Speaking for Himself—President Lee’s Stories

“Speaking for Himself—President Lee’s Stories,” Ensign, Feb. 1974, 15

In Memoriam: President Harold B. Lee

Speaking for Himself—

President Lee’s Stories

“I Talked with God”

I think I would define prayer as the means by which God and man communicate with each other.

To give point to that I will mention a little experience I had in Jacksonville, Florida, with the late President Charles A. Callis, in assisting him in the performance of an important mission which had just been concluded when he was taken two days thereafter in death.

We had struck a knotty problem in the process of setting up a new stake. It was one that worried him, and he and I were not in agreement about it. That was always a rather serious thing to not be in agreement with Brother Callis. He was a man of strong, vigorous, and powerful thinking.

He had said finally, “I will have to sleep on this.” With that he dismissed me. The next morning he called me into his room; and as he pulled his chair close along side of mine, he said to me with an impressiveness which I shall never forget, “Last night I talked with God, and he has given me to understand that you are right and I am wrong.”
—Advanced Course in Theology at Brigham Young University
July 6, 1956

President Lee, early in life

27. One of the last portraits taken of President Lee.

“That Feeling Has Driven Me On”

It was August 1935 … at that time there was an upturn in business, so much so that some were questioning the wisdom of this kind of activity [welfare], and why hadn’t the Church done it before now?

There came to me, in that early morning hour, a distinct impression that was as real as though someone had spoken audibly, and this … impression … has stayed with me through these years: There is no individual in the Church that knows the real purpose for which the program then launched had been intended, but hardly before the Church has made sufficient preparation, that reason will be made manifest, and when it comes it will challenge every resource of the Church to meet it. I trembled at the feeling that came over me.

Since that day that feeling has driven me on, night and day, hardly resting, knowing that this is God’s will, this is his plan. The only thing necessary today is that the Latter-day Saints everywhere recognize these men, who sit here on the stand, as the fountainheads of truth, through whom God will reveal his will, that his Saints might be preserved through an evil day.
—General Conference
April 6, 1941

Unseen Hands

May I impose upon you for a moment to express appreciation for something that happened to me some time ago, years ago. I was suffering from an ulcer condition that was becoming worse and worse. We had been touring a mission; my wife, Joan, and I were impressed the next morning that we should get home as quickly as possible, although we had planned to stay for some other meetings.

On the way across the country, we were sitting in the forward section of the airplane. Some of our Church members were in the next section. As we approached a certain point en route, someone laid his hand upon my head. I looked up; I could see no one. That happened again before we arrived home, again with the same experience. Who it was, by what means or what medium, I may never know, except I knew that I was receiving a blessing that I came a few hours later to know I needed most desperately.

As soon as we arrived home, my wife very anxiously called the doctor. It was now about 11 o’clock at night. He called me to come to the telephone, and he asked me how I was; and I said, “Well, I am very tired. I think I will be all right.” But shortly thereafter, there came massive hemorrhages which, had they occurred while we were in flight, I wouldn’t be here today talking about it.

I know that there are powers divine that reach out when all other help is not available.
—The Ensign
July 1973

Healing Sick Souls

There is a power beyond the sight of man that heals not only sick bodies but sick souls. … I met a young man in Japan where we were holding a servicemen’s conference. … He had his right arm in a sling and … said, “I am not a member of the Church but I understand you are going to be down in Manila in another few weeks. We will be there with the Seventh Fleet and I hope to be able to tell you when you get there that I am now a member of the Church.”

The weeks went by and I had almost forgotten the incident until, as we held a conference at Clark Field in Manila, … I spotted the same man whom I had met in Japan. … He said, “You noticed I had my arm in a sling and it was paining me terribly all through that service, but after we had shaken hands on the stand suddenly the throbbing pain seemed to stop and I took my arm out of the sling and began to flex it and there was no pain. I went back to the ship, never needed any treatment, the infection seemed to have been gone, and I sensed the fact that I had been in the presence of a power that had taken away the pain of my body. I am going back home now to prove that I am worthy of the love of my sweet wife.”

