President Harold B. Lee: A Giant Redwood

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Student Study Guide, (2005), 205

In an address at the funeral of President Harold B. Lee, President Spencer W. Kimball described President Lee as “one of God’s most noble, powerful, committed, and foreordained giant redwoods” (in L. Brent Goates,Harold B. Lee: Prophet and r[1985], 595). On another occasion, President Kimball described President Lee as “tried and true, educated in the program [of the Church], spiritual, and above all, called of the Lord. … We have n this man, already trained and spiritual, grow and magnify his calling. As we him make pronouncements and decisions, we recognize in them all the voice of the shepherd, the leader of men, a prophet of the Lord, the mantle bearer” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball,467). As you study the life and teachings of President Lee, notice the simple personal belief that characterized his life and that he believed would bless the world.

His Life (1899–1973)


Born on March 28 to Samuel and Louisa Bingham Lee in Clifton, Idaho


Age 8, baptized on Sunday, June 9, in Bybee Pond


Age 17, began working as a schoolteacher in Idaho


Age 21–23, served a mission in the western United States


Age 24, married Fern Tanner


Age 33, became a leader in the Salt Lake City government


Age 36, called to organize the Church welfare program


Age 42, ordained an Apostle by President Heber J. Grant


Age 62, named chairman of Church Correlation, which was organized by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


Age 64, married Freda Jensen, after the death of his first wife


Age 70, sustained as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


Age 71–73, First Counselor to President Joseph Fielding Smith


Age 73, sustained as President of the Church


Age 74, died December 26 in Salt Lake City

His Presidency (1972–73)



New young adult organization for single adults


Church health services, social services, and welfare organized together; agricultural missionaries sent to different parts of the world to help people improve their farming methods; Church membership was 3,306,658

The Life of President Harold B. Lee

1. “On the day after President Joseph Fielding Smith died, the family of President Harold B. Lee, the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve, gathered for a home evening. One family member asked what they could do that would help President Lee the most. ‘Be true to the faith; just live the gospel as I have taught you,’ he answered. That message applies to all Church members. In his first press conference as Church President, Harold B. Lee declared: ‘Keep the commandments of God. Therein will be the salvation of individuals and nations during these troublesome times’ [in Francis M. Gibbons,Harold B. Lee: Man of Vision, Prophet of God[1993], 459].

2. “When Harold B. Lee became Church President on 7 July 1972, he was 73 years old, the youngest Apostle to become President since Heber J. Grant. He had played a major role in Church administration since 1935, when he was called to direct the Church welfare program. He had also played a major role in the review of the Church’s programs and curriculum materials that led to the simplification and correlation of Church programs. He was a man of deep spirituality who was quick to respond to the impressions he received from heaven.

3. “President Lee and his Counselors presided over the second area conference, held in Mexico City. Church members assembled at this conference were the first Latter-day Saints to sustain the new First Presidency. President Lee explained that the meetings were held in Mexico City to ‘give recognition and to commend the wonderful labors of the many who … have been instrumental in bringing about the tremendous growth of the Church.’

4. “When the Saints in Mexico and Central America learned that an area conference would be held in Mexico City, many began making plans to attend. One sister went door-to-door asking for laundry. For five months she saved the pesos earned from scrubbing her neighbors’ clothes and was able to travel to the conference and attend all the sessions. Many Saints willingly fasted during the days of the conference because they did not have money to buy food after working and saving to attend the meetings. Those who made sacrifices were rewarded with great spiritual strength. One member declared that the conference was ‘the most beautiful experience of my life!’ Another told a reporter, ‘It will take many years for us to forget the love that we have felt here these days.’ [ Jay M. Todd, “The Remarkable Mexico City Area Conference,”Ensign,Nov. 1972, 89, 93, 95.]

5. “During his administration, President Lee visited the Holy Land, the first Church President in this dispensation to do so. He also announced that smaller temples would now be constructed and would eventually dot the world.

6. “On the day after Christmas in 1973, after having served as Church President for only 18 months, President Lee died. A spiritual giant had returned to his eternal home” (Our Heritage,123–24).

Understanding the Reading

The Life of President Harold B. Lee

Curriculum(par. 2)Teaching, courses of instruction 
Correlation(par. 2)A unifying relationship 
Instrumental(par. 3)Very helpful 
Pesos(par. 4)In Mexico the peso is a unit of money equal to 100 centavos, the basic unit of money in Mexico 
This dispensation(par. 5)Last period of time before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ 

The Teachings and Testimony of Harold B. Lee

Warned at Shack

7. When Harold B. Lee was a small boy, he saw through a fence into a neighbor’s yard some broken-down buildings and imagined exploring them. As he climbed through the fence, a voice said to him, “Harold, don’t go over there.” He later explained: “I looked in every direction to where the speaker was. I wondered if it was my father, but he couldn’t me. There was no one in sight. I realized that someone was warning me of an unn danger. … From that time on, I accepted without question the fact that there were processes not known to man by which we can hear voices from the unn world, by which we can have brought to us the visions of eternity” (“The Way to Eternal Life,”Ensign,Nov. 1971, 17).

