President Tanner Turns Eighty
May 1978

“President Tanner Turns Eighty,” Ensign, May 1978, 110

President Tanner Turns Eighty

When President N. Eldon Tanner celebrates his eightieth birthday on May 9, he’ll be doing what he looks forward to most each day—coming to work.

“I like to work,” he says. “I have always felt an urgency for completing any tasks that are mine to accomplish.” And he works at all his assignments in the Spirit of a teaching given to him many years ago by a Primary teacher: “Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well.” As first counselor in the First Presidency, he has a lot of work to do.

Of course, work isn’t the only facet of President Tanner’s life. He devotes a great deal of time to his wife and family, for whom he expresses great appreciation and love. “I try to express to my wife every day how dearly I love her,” he says, “and she reciprocates always.” “This is a most stabilizing factor in our marriage. So many husbands and wives never tell each other that they love them,” he says.

President Tanner also includes moderate exercise daily—which, with his eating habits, keeps him looking fit. He doesn’t diet, but simply eats in moderation. He is careful about eating desserts, and almost never eats between meals.

He also enjoys outdoor activities, especially golf. He and his wife have recently acquired a summer home near Ogden, Utah, that is adjacent to a golf course. President Tanner says he and his wife enjoy spending time there by themselves and with their family.

Family is important to the Tanners. This birthday celebration will include time with their daughters and some of their twenty-six grandchildren and twenty-one great-grandchildren. The family also gathers in large numbers at general conference time. Luncheons and dinners are planned for all who come from their homes in Canada or from parts of the United States. They enjoy being together and make it a particularly happy time for the little children.

President Tanner was born 9 May 1898 at Salt Lake City, but grew up in Canada, where he met Sara Isabelle Merrill; they were married fifty-eight years ago. They lived in Canada, where he became an industrial and political leader. Recently President Tanner was given the 1978 “Giant of Our City” award by the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. This award recognized his influence as a representative of the Church in bringing new business and buildings into the heart of Salt Lake City during the last fifteen years.

The Tanners came to Utah when he was sustained as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1960. He was ordained an apostle in 1962, and has served since 1963 as a counselor in the First Presidency. He was second counselor to Presidents David O. McKay and Joseph Fielding Smith, and first counselor to Presidents Harold B. Lee and Spencer W. Kimball.

In those seventeen years as a General Authority, he has seen much change with the Church. He has seen Church leaders work to meet what he feels is the greatest challenge facing the Church today: growth. As Church membership climbs toward four million, the structure of Church leadership needs to keep pace, he says. And the Saints still need to strive individually toward righteousness.

President Tanner says his most significant lesson in righteous behavior came when he was a boy. He and his younger brother had been left to do work on the Tanner farm while President Tanner’s father, a bishop, was away preparing for a funeral in the ward.

When the father returned, his sons were wasting time riding calves instead of doing their work. They had thought their father would be away longer than he was.

“I thought I could depend on you,” the father said. President Tanner says that while he knew his father loved him, that remark “cut me to the quick.” He determined to never again let his father down. “I decided then that neither he nor anyone else—especially the Lord—would ever again have reason to say to me, ‘I thought I could depend on you.’” That same determination and integrity still shape the life of President N. Eldon Tanner.