so I like to spend that energy in racketball, or swimming, or painting, or gardening in the summer. I believe what President Kimball said, that we need a vegetable garden. We planted twenty-three fruit trees. I love to be back close to nature and have my hands in the soil.”
His approach to trout fishing is indicative not only of a love of nature, but also of his approach to many activities in life. He goes fishing with those who know more than he, so he can improve. “I believe I have a lot to learn, that I can learn from any individual.”
One of those he learned much from was his mother. She was, he recalls, a “great cook.” His chocolate dessert is a family tradition.
In November of 1983 he flew to California to attend the Fair Oaks Stake conference. Arriving early at the stake president’s home, he was taken on a tour of the family’s vegetable garden.
“I saw that he had leeks, a very popular vegetable in Belgium. Not having grown them before, the president wasn’t sure how to prepare them. I said, ‘Let’s make soup.’ So that Saturday evening after our conference meetings, with the stake president in the kitchen, we prepared leek soup to serve twenty-two people the next day—the high council and other stake leaders. I think I’ll be remembered there as a soup maker rather than a General Authority!”
Another thing Elder Didier shares happily is himself, in service to others. Says his son Patrick: “He will dedicate his time to help someone in need as much as he can.”
Venice Rogers, a neighbor, adds, “He is very tender with children.”
Once while the Rogers were out of town on vacation, Charles and Lucie Didier wall-papered the room of teenager Elizabeth Rogers—as a surprise. Elizabeth was overwhelmed.
Elder Didier plays his own version of “elevator” with the children of another neighbor. When they push the top button on his suit coat, he lifts them up. When they push the bottom button, he puts them back down.
One of the ways Elder Didier serves is through doing “missionary work” for his ancestors. During the past few years, he has spent many hours in the genealogical library researching his parents’ and wife’s family lines, sometimes spending two to three hours at night. “I’m still working on this, but I have had some real success. We have all the information to finish our four-generation sheets. The next step is to present it to the temple.”
Despite his accomplishments, Elder Didier sees much in which he could improve.
Being a General Authority, he concedes, is “a daily examination for you and your family members.”
“You are an official representative of the Church. Usually members think you know everything, which is not the case. You always have to try to keep up with the sacred calling and live up to the expectations of the people, as well as the expectations of the Lord, which are much more important. That is quite a challenge.”
With that challenge in mind, what are his goals?
First, to be able to give his family the best of himself.
Second, “to represent the Lord the way he would like me to represent him, to establish his kingdom the way he would establish it.”