In Memoriam: By His Words—Elder Mark E. Petersen


1900–1984

Working with words enthralled Elder Mark E. Petersen his entire life. As a journalist, he used words to inform and persuade; as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles his words from the pulpit inspired and motivated his listeners; and as a writer, his books and pamphlets illuminated aspects of the gospel and the scriptures.

Elder Mark E. Petersen, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for 40 years, died of cancer at 10:22 P.M. on Wednesday, January 11, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Elder Mark E. Petersen

Elder Mark E. Petersen served in the Quorum of the Twelve for nearly forty years.

Mark E. Petersen and his twin sister, Mona, were born in Salt Lake City on November 7, 1900, to Christian and Christine Andersen Petersen, Danish converts to the Church. He grew up with his two brothers and two sisters working with his father in a small construction business. As many boys do, he stuffed a canvas carrier every afternoon full of newspapers and delivered the Deseret News to his paper route. Little did he realize at the time that one day he would be editor and general manager of that newspaper.

Nineteen-year-old Mark served a full-time mission in Canada. After returning to his home in Salt Lake City, Mark was called to be the choir leader in his ward. A young lady, Emma Marr McDonald, was the talented organist who served as accompanist.

They were married and became the parents of two daughters. He always said that a love of music brought him and his wife together.

Mark had been working for a railroad, counting freight cars, but what he really wanted to do was be a newspaperman. The city editor of the Deseret News became accustomed to the sight of the tall, slender young man who presented himself before his desk every afternoon asking about a job. Mark’s shy demeanor hid an iron determination. He approached the editor nearly every afternoon for six months asking about openings at the newspaper. His persistence paid off. The reporter assigned to cover the Church Office beat quit. Mark was offered the job at a lower salary than he was making at the railroad, but he jumped at the chance to be a reporter.

From his beginnings as a newspaper carrier and cub reporter, Mark E. Petersen worked his way up through the organization. He held management positions as news editor, managing editor, editor, and general manager. He became president of Deseret News Publishing Company, the position which he held at the time he was called to the Quorum Of the Twelve.

A modest man, Elder Petersen always waved aside praise and was embarrassed by what he considered undue honors. He remained personally close to fellow employees. No matter what position he held during his years on the newspaper, he was always pleased when his associates would call him by his first name.

In 1944 at age 43, Mark E. Petersen was called to the Quorum of the Twelve. His 20 years working with words had taught him some unique skills. As a newspaperman faced with daily deadlines, he had learned to work quickly and efficiently. This trait was noticed particularly by the other General Authorities. Elder Richard L. Evans once commented about Elder Petersen, “What he does he does with impressive rapidity and rare good judgment, and it is characteristic of him to make decisions with swift insight. He has the courage to plead against prevailing opinion, and the good sense to accept considered and final decisions.” Elder Petersen became known for his gracious manner, a warm sincere smile, a handsome, manly bearing, boundless energy, and deep loyalty.

As a General Authority, Elder Petersen directed the Church’s public information programs for many years. Under his direction, numerous visitors’ centers at historical Church locations and at sites adjacent to several temples were built. For more than two decades he was adviser to the Relief Society, and in recent years he served as chairman of the Correlation Committee. During his 40 years of service in the Quorum of the Twelve, he directed numerous committees and influenced many programs.

Thinking at his typewriter was a lifelong habit. Often in informal meetings, Elder Petersen would turn to his typewriter and say, “Let’s put it down on paper,” and would begin to type with the same energy with which he talked, traveled, and worked.

Strong allegiance to the gospel principles was fundamental in Elder Petersen’s life. He said, “What we do nearly always depends on what we think. We must recognize that the Lord expects us to be willing workers. That willingness is in itself an expression of attitude.”

The book of Elder Petersen’s mortal life closes, but his words live on. The books, the essays, the missionary pamphlets, the radio broadcasts, the editorials in the Church News, have touched innumerable people searching for the truth. Through his writing, his influence lives on. By his words we have known him, and by his words we can know him still.

[photos] Elder Petersen’s ability with words, written or spoken, helped spread the gospel throughout the world.