Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


To meet Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is to find a warm, personable, buoyant friend. But to truly know him, it is necessary to know his roots.

An Obedient Boy

He grew up in St. George, Utah, in a home his mother and father literally built with their own hands. Through his mother, Alice, he is descended from Latter-day Saint pioneers who wrested a living out of the hard-baked soil in Utah’s Dixie. Among them were Richard Bentley, an early mayor of St. George; William Snow and Robert Gardner, the first settlers of nearby Pine Valley; and William Carter, the first man to plow a furrow in both the Salt Lake and St. George valleys.

Jeffrey Holland’s father, Frank, was a different kind of pioneer. An Irish convert to the Church, Frank ended his formal schooling with the seventh grade. But he diligently sought education on his own, becoming a public accountant and civic leader in St. George. Some who came under his influence still speak of the impact of his love of the Book of Mormon and still remember his Sunday School lessons. He was the kind of father who helped organize Little League baseball in the community after his son lamented that there were no baseball teams for boys his age.

Thus, the three living children of Frank D. and Alice Bentley Holland—Dennis, Jeffrey, and Debbie—enjoy a dual heritage of strength. (Scott Bentley Holland, born in the time between the births of Jeffrey and Debbie, died in infancy.)

Debbie Holland Millett says their mother epitomized the ideal “that you give selflessly forever, without any thought or expectation of return. Jeff is like that, too.” From their father, both Dennis and Jeffrey inherited Irish charm and wit, she says. “They have the ability to take everyday incidents and turn them into stories that have you holding your sides with laughter.” And Jeffrey has his own “spiritual exuberance” that gives way to quiet contemplation when his mind is focused on the things of eternity.

Those who know Elder Holland agree that his personality is a unique blend of wit, warmth, selflessness, and spirituality. President James E. Faust of the First Presidency, a longtime friend, says that Elder Holland “has a deep spirituality coupled with an exceptional sensitivity,” enabling him to see or feel things others may not perceive. A teacher at heart, he is “always building people and lifting people and drawing people to him. He has the marvelous capacity to make people feel that they are his very best friends.”

Moreover, observes President Faust, “Elder Holland comes with Sister Holland. She is a perfect companion for him. They’re an exemplary couple.”

What distinguishes their relationship, perhaps, is the way they have helped to shape and build each other through the years as their lives have intertwined.

Jeffrey Roy Holland was born 3 December 1940. He thrived on life in rural, small-town St. George. “I had an idyllic childhood,” he says.

While Frank Holland’s family was always first in his life, much of his effort was oriented toward his work and the community. Elder Holland remembers his mother as the anchor of the home. Her love was a constant in his early life, a guiding force that made him always want to live up to what she thought of him.

He was an obedient boy, Alice Holland says. Once when he was a youth, she let him go to a party with the understanding that he would be home by ten o’clock. When he looked at the clock later and realized that he had only 15 minutes to make it home, he ran from one end of St. George to the other. “He never gave me any trouble,” Alice says. “He was always at church, and he always took care of his priesthood duties.”

And he was friendly. Little children liked him because he was good to them. When he worked as a service station attendant (he had also been a paperboy and a grocery bagger), people deliberately sought him out to service their cars. His friendliness came naturally. “I have always loved people, and I think while growing up I knew everyone in the city of St. George,” he says.

Jeff Holland was a natural leader, says Karl Brooks, an administrator at Dixie College and a former mayor of St. George. “Jeff was in a position to lead his crowd away from church or toward it, and he chose always to go toward it.”

While some young people might have felt that living the gospel ruled out having fun, “Jeff Holland showed that you can do both. He was into things. He was involved,” Brother Brooks says. “If there was a ball game going on, he was either playing or watching.”

“The central joy of my life while I was growing up was sports,” Elder Holland reflects. “I played on every kind of team that could have been assembled.” He was a member of Dixie High School’s state championship football and basketball teams in 1958 and lettered in football, basketball, track, and baseball. After his mission, he was the co-captain of the Dixie College basketball team that won its conference championship.

One benefit of his high school involvement in athletics was that it kept him close to the young woman who would later become his wife. Patricia Terry was a cheerleader for the school athletic teams. Her parents, Maeser and Marilla Terry, had moved to St. George just as she entered high school. She and Jeff dated for two years before his mission.

