“Elder Hugh B. Brown, 1883–1975: In Memoriam,” Ensign, Jan. 1976, 86
Elder Hugh B. Brown, a member of the Council of the Twelve since 1958, and a former member of the First Presidency, died December 2, 1975. He was ninety-two. Death was attributed to natural causes following a long illness. Elder Brown is survived by a son, six daughters, twenty-nine grandchildren, fifty-three great-grandchildren, one brother, and two sisters.
In this special tribute to Elder Brown, his grandson recalls “a man possessed with a profound spirituality based on true humility before God.”
Hugh Brown Brown lived a life of complete devotion to the Lord. Few men have enjoyed a mortal experience with such single-minded purpose. In younger years, before his call as a General Authority, Church service intervened to prevent Grandfather’s pursuit of other goals. The first of several missions to England deflected a career in agriculture which had been recommended to the young man of twenty by Dr. John A. Widtsoe. The beginnings of a career in law were delayed by a call from a stake president to begin military training in 1912, preparatory to organizing a squadron of Mormon militia to serve in the Canadian reserves. During his service in World War I, a challenging military career was aborted as Major Brown’s promotion to general officer rank was defeated as the result of religious discrimination, but a surpassingly greater prize was won in the “lesson of the currant bush.” (See New Era, Jan. 1973, p. 14.) A promising career in law was interrupted by several years of selfless service as president of the British Mission beginning in 1937, coordinator of Latter-day Saint servicemen in Europe in World War II (separating President Brown from several of his family during war years in London), followed by a second tour as British Mission president with the war’s conclusion. Following three years as professor of religious instruction at Brigham Young University and a business venture in Canada, Elder Brown was called as an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve Apostles in 1953 and remained in the service of the Lord to the end.
Yet, Grandfather was one of the most intensely human and compassionate leaders of the Church. He is beloved of generations of young people: soldiers, students, young men and women seeking help in time of personal crisis, marriage partners working through problems, and of older Saints experiencing the exquisite pains of enduring to the end. Possessed at once with a sense of humor that refused him permission to take himself too seriously, and a profound spirituality based on true humility before God, he moved thousands with a style of classic oratory that will be sorely missed. Beloved of an extended family that revered him as patriarch and high priest, we benefited beyond expression from counsel during crisis and from blessing and benediction during times of life and death.
Grandfather recorded the event of his birth: “It is alleged that I was born in Granger, Utah, in 1883, on the 24th of October. I was there but do not remember the event. However, my mother was a honest woman and I must take her word.” His father, Homer Manley Brown, had a small farm and an orchard. When Hugh was fourteen his father left the family, taking his oldest son with him, to establish a home and a farm in Spring Coulee, Alberta in western Canada. Hugh was the oldest son left in Salt Lake, and he and his sister and lifelong friend, Lillie, eighteen months his senior, took care of the farm and orchard until two years later when their father sent for his family.
Once there, the six sons and five daughters, along with their father and mother, moved into the two completed rooms of a log house. This was to be the lodging of the Brown family through a fierce winter in which over half the cattle just purchased by Father Brown in eastern Canada would die from lack of food, despite the daily efforts of sixteen-year-old Hugh and his brothers and father to save the herd. Hugh’s uncle, Walter Brown, his wife and six children moved into the two-room cabin to winter with the thirteen members of the family already there.
The family traded their land for a farm in Cardston when Hugh was eighteen. A major reason for the move was to afford an opportunity for the children to attend school. Hugh, however, had to bear a significant part of the responsibility of the farm and was not able to attend school. His formal education had ended in Salt Lake at sixteen and he longed to return to school. During these years as a young farmer in Canada, he became a voracious reader, an infection which was to remain in his system to the end. Of those days, his beloved and indomitable mother, Lydia Jane Brown, without question the dominant influence upon him, said that “the Lord must guide the horses because I can’t otherwise understand how Hugh could plow a straight furrow and still keep his head in a book.”
In 1900, when Hugh was seventeen and living in Cardston, a wedding party was held at his parents’ home. Aunt Zina Card was in attendance with her twelve-year-old daughter, affectionately known as “Little Ziny.” Hugh records: “She was a small girl … with golden curls hanging past her shoulders; I was deeply impressed as she stood shyly by her mother’s side and recited a poem. I turned to my mother and said, ‘Someday I am going to marry that girl.’ ‘Good!’ was her reply. ‘I hope you do.’ I did not say anything to Zina, of course, as we had not met, nor did I mention it to her until five years later at the conclusion of my mission.”
