Heber J. Grant: A Man Without Excuses


People have all kinds of reasons for not doing all kinds of things in life. Some won’t go to war. Some don’t want to work. Some excuse their way out of responsibility. Some claim to be too tired, ill, busy, poor, or self-conscious to get involved. Some claim self-importance and talent only for bigger things. There are those content to let somebody else do it and others who simply talk up a storm about love or peace or investing one’s humanity. Yes, there are all kinds of reasons and all kinds of people.

And then 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 to the challenge in seeming glee. If he didn’t seem to have the natural gift to accomplish a certain thing, he practiced and prayed until he developed the skill.

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 countless beautiful hours) and Rachel Ivins Grant (widowed mother of Heber) 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 this attitude and went one step further. 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 Emerson: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do—not that the nature of the thing has changed, but that our power to do has increased.” And he practiced what he preached.

He used to love to tell about learning to throw a baseball so he would be accepted on the top team and about struggling to improve his penmanship so it would represent him well. His handwriting was at last considered unusually beautiful. He expressed his joy from the pulpit that singing the hymns of the Church with the Saints was a marvelous way to worship. Then he would explain his delight in learning so many hymns in so many days and in knowing he could sing them perfectly, without mistake.

One of his favorite topics in sermons was to encourage people to get busy and improve their ability to live. He forcibly preached that the power of personal salvation and exaltation was 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 his strong suggestion was that we should develop that power to the fullest in our daily lives.

Heber Jeddy Grant was born to Jedediah M. Grant and Rachel on November 22, 1856, in Salt Lake City. His father was a counselor to President Young and died when Heber was just nine days old. His mother was given the comfort that her son would grow up to become an apostle of greater importance than even his wonderful father. Her constant counsel to him was that he “behave” and “be obedient” that he might be worthy to have this blessing fulfilled in his life.

His lifetime spans one of the most interesting periods in all history, and his time as president and prophet of the Church were years demanding capable and fearless leadership. The Lord had seen to it that Heber was prepared to persist, to obey the principles, and to lean heavily upon God.

These were qualities needed to strengthen a mighty people through two world wars, financial crises, and rapid growth as conversions were made all over the world.

Heber J. Grant was close to his family all the years of his life—close to his children and his children’s children and the people they chose to link their lives with. 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.”

As a young man, Heber attended a 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 J. Grant gave the bishop the entire $50 and said, “‘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 J. Grant’s profit was $218.50. The next day he went to his bishop and said: “Bishop, 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.”

At one time in his life, President Grant encountered some severe financial reverses, and in his words, “I was just $91,000 worse off than nothing.”

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.

After the meeting in which he was called, a fellow apostle told Heber J. Grant that the president of the Church would never have called him if he had known of his difficult financial situation. President Grant agreed. At that moment President Grant put himself completely in the hands of the Lord, and every morning his prayer, in essence, was: “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 had sufficient to sustain himself in the mission field.

As Heber J. Grant matured, his faith in God also matured. His wife lay critically ill, and Heber J. Grant called his children into her hospital room and told them that their mother was going to die. President Grant’s daughter, upon learning of this, pleaded with her father not to let her mother die. She pleaded with him to exercise his priesthood in her behalf. She and his other children left the room and President Grant knelt by his wife’s bed. Of that prayer President Grant 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 a direct answer to my supplication to the Lord, and for it I have never ceased to be grateful.”

Lutie grew up to become the general president of the YWMIA. Her father used to tell about hearing Lutie testify in a conference before young people how grateful she was to have been born of parents who had been sealed in the temple of the Lord. President Grant wept when he recalled that the Salt Lake Temple wasn’t finished when he was married, and friends had tried to talk him into waiting for a temple marriage until it was. But he determined to make the special effort (it was a task in those days) to take his bride to St. George and be sealed, first thing.

Though he was extremely demanding of himself, Heber J. Grant was quick to learn the importance of not judging imperfection in others. He tells the story of how he learned this truth. He had gone to church and the speaker made some grammatical errors in his opening remarks.

Heber was sure he could get ample material for a class at school where he had to bring examples of mistakes in grammar to be corrected. As he began to write, he listened for errors and caught instead the Spirit of the man speaking, and he wept as testimony was born of the divinity of the Savior, the mission of Joseph Smith, and the work of the Lord in this church.

President Grant ended the story by saying, “During the years that have passed since then, I have never been shocked or annoyed by grammatical errors or mis-pronounced 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.”

Such was Heber J. Grant—a president who was never afraid to try, who was not afraid of having to change his mind after learning more, a president who stuck to the right that he did know, no matter the cost and no matter what anyone else thought.

Heber J. Grant

President Grant as he is often pictured.

Heber J. Grant Highlights (1856–1945)

 

Age

 

Nov. 22, 1856

Born in Salt Lake City

1856

8 days

Father, Jedediah M. Grant, second counselor to Brigham Young and first mayor of Salt Lake City, dies

1875

19

Becomes member of superintendency of first YMMIA

1877

21

Marries Lucy Stringham

1880

24

Serves as secretary to general superintendency of YMMIA; becomes stake president of Tooele Stake

1882

26

Ordained apostle

1897

41

Becomes member of general superintendency of YMMIA; appointed business manager of Improvement Era, which he helped found

1901–03

45–47

Organizes and presides over Japanese Mission

1904–06

48–50

President, British and European Missions

1918

62

Sustained president of Church

1919

63

Dedicates Hawaii Temple

1923

67

Dedicates Canadian Temple

1927

71

Dedicates Arizona Temple

1936

80

Church security plan (later Welfare Program) begins

May 14, 1945

89

Dies

[photo] His briefcases.

[photo] On September 1, 1901, Elder Grant and three missionaries went to a little hill overlooking Yokohama and dedicated the Japanese Islands for the preaching of the gospel.

[photos] President Grant always seemed to display the seriousness of one who knew he had a great calling to fulfill.

[photo] Persistence showed early in President Grant’s life, as this note from a teacher attests.

[photo] This axiom from the pen of Ralph Waldo Emerson motivated Heber J. Grant throughout his life.

[photo] This beautifully crafted desk was used by President Grant for many years.

[photo] President Grant occupies the seat of honor in the new man-made miracle of his day—the flying machine.

[photo] Radio was first a luxury, then became commonplace during President Grant’s administration. This photo captures the first radio broadcast over station KZN in Salt Lake City in 1922. President George Albert Smith is in rear of photo.

[photos] Personal effects of the president.

[photo] President Grant’s daughters: (l to r) Edith, Florence, Rachel, Lucy, and Anna. Heber, Jr., sits on his father’s lap. Soda Springs, Idaho, 1892.