Heber J. Grant: A Man without Excuses

Some people find many reasons for not doing things in life. Some don’t want to work. Some excuse their way out of family responsibilities. Some claim to be too tired, ill, busy, poor, or self-conscious to help others. Some want to use their talent only for bigger, “more important” things. There are those who are content to let somebody else do what needs to be done, and others who simply talk endlessly about love or peace or service.

In contrast, there was Heber J. Grant, seventh President of the Church. Heber J. Grant only needed some good reasons why he should do something, and then he was off trying. If it wasn’t an easy task, he worked to bring about the proper result anyway. He tackled the impossible with enthusiasm, rising cheerfully to the challenge. If he didn’t seem to have the natural gift to accomplish a certain thing, he practiced and prayed until he developed the skill.

The Value of Self-Discipline

Heber J. Grant was a man without excuses, whether it came to saving the Church from financial ruin or singing the hymns of Zion on key! This was how he was reared to be. Both President Brigham Young (in whose home young Heber spent many hours) and Rachel Ivins Grant (Heber’s widowed mother) had one thing in common: They had learned the value of self-discipline, demanding of themselves the best they had to offer.

Young Heber absorbed and perfected this attitude. He grew up believing that there was no reason why he, with the help of the Lord, could not accomplish anything he made up his mind to do. He often quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself is changed, but that our power to do is increased.” (Quoted in Conference Report, April 1901, page 63.) And Heber J. Grant practiced what he preached.

He loved to tell about the many hours he spent learning to throw a baseball so he could be accepted on the top team. He told about struggling to improve his penmanship so it would represent him well; his handwriting was later considered unusually beautiful. From the pulpit, he extolled the singing of the hymns of the Church as a marvelous way to worship. He had made great efforts to learn many of the hymns by heart and could sing them without mistakes—even though he seemed to have no natural gift for music.

In his sermons, he loved to encourage people to get busy and improve their ability to live. He forcefully preached that the power to do good is within each person. He said, “We are the architects of our own lives, not only of our lives here, but the lives to come in the eternity. No commandment was ever given to us but that God has given us the power to keep that commandment.” And he taught that we should develop that power to the fullest in our daily lives.

The Importance of Hard Work

Heber Jeddy Grant was born to Jedediah M. and Rachel Ivins Grant on 22 November 1856 in Salt Lake City. His father, who was a counselor to President Brigham Young and the first mayor of Salt Lake City, died when Heber was only nine days old. A member of the First Presidency prophesied to Sister Grant that her son would grow up to become an Apostle of even greater importance than his father. Her constant counsel to her young son was to behave and be obedient, so he might be worthy to have this blessing fulfilled in his life.

Heber learned early the importance of hard work. After his father’s death, he and his mother struggled financially and eventually had to move from their beautiful home to a small, humble cabin. Refusing financial assistance from the Church, Sister Grant worked as a seamstress to support herself and her child. Young Heber helped her—running errands and pumping the treadle of the sewing machine when she became tired.

Later, Heber began working as a messenger boy for an insurance company. Because of his eagerness to learn and his willingness to work hard, he became president of the State Bank of Utah when he was only thirty-four. As a businessman, Heber J. Grant became respected—among both members of the Church and nonmembers—as a man who was scrupulously honest. During his lifetime, he organized many businesses and became a wealthy man.

A Generous Giver

But Heber was not obsessed with riches. He saw his wealth as a means to help others and to assist the Church and community. Remembering the struggles he and his widowed mother had endured, he gave generously to widows and their families. He set up funds to assist missionaries. He created businesses that employed many people and that helped to build his community economically and culturally. As President of the Church, he established the Church Security Plan (later renamed the Church Welfare Program), and he donated liberally to the program to get it started.

Heber gave so generously because of his love for his fellowman and because of his faith in the Lord’s promises. As a young man, he had attended a Church meeting and heard an appeal for donations. After the meeting, he handed his bishop $50. The bishop returned $45 to him and said that $5 was his fair share. Heber returned the entire $50 to the bishop, saying, “‘Bishop Woolley, didn’t you preach here today that the Lord would reward fourfold? My mother is a widow and she needs two hundred dollars.’ He said: ‘My boy, do you believe that if I take this other forty-five dollars you will get your two hundred dollars quicker?’ I said: ‘Certainly.’ Well, he took it.” As Heber walked from the meeting, he got an idea. He wired a man he didn’t know and completed a business transaction. Heber’s profit was $218.50. The next day he went to his bishop and said: “I have made two hundred eighteen dollars and fifty cents, after paying that fifty dollars donation the other day, and so I owe twenty-one dollars and eighty-five cents in tithing. I will have to dig up the difference between twenty-one dollars eighty-five cents and eighteen dollars fifty cents. The Lord did not quite give me the tithing in addition to his ‘four to one’ income.”

