Elder David B. Haight
October 1976

“Elder David B. Haight,” Ensign, Oct. 1976, 5

Elder David B. Haight

A man who makes 100 percent commitments—and has the ability to carry them out. That’s the newest member of the Council of the Twelve.

Elder David B. Haight

Photography by Don Busath

It is reassuring to know someone who has lived Jesus’ commandment to become wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove. (See Matt. 10:16.) There is a tendency for highly competent people not to be full of benevolence, a tendency for people of high accomplishment not to be teachable. One of the stimulating traits of Elder David B. Haight, the newest member of the Twelve, is that as a man of great competency and accomplishment, he is also a man full of benevolence, a man who is teachable.

He is efficient, but has an unhurried manner. He is dedicated to his work, but never agitated. He has an incisive mind, but listens to others’ ideas. Many administrators may try to use old skills in new situations, but he learns and grows with each new assignment. His closest associates have said that he was so well prepared when he was called to the Twelve that he did not need to break stride.

What has enabled Elder Haight to become as he is? Those who know him well agree on this point: he is able to forget himself and to throw everything into the task at hand. After he had been a stake president for twelve years and then a mission president in Scotland, he was teaching the priests quorum in the California Palo Alto Ward when one of his former missionaries visited him. “He was enjoying every minute of the assignment,” the missionary recalled. “He seemed as happy in this calling as I have ever seen him.”

Sister Haight says that he has never taken a calling with less than full seriousness. “He was as thrilled when, as an assistant in the Sunday School superintendency many years ago, he helped the attendance increase from thirty-five to seventy-five percent, as with any achievement he has had since.” In the course of his Church career, this capacity for self-forgetfulness has become an ability to serve the Lord “with full purpose of heart” (D&C 18:27) and in so serving to give, as President Kimball said of him, all of his life, all of his efforts, even all of his thoughts. What the Lord wants when he “requireth the heart and a willing mind” (D&C 64:34), Elder David Haight has given. And he has given it, a friend has observed, without reservation: “From his first call to Church service, he never looked back, never regretted, never dragged his feet. He went into it all the way.”

But it is misleading to speak of Elder Haight alone in this connection. He feels that his forebears and his wife, Ruby, are largely responsible for making him what he has become. His paternal grandfather, Horton David Haight, was a pioneer of pioneers. Seven times he crossed the plains to help immigrants; and he helped colonize southern Idaho and organize a stake there. Elder Haight’s grandmother, Louisa Leavitt Haight, was a counselor in the original Primary. His father, Hector Haight, was a pioneer of culture and commerce in Oakley, Idaho, and for many years a bishop there. David saw him in his roles of state senator, banker, and bishop as a solver of people’s problems. David’s mother was the former Clara Tuttle of Tooele, Utah. Her parents too were pioneers; they settled in Tooele and helped build up the Church there (her father, Norton Ray Tuttle, was Tooele’s first bishop). His mother taught him the lessons of the gospel. He once said that he might have tried smoking like other boys, but he never did because it would have hurt his mother.

There were eight children in the family, but they were never all together in mortality. When David was six, his three-year-old brother passed away; and when he was nine, his father, a sister, and a brother all died within a year. Two years later his mother fell seriously ill and remained so for many years. David and his sister Helen were the oldest children living at home, and they managed the household. Helen did all of the indoor work, including cooking and canning—she even took a year off school when matters were particularly difficult. David fed and milked the cows; took care of the chickens; planted, irrigated, and harvested the large garden; stored the produce for the winter; kept up the yard; and did the shopping. When their mother’s condition was serious, Helen and David, along with a younger brother, Ludwig, spent sleepless nights keeping vigil.

Although life was more work than play, there was recreation—he loved the swimming hole. Once he rescued a small girl from drowning in the canal. He had an Irish Setter, “King Tut,” that he loved; he read with his family stirring pioneer stories of his own immediate ancestors; he kept a chart in his room on his scouting progress; he won a prize—the first scout uniform in Oakley—for having the cleanest yard in town; he played the violin and organized a high school dance orchestra. When he was twelve, he decided to try out the family Ford, but since he hadn’t learned how to work the brake, he had to drive it around the block until it ran out of gas.

