One of the great blessings of my life is to have had the opportunity of working closely with presidents of the Church. Among their other great traits, I have found them to be humble men, soft-spoken, mild, kind, and gentle in leadership roles and relationships.
Intimate experiences with them have helped me to appreciate the contents of Helaman 5:30: “They heard this voice, and beheld that it was not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of a great tumultuous noise, but behold, it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul.” (Hel. 5:30; italics added.)
May I suggest that you listen to your leaders as they administer with still voices and humble words. Too often we are impressed with the loud, noisy, and dramatic. Members are sometimes led away from the paths of success because they are influenced by the sensational and artificial light. Very often in today’s busy world, we ignore the quiet counsel of our leaders and those who guide with soft words.
I had the special honor and privilege of being the last person called as a General Authority by President David O. McKay before his death. As I visited with him in his apartment, I found him to be advanced in years and a very weak man in physical strength: his body was frail, his voice was soft, and words did not come easily. I sat quietly, waiting for President McKay to advise me as to the purpose of the appointment. Finally, in a still voice of perfect mildness, he said, “I want you to help me.” That was my invitation, that was my call to be a General Authority. That was one of my unforgettable quiet experiences with President David O. McKay.
After leaving his apartment, I felt that I had a better understanding about the Savior’s calling of his associates. Whether it be on the shores of Galilee or in the market place or paths of life, I’m certain that his invitation could have been nothing more that “I want you to help me in proclaiming the gospel and being special witnesses for me.” This experience more than twenty years ago brought to me a closeness to President McKay, a man I had loved, admired, and respected over the years.
I will always be grateful to him because he quietly called me, expected me, and wanted me to perform special service with him. I left my occupation and former business activities and responsibilities to help him as a prophet. I tremble today in remembering the called me with a whisper that pierced my soul.
All of my life I had a tremendous respect for President Joseph Fielding Smith as a scripturalist, historian, and writer. He was precise and firm in his living style. What a joy and a blessing it was for me when I came into the Council of the Twelve after two years as an Assistant to the Twelve to feel of the sweet love and respect he had, not only for God, but also for his associates. He was kind, while at the same time, led with vision and determined commitment. He always took the time to express appreciation, not only to his Heavenly Father, but also to his associates. His kind expressions of encouragement to me under all circumstances will never be forgotten. He loved the Lord, and the Lord loved him. He too called me with a soft and mild voice of deep strength.
I was ordained an Apostle and set apart as a member of the Council of the Twelve under the prophet Joseph Fielding Smith. The carges I received at that time are still deeply impressed upon my mind, particularly the charge to be a special witness by example, word, and gentleness. Also it was emphasized that I was to listen to the still voice of the Spirit, which would now come more powerfully and more frequently.
Joseph Fielding Smith received his patriarchal blessing from Patriarch Joseph D. Smith in 1913. Included in that sweet and gentle blessing was the promise that he would never be confounded as he defended the divinity of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s mission: “You have been blessed with ability to comprehend, to analyze, and defend the principles of truth above many of your fellows, and the time will come when the accumulative evidence that you have gathered will stand as a wall of defense against those who are seeking and will seek to destroy the evidence of the divinity of the mission of the prophet Joseph; and in this defense you will never be confounded.”
Very often over the years of our associations, I felt the intense strength of President Joseph Fielding Smith as he served in mildness and with a soft voice.
President Harold B. Lee was one of the most spiritual leaders I have ever known. He seemed to have continuous possession of the whisperings of the Spirit. He encouraged me to lead in mildness and quiet patience.
President Lee had a tremendous impact upon my life. Among other things, by example he encouraged me and others to be quietly fearless in approaching and solving problems of individual behavior. At the same time, he pointed the way for me to show a warmth and tenderness in working with all mankind, regardless of where they had been or what they had done. Daily contacts with President Lee taught me that he could be firm and totally objective, while at the same time he had one of the most tender hearts I have ever witnessed.
An unforgettable and frightening experience I once had with President Lee was when he invited me to come to his home to participate in giving a blessing to a very sick mutual friend. As we gathered with a few family members, President Lee asked me if I would anoint the brother’s head with consecrated oil. This I did humbly and in a spirit of inadequacy. I had never before had the opportunity of having this rich spiritual experience of having a prophet of God seal an anointing that I would pronounce. I recall with vividness even today President Lee’s sealing of this ordinance. It seemed to me he was struggling for words, direction, and guidance to give encouragement to this good brother. I had the feeling he wanted to promise him complete recovery and health, but the words didn’t come as he pronounced the sealing. It was evident as the seconds passed that he was not only troubled, but was groping for direction that would be positive and rewarding—not only to the recipient, but also to others in the room who had grave concern over the individual’s health. President Lee never did promise health, strength, and recovery to this individual. He gave words of encouragement and touched on the basics of the total gospel plan, but the promise of healing was not forthcoming.
