President Howard W. Hunter03879_000_002
Endure to the End
“It appears to me that the kind of greatness that our Father in Heaven would have us pursue is within the grasp of all who are within the gospel net. We have an unlimited number of opportunities to do the many simple and minor things that will ultimately make us great. To those who have devoted their lives to service and sacrifice for others and for the Lord, the best counsel is simply to do more of the same.
“To those who are doing the commonplace work of the world but are wondering about the value of their accomplishments; to those who are the workhorses of this Church, who are furthering the work of the Lord in so many quiet but significant ways; to those who are the salt of the earth and the strength of the world and the backbone of each nation—to you we would simply express our admiration. If you endure to the end, and if you are valiant in the testimony of Jesus, you will achieve true greatness and will live in the presence of our Father in Heaven” (Ensign, May 1982, page 20).
Let Us Hasten to the Temple
“Let us be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. Let us hasten to the temple as frequently as time and means and personal circumstances allow. Let us go not only for our kindred dead, but let us also go for the personal blessing of temple worship, for the sanctity and safety which is provided within those hallowed and consecrated walls. The temple is a place of beauty, it is a place of revelation, it is a place of peace. It is the house of the Lord. It is holy unto the Lord. It should be holy unto us” (Tambuli, November 1994, page 6).
Serve and Grow
“We must not allow ourselves to focus on the fleeting light of popularity or substitute that attractive glow for the substance of true but often anonymous labor that brings the attention of God. … In fact, applause and attention can become the spiritual Achilles’ heels of even the most gifted among us. …
“If you feel that much of what you do does not make you very famous, take heart. Most of the best people who ever lived weren’t very famous, either. Serve and grow, faithfully and quietly” (Ensign, April 1992, pages 66–67).
Center Our Lives on Christ
“Please remember this one thing. If our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong. On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and his teachings, no other success can ever be permanently right” (“‘Fear Not, Little Flock,’” 1988–89 Devotional and Fireside Speeches, Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1989, page 112).
Every Member Temple Worthy
“I … invite the members of the Church to establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of their membership and the supernal setting for their most sacred covenants. It would be the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church be temple worthy. I would hope that every adult member would be worthy of—and carry—a current temple recommend, even if proximity to a temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it” (Tambuli, September 1994, page 4).
Problems Refine Us
“Every generation since time began has had … problems to work out. Furthermore, every individual person has a set of challenges which sometimes seem to be earmarked for him individually. …
“When these experiences humble, refine, and teach us, they make us better people, more grateful, loving, and considerate of other people in their own times of difficulty.
“Even in the most severe of times, problems and prophecies were never intended to do anything but bless the righteous and help those who are less righteous move toward repentance” (New Era, January 1994, page 6).
Our Touchstone of Service
“1 suggest to you that the Lord has prepared a touchstone for you and me, an outward measurement of inward discipleship that marks our faithfulness and will survive the fires yet to come. …
“Jesus … said on [one] occasion, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me’ (Matt. 25:40). He will measure our devotion to him by how we love and serve our fellowmen. What kind of mark are we leaving on the Lord’s touchstone? Are we truly good neighbors? …
“We need to remember that though we make our friends, God has made our neighbors—everywhere. Love should have no boundary; we should have no narrow loyalties” (Ensign, November 1986, pages 34–35).
“The ability to stand by one’s principles, to live with integrity and faith according to one’s belief—that is what matters, that is the difference between a contribution and a commitment. That devotion to true principle—in our individual lives, in our homes and families, and in all places that we meet and influence other people—that devotion is what God is ultimately requesting of us” (Ensign, May 1990, page 61).
Sisters, Stand with the Brethren
“As our Lord and Savior looked to the women of his time for a comforting hand, a listening ear, a believing heart, a kind look, an encouraging word, loyalty—even in his hour of humiliation, agony, and death—it seems to me that there is a great need to rally the women of the Church today to stand with and for the Brethren in stemming the tide of evil that surrounds us and in moving forward the work of our Savior” (Ensign, November 1994, page 97).