It was after he had worked his way through college, first at Albion State Normal School in Idaho and then at Utah State University, that David met Ruby Olson. The minute he saw her he was so taken with her that he tried, and failed, to get his date to introduce him to her. They met when she applied for a job at a department store where he was interviewing college girls for summer positions. Not surprisingly, he hired her. He immediately asked her to have lunch, and that is how their courtship began.

Her closest friends say that she has always been an unassuming and spiritual person. Elder Haight sees her as the anchor of their home during the early years when he was spending much time in business, often traveling. Their daughter, Karen, recalls, “She never criticized Daddy, but always encouraged him. She used to say, ‘Don’t ever criticize your husband as long as he is in the service of the Lord.’ Friends wondered whether she felt neglected; ‘Her husband is always working in business or in the Church,’ they would say. But her answer was that a woman could have no greater joy than a husband lost in the service of the Lord; and she never complained. She wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

This remarkable woman, his children, and his heritage were in the forefront of David Haight’s mind during an ominous night over the Pacific in 1943. He had made an impressive career for himself, rising by his midthirties to a position of top management in Montgomery Ward, then one of the largest retail chains in the United States. The Haights’ three children, Bruce, Robert, and Karen, had come into their family by this time, and he adored them. He had accepted a commission in the Navy, where he was to help design the logistics by which the fleets of the Pacific were supplied during the war. (A naval historian has observed that the United States’ secret weapon in the Pacific campaign was the efficiency with which the materiel flowed into the battle zones.) One night he left from San Francisco aboard an old Boeing clipper plane for a high-level conference in Hawaii. He was assigned to sleep in the tail of the plane. “I was where I could see the starboard engine through the window. It was spewing so much fire that I thought the plane was on fire, which caused me great concern. I wondered about my family, whether I would see them again. As I lay awake through the night I prayed long. I made a commitment to the Lord that if I got out of the war alive and back with my family, the Church would always come first in my life. I shall always remember that long, sleepless night. Before then it seemed to me that I didn’t have my priorities in proper order. That night I reappraised my life and recommitted myself to the Lord.”

In spite of the recognitions that came to him, he kept those priorities straight. “A few years ago my wife and I sat in a little room in the Los Angeles Temple,” he said in a recent talk. “Our children were there—two with their eternal companions and the third kneeling at the altar, holding the hand of his wife to be.” There had been times in his boyhood when he had fancied himself a baseball hero, hitting a home run to win the seventh and decisive game of the World Series, and thinking that this would be the great moment of his life. “As I looked around that room,” he said, “I thought, ‘David, you had your priorities all mixed up. Being a hero in a worldly event isn’t the great moment of life. … The great moment … is here, … because all I have that is really important is in this room. All of my children are committed to the Church.”

After the war, he received an important assignment in a large business organization and took the family to Chicago. The impressions he made on people in the business world by themselves add up to a sizable story. Then in 1949 he was assigned to the San Francisco Bay area and returned to Palo Alto, where they had lived before the war. He served in a bishopric and then as an alternate member of the high council. It was from this position that he was called to be the stake president. At that time, he gave up his career with Montgomery Ward and acquired a retail business in Palo Alto.

“He was no narrow specialist as a stake president,” Elder Thomas S. Monson of the Council of the Twelve recalls. “All phases of Church government—priesthood quorums, welfare, building construction, bishops’ training, genealogy, and so on—prospered under his leadership. You could rely on him.” For twelve years he served in this capacity and also became a community leader—president of the chamber of commerce and of the Downtown Merchants Association; a member of the boards of many corporations and civic agencies, including the Boy Scouts, the Red Cross, the YMCA, the Palo Alto-Stanford Hospital and the Channing House Retirement Center; and finally mayor of Palo Alto and a governor of the San Francisco Bay Area Council of Mayors. He gave up all of this when in 1963 President David O. McKay called him to preside over what was then the Scottish Mission.