He longed to attend school and prayed that the Lord would open up the way for him to enjoy this privilege. The Lord heard his prayer and with limited financial means he set out for Logan, Utah, to attend the Brigham Young College. His mother had told him to call on Aunt Zina Card to see if he could live at her home, which he did. It had been three years since he had seen young Zina. They did not date but enjoyed a pleasant brother-sister relationship.
With young Franklin S. Harris, later to become president of both Brigham Young University and the Agricultural College at Logan, he approached Dr. John A. Widtsoe for advice on further schooling. Dr. Widtsoe suggested careers in agriculture for both boys. Brother Harris was able successfully to follow this advice, but Hugh was called on a mission to England six months after his arrival in Logan. He crossed the ocean in a cattle boat and landed in Liverpool on November 5, 1904. A few letters were exchanged between young Zina and Hugh during the next two years, but they were quite formal—“Dear Sister Zina …” “Dear Brother Hugh …” with no reference to love or future alliance.
Heber J. Grant, president of the European Mission, assigned Elder Brown to labor in the Norwich Conference, in the university city of Cambridge. Mobs had driven out the last pair of elders and Elder Brown was left without a partner after the first day there. Feeling, he said, the reality of his situation—a young, inexperienced, uneducated cowboy from Canada in Cambridge—and after tracting for several days without any sign of success, he felt a mistake had been made in sending him there. He returned to his lodging thoroughly discouraged. That evening a man called and explained that his and sixteen other families had left the Church of England one week earlier because they no longer believed it was true. All that week they had prayed to the Lord to send them a new pastor. When the man found a tract Elder Brown had left, he felt their prayers were answered. “I have come to ask, Sir,” said the man, “if you will come tomorrow to my home and be our new Pastor.”
Elder Brown accepted, but felt frightened and unprepared. He had never attended a meeting in the mission field. He had had no training. But he had a “deep-seated faith that God would see me through” and immediately began a night and a day of prayer and fasting. When the meeting time finally came, he was, as he says, “frightened to death.” He began the meeting by singing “O My Father,” then had them all kneel together in prayer with him. “As I spoke the name of God, I lost all fear, all worry and all concern and felt sure that He would take over, which He did in a miraculous way.”
Elder Brown explains that he spoke for forty-five minutes, feeling throughout that “the Lord spoke to them through me.” At the close of the meeting those in attendance bore witness that he had shared with them the truth they had been looking for. Within three months, every person he taught there that night was baptized.
One other experience greatly impressed Elder Brown during his mission years. A particular illness struck Elder Brown and even though another year remained of the original call, President Grant suggested an honorable release from the mission to enable Elder Brown to return for medical treatment. He responded by assuring President Grant that a blessing at his hands would ensure that the mission could be completed in good health. The blessing pronounced by President Grant produced an instant healing and the mission was completed without recurrence of the illness. As a result of their associations, Elder Brown came to enjoy a close friendship with and respect for President Heber J. Grant, a relationship that continued throughout their lives.
Upon returning to the United States, Grandfather discovered, not uniquely among returning missionaries, that the girl he loved had become engaged to another boy. He reported this fact to his stake president in Alberta, E. J. Wood, who responded: “Zina Card is a jewel among women. I promise you if you will go to Salt Lake for the April Conference and tell her of your feeling for her, she will break off her engagement and you will be married.” He did as his stake president suggested and though he returned from Conference without a pledge between them, they were married the following year, 1908, by President Joseph F. Smith in the Salt Lake Temple.
Grandfather took his new bride back to Cardston, not without some opposition from Aunt Zina Card, who understandably did not like to see her daughter move to a newly colonized area where life was rugged.
By the time Grandfather was called by his stake president in 1912 to go to Calgary and take military training preliminary to organizing a Latter-day Saint contingent for the Canadian reserves, three children—Zina, Zola, and LaJune—had been born. It had been reported in Parliament at Ottawa that the Mormons were disloyal and would not support the motherland if a European war occurred. One of the members of Parliament from Lethbridge, Alberta, responded that the Mormons were loyal but wanted to be led by their own people. President Wood called Grandfather along with four others, William G. Ainscough, Ben H. May, Andrew Woolf, and Clyde Brown, to take the military training necessary to become officers. Hugh trained every week for three years, rising from lieutenant to captain and finally major. The chosen officers organized a squadron in Cardston, the Twenty-third Alberta Rangers, and trained as cavalry at Calgary. With the outbreak of war in 1914, he was asked, along with the other four Mormon officers, to form a squadron for overseas duty. His unit became part of the Thirteenth Overseas Mounted Rifles in 1915 and, after training at Calgary and Medicine Hat, landed in Liverpool in 1916.