Preserve and Protect the Family
“The Church has the responsibility—and the authority—to preserve and protect the family as the foundation of society. The pattern for family life, instituted from before the foundation of the world, provides for children to be born to and nurtured by a father and mother who are husband and wife, lawfully married. …
“A worried society now begins to see that the disintegration of the family brings upon the world the calamities foretold by the prophets. The world’s councils and deliberations will succeed only when they define the family as the Lord has revealed it to be” (Ensign, November 1994, page 9).
Partakers of the Divine Nature
“Let us study the Master’s every teaching and devote ourselves more fully to his example. He has given us ‘all things that pertain unto life and godliness.’ He has ‘called us to glory and virtue’ and has ‘given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these [we] might be partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pet. 1:3–4).
“I believe in those ‘exceeding great and precious promises,’ and I invite all within the sound of my voice to claim them. We should strive to ‘be partakers of the divine nature.’ Only then may we truly hope for ‘peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come’ (D&C 59:23)” (Ensign, November 1994, page 8).
Fourteenth President of the Church
On 30 May 1994 President Ezra Taft Benson passed away. Howard William Hunter was sustained and set apart by fellow Apostles on June 5 as prophet, seer, and revelator of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On the following Monday, President Hunter spoke to the press and introduced two themes he would emphasize throughout his presidency—the need for all Church members to become more Christlike and to become a temple-worthy, temple-attending people.
President Hunter quickly took those admonitions, and others, to as many Saints as he could. In June he addressed 2,200 missionaries at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. Later that month he visited Nauvoo and Carthage, Illinois, where he spoke at three services commemorating the 150th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.
In July, President Hunter took his first trip outside the United States as President of the Church. Speaking at a fireside in Lausanne, he commended Switzerland’s “fiercely independent people” and the country’s cohesiveness despite three official languages. 5
“Be more fully converted,” he urged 1,300 Saints in Tucson, Arizona, at a biregional conference in September, again emphasizing the themes that became the hallmarks of his presidency. 6 He reiterated those themes at the 164th General Conference in October: “Live with ever more attention to the life and example of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he admonished. “Look to the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of your membership.” 7 Later that month, he dedicated the Orlando Florida Temple.
Members worldwide eagerly listened as President Hunter shared his thoughts: “I have wondered on occasion why my life has been spared. But now I have set that question aside and ask only for the faith and prayers of the members of the Church so we can work together, I laboring with you, to fulfill God’s purpose in this season of our lives.” 8
President Hunter labored vigorously to the year’s end. A new year, however, brought with it new health complications. In January 1995, after dedicating the Bountiful Utah Temple and presiding over six sessions, he was hospitalized for exhaustion. Doctors later said that prostate cancer, for which President Hunter had undergone surgery in 1980, had spread to his bones.
President Hunter was released from the hospital in mid-January and continued the work of the First Presidency in his apartment. He left mortality on March 3 at home, attended by his wife Inis, his nurse, and his personal secretary.
As Howard W. Hunter saw it, the Lord’s vineyard requires constant upkeep, and all that his Master required of him was to be a “good and faithful servant.” President Hunter fulfilled this mission with true greatness and with constant attention to the example of the Savior, whom he served lovingly and humbly until the end.
Sickness and Health
During Elder Hunter’s busy years as an Apostle of the Lord, he and Claire relished their time home alone together and with their 18 grandchildren in California. Both sons had become attorneys and married there—John to Louine Berry, and Richard to Nan Greene. Elder Hunter visited his sons’ families so often in the Los Angeles airport that one grandchild called him the “grandpa who lives at the airport.”
Bad health began plaguing the Hunter household in the early seventies. Claire suffered from memory loss and headaches that led to surgery in 1976. Afterward, Claire needed full-time nursing care, which was provided by her husband and a housekeeper. A cerebral hemorrhage in 1981 left Claire unable to walk or even communicate, but her husband insisted on keeping her at home so he could care for her. Another cerebral attack in 1982 finally forced Claire into a professional nursing center. Elder Hunter visited her daily and went straight to her side from the airport after his trips. When Claire died in October 1983, Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve commented that the “tenderness which was evident in their communication was heartrending and touching. I have never seen such an example of devotion of a husband to his wife.”
