A Giant of a Man
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“A Giant of a Man,” Ensign, Feb. 1974, 86–87

In Memoriam: President Harold B. Lee
Funeral Sermons

A Giant of a Man

Delivered at President Lee’s funeral, December 28, 1973.

Brothers and sisters and our esteemed friends: this is a sad occasion. We all join with Sister Lee and Helen, the sisters, brother, and all other members of the family in deep grief and sense of intense loss. It is a great loss to the family, to the Church, and to the world.

President Lee has gone. I never thought it could happen. I sincerely wanted it never to happen. I doubt if anyone in the Church has prayed harder and more consistently for a long life and the general welfare for President Lee than my Camilla and myself. I have not been ambitious. I am four years older than Brother Lee (to the exact day, March 28). I have expected that I would go long before he would go. My heart cries out to him and for him. How we loved him!

President Harold B. Lee was a mighty prince among us. He was a dynamic leader, one easy to follow. Everybody knew that President Harold B. Lee was a prophet as did Israel concerning Samuel. May I quote a few scriptures:

“And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.

“And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord.

“… and the Lord revealed himself to Samuel. …” (1 Sam. 3:19–21.)

And President Lee was like Saul in the glory of his youth and righteousness:

“[When the prophet] Samuel took the vial of oil, and poured it upon his head, and kissed him, and said, Is it not because the Lord hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance?” (1 Sam. 10:12.)

And the Prophet Samuel said to the young and worthy Saul:

“And the spirit of the Lord will come upon thee and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man.

“… For God is with thee.

“And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart:

“… [and] a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.

“… [and the people asked:] Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Sam. 10:6–7, 9–11.)

President Lee was like that when the mantle of authority fell upon him; he came soon to be another man with a new enlarged heart and the revelations continued to illuminate him and the people through him. Again like Saul in the bright days of his career, President Harold B. Lee, though not tall in stature, “… when he stood among the people, he was higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upward.” (1 Sam. 10:23.)

And thus he has given leadership to the apostles. He has stood high, taller than any pine.

Our beloved Prophet, Harold Bingham Lee, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since July 7, 1972, died on December 26, 1973, from heart arrest at the age of 74.

Prominent as an educator, businessman, public official, and religious leader, President Harold B. Lee had been a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles since April 6, 1941—nearly 33 years.

He was a teacher and principal in Idaho and Utah public schools before entering private business and later becoming a public official. He became prominent in Church circles as a regional (stake) leader and welfare worker during the depression of the 1930s. In 1936, the Church correlated its various relief activities into the enlarged churchwide Welfare Program, and President Lee became the managing director on January 1, 1937, remaining 22 years in this position.

Brother Harold Bingham Lee was born March 28, 1899, in Clifton, Oneida County, Idaho, a son of Samuel Marion and Louisa Emeline Bingham Lee. One of six children, he grew up on the family farm. He married Fern Lucinda Tanner on November 14, 1923, in the Salt Lake Temple. She died September 24, 1962. He married Freda Joan Jensen June 17, 1963. President Lee has one living daughter: Mrs. L. Brent (Helen) Goates, Salt Lake City. Another daughter, Mrs. Ernest (Maurine) Wilkins, died in 1966. The Lees have ten grandchildren.

President Lee attended the Oneida Stake Academy, 1912–16, and Albion State Normal College, and then became principal of an Idaho school at the age of 17. After further study at the University of Utah, he served as a principal in the Granite School District in Salt Lake City at the age of 24.

He began his prominent Church career as a missionary and leader in the Western States Mission, headquartered at Denver. He was a member of the Pioneer Stake High council in 1927 and then counselor in the stake presidency and finally the president of the Pioneer Stake.

President Lee was appointed to the Salt Lake City Commission December 1, 1932, and then later won re-election. Meanwhile, as stake president, he had organized and established the Pioneer Stake Bishops Storehouse early in 1932 to care for the poor, needy, and the unemployed. At the request of the Church’s First Presidency, he resigned from the City Commission on January 1, 1937, to become managing director of the newly-organized churchwide Welfare Program.

Since his ordination as an apostle, President Lee served as chairman of the General Melchizedek Priesthood Committee, Military Relations Committee, General Music Committee, Correlation Committee, the Executive Committee of the Brigham Young University Board of Trustees, and many others; and adviser to the Primary and Relief Society General Boards.

He had been recognized with honorary degrees by three of the major universities in Utah.

President Lee had been president or director of several national and Utah business corporations and had served on the board of governors of the American Red Cross. He had also authored several books.

“A giant redwood has fallen.” These words, spoken by President Harold B. Lee himself at the funeral of a former stake president, seem very appropriate today. A giant redwood has fallen and left a great space in the forest.

A giant of a man he was. A man endowed with a rare native intelligence, he recalls a thousand experiences over the terrain of time, a unique gift to quickly get the heart of matters under consideration and quickened by a capacity to discard extraneous information, thus freeing the mind for decisive action.

A giant whose shadow fell across the world, bringing under it the influence of the gospel to millions of members and friends of the Church.

A giant, who, while carrying the challenges of the apostleship and the First Presidency under divine influence, anxiously still took time to share his thoughts and his counsel with countless thousands on an individual basis.

A great giant, who, with inspiration, made the experiences, stories, and the counsel of the scriptures find place in the hearts and minds of men the world over.

A giant who reached into the inner recesses of his listeners’ hearts to plant understanding, vision, direction, and comfort.

A great giant who represented our Father in heaven to all of his children and bore them comfort, strength, and godly influence.

A master teacher, who, much like the Savior, took the ordinary experiences of today to teach the will of the Lord.

Yes, among our generations has walked one of God’s most noble, powerful, committed, and foreordained giant redwoods—President Harold B. Lee.

As I’ve thought about President Lee, I’ve reflected upon a statement in the Book of Abraham:

“Now the Lord has shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many noble and great ones;

“And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits; and he saw that they were good; …” (Abr. 3:22–23.)

President Lee was a great, noble, and good man who became one of the Lord’s rulers here upon the earth.

My brothers and sisters, we live in a world that, at best, only accepts the Savior as a teacher and a philosopher; and, at worst, doesn’t even really accept his existence.

So we proclaim, as have the prophets before us, that the Savior lives today—that he is directing his church; that this is the comforting “good news” that the world needs in its ever-widening quest for truth.

And brothers and sisters, may I suggest we follow the lines of Giles Fletcher concerning our Lord, whom we love, adore, and worship, and who was President Lee’s constant companion and instructor:

“He is a path, if any be misled;

He is a robe, if any naked be;

If any chance to hunger, he is bread;

If any be a bondsman, he is free;

If any be but weak, how strong is he!”

“To dead men, life he is, to sick men, health;

To blind men, sight, and to the needy, wealth;

A pleasure without loss, a treasure without stealth.”

“He lifted the gates of history from their hinges and directed all of the future to flow in a bright wholesome channel.”

We again express our sympathy and interest and love to Sister Lee and the family in their personal loss and to all the people who will miss President Lee and his beneficent work in the world which needs it so much.

Our blessings, and may the peace of the Lord attend all of you.

The Lord said:

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.)

And so I bear testimony of the divinity of this great work and of our love and affection and need for President Lee, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.