While en route to Liverpool, in Petawawa, Canada, a riot broke out among the 1,500 soldiers of the larger contingent within which the Mormon squadron had been placed. The quickly assembled officers recommended immediate use of armed force to quell the meeting. Grandfather argued against this and walked unarmed among the rebellious troops. He spoke with them for almost two hours, standing on a table top taken from a nearby tent. The situation was sufficiently grave that full mutiny could have been attempted and lives lost. However, the troops were finally persuaded to return to their tents and no charges were brought.
At the war’s conclusion Grandfather returned to the study of law, which he had barely commenced as a student at the Law Society of Alberta when war had intervened. He resumed legal studies in the office of Z. W. Jacobs, a Cardston barrister, where he completed the five-year apprenticeship required for admission to the bar. He had purchased a farm near Cardston and worked there early mornings and evenings in order to support his growing family of five children and supplement the $35 monthly salary he received from Jacobs.
After passing the bar examination administered by the University of Alberta, he was admitted to the bar in 1921 and moved to Lethbridge with Zina and the children, Zina Lydia, Zola, LaJune, Mary, and Hugh Card. (Charles Manley, Margaret, and Carol filled out the family in subsequent years.) Within two months of opening his own law office, he was called by Elder Rudger Clawson of the Council of the Twelve as the first president of the Lethbridge Stake, the boundaries of which were the Saskatchewan-Alberta border on the east, the British Columbia-Alberta border on the west, the Lethbridge airport on the south, and the North Pole on the north. To complete a visit to each of the stake’s five wards and seven branches involved traveling approximately 2,000 miles over unimproved roads (there were not even graveled roads at that time). Snow and hail storms often made the traveling hazardous. There were no heaters in those early model T Fords and windshield wipers were hand operated. A sudden summer shower would present quite a problem when those small-sized tires churned the wet soil into a mire and sunk hub-deep.
He left Lethbridge in 1927 to practice law in Logan, Utah, but before he could become established and bring his family from Canada, he was stricken with tic douloureux, a serious and agonizingly painful disease of the nervous system, within one side of his head. This forced a change of plans and Grandfather spent some time at the home of his parents in Salt Lake City, until his wife and family joined him and moved into a spacious home at 1354 Stratford Avenue. He later became a partner in a law firm with J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Albert E. Bowen, and Preston D. Richards.
In 1930, he was called as president of the Granite Stake in Salt Lake City, with Marvin O. Ashton and Stayner Richards as his counselors. Under their direction, the Granite stake house was completed.
After being forced once again to learn the “lesson of the currant bush” in his unsuccessful attempt to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for United States Senator from Utah against William H. King in 1932, Grandfather was called by President Heber J. Grant to preside over the British Mission in 1937.
The five unmarried children finally joined President Brown in London, but were forced to return with most of the missionaries upon the outbreak of World War II in 1939. President Brown and a few elders remained in London until February 1940, when they returned under orders from the First Presidency. Hugh Card, the older of the two sons, had been serving as a missionary in England and Scotland, under the supervision of his father. Because of his deep love of the British people, Hugh C. volunteered and served as a fighter pilot in the American Eagle Squadron of the British Air Corps. He was killed in action doing volunteer submarine reconnaissance over the English Channel on March 16, 1942.
President Brown was asked by the First Presidency shortly after his return to serve as coordinator for all Latter-day Saint servicemen stationed in Europe. There were then nearly 100,000 Mormon men in the armed forces. He spent the war years (1939–45) traveling throughout Great Britain, while that land was transformed into a vast armed camp, preliminary to the Normandy invasion.
The First Presidency called Elder Brown to return to London in 1945, just prior to the war’s end, again to preside over the British Mission. He found that the old mission home at 5 Gordon Square had been destroyed by bombs and moved the mission headquarters to 149 Nightingale Lane, Ravensley, London.