A few years later I was with a companion in Norfolk, Virginia, where we were organizing a new stake and right down in the front seat there sat this same man with a beautiful woman by his side, his wife, and we sustained him as a member of the elders presidency of that stake. Yes, the Lord can heal sick bodies but the greatest miracle we see is the healing of sick souls.
—Baccalaureate Address
Ricks College,
May 6, 1970

“I Was Challenged by the Evil Spirit”

I want to bear you my solemn witness that I know there are [evil] forces in the world today. It would seem to me somewhat significant as I have thought about it, that the first and only experience of its kind I ever had, came shortly after I came into the Council of the Twelve when I was asked to administer to a young woman who was possessed of an evil spirit. Seemingly, there might have been a purpose in letting me know that these powers were around. In this experience, as I was challenged by the evil spirit, the hairs on my head felt as though pin pricks were in every hair and coursing down my body. I knew in that experience the power of evil, and I knew again the superior power of the priesthood and the powers of the Living God.
—General Conference
September 30, 1949

Tune in the Lord

We had a very grievous case that had to come before the high council and the stake presidency which resulted in the excommunication of a man who had harmed a lovely young girl. After nearly an all-night session which resulted in that action, I went to my office rather weary the next morning to be confronted by a brother of this man whom we had had on trial the night before. This man said, “I want to tell you that my brother wasn’t guilty of what you charged him with.”

“How do you know he wasn’t guilty?” I asked.

“Because I prayed, and the Lord told me he was innocent,” the man answered.

I asked him to come into the office and we sat down, and I asked, “Would you mind if I ask you a few personal questions?” He said, “Certainly not.”

“How old are you?”


“What priesthood do you hold?” He said he thought he was a teacher. “Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?” and he said, “Well, no.” He used tobacco, which was obvious.

“Do you pay your tithing?”

He said, “No”—and he didn’t intend to as long as that blankety-blank-blank man was bishop of the 32nd Ward.

I said, “Do you attend your priesthood meetings?”

He replied, “No, sir!” and he didn’t intend to as long as that man was bishop.

“You don’t attend your sacrament meetings either?”

“No, sir.”

“Do you have your family prayers?” and he said no.

“Do you study the scriptures?” He said well, his eyes were bad and he couldn’t read very much.

I then said to him: “In my home I have a beautiful instrument called a radio. When everything is in good working order we can dial to a certain station and pick up a speaker or the voice of a singer all the way across the continent. … But, after we had used it for a long time, the little delicate instruments or electrical devices on the inside called radio tubes began to wear out. … The radio may sit there looking quite like it did before, but because of what has happened on the inside, we can hear nothing.”

“Now,” I said, “you and I have within our souls something like what might be said to be a counterpart of those radio tubes. We might have what we call a ‘go-to-sacrament-meeting’ tube, ‘keep-the-Word-of-Wisdom’ tube, ‘pay-your-tithing’ tube, ‘have-your-family-prayers’ tube, ‘Read-the-Scriptures’ tube, and, as one of the most important, that might be said to be the master tube of our whole soul, we might call the ‘keep-yourselves-morally-clean’ tube. If one of these becomes worn out by disuse or inactivity—we fail to keep the commandments of God—it has the same effect upon our spiritual selves that a worn-out tube has in a radio.

“Now then,” I said, “15 of the best-living men in the Pioneer Stake prayed last night. They heard the evidence and every man was united in saying that your brother was guilty. Now, you, who do none of these things, you say you prayed, and you got an opposite answer. How would you explain that?”

Then this man gave an answer that I think was a classic. He said, “Well, President Lee, I think I must have gotten my answer from the wrong source.” And, you know, that’s just as great a truth as we can have. We get our answers from the source of the power we list to obey. If we’re following the ways of the Devil, we’ll get answers from the Devil. If we’re keeping the commandments of God, we’ll get our answers from God.
—Address to Brigham Young University student body
October 15, 1952

The Lord Knows

I shall never forget my feelings of loneliness the Saturday night after I was told by the President of the Church that I was to be sustained the next day as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles. That was a sleepless night; there ran through my mind all the petty things of my life, the nonsense, the foolishness of youth. I could have told you about those against whom I had any grievances and who had any grievance against me. And before I was to be accepted the next day, I knew that I must stand before the Lord and witness before him that I would love and forgive every soul that walked the earth and in return I would ask him to forgive me that I might be worthy of that position.

I said, as I suppose all of us would say as we are called to such a position, or any position, “President Grant, do you feel that I am worthy of this call?” And just as quick as a flash, he said, “My boy, if I didn’t think so, you would never be called to this position.”

The Lord knew my heart and he knew that I was not perfect and that all of us have things to overcome. He takes us with imperfections and expects us to begin where we are and make our lives conform fully with the principles and doctrines of Jesus Christ.