Elder Hunter’s own health declined before Claire’s death. In 1980 he underwent surgery to remove a benign tumor. The decade brought more health problems, with a heart attack, coronary bypass surgery, and lower-back pain. A close brush with death occurred in 1987, when President Hunter, then Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, required nine pints of blood during surgery for a bleeding ulcer and then suffered kidney failure. After President Hunter’s slow recovery, his back problems required more surgery, leaving him with an improved back but also constant, severe pain in his legs.
Throughout his ordeals, friends and associates do not recall hearing President Hunter complain. Good humor and compassion were his trademarks, typified by his opening remark given from a wheelchair at the October 1987 general conference: “Forgive me if I remain seated. … I notice that the rest of you seem to enjoy the conference sitting down, so I will follow your example.” 4 At the April 1989 general conference, President Hunter displayed typical composure and resilience. While speaking to the members of the Church, standing on barely mobile legs with the help of a walker, he lost his balance and fell backwards into a flower arrangement. He was immediately helped up and continued his talk. An examination later showed he had broken three ribs in the fall.
Memorable occasions marked the end of the decade for President Hunter. On 2 June 1988, he was set apart and sustained as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles after President Marion G. Romney’s death. Then, in 1990, President Hunter casually announced at the conclusion of a meeting of the Twelve that “I’m going to be married this afternoon. Inis Stanton is an old acquaintance from California. I’ve been visiting with her for some time, and I’ve decided to be married.” After a private sealing that afternoon, the Hunters began a close, busy companionship, soon traveling to Guatemala, Moscow, and Israel together.
But President Hunter’s afflictions weren’t over. Hospitalized for internal bleeding in 1992, he made a slow recovery. Then, in February 1993, he was about to address a 19-stake fireside at Brigham Young University when a man carrying what he declared to be a bomb rushed onstage and ordered everyone off but President Hunter, whom he commanded to read a prepared statement. President Hunter calmly refused. Then, the enormous audience in the Marriott Center distracted the intruder’s attention by singing “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” (Hymns, 1985, number 19), allowing police to subdue the man. President Hunter rested only a few moments before giving his prepared talk. “Life has a fair number of challenges,” he began—adding, spontaneously, “as demonstrated.”
Three months later, President Hunter underwent gall bladder surgery but could not be roused afterward. Some days later, he surprised his doctors by awaking—coherent and fully recovered.
Full-Time Church Service
In October 1959, during one of Howard and Claire’s typical trips to general conference in Salt Lake City, President David O. McKay informed him that “the Lord has spoken. You are called to be one of his special witnesses, and tomorrow you will be sustained as a member of the Council of the Twelve.” Completely overwhelmed, Howard could hardly speak.
Elder Howard W. Hunter was sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles the next day, 10 October 1959, and on October 15, President David O. McKay ordained him an Apostle and set him apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. He would serve in that capacity for the next 35 years.
From the beginning of his apostleship, Elder Hunter traveled constantly to help meet the demands of dramatic Church membership growth throughout the world. Ever the consummate student of geography and culture, Elder Hunter liked to plan his own itinerary, study his destination’s history, and avoid special treatment upon arrival. Along with the more regular work of organizing stakes and counseling leaders, he endured a tropical storm while traveling by boat in Tonga, escaped a mugging attempt in Panama, and pushed a car through a blizzard in Norway.
One particularly memorable trip took place in Mexico City in 1975. On that occasion, Elder Hunter established a record unequaled in the Church when he reorganized five stakes into fifteen.