By Nature a Teacher

Though he was active in the Church and enjoyed seminary, Elder Holland credits Pat’s faith with solidifying his determination to serve a mission at a time when it was not clearly expected that every worthy young man should go. Pat’s parents say strong faith was a part of her nature even as a little child. Elder Holland comments, “Her faith has always been as pure and as powerful and as strong as any person’s I’ve ever known.” And when they were dating, Pat knew even before he was sure of it himself that he should serve a mission.

He looks back on his service in the British Mission as “the major spiritual turning point of my life—the beginning of my beginnings” in mature gospel growth. Under President T. Bowring Woodbury, he gained experience and seasoning as a missionary. Then, with the arrival of a new mission president—Elder Marion D. Hanks of the Seventy—Elder Holland’s future changed forever.

“President Hanks taught me to love the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon,” Elder Holland says. “He had a profound influence on my life.” Before his mission, Elder Holland had intended to become a medical doctor. But, he explains, “I came home from my mission believing that God intended me to be a teacher.”

“Jeffrey Holland is by nature a teacher,” says Elder Hanks, now an emeritus member of the Seventy. “He is a gentleman, a scholar, and a diplomat—but in all those things he is a teacher.”

As his mission president, Elder Hanks saw some exceptional qualities in young Elder Holland and made him part of a traveling team of trainers. Their assignment was to help other missionaries become disciples of Jesus Christ. Elder Hanks says Jeffrey Holland “blossomed into a discipleship, even then centered in Jesus Christ,” and responded diligently to his mission president’s call to teach from the Book of Mormon. Elder Hanks says that Elder Holland’s love for that book and his ability to teach from it have grown continuously stronger through the years.

Frank and Alice Holland were called to the British Mission during their son’s service there. Alice laughs when she recalls that her son claimed to be the only missionary who ever said farewell to his parents at both ends of his mission. They were still serving as missionaries when Jeff and Pat were married in the St. George Temple on 7 June 1963. (Frank Holland lived to see his second son’s children born, but died in 1977 at age 66.)

Like so many other young married couples, Jeff and Pat struggled through their student years at Brigham Young University. Nearing graduation in 1965, he was not eager to become a teacher of English, his academic major. Then came an opportunity to teach religion half-time at BYU while he worked on a master’s degree in religious instruction. He regarded it as an answer to prayer and felt privileged to be hired as an institute teacher in the Church Educational System on completion of his graduate work in 1966.

After a year in Hayward, California, teaching at several institutes in the area, he was appointed director of the institute in Seattle. Seattle Temple President Brent Nash, who was called as stake president during that time, says Jeffrey Holland reached out to many young members who might otherwise have faded into anonymity on campus. “Youth were drawn to him. If he was able to bring some of those young people into the institute, the gospel changed them.”

It was a time when uninformed comments about the Church had generated controversy on campus, but the young institute director’s ability to make friends and touch hearts helped erase ill feeling among students and organizations allied with other faiths. He became a sought-after speaker for firesides and other Church programs, and his wife frequently spoke along with him.

But anticipating a lifelong career in the field of education, Jeff knew he would need more schooling, including a doctoral degree. Years earlier, at BYU, he had opened a Yale University catalog and felt prompted that one day he would go there. A Yale-educated professor at the University of Washington recommended him for Yale’s American Studies program, and the Hollands moved to New Haven, Connecticut, in 1970.

Learning How to Serve

The early years of their marriage were a time of development in Church service for Jeff and Pat Holland.

In their student ward at BYU, she had been Relief Society president. In Seattle, he had been bishop of the singles ward. Not long after they were settled in New Haven, he was called into the stake presidency. Pat served again as ward Relief Society president. Elder Holland says he now believes that his Church calling was one more reason he was supposed to be in New England. “What I really got was an education in Church government”—a quick course in how the Church was run in areas where it had not been long established. During a visit to Connecticut, Maeser Terry observed that although his son-in-law frequently “would travel many, many miles and come home exhausted” in the course of his Church work, Jeffrey Holland never gave less than his best to his calling. The experience helped prepare him for service in two other stake presidencies and as a regional representative before his call as a General Authority.

Yet those who knew the Hollands during their five years in Seattle and New Haven say their family was always a high priority. Jeff Holland made time for his children, even if it meant taking them with him on a Church assignment or activity.

Matthew Holland was born in 1966, Mary Alice in 1969, and David Frank (who recently returned after serving a mission in the Czech Republic) in 1973. Matt, now a doctoral student at Duke University, recalls that spiritual training was a part of everyday family life. On an outing when he was about 12 years old, he had his first experience with feeling personal revelation.