The following day I went to the temple where I was ushered into the room where the Council of the Twelve meet with the presidency each week in an upper room of the temple. I thought of all the great men who have occupied those chairs and now here I was, just a young man, 20 years younger than the next youngest of the twelve, I was being asked now to sit in one of those chairs. It was frightening and startling.

And then one of the radio committee who had a Sunday night program said, “Now you know that after having been ordained, you are a special witness to the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ. We want you to give the Easter talk next Sunday night.” That was to bear testimony of the mission of the Lord concerning his resurrection, his life, and ministry, so I went to a room in the Church Office Building where I could be alone, and I read the gospels, particularly those that had to do with the closing days and weeks and months of the life of Jesus, and as I read this I realized that I was having a new experience.

It wasn’t any longer just a story; it seemed as though I was actually seeing the events about which I was reading, and when I gave my talk and closed with a testimony, I said, “I am now the least of all my brethren and want to witness to you that I know as I have never known before this call came that Jesus is the Savior of this world. He lives and he died for us.” Why did I know? Because there had come a kind of a witness, that special kind of a witness, that may have been that more sure word of prophecy that one must have if he is to be a special witness.
—Joint Nottingham and Leicester Conference
Nottingham Stake, England
September 2, 1973

“Then I Realized There Was No Sunlight”

I was sent back years ago to New York to select a patriarch. … We decided upon a certain man and went to his home. He had been out with his sons on the welfare farm pitching manure all day and was tired and weary. … After he had changed his clothes and came in, I made him more weary when I told him what it was I had come for—that he was to be called as the patriarch to that stake.

The next morning in conference he bore a remarkable testimony. Then afterwards we went to the Manhattan Ward where I was to ordain him. The office is down in the basement where there is no [natural] light. …

This is the story as told by the stake president’s wife: “As you walked over to put your hands on DeWitt Paul’s head, I thought to myself, he is a man with whom we socialize. We have gone on trips with him, to dances, and he has been in our social group. Now part of his responsibility is to declare the lineage from which each one has come in these blessings. He hasn’t been a student of ancient languages—how is he going to know?

“With these thoughts in my mind, you walked over and put your hands on his head, and a light came from behind you and went right through you and into him. And I thought to myself, Isn’t that a strange coincidence that the sunlight has come in just at that moment. And then I realized that there was no sunlight. I was witnessing the answer to my question. … That light came from somewhere beyond Brother Lee and went through Brother Lee into this patriarch. Then I knew where he was going to get that information—by the revelations of Almighty God.”
—Joint Nottingham and Leicester Conference
Nottingham Stake, England
September 2, 1973

“He Will Bless Me and I Will Walk”

In Brazil, … two of the elders came to me and said, “We have a family here that is investigating. They have a little boy who is six years old who has never walked. When we told him that there was going to be an apostle here tonight for the conference, the little boy said, ‘When the apostle comes, he will bless me and I will walk. …’”

The elder said, “Would you be kind enough to join with us in blessing this little boy?” I replied that I would.

The president was busy with some other things at the conference, so I went with the two elders and the father carried this little boy in his arms and carried him in and sat him on a chair. The mother and two smaller children sat there, and the only impression I had as the elders and I put our hands on his head was that the little fellow sat there and cried all the time we were blessing him. He was overcome by something.

On my way home I got a letter from President Moyle who said, “We are anxious to have you come home and tell us about the healing that came to that little boy down in Brazil.” I hadn’t heard anything about the outcome of the blessing, but when I arrived home I was shown a picture showing this little boy standing on his feet for the first time.

That miracle didn’t come because of me; it didn’t come because of the elders; this was because the Lord himself, by my hand and the hands of the elders, put his hands upon the head of that little boy by our hands and he received the strength … to stand on his feet for the first time since his birth.
—Joint Nottingham and Leicester Conference
Nottingham Stake, England
September 2, 1973

Written in the Heart

Again, the mighty demonstration of this solemn assembly, I am moved with emotions beyond expression as I have felt the true love and bonds of brotherhood. There has been here an overwhelming spiritual endowment, attesting, no doubt, that in all likelihood we are in the presence of personages seen and unseen, who are in attendance.

Who knows but that even our Lord and Master would be near us on such an occasion as this, for we, and the world, must never forget that this is his church, and under his almighty direction we are to serve! Indeed, I would remind you what he declared in a similar conference of Saints in Fayette, New York, and undoubtedly would remind us again today. The Lord said: “Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you that mine eyes are upon you. I am in your midst and ye cannot see me.” (D&C 38:7.)