The Spirit, Not the Language

Though he was extremely demanding of himself in working hard to pursue excellence, Heber J. Grant was not one to criticize imperfection in others. One day when he was a young man, a speaker in church made some grammatical errors in his opening remarks. Heber was sure he could get ample material for a class at school, for which he had been assigned to bring examples of grammatical mistakes to be corrected. As he began to write, he listened for errors. But instead, he began to feel the Spirit of the Lord in what the man was saying, and he wept as testimony was born of the divinity of the Savior, the mission of Joseph Smith, and the work of the Lord.

“During the years that have passed since then,” President Grant later said, “I have never been shocked or annoyed by grammatical errors or mispronounced words on the part of those preaching the gospel. I have realized that it was like judging a man by the clothing of his language. From that day to this the one thing above all others that has impressed me has been the Spirit, the inspiration of the living God that an individual had when proclaiming the gospel, and not the language; because after all is said and done there are a great many who have never had the opportunity in the financial battle of life to accumulate the means whereby they could be clothed in an attractive manner. I have endeavored, from that day to this, and have been successful in my endeavor, to judge men and women by the spirit they have.”

“A Direct Answer to My Supplication”

As Heber J. Grant matured, his faith in God also matured. When his first wife, Lucy Stringham Grant, lay critically ill, he called his children into her hospital room and told them she was going to die. His daughter Lutie pleaded with him to exercise his priesthood in her mother’s behalf and not let her die. When the children left the room, Elder Grant knelt by his wife’s bed. Of that prayer, he later said:

“I told the Lord, I acknowledged his hand in life and in death, in joy or in sorrow, in prosperity or adversity. I did not complain because my wife was dying, but that I lacked the strength to see my wife die and have her death affect the faith of my children in the ordinances of the gospel. I therefore pleaded with him to give to my daughter Lutie a testimony that it was his will that her mother should die. Within a few short hours, my wife breathed her last. Then I called the children into the bedroom and announced that their mamma was dead. My little boy Heber commenced weeping bitterly, and Lutie put her arms around him and kissed him, and told him not to cry, that the voice of the Lord had said to her, `In the death of your mamma the will of the Lord will be.’ Lutie knew nothing of my prayers, and this manifestation to her was direct answer to my supplication to the Lord, and for it I have never ceased to be grateful.”

Heber J. Grant was close to his family all the years of his life. Living as he did during the years the Church practiced plural marriage, he eventually had two other wives, Huldah Agusta Winters and Emily Wells, and a total of twelve children. One daughter who lived away from home said, “Father was a prodigious letter writer, and had I answered his letters as promptly as he did mine, we would have been writing each other twice a week. … They all started the same: `It is two (sometimes three) in the morning and I can’t sleep, so I thought I would have a little visit with my beloved daughter.’ Nobody will know how I missed those letters after he passed away.”

In the Hands of the Lord

Heber J. Grant became a stake president at age twenty-three and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at age twenty-five. A year later, he was called to serve a mission among the American Indians. When he returned, his business sense enabled him to help the Church remain financially solvent through the economic crises in the United States of the 1890s. He, however, lost much of his own wealth.

In 1901, he was called to open and preside over a mission in Japan, and he was given one year to prepare and put his affairs in order prior to his departure. At that time, Heber was still recovering from financial difficulties. After the meeting in which he was given the assignment, a fellow Apostle told him that the President of the Church would never have given him the assignment if he had known of his difficult financial situation. Elder Grant agreed. And at that moment, he put himself completely in the hands of the Lord. Every morning, he prayed: “Please help me today to do something to help me get out of debt.” Within the year’s time, all of his creditors had been paid. He was not only completely out of debt, but also had sufficient means to sustain himself in the mission field.

Upon his return two years later, he was called to serve for another two years as president of the European mission. Later, he helped establish the Improvement Era, a forerunner of the current Church magazines.

In 1918, at age sixty-two, Heber J. Grant became President of the Church; he served in that position for almost twenty-seven years—the second longest of any Church President. Those were years that demanded capable and fearless leadership. The members of the Church needed a strong leader to guide and strengthen them through two world wars, the economic crisis of the Great Depression in the United States (from 1929 through the 1930s), and rapid Church growth all over the world. He taught the Saints to live within their means, to work hard, to love and serve one another, to pay an honest tithing, and to faithfully comply with the Word of Wisdom. He introduced the seminary and institute program in the Church. And through establishing the Church’s welfare plan, he taught members to be self-reliant and to care for their own families and for others in need.