That mission demonstrated Elder Haight’s capacity to mold himself to the demands of a new assignment. Like many of his generation, he had not as a young man served a mission; and he discerned that he was unprepared in other ways. “I had been an administrator and trainer,” he recalls. “My scriptural study and contemplation had always been directed to the task immediately at hand—a stake conference message, a training seminar, etc. In the mission field I needed to add an important dimension—I needed to rise early, shut out the things of the world, study the scriptures systematically and with a prayerful heart, and give myself to meditation in an effort to understand the Lord and the scriptures. How was I going to teach 200 missionaries to rely on the Lord? I knew I had to go to work. It brought about a great change in my life.” He was fifty-seven years old, but as anxious to learn as a little child.

He seems always to have been this way. Elder Boyd K. Packer, a fellow member of the Council of the Twelve, paid this tribute to him when Elder Haight was an Assistant to the Twelve: “He never brings a problem asking for solution; he brings a suggested decision asking for ratification.” “How did you learn that principle of administration?” someone asked him. “I don’t know,” he answered. “I have always thought about the person up ahead of me. How would he want me to do it? He would prefer to have me plow the ground and then bring him some alternative courses of action, rather than have to replow it himself.”

Following his mission, Elder Haight seemed to increase in this enterprising teachability as he proceeded from assignment to assignment—in spite of the fact that he was passing the age at which some men retire. He became director of development at BYU in 1966, served on the former Church missionary committee and then as a Regional Representative of the Twelve, and was sustained an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve in April 1970. Among his assignments as an Assistant, he helped to supervise some of the South American and Mexican missions, was appointed managing director of the Church’s leadership committee, which was largely responsible for the Bishops’ Training and Self-Help Guide, managing director of Teacher Development, and managing director of Military Relations. When these functions were consolidated in the Melchizedek Priesthood Department, Elder Haight was made its managing director. Through all of this he responded with the resilience of a young man. The Church was lengthening its stride, concentrating more on priesthood principles than on the programs that were emphasized when he was a stake president; nevertheless, he put himself in the vanguard of those responding to the prophet’s voice. “There is urgency in this work,” he says. “We must find ways to respond to the prophet’s challenge to stretch ourselves for the task.”

“It has been inspirational to see my husband’s growth in his prayers,” Sister Haight has said. “When he went on his mission they increased in intensity. When he was called to be an Assistant to the Twelve, I would listen to him pray and be amazed at how he would plead with the Lord, wanting to do his work with his Spirit and wanting to do it in the way that he would have it done. I’m the only one who gets to hear these ever more fervent prayers. It is a great blessing to me.”

Perhaps it is because he is free from self-concern that Elder Haight always remains composed. When he left the mayor’s position, a Palo Alto Times editorial said of him, “Haight will be a hard man to replace at the city’s helm. … [He] has presided over some of the hottest controversies in the city’s history. … In the squabbles surrounding these issues, Haight was one of the leading voices for compromise rather than bitterness, for light rather than heat.” “I can’t understand your husband,” one onlooker said. “He sits there with friction on both sides and keeps cool. He sits there calmly and solves the problem in the way it should be solved.” “He is quiet-spoken, even-keeled, never depressed, never unsteady,” Elder Packer has observed. “He has yet to lose his temper, even a little,” said Elder Monson, “and I have worked closely with him in very tense situations. Where there is conflict, none of the parties feels threatened or misused with him in charge. He can pull differing views together and achieve consensus.”

Elder Haight’s mission secretary was asked what kind of manager he is in a crisis. “He was so organized,” she responded, “that I can’t remember a real crisis.” “If there were crises,” a mission assistant said, “I think he and the Lord must have worked them out ahead of time. He could be forceful, but he was never uncontrolled.”