Returning from an exploring trip on backcountry roads, he and his father came to an unexpected fork and could not remember which road to take. It was late in the day, and they knew darkness would be enveloping them in unfamiliar territory. Seizing a teaching moment, Jeffrey Holland asked his son to pray for direction. Afterward, he asked his son what he felt, and Matt replied that he felt strongly they should go to the left. Replying that he had felt the same way, his father turned the truck to the left. Ten minutes later, they came to a dead end and returned to take the other route.

Matt thought for a time and then asked his father why they would get that kind of answer to a prayer. His father replied that with the sun going down, that was undoubtedly the quickest way for the Lord to give them information—in this case, which one was the wrong road. Now, though the other road might not be familiar and could be difficult in places, they could proceed confidently, knowing it was the right one, even in the dark.

Broadening Influence

When the Hollands left New Haven and returned to Utah in the fall of 1972, Jeffrey entered a new era of his life. He taught at the Salt Lake institute for only a few months before he was called to be director of the Church’s new Melchizedek Priesthood MIA. In that position, he worked with Elder James E. Faust, Elder L. Tom Perry, and Elder Marion D. Hanks, who notes that Jeffrey Holland’s work had a significant impact on Church programs reaching out to single adults.

Then, in 1974, he was appointed dean of Religious Education at BYU. As a young dean—young in years and new to the faculty—he benefitted from his diplomatic skills, encouraging a strong, central role for religious education at the university.

In 1976, he was named commissioner of education for the Church. Then, in 1980, he was called into a meeting with the First Presidency and was told that he was to follow Dallin H. Oaks as president of BYU. His stunned reply: “President Kimball, you’ve got to be joking!” President Spencer W. Kimball answered wryly, “Brother Holland, in this room, we don’t joke very much.”

BYU “is a cherished place for me,” Elder Holland comments, because of the spirit he has always felt there and the ways the university has touched his life. As a faculty member and then as president, he delighted in serving students.

As always, Sister Holland was at his side during the BYU years making her own unique contributions. “Pat is an extremely charitable person,” her husband says. “She has given and given and given—of her time and of her love—all her life.” Of her service opportunities at BYU, Sister Holland comments: “It was a privilege—my privilege—to love so many people.” She and her husband became known for the way they reached out, as a team and individually, to others. Among the means they used there were a number of landmark assemblies, which the students came to call affectionately “The Jeff and Pat Show,” when they shared counsel, experiences, and love with thousands of students in what felt almost like friendly one-on-one chats.

“Good Up Close”

Their commitment to service was not a matter of mere public behavior, says BYU provost Bruce C. Hafen, who grew up in St. George and has known the Hollands virtually all his life. Some may wonder if they are “as good up close and under stress as they are when they are in the spotlight, and the answer is yes.”

Despite their accessibility, however, the Hollands managed to keep a private place for the family inside the president’s home on campus. It was important, Sister Holland says, to maintain as normal a family life as possible. She tried never to be away from home two nights in a row. Because her family and their home are of such importance in her life, it was an act of faith and a sacrifice when she accepted a calling as a counselor in the Young Women general presidency while her husband served as university president. “We had to rely on Heavenly Father,” she says, for assurance that she would be able to meet all the demands of her different roles. She says she could not have done it without the support of her children and husband.

Throughout those years, the Holland children felt their father was available whenever they needed him. Mary Alice (now Mrs. Lee McCann and the mother of the Hollands’ two grandchildren) felt free to call him any time she had a problem or a need. When one of his children had a play, recital, or other important activity, he would be there.

He’s the type of father, Mary says, who carefully planned daddy-daughter activities he knew she would enjoy, even though they might not be his preference. He strengthened her while she was growing up by helping her understand what an honor it is to be a woman and what a privilege it would be to be a mother.

David recalls his father’s willingness to sacrifice for his children. Once Jeffrey Holland took several days out of his BYU schedule for a one-on-one trip to southern Utah with his younger son. Later, when the family prepared to move after Elder Holland was called as a General Authority, he drove an hour out of his way each day for nearly two months to take David to football practices at his new high school.

Matt says his fondest memories are of the times the family spent at the dinner table. “Every night was a kind of family home evening filled with laughter, compliments, interesting conversation, testimony, teaching, and expressions of love. You always knew Dad was happiest when he was home with his family.”