He continued in the dual capacity of mission president and coordinator of Latter-day Saint servicemen until the fall of 1946, when he suffered a crushing attack of tic douloureux. He was released from Church assignment and proceeded to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, New York, where a successful operation was performed which removed a portion of the nerve serving one side of his face and head, resulting in paralysis of the right side of his face.
He taught religion at Brigham Young University from 1946 until 1950, when he became president of an oil development firm in Alberta, Canada. He was able in three years to earn sufficient income to pay off debts incurred during a lifetime of service devoted largely to Church callings.
Though the work in Canada was challenging, it was during this time that Grandfather’s life hit perhaps its lowest ebb. Although his family was in good health, he did not know what the Lord would have for him during the balance of his life:
“In October 1953, I was up in the Canadian Rockies, supervising the drilling of an oil well. Although my family were in good health and good spirits and I was making good money, I was deeply depressed and worried. Early one morning I went up into the mountains and talked with the Lord in prayer. I told Him that although it looked like I was going to become wealthy as a result of my oil ventures, if in His wisdom it would not be good for me or my family I hoped He would put an end to it.
“That night I drove from the camp up at Rocky Mountain House down to Edmonton still spiritually disturbed and depressed. Without having dinner that night, I went into the bedroom by myself, told my wife that she should stay in the other room as I felt I would have a restless night and did not wish to disturb her. All night I wrestled with the evil spirit. I was possessed with the spirit of wishing that I could be rubbed out of existence. I had no thought of suicide, but wished the Lord would provide a way for me to cease to be. The room was full of darkness and an evil spirit prevailed, so real that I was almost consumed by it. About three o’clock in the morning my wife came in, having heard me moving about the room and asked what was the matter. Upon closing the door, she said, ‘Oh Hugh, what is in this room?’ and I replied, ‘It is Satan.’ We spent the balance of the night together, much of it on our knees. The next morning upon going to the office (there was no one there, it being Saturday), I knelt in prayer again and asked for deliverance from this evil spirit. I felt a peaceful spirit come over me and phoned my wife to that effect.
“That night, while I was taking a bath about ten o’clock, the telephone rang and she called me and said, ‘Salt Lake City is calling.’ Upon going to the phone, I heard a voice which said, ‘This is David O. McKay calling. The Lord wants you to spend the balance of your life in the service of the Church. The Council of the Twelve have just voted that you should take the place made vacant by the recent death of Stayner Richards, and you are to become an assistant to the Twelve.’
“Although mother and I had spent a wakeful night the night before, and a terrible night it was, that night we stayed awake as well, rejoicing in the thought that the Lord would reach out so far to touch us in time of need.”
Elder Brown served as an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve until 1958, when he was sustained as a member of that Council. In 1961 he was called by President David O. McKay as a counselor in the First Presidency, serving with Presidents J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and Henry Moyle. He was sustained second counselor upon the death of President Clark and as first counselor at the death of President Moyle. He served with President Tanner until the passing of President McKay, in January of 1970, at which time he returned to his beloved Quorum of the Twelve.
During most of his life as farmer, Canadian cowboy (he missed being a Mountie by one-quarter of an inch—he stood 5′11 3/4″ and the Northwest Mounted Police then required that an officer stand at least 6′), missionary, soldier, lawyer, professor, businessman and Church leader, Hugh B. Brown had by his side a woman at least as strong, by his own admission more sensitive to the Spirit, and as witty and as devout as he. Church callings demanded that he be away from his family for long periods. Throughout a lifetime of enforced separations, interrupted careers, financial pressures, serious illnesses of parents and children, the death of a beloved firstborn son and namesake to her husband, Zina Young Card, granddaughter of Brigham Young and Zina Huntington and daughter of the founder of Cardston, lived up to her heritage. Sister Brown preceded her husband in death in December 1974. Now, the love affair which began, at least on one side, when she was twelve, continues as they are again united. This most cherished relationship during their last years brought tears of love and veneration to those privileged to witness Grandfather, aided by a cane and perhaps a son, grandson, or great-grandson, return home from a Church assignment in his ninety-first year, approach the house, and gently rap on Zina’s bedroom window, proceed to the front door and exclaim, “Toot, toot! I’m home, Mama. Your sweetheart is home.” Then, as quickly as age and a final debilitating disease would allow, he would go to her bed to kiss and greet his companion of sixty-six years—and eternity.