8. “I have learned something of what the Spirit has taught, and I know now that the place of safety in this world is not in any given place; it doesn’t make so much difference where we live; but the all-important thing is how we live, and I have found that security can come to Israel [Church members] only when they keep the commandments, when they live so that they can enjoy the companionship, the direction, the comfort, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit of the Lord, when they are willing to listen to these men whom God has set here to preside as His mouthpieces, and when we obey the counsels of the Church” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1943, 129).

9. “The heaviest burden that one has to bear in this life is the burden of sin” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1973, 177; orEnsign,July 1973, 122).

10. “The more I of life, the more I am convinced that we must impress you young people with the awfulness of sin rather than to content ourselves with merely teaching the way of repentance. I wish that someone could warn you of the night of hell that follows the committing of a moral sin” (Youth and the Church[1945], 90).

11. Elder Henry D. Taylor, who was a member of the Seventy, quoted President Lee on the importance of scripture study: “If we’re not reading the scriptures daily, our testimonies are growing thinner, our spirituality isn’t increasing in depth” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1976, 89; orEnsign,Nov. 1976, 62).

12. “Testimony isn’t something you have today, and you are going to have always. A testimony is fragile. It is as hard to hold as a moonbeam. It is something you have to recapture every day of your life” (in “President Harold B. Lee Directs Church; Led by the Spirit,”Church News,July 15, 1972, 4).

13. “All that we teach in this Church ought to be couched in the scriptures. It ought to be found in the scriptures. We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures. If we want to measure truth, we should measure it by the four standard works, regardless of who writes it. If it is not in the standard works, we may well assume that it is speculation, man’s own personal opinion; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, it is not true. This is the standard by which we measure all truth” (“Using the Scriptures in Our Church Assignments,”Improvement Era,Jan. 1969, 13).

14. “In addition to what the scriptures have told us, we have what the prophets today are telling us here and now” (Teachings of Harold B. Lee,471).

15. “If you want to know what the Lord would have the Saints know and to have his guidance and direction for the next six months, get a copy of the proceedings of [general] conference, and you will have the latest word of the Lord as far as the Saints are concerned. And [also] all others who are not of us, but who believe what has been said has been ‘the mind of the Lord, the will of the Lord, and the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.’ (D&C 68:4.)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1973, 168; orEnsign,Jan. 1974, 128).

Harold B. Lee

16. “I want to bear my sacred witness that because I know of the divinity of this work, I know that it will prevail; and that though there may be enemies within and without the Church who would k to undermine and would k to find fault and try to undermine the influence of the Church in the world, this church will be borne off triumphantly and will stand through the test of time when all the man-made efforts and weapons forged against the Lord’s word will fall by the wayside. I know that our Lord and Master Jesus Christ is the head of this church; that he has daily communion through agencies known to him, not only to the leaders of the Church in high positions, but also to individual members as they keep the commandments of God” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1973, 10; orEnsign,July 1973, 6).

Understanding the Reading

The Teachings and Testimony of Harold B. Lee

Processes(par. 7)Ways, methods 
Mouthpieces(par. 8)Spokespersons 
Content ourselves(par. 10)Be satisfied 
Fragile(par. 12)Delicate, easily damaged or lost 
Couched in(par. 13)Taught by using, contained in 
Contradicts(par. 13)Opposes, is contrary to 
Undermine(par. 16)Weaken, destroy 
Be borne off(par. 16)Achieve the victory 
Forged(par. 16)Made 
Communion(par. 16)Communication 
Agencies(par. 16)Ways 

Studying the Reading

Do activity A and activity B or C as you study “President Harold B. Lee.”

Activity A iconLook for Evidence

  1. 1.

    Review paragraph 1 and look for the counsel President Harold B. Lee gave his family and Church members that would help them through troubled times.

  2. 2.

    Review paragraph 4 and list evidence that the Saints in Mexico and Central America lived according to each of the following teachings of President Lee:

    1. a.

      “Be true to the faith.”

    2. b.

      “Keep the commandments of God.”

  3. 3.

    Imagine you are an attorney. Write a brief paragraph showing what you would say to defend the faithfulness of the Saints in Mexico and Central America.

Activity B iconHelp a Friend

Suppose you are worried about a friend whose recent decisions m to be leading him or her toward unn dangers. Review paragraphs 7–10 and list what you could say to help your friend. Include answers to the following questions:

  1. 1.

    What unn dangers exist that could bring us a heavy burden? ( par. 9–10).

  2. 2.

    What helped young Harold B. Lee stay away from an unn danger? ( par. 7).

  3. 3.

    What can we do to have the safety and security that the Holy Spirit provides? ( par. 8).

Activity C iconMake a Poster

Imagine you are on a committee planning a stake or district youth conference. Your assignment is to advertise the conference theme. Review paragraphs 11–15 and design a poster that includes the following:

  1. 1.

    A theme based on what President Lee taught in those paragraphs.

  2. 2.

    One sentence or phrase President Lee said that summarizes the theme.

  3. 3.

    One or two pictures that represent what President Lee taught and help illustrate the theme.

  4. 4.

    Ways this theme can help young people find strength in their lives.