On the sacred occasion three months ago when I began to sense the magnitude of the overwhelming responsibility which I must now assume, I went to the holy temple. There, in prayerful meditation, I looked upon the paintings of those men of God—true, pure men, God’s noblemen—who had preceded me in a similar calling.

Now I stood alone with my thoughts. Somehow the impressions that came to me were simply that the only true record that will ever be made of my service in my new calling will be the record that I may have written in the hearts and lives of those with whom I have served and labored, within and without the Church.
—General Conference
October 6, 1972

Beyond Human Skill

It seems incredible to me, as I think about it today, that six months ago yesterday my dear companion lay critically ill in the LDS Hospital, her body cruelly broken in an unfortunate accident. For someone to have told me and the doctors six months ago that before another six months should pass, that she would accompany me on an assignment to the Orient, where in two months we would travel 20,000 miles and visit six countries and peoples, it would seem to me to have been such an impossibility as to have been wholly unthinkable.

But when our beloved leader, the President of the Church, took us into his office and gave us blessings for this mission, little did I realize how the Lord could even then, beyond the skill of doctors or human minds and skill, bless that dear companion and fulfill to the letter the words of the President when he said to her: “You will come back from this trip increased in strength and healed in body.” It has been one of the greatest testimonies that has come to me, and I stand today humbly and bear witness to the effectiveness of the prayers and blessings of, not only our President, but also of the faithful Saints everywhere.
—The Improvement Era
December 1954

Still We Managed

On the farm we began to “do chores” shortly after daybreak so we could “start” with the day’s work by sunup. When the day’s work was finished, we had yet to do our evening “chores,” usually by aid of a lantern. Despite the fact that there were no wages and hours regulations or child labor laws, we did not seem to be stunted from our exertions. Sleep requirements did not [permit] too frequent frivolities. Returns from our labors were small and usually came on a once-a-year basis at harvest time.

Homes of that day went throughout the summer with but very little ready money, but from our cows we were provided milk, butter, and cheese; in our granaries there were usually sufficient wheat to be taken to the mill for flour and cereals. We had our own chickens, and garden [vegetables] and fruits in season.

Large families required mother to remodel the suits and dresses of the eldest to meet the needs of the youngest who rarely had a “boughten” suit from the store.

I do not know how we would have managed with the advanced teachings we have today about vitamins, diets, and minimum food budgets that require food items as though they were a necessity that then were only available as luxuries at Christmas time or on other like gala occasions.

Education was provided and was within the reach of all who were willing to work, although it involved saving in the summer and “batching” and working one’s way through school by part-time employment in the winter.
—Decisions for Successful Living, pp. 12–13.

Now, a Different Man

I come now to the closing moments of this session when I have time for some sobered reflections. Somehow I have had the feeling that during the expressions here, whenever my name has been mentioned, they were talking of somebody other than myself. And I really think that is so, because one cannot go through the experience that I have gone through these last three days and be the same as before. I am different than I was before Friday morning.

I cannot go back to where I was because of the love and faith and confidence that you, the people of the Lord, have reposed in me. So you have been talking of somebody else. You have been talking of somebody that you want me to become, which I hopefully pray God I may, with his help, become.
—The Ensign
January 1973

A Son Worthy of My Daughter

As I have thought of home night, I have thought of my own family. When our older daughter was to be married to a fine Latter-day Saint boy, the two mothers were talking to each other, and the mother of our older daughter said, “You know, from the time my little girl was born, I have been praying all my life that somewhere a mother would be preparing a son worthy to marry my daughter.” And this other mother smiled and said, “Isn’t that strange? This is my only son who is being married to your daughter and ever since he was born, I, too, have been praying that somewhere there would be a mother preparing a daughter worthy to meet and to marry my son.” That is the kind of home attention that will make us and our homes stronger today.

—The Improvement Era
January 1967

18. Elder Lee explains an early Church welfare sewing project to President George Albert Smith, Elder Marion G. Romney, and others.

19. Interviewing a youth, about 1950.

20. Photograph from the 1960s.

21. President Lee and Sister Lee share a moment together before the president speaks at the 1973 Christmas devotional for Church employees and their families.

22. Elder Lee and President Joseph Fielding Smith beam love and confidence during 1971 April conference.

23. Voting in the Solemn Assembly, October 1972.

24. At the Mexico City Area General Conference, 1972.

25. President Lee and President Spencer W. Kimball, Munich Area General Conference, 1973.

26. Young people also loved to be in his presence.

28. President Lee, progressive user of electronic media, here gives a television interview.