Immediately following this experience, President Lee took me aside in another room and said softly and in perfect mildness, “Marvin, he’s not going to get better, is he?” I responded to President Lee, “No. I could tell you wanted to promise this type of blessing, but it was apparently not to be.” I recall that his final comment as we walked away from the hearing of family members was, “The Lord has other plans, and he determines not only what we promise but what will happen.”
President Spencer W. Kimball was a prophet of love. He loved God, our Savior Jesus Christ, and all mankind. He was a constant example of warmth and Christlike love. His voice was one of perfect mildness, sometimes even less than a whisper. He was always gentle, firm, and fearless. At one period in his life, he was unable to speak at all because of throat cancer.
President Kimball was one of the most kind and courageous men I have ever met in my life. His capacity to meet life’s issues, life’s disappointments, and life’s successes with a proper balance and attitude are experiences I shall never forget. How sweet, how humble and sincere was his leadership style. His whispering voice pierced every heart that would listen.
One morning my telephone rang very early and, as I picked it up, I recognized the soft voice of President Kimball on the other end of the line. After saying hello, I heard him in his faint voice say, “Marvin, I have something I want to talk to you about. Do you mind if I come up to your office and we visit?” I said, “President Kimball, if you’d like to talk to me, I “ll be right down to your office. Would you like me to come?” And he gently said, “Would you be good enough to do that?”
Courteous, friendly, and willing to be the servant of all, it was his leadership style to never demand or use the influence of his mighty calling to take the lead in what people would do or how they would respond to him. I would have you know that on this occasion he could have said, “Marvin, this is President Kimball. Come down to my office right away.” Certainly he had the power, authority, and right to ask me to meet with him under any and all circumstances, but I still have ringing in my ears what he said when I volunteered to come to his office: “Would you be good enough to do that?” He had the kind of approach, humility, mildness, and love that would inspire all of us to sustain and support him and love him under all conditions.
A few days before he died, he was in the temple on the fourth floor with his associates of the First Presidency and the members of the Twelve. He was so week and frail that there was every good reason that he never should have been there. Before our meeting started, as he sat, members of the Twelve walked by to shake his hand and greet him. There was almost no response at all because of the physical drain that had come to him over the last number of months. There was almost no capacity to communicate or respond in the present situation. His hearing was very limited, his eyesight failing, his frail body filled with aches. As I shook his hand privately and felt little or no response, I gave it an extra squeeze. I said, “President Kimball, I’m Marvin Ashton.” How can I ever forget his last words to me when he looked up just a little and said very softly, “Marvin Ashton, I love you.”
President Ezra Taft Benson is a special friend. I love him and have respect for his life and leadership. He has always conveyed to me his complete trust and confidence. This sustaining reassurance on his part has made it possible for me when in near or distant places in the Church to make decisions and calls that would be worthy, because I knew he expected me to do just that.
I have admired his constant reminder to all, not only his associates in high levels of the Church, but to all members, to work with diligence in building God’s kingdom and in improving our personal lives. He is a man of total obedience. I see him following precisely those paths of righteousness that the Lord has given him the responsibility to point, to direct, and to lead. I have seem him cry with unashamed emotions as he has talked about the wonders, content, and future of the Book of Mormon. When those of us who work closely with him have been involved in making decisions of great importance, President Benson would counsel simply, “Let us do what is best for the kingdom.” We admire him for the depth of commitment evidenced by that counsel.
He is a prophet who quietly builds up, delegates, and expects commitments that are unwavering. I recall telephoning President Benson while away on a stake assignment. A major situation and problem was evident. It was serious enough that I felt the need for his wise counsel and advice. When I finished explaining the facts and developments to him, he said in reassuring mildness and trust, “Do what needs to be done. You have my complete confidence and support.”
President Benson’s voice is reduced almost to a whisper. He leads the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, other General Authorities, and the entire Church in a spirit of pure love and perfect mildness.
As President of the Church, he leads in unwavering faith, with persuasion, a soft voice, and penetrating humility. In all of my years of experience with him, I have never heard him raise his voice to a shout in moments of hurt or disappointment. I have seen him discipline and direct in mildness, patience, and pure love. How gentle yet powerful have been his words and leadership.
These five prophets I have known so well have called and encouraged in a voice and spirit of perfect mildness. I thank God for them. I pray God to help us remember that true leaders always lead with mild voices, love, and persuasion.
Calls and instructions from His prophets are tender and free of condemnation. With all my heart I recommend we accept their leadership of mildness and love as we are invited to serve and improve our daily performances.