President Grant also did much to enhance the respect others had for the Church. He spoke on the Church’s first radio broadcast in 1922. He oversaw the Church’s 100th anniversary celebration in 1930. In 1937 he traveled to Europe (the second Church President to do so while serving as prophet) and participated in the celebration of the British centennial of the Church. He encouraged the Tabernacle Choir to accept national singing engagements. He often spoke to government, civic, and professional groups, helping to overcome misconceptions about the Church. Through his efforts, he established good relationships and made many friends for the Church.

“Worthy to Stand”

Throughout his life, Heber J. Grant recognized the Lord as the source of his strength. Called to be an Apostle when he was only twenty-five years old, he was plagued for four agonizing months with doubts about his worthiness and preparation for the calling. But during a missionary journey on the Navajo Indian reservation in Arizona, the young Apostle had an unforgettable experience that silenced his doubts forever.

He later recounted that as he was riding alone on horseback, “I seemed to see, and I seemed to hear, what to me is one of the most real things in all my life. I seemed to see a Council in Heaven. I seemed to hear the words that were spoken. I listened to the discussion with a great deal of interest. … In this Council the Savior was present, my father was there, and the Prophet Joseph Smith was there.” Young Heber listened as the council discussed the vacancies that needed to be filled in the Quorum of the Twelve. “It was given to me,” he said, “that the Prophet Joseph Smith and my father mentioned me and requested that I be called to that position. I sat there and wept for joy. It was given to me that I had done nothing to entitle me to that exalted position, except that I had lived a clean, sweet life. It was given to me that … the Prophet Joseph and my father desired me to have that position, and it was because of their faithful labors that I was called, and not because of anything I had done of myself or any great thing that I had accomplished. It was also given to me that that was all these men, the Prophet and my father, could do for me; from that day it depended upon me and upon me alone as to whether I made a success of my life or a failure. …

“From that day I have never been bothered, night or day, with the idea that I was not worthy to stand as an Apostle, and I have not been worried since the last words uttered by Joseph F. Smith to me [Elder Grant succeeded Joseph F. Smith as President of the Church]: ‘The Lord bless you, my boy, the Lord bless you; you have got a great responsibility. Always remember this is the Lord’s work and not man’s. The Lord is greater than any man. He knows whom He wants to lead His Church, and never makes any mistakes. The Lord bless you.’” (In Conference Report, April 1941, pages 4–5.)

Such was Heber J. Grant. He was a man who was not afraid to try, who was not afraid of having to change his mind after learning more, who had great faith in the Savior Jesus Christ, and who stuck to the right, no matter the cost—and without excuses.

Heber J. Grant Highlights, 1856–1945






November 22: Is born in Salt Lake City. His father dies when Heber is only nine days old.



Is employed as a bank clerk, beginning his business career.



Becomes a counselor to the superintendent of first ward YMMIA [later known as the Young Men organization].



November 1: Marries Lucy Stringham.



Becomes stake president in Tooele, Utah.



Is ordained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.



Serves a mission among American Indians.



Becomes a member of the general superintendency of the YMMIA; is appointed business manager of the Improvement Era, which he helped to establish.



Organizes and presides over the Japanese Mission.



Serves as president of the European Mission.



Becomes President of the Church.



Dedicates Hawaii Temple. Church membership reaches 500,000.



Dedicates Alberta Temple [Canada]. Speaks on the Church’s first radio broadcast of general conference.



Dedicates Arizona Temple.



Establishes the Church’s welfare plan.



Visits the Saints and missionaries in Europe.



May 14: Dies in Salt Lake City.


  1. 1.

    Bryant S. Hinckley, Heber J. Grant: Highlights in the Life of a Great Leader, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1951.

  2. 2.

    Francis M. Gibbons, Heber J. Grant: Man of Steel, Prophet of God, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1979.

  3. 3.

    Ronald W. Walker, “Heber J. Grant,” in The Presidents of the Church, edited by Leonard J. Arrington, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986.

  4. 4.

    “Heber J. Grant,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992, pages 564–68.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann

[illustration] In August 1901, Elder Grant opened and presided over a Japanese mission with headquarters in Tokyo. In March 1902, he baptized the first Japanese convert, Hijime Nakazawa, in Tokyo Bay.

[illustration] President Grant realized that new technology could be used to proclaim the gospel. In May 1922, he dedicated the Church’s first radio station. Two years later, he inaugurated radio broadcasts of general conference from the Salt Lake Tabernacle.