Jeffrey Holland drew on the private support of his family for strength during those BYU years while he was so much in the public eye. He was necessarily involved in a number of educational organizations. He spearheaded major public efforts, including a $100,000,000 fund-raising campaign, for the university. He helped the school celebrate and deal with athletic successes. As president, he bore the brunt of strong protests against the building of the BYU Jerusalem Center; in the process, he won the respect of many opponents. He also worked closely on the project with Elder Faust and President Howard W. Hunter, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve. That “sweet association” with President Hunter was a special blessing in his life, he says.

“My Greatest Joy”

That association became closer and the blessing of it richer when Elder Holland was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy on 1 April 1989.

Dennis Holland was among those who were not surprised by the call to the Twelve that has since come to his brother. “All Jeff ever wanted to do was teach the gospel to students in a classroom. I was always sure that the Lord had the same goal in mind for him, but that the size of the classroom and the number of students were on a much grander scale than Jeff was envisioning.”

The events of 23 June 1994 stunned Elder Holland. There had been no particular sense of foreshadowing in President Hunter’s invitation to a 7:30 A.M. visit. But by midday, Elder Holland had been called to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve, had been introduced in the quorum by President Hunter, and had been ordained by the President.

At the time of his call, he marveled at the vigor of President Hunter in handling surely and rapidly the events of the morning. It was evidence “that the Lord had worked a miracle in the life of Howard W. Hunter,” Elder Holland says. He speaks of feeling a powerful witness that President Hunter had been strengthened to lead the Church. “I saw the hand of the Lord on him.”

Mary McCann believes her father’s focus on the role and mission of Jesus Christ, along with a “complete dedication” to the Lord, will serve him well in his new calling. She says that the strong interdependent relationship between her parents buoys up both of them and will help give him strength to meet daily challenges.

Matt Holland comments that the hallmark of his parents’ relationship is respect. “My mother gives her full, unreserved allegiance to my father’s priesthood leadership, and my father constantly turns to my mother for counsel and insight.”

Elder Holland says that his wife’s spiritual sensitivity, her intelligence, her deep faith, and her love have been blessings in his life. “It’s been a joy to be married to her.”

It is true that they strengthen and feed each other emotionally and intellectually, Sister Holland says. But she adds that her husband is long used to living by faith. He exerts a powerful uplifting influence, helping the discouraged to see that there is hope through the Savior. He views others through the lens of charity. “He believes—he believes in people, he believes in God, he believes that our Father only wants good for us.”

In quieter moments, after the rush of events following his ordination, there came a period of soul searching for Elder Holland. It went on for some time, motivated in part by his “unspeakable respect” for the office to which he has been ordained. The calling, he reflects, requires a member of the Twelve “to be a witness of the Lord Jesus Christ and all that he stands for, all that he is, and all that his church represents. There is an overwhelming sense of responsibility in that.” It brings a deep desire “to live up to the standard that the entire Christian world holds for the title ‘Apostle,’ never doing anything that could ever diminish that office in anyone’s sight.”

He says that serving in the office to which he has been ordained will be a lifelong refining process. He begins it with resolve: “I pledge everything I have and everything I know how to give to witnessing the divinity of the Savior’s life and the restoration of his gospel. My greatest joy and my solemn obligation is to testify of Jesus Christ wherever I may go and with whomever I may be for as long as I shall live.”

[photos] Photography courtesy of the Holland family, except as noted

[photo] With son David during the BYU football team’s 1980 Holiday Bowl activities.

[photos] Young Jeffrey Holland, above, enjoyed a typical small-town boyhood, and as a youth, right, could be found participating in athletics.

[photo] Frank and Alice Holland (front) posed in the mid-1970s with their three living children: Jeffrey (left), Debbie, and Dennis.

[photos] Scenes from the life of Jeffrey Holland in the 1980s: heading a major university (photograph by Mark A. Philbrick, BYU), above, and with President Spencer W. Kimball, right. His outgoing nature and warmth are assets in any setting, bottom. (Photograph by Mark A. Philbrick, BYU.)

[photos] Above, Jeffrey Holland with his wife, Pat, and their eldest son, Matthew, in the mid-1960s. Left, addressing students as BYU president, with his wife. Below, with his family in 1989: Matthew, Pat, and Mary (seated); David and Jeffrey (standing). (Photograph by Mark A. Philbrick, BYU.)