Elder LeGrand Richards of the Council of the Twelve served faithfully throughout his life. At age 96 his missionary spirit and zest for life kept him young in spirit and positive in outlook. When he passed away at 10:40 A.M. January 11, 1983 at the home of a daughter in Salt Lake City, the Church lost a giant, but his influence for good will long be felt. As the grandson of Franklin D. Richards and the son of George F. Richards (both of whom were also Apostles), Elder Richards never seemed to doubt the faith of his fathers, but rather, took every opportunity to share it with others.
On a typical afternoon in the later part of his life, Elder Richards was showing some youth of the Church through the Church Administration Building. They had come to a room lined with beautiful onyx marble. As he spoke to them, his speech became more rapid and his eyes brightened. He recalled the story of a nationally prominent man who had visited the building many years before. Elder Richards had been assigned to accompany the man and make him feel welcome. When they reached the onyx room, the visitor looked around at the craftsmanship, the obvious care, and the resultant splendor with which the early Saints had endowed that room in their headquarters. According to Elder Richards, the man said, “My, my, you Mormons seem to be a going concern.” And then Elder Richards answered, “Yes, sir, and would you like to know more?”
Missionary work was a theme threaded throughout Elder Richards’s life. His book A Marvelous Work and a Wonder is a classic in Mormon literature and is a successful tool for missionary work in many areas of the world. The book is the best-selling LDS book other than the scriptures. Elder Richards never accepted any royalties.
He began mortal life on February 6, 1886, in Farmington, Utah, as the son of George F. and Alice A. Robinson Richards. The family moved to Tooele, Utah, where LeGrand grew up on the family farm.
While still a young man, LeGrand went to Salt Lake City with his older brother and completed an 18-month business course in 12 months. He did this while serving as a home teacher two full nights a week.
After the college business course, he was offered a position with a prominent firm. He declined the offer in order to answer a call to the Netherlands Mission. That was the first of four missions he would ultimately serve for the Church.
While on his mission as a 19-year-old, Elder Richards felt a pressing need to master the Dutch language. He would walk across the street from the mission home to the cattle market. There he would walk up and down the lanes preaching Dutch to the animals and trees. When he didn’t know a word, he would jot it down in a notebook to look up later. At a combined mission conference he was called upon to speak by President Heber J. Grant. He bore his testimony in Dutch with such power that nonmembers in attendance later remembered him for it and one joined the Church.
After his mission to the Netherlands, he began working in the Presiding Bishopric’s Office in Salt Lake City. In 1909 he married Ina Jane Ashton and moved to Portland, Oregon to begin work there. Brother and Sister Richards became the parents of eight children. It was in Oregon that he received a call as branch president.
When LeGrand was 27, he took his family and returned to the Netherlands to serve as the president of that mission. In 1930, President Heber J. Grant asked him to move to California to become president of the Hollywood Stake. Between being mission president and stake president he served three times as bishop and twice as a high councilor and filled a short-term mission in the Eastern States. He was released as the Hollywood Stake president to go to the Southern States Mission and fill the position of mission president there.
Four years later and still mission president, he dreamed he met President Grant, who said he had a special blessing for him. When he awakened he could not remember the blessing, but he remembered how thrilled he was. Within a year he was appointed Presiding Bishop of the Church.
Several times in his life he came close to death. Twice in his youth he was spared from near-fatal accidents and when he was the Presiding Bishop, he suffered a severe heart attack. Elder Harold B. Lee was called to administer to Bishop Richards, after which he “testified that as he laid hands on Elder Richards’ head, he knew the Lord was to spare him for further work” (Improvement Era, Nov. 1966, p. 1002). Ten years later, in 1952, Elder Richards was called to the Council of the Twelve.
Elder LeGrand Richards was himself a marvelous work and a wonder. His energetic love for people showed in every word he spoke and in the relentless missionary effort he continued throughout his life. He spoke as though every second were of such import that not one word should be lost and that every person listening needed to catch every anxious word. He was indeed a man of God.