“Elder Richard G. Scott: Putting God and Family First,” Ensign, Jan. 1985, 34
During a life of accomplishment in a variety of fields, Elder Richard G. Scott has distinguished himself as one who possesses the mind of a scientist, the eye of an artist, and the soul of a man whose priorities are centered in God and family.
Long before his call to the First Quorum of the Seventy in April of 1977, he was committed to the principles of love, service, and obedience to God. Today, he is a member of the presidency of that quorum, and his quiet demeanor and healthy exuberance for the work have woven a tapestry of warmth and devotion that benefit those who work with him.
Elder Scott would be the first to insist, however, that his service, like his life, is a partnership in which his family, particularly his wife Jeanene, plays an important role. At home in the Scotts’ living room, Elder and Sister Scott sit side by side on the sofa, sharing expressions of appreciation for each other and for their five children—eldest daughter Mary Lee, attending the University of California at Los Angeles, where she is studying for her doctorate in applied linguistics; daughter Linda (and her husband Monte Mickle, with their baby Emily Anne); son Kenneth W., serving a mission in Texas; sixteen-year-old David Mitchell, a high school sophomore; and Michael, a lanky thirteen-year-old who loves math, science, and sports. The family is a loving one, with a heritage of close family ties.
Elder Richard Gordon Scott was born to Kenneth L. and Mary W. Scott on 7 November 1928 in Pocatello, Idaho, but lived most of his life in the Washington, D.C., area. Recalling his childhood and youth with his parents and four brothers, he reflects that “ours was a very close-knit, supportive family, and it gave me a great deal of opportunity and self-confidence that I probably wouldn’t have had under other circumstances. Dad and mother taught us principles, and then gave us opportunities to make decisions for ourselves.”
Although his father was not then a member of the Church, young Richard was reared in a home where strong character flourished. “My dad,” he says, “is a tower of integrity. I was always just grateful to be his son. Wherever we went, people knew him and had high regard for him. He taught us the importance of a good education and hard work. We were constantly encouraged and trusted. He has been a tremendous example of the traits you need to build an exemplary character. And my mother has been more of a close friend than a parent. They both have had a fundamental influence in developing the character of their children.”
Elder Scott’s father did eventually join the Church after thirty years of marriage. Today, Brother and Sister Scott are workers in the Washington Temple. All five of their sons, Elder Scott adds, “are active, married in the temple, with good solid families.”
As a mechanical engineering student at George Washington University, Richard Scott met and fell in love with sandy-haired Jeanene Watkins, a modern dance major who would later turn her intellectual gifts to the study of sociology. “I thought that she would never go out with me,” he remembers, “but I’d keep trying anyway.” His perseverance paid off, and their acquaintance blossomed into romance over a period of three years. Then came a time for serious reflection—and for an important change in the direction of young Richard’s life. He tells the story:
“I was really very much in love with Jeanene, and one night we had a quiet talk about what the future would hold for us. I’m sure she didn’t realize the impact it would have, but she said to me, ‘When I marry, I’m going to marry a returned missionary in the temple.’ Now, I was in my last few months of school at the university, and hadn’t thought too much about going on a mission. But you can be sure that I thought about it all that night and the next day! Shortly after that I was in the bishop’s office and had made the decision to serve a mission.”
Sister Scott, who is a daughter of Utah’s late United States Senator Arthur V. Watkins, explains that “I was raised with a great desire to go on a mission, and I came from a very missionary-oriented family. I think that’s why I wanted to marry a returned missionary.”
So the spring of 1950 brought new beginnings for both Richard and Jeanene. He was called as a missionary to Uruguay, and she accepted a call to serve in the Northwestern States mission. “I got home just a few months before he did,” she says, “and we were married in the Manti Temple about two weeks after his return.”
In Uruguay, young Elder Scott struggled with his need for an unshakable testimony of the work. “When I went into the mission field,” he says, “I thought I had a testimony; but I soon found that it was a very thinly woven skeleton.” His approach to the challenge was effective and has since been repeated many times as he has sought divine guidance. The testimony came, he reflects, not so much by his pleading for it as by pleading that the Lord would “help me be an instrument to help other people. When I would pray for others and the things they needed in their lives, then I would feel impressions to make changes or additions in my own life. It’s easier, I think, for one to be inspired or to know what to do for another than for himself or herself—and with that inspiration always comes feedback for your own growth.”
Elder Scott believes his decision to serve a mission was one of the determining factors in his professional success. “Before I went,” he says, “one of my professors said to me, ‘You’re crazy. You’ve got a lot of fine job opportunities now, and if you go away on a mission you’ll have to come back to school, and it’ll be terribly hard.’
“When I returned from Uruguay, we found a job with Westinghouse in a Pennsylvania factory town. About five weeks after I started work, I had a call saying that someone by the name of Rickover wanted me to come to Washington, D.C., for an interview.”
The “someone” turned out to be Admiral (then Captain) Hyman G. Rickover, who pioneered in developing the first nuclear-powered submarine. Elder Scott was selected from a wide field of candidates to work with Admiral Rickover, under auspices of the Atomic Energy Commission, in the Naval Nuclear Program, designing and developing nuclear fuel systems manufactured for defense and private industry.
“After I had worked with Rickover for a few months,” he recalls, “I was reviewing some of the lists of personnel working on the project that I had been assigned responsibility for—and I found that professor who had said I wouldn’t be able to get a good job if I went on a mission. He was working three levels below me in the program. That was a testimony to me of how the Lord blessed me as I put my priorities straight.”
As his scientific skills were refined during his dozen years on Admiral Rickover’s staff, so Elder Scott’s devotion to the Lord, his family, and the Church deepened and expanded as he served, first as president of a seventies quorum, then as stake clerk in the Washington D.C. Stake. When the call came, in 1965, to serve as president of the Argentina North Mission, he was ready.
Admiral Rickover, on the other hand, was not quite so ready for the news. Even today, nearly twenty years later, Elder Scott grimaces slightly when he recalls his conversation with the brilliant but volatile admiral.
“I was interviewed and received the call, and the next morning I decided I just had to tell him. He reacted very strongly, but my commitment to serve the Lord was firm. I stayed for two months longer to complete several assignments.” He adds that the admiral, despite his reputation as a somewhat controversial figure, was—and is—“a great American, a stalwart patriot, and a credit to his country.”
Four years in Argentina with a family of three young children proved an exhilarating challenge for the Scotts, and their zest for missionary work grew as they learned to love the country and its people. They saw great growth in both members and missionaries. “We were also given permission to begin the work in southern Bolivia among the Quechua Indians; that was a marvelous experience,” Elder Scott says.
Added to the blessing of the work itself was the leadership of three inspired area supervisors—Elders Spencer W. Kimball and Gordon B. Hinckley, then members of the Council of the Twelve, and Elder Franklin D. Richards, then an Assistant to the Twelve. “How,” asks Sister Scott, “could you have three better supervisors to train you and prepare you? Every time they came, it was a spiritual highlight.”
Elder Scott’s association with then-Elder Kimball has grown into a warm friendship. “President Kimball has had, as you can imagine, a tremendous molding