The serenity of the Haights runs deep. They are walking refutations of the popular idea that religious people are unfulfilled in this life and consequently have a need to believe in an afterworld. “I have never met a person more comfortable in the universe—more easy in the harness—than David Haight,” said a university administrator after getting to know him; “or one who more enjoys being alive.” “David and Ruby were great for sitting around the fire,” recall Lund and Laura Johnson, two of their lifetime friends. “They would prepare a barbecue for friends, and afterward we would talk under the stars. They have that capacity for relishing the present moment—they never ruin it by looking forward at what’s about to happen or backward at what’s past.” “Daddy would often have only a short time with the children,” says Robert, “but it was always quality, fun time. He gives all of himself to you—you never get the feeling that he’s thinking about something else.”

In California the family pastime was backpacking in the High Sierras. “After the gospel and the family,” say the Johnsons, who accompanied the Haights on some of those vacations, “David and Ruby love their friends and the mountains best.” Elder Haight takes his grandchildren to the mountain cabin, teaches them how to fish, cooks pork and beans and hot dogs, tells them stories about Daniel Boone and Kickapoo Dan, and slides off the cabin roof into the snow bank with them.

“He’s one of the most interesting conversationalists you could ever meet,” observes Elder James A. Cullimore, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve; “the kind of person you like to be around.” “He gets away to be with his family,” says James M. Paramore, executive secretary of the Twelve, “but also, I think, to meditate and to think things through. He gets things in perspective. I think that’s why he is so at ease and unpretentious.”

There is a soft-spoken boldness in Elder Haight. He approaches people with a sincere interest in them. He told a stewardess on a plane who noticed his tie tac displaying the London Temple that if she would accept the missionaries she could be married in one of the temples, which would change her life. And she knew when he said it that, whatever he was talking about, it was noble and dignified. She joined the Church and Elder Haight performed her marriage in the temple.

Scotland was the scene of a success involving Elder Haight, one that illustrates his confident and dignified way of spreading the truth about the Church. When he first got there, Scottish ministers were telling their congregations, “Don’t let these crewcut salesmen into your homes; they’re here to steal away your daughters; they don’t believe in Christ.” Every time a report of one of those sermons appeared in the paper, Elder Haight had a news release prepared. It would say, in effect, “David B. Haight, President of the Scottish Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, states that the comments made by the Reverend _______ of the _______ Church regarding the Mormons are untrue.” And then would follow, in matter-of-fact terms, a point-by-point refutation of the minister’s errors. These news releases were usually printed immediately. “We took a positive approach to the problem,” Elder Haight remembers, “and the charges soon came to an end.”

Another product of Elder Haight’s self-forgetful dedication is his ability to blend efficiency with concern for people. His one-time superior in business, William Rose, recalls that “he accomplished everything through people. He valued what they had to give, and because of that and his example, they were inspired to do their utmost for him.” “He delegates a great deal,” says a former missionary assistant, “and though he doesn’t look over your shoulder as you do your work, you know he will always require an accounting from you.” “He never presides over a meeting with an idea in mind that he wants rubber-stamped,” observes Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve; “he’s a listening leader who is genuinely interested in your concerns and perspective. That is why he can insist, in his quiet and courteous way, that everyone face the issues and meet the problems head-on. He helps people to understand that they can deal successfully with the issues if they’ll face them. He draws people; he does not drive them.” Says Brother Paramore, “He never depreciates what anyone has to offer, but at the same time he’s never overwhelmed by an unexamined tide of opinion. He wants to study the facts, and in every assignment is prepared. He wants to think everything out in his mind before making a decision.” “Even on his way to officiate for an important occasion,” says a lifelong friend, “people would stop him with their problems and he would talk with them as if he had all the time in the world. You’re never aware of his efficiency; you never feel that he’s hurried.”

The concern for people is not a mere administrative technique. When Elder Haight and William Rose were conferring in Chicago, they learned that Rose’s seven-year-old daughter had fallen seriously ill in New York. She passed away before Rose arrived at home. “Dave Haight was right there with us the next day, helping us through that difficult period,” Rose remembers. “I’ll never forget that. He would do the same today if I needed him.” Brother Rose is a member of the Church now—“and without a doubt,” he says, “the greatest influence was Dave’s example.”