Elder Hunter was given a number of additional assignments. As president of the Genealogical Society of Utah (now the Family History Department of the Church) from 1964 to 1972, Elder Hunter guided the implementation of computers to tackle the slow and inadequate methods of processing names for temple work. He also served as Church Historian from 1970 to 1972, and served for 24 years with the New World Archaeological Foundation, a Mesoamerican research organization based at Brigham Young University. Traveling two or three times a year to Mexico and Guatemala, Elder Hunter encountered everything from deadly snakes to ungraded paths, greatly enjoying the adventure and education these trips provided.
From 1965 to 1976, Elder Hunter’s organizational talents enabled the Polynesian Cultural Center, affiliated with the Church College of Hawaii (now Brigham Young University-Hawaii), to grow from an unprofitable and unknown entity to one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Hawaii.
Perhaps the assignment that required the most of Elder Hunter’s negotiating ability, sensitivity to other cultures, and adept legal mind took place in the Holy Land. Having helped oversee the building of the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden in the mid-1970s, Elder Hunter again traveled to Jerusalem on a far more complicated assignment. Beginning in 1979, Elder Hunter played an important role in negotiating the acquisition of land and in overseeing the construction of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies—Brigham Young University. Yet when the final lease agreement papers were signed in 1984, escalating local opposition almost derailed the project. At that critical time, Elder Hunter’s negotiations, along with a letter supporting the center from the United States Congress, helped resolve concerns. In May 1989 Elder Hunter, then in a wheelchair following back surgery, offered the Jerusalem Center’s dedicatory prayer.
Sons, Trips, and Business
Though busy in ward and stake callings, Howard still made time for his boys. John and Richard particularly loved to hear tales of their father’s Oriental sea cruise and work on model trains with their meticulous dad, who sometimes took them to the railroad yard for new layout ideas. The family also appreciated concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and listened to Howard’s impressive array of classical recordings.
They also benefitted from his desire to show them the world in a way that his own father could not: after each son completed his mission (both served in South Australia), Howard and Claire took him on a tour around the world.
Howard also stayed close to his parents. Will and Nellie, in turn, gave their son the birthday surprise of his life when Howard turned 46 during a 1953 stake excursion to the Arizona Temple. As Howard spoke to stake members in the temple’s chapel, his parents entered dressed in white, ready to be sealed to each other and then to their son.
Meanwhile, Howard had become a corporate attorney in Los Angeles and had been asked to serve on the boards of more than two dozen companies. When clients were unable to pay him for his services, he offered them free legal advice. So well respected were Howard’s legal skills that he was considered for the position of judge in one of the state courts. But he declined the opportunity. His independent law practice and the freedom it entailed to serve in the Church and pursue other interests meant more to him than the prestige of a judgeship.
His Hand to the Plow
In early 1940, after being admitted to practice law in California, Howard set up what would become a flourishing law practice. But August of that year brought a stunning surprise. The Alhambra Ward was divided, and at age 32, Howard was called to be bishop of the newly created El Sereno Ward. Of his complete surprise at this calling, Howard remembered, “I had always thought of a bishop as being an older man.”
Bishop Hunter proved himself to be a loving yet firm leader. One Sunday, upon seeing some youth slip off to the drugstore next door after passing the sacrament, Bishop Hunter left the stand, walked to the store, and announced to the sheepish group of boys at the counter, “Brethren, when you have finished your malts, we will continue the meeting.”
Four years after Bishop Hunter’s release in 1946, he was called to be president of the Pasadena Stake. For the next nine and a half years, he rallied stake members to numerous work projects to raise funds to build a new stake center and, starting in 1951, to build the Los Angeles Temple.
During his tenure as stake president, President Hunter also served as chairman of the southern California regional council of stake presidents, encouraged family home evening for stake members 15 years before its formal designation as a Church program, and pioneered the early-morning seminary program in southern California.
Commitments and Trials
The decision to marry prompted Howard to new resolutions about the gospel and family life. When, in a temple recommend interview, Howard’s bishop asked if he would be able to support a wife on the meager income his tithing receipts reflected, Howard “suddenly … became conscious of the seriousness of not being a full tithe payer.” With characteristic resolve, Howard decided with Claire that “we would live this law throughout our marriage, and tithing would come first.” They also decided to follow counsel from the Brethren to stay out of debt.
Before his marriage, Howard reached another significant conclusion: his musical career, though mildly glamorous and lucrative, conflicted with the family life he envisioned for Claire and his children. So, on 6 June 1931, he packed up his instruments. He never played professionally again, and took out his instruments in the future only for an occasional family sing-along.
On 10 June 1931, Howard and Claire were married for time and eternity in the Salt Lake Temple. Almost immediately the newlyweds endured a series of trials. In January 1932 the bank Howard worked for was forced to close. Fortunately out of debt, the couple was “saved from starvation,” in Howard’s words, through a succession of menial jobs, which included selling soap door-to-door and constructing a storm drain for 30 cents an hour. Finally, unable to live on their own anymore, the couple moved in with Claire’s parents in 1933, and Howard painted steel bridges for his father-in-law, often camping on the job site with Claire.
Howard finally landed a permanent job with the Los Angeles County Flood Control District in 1934. The job involved some legal work, and he was soon motivated to attend law school. From 1935 to 1939 Howard worked full-time by day, attended Southwestern University’s School of Law at night, ate a late dinner with Claire, and then studied until after midnight. He graduated cum laude in 1939, third in his class, and passed the California bar later that year.
Amid the difficulties of going to school and working full-time came the added challenges of a young family. Howard William Jr. (Billy) was born in 1934, John Jacob in 1936, and Richard Allen in 1938. These were years of joy and accomplishment for Howard and Claire. But they were also years touched by sorrow. At age six months, little Billy, then their only child, became sick and, after surgery to stop internal bleeding, died. Howard recalled that he and Claire were “grief-stricken and numb.”
A New State
Upon returning to Boise, Howard rejoiced to learned that his father had been baptized in his absence. Yet, though home still tugged at his heart, Howard’s sense of adventure urged him to move on. After trying, and failing, at a business venture, he decided to visit family and friends in Los Angeles, California. There he began a succession of jobs that included sorting lemons according to tip color—a difficult task, Howard discovered, for one who was color-blind.
Finally a job at the Bank of Italy, California’s largest bank at the time, offered Howard a measure of stability, and he soon enrolled in banking classes at night. He also became the drummer for a local dance band and socialized with other Latter-day Saint young adults in the area. In 1928, he moved in with his parents and sister who, along with two million others, had migrated to California during the 1920s.
The move to his parents’ apartment proved significant. Howard’s membership records were transferred to the Adams Ward, where under the influence of a Sunday School teacher he began a serious study of the gospel. “I think of this period of my life as the time the truths of the gospel commenced to unfold,” he later wrote.
In March 1930 Howard received his patriarchal blessing. In that blessing, Howard was told that he was one “whom the Lord foreknew” and had been ordained “to perform an important work in mortality.”
At the time, Howard was dating a young woman, Clara May (Claire) Jeffs, whom he had met at a Church dance in 1928. By spring 1931, the two had fallen in love. At the time, Howard had a good banking position, and the Great Depression that afflicted the rest of the United States seemed to have overlooked them. They decided to get married.
Academics, Music, and Adventure
Although Nellie and Will Hunter had not received much formal education, they offered an intellectually enriching home environment to Howard and Dorothy. Each child had a well-used library card, and Will often took them on imaginary journeys to different countries via the family atlas and encyclopedia. These adventures gave Howard a thirst for travel he never seemed to quench.
Though somewhat color-blind and not given to organized athletics, Howard succeeded academically and socially at Boise High School in the 1920s. He also cultivated an interest in music by going dateless to dances in order to better listen to the bands. That interest in music, which had begun in childhood with piano and violin lessons, increased after Howard won a marimba from a music store. He quickly taught himself to play it, then the drums, saxophone, clarinet, and, later, trumpet. He also organized what became a popular regional dance band, Hunter’s Croonaders, in 1924.