The record of people he and Sister Haight have quietly helped may never be known; certainly Brother and Sister Haight do not speak of it. Before there was a Stanford Branch, their Palo Alto home was a spiritual survival center for Mormon students. “There are many young people all over the country who were preserved in righteousness by the sanctuary of the Haight home,” says Elder Marion D. Hanks, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve. “They ate there, read there, even slept there, for the door was always open to them. President Haight would invite people to come in and talk with the students from early evening until midnight. He was fighting for their lives.”

In the Scottish Mission a rebellious elder had decided to go home. President Haight said, “I feel we have let you down. I’d like to know what it is that is troubling you.” The elder talked out his problems for a long time. Then there were tears in his eyes. President Haight told the missionary that he could see how difficult things had been for him. And he forgave him of all the mistakes he had made. Finally he said, “Elder, I feel impressed to give you a very special assignment. There is an area up in the mission to which we haven’t sent missionaries before. A woman has written wanting to learn of the gospel. I want you to take a new missionary there. You’ll be there without supervision and will report directly to me. I want you to go because I trust you.” The elder reported that he became thoroughly mixed up. “I can’t do it; I’m not worthy.” And President Haight said, “I know you feel that way, but I trust you.” And then, said the elder, a change came over him; he never knew that anyone could love him that much. As he walked away from that interview he said to the mission staff, “I would do anything for that man.” And from that time on, he did.

Listening to those closest to Elder Haight, one realizes that it is for the Master’s sake that he has learned to lose himself. Elder Haight spoke to the Church in the 1976 April general conference for the first time as an apostle. (He was called to the Twelve on January 9, 1976.) He had spoken many times from the Tabernacle pulpit, but now he spoke with a special, compelling authority. This is a response from a Church member who listened to conference over the radio. “If you read his sermon you might think it was a talk that any thoughtful person could give. But in the way he said it, you knew that what he said was sacred to him. He quoted the words of a hymn, ‘I need thee; O I need thee! O bless me now my Savior; I come to thee.’ He was coming to the Lord. He was devoting everything. In terms of his own life, he showed me what it means to come to the Lord by consecrating all your energy and even all your thoughts in his service.”

  • C. Terry Warner, dean of the College of General Studies at Brigham Young University, serves on the Aaronic Priesthood General Committee. He lives in the Oak Hills First Ward, Provo Utah Sharon East Stake.

Top: Elder David B. Haight and his wife, Ruby Olson Haight, on a mission tour in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1974. Lower Left: Elder Haight is shown here with a prize catch on a fishing trip to the Rogue River in Oregon in 1969. Lower Right: Elder Haight and his bride on their honeymoon in September 1930.

Elder Haight’s family in Palo Alto, California, in 1953. Standing, left to right, are D. Bruce Haight, Jr., and Robert P. Haight; seated are Karen Haight Huntsman, Elder David B. Haight, and his wife, Ruby Olson Haight.

Top: Elder Haight (right) and his friend Lund Johnson during their student days at Utah State Agricultural College in Logan. Bottom: During World War II, Elder Haight served on the staff of Admiral Ingersoll in San Francisco.

Top Left: President David O. McKay visited the San Francisco Bay area in 1961 in preparation for the building of the Oakland Temple. Elder Haight (left), then president of the Palo Alto Stake, served as vice-chairman of the Oakland Temple District Committee, which was chaired by Elder O. Leslie Stone (right), then president of the Oakland Stake. Top Right: Elder and Sister Haight in Scotland in 1966, while Elder Haight was president of the Scottish Mission. They are standing by the stone that had inspired President McKay while he was serving as a missionary in Scotland. Lower Left: Elder Haight’s mother, Clara Josephene Tuttle Haight, in the 1890s. Lower Right: Elder Haight’s father, Hector C. Haight, in the 1890s.