Howard graduated from Boise High School on 3 June 1926 with plans to enroll in college. But the young man decided on a more exotic adventure when the Admiral Oriental Line invited Hunter’s Croonaders to provide music for a two-month cruise aboard the passenger liner SS President Jackson. So, beginning in January 1927, Howard embarked on the first of many journeys throughout the world. Looking back on the cruise, he reasoned that “the education has been well worth what we have spent.”
Hard Work and Early Obstacles
Howard was born to John William (Will) and Nellie Marie Rasmussen Hunter in Boise, Idaho, on 14 November 1907. Along with his only sibling, Dorothy, he enjoyed a comfortable, nurturing home—but one with few luxuries. His father worked as a motorman for the Boise Valley Traction Company; to help provide for necessities, his mother took odd jobs.
As a child, Howard cleaned corn, picked beans and apples, and carted heavy milk bottles from the local dairy to his home. His many jobs as a teenager included caddying, serving ice-cream sodas, writing advertising copy for a newspaper, and working as a bellboy and porter and doing maintenance at a local hotel. The jobs obviously developed in him a capacity for hard work that later enabled him to accomplish myriad responsibilities—both at work and for the Church 3
While Howard’s mother, Nellie, actively involved herself and her children in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, his father, Will, affiliated with no church. Occasionally he accompanied his family to church; one of Howard’s favorite childhood memories was of returning home from church by streetcar while being held in his father’s arms.
But when it came time for Howard to be baptized at age eight, Will forbade it. He wanted Howard and Dorothy to be older before deciding for themselves. This postponement became painful for Howard when, upon turning 12, he could not become a deacon and pass the sacrament with the other boys. But Will later gave in to his son’s strong petitions. On 4 April 1920, Howard, age 12, and Dorothy, 10, were baptized.
Young Howard’s Church service began soon after his baptism: cutting kindling and lighting fires for the chapel on cold Sunday mornings. He also joined the new Scouting program and went on to become the second Eagle Scout in Boise. And when Boise Saints met to discuss building a tabernacle in 1923, 15-year-old Howard Hunter was the first to pledge a donation: 25 dollars, a hefty sum which he worked hard to earn and contribute.
Howard’s service also reached beyond ward boundaries. Helping out neighbors by delivering milk or doing yard work formed part of his early routine, as did keeping an eye out for stray animals in need of meals or first aid. Dorothy Hunter remembers her older brother, even in childhood, as being sweet and refined.
President Howard W. Hunter was an example to the Church and to the world of the “love and hope and compassion” of the Lord Jesus Christ. After serving for nine months as the fourteenth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was released from his earthly ministry on Friday, 3 March 1995, at the age of 87. He passed away at 8:35 A.M. in his apartment one block east of the Salt Lake Temple. His funeral was held Wednesday, 8 March 1995, at noon in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. He was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Howard W. Hunter led a remarkable life, by anyone’s standards. But while the world might honor him for his important leadership positions, he knew that true greatness lies not in the world’s definition of success, but in “the things God has ordained to be the common lot of all mankind, … the thousands of little deeds and tasks of service and sacrifice that constitute the giving or losing of one’s life for others and for the Lord.” 1
Though deep-seated modesty would prevent him from ever making the comparison, President Hunter met his own definition of greatness. His greatness emerged in periods of his life far from the spotlight as he made pivotal choices to work hard, to try again after failing, to help his fellowmen, and to pattern his life after the Savior’s.
As President of the Church, he called on all Latter-day Saints to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ and to “establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of their membership.” 2 President Hunter’s life and ministry were characterized by dedication, charity, and humility.
Ensign, May 1982, page 19.
Ensign, July 1994, pages 4-5.
Eleanor Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1994, page 45. Unless noted otherwise, this book is the key source for quotations and information used in this article.
Ensign, November 1987, page 54.
“President Hunter Visits Switzerland on 8-Day Journey,” Church News, 20 August 1994, page 11.
Quoted in Mike Cannon, “‘Be More Fully Converted,’ Prophet Says,” Church News, 24 September 1994, pages 34.
Ensign, November 1994, page 8.
Ensign, November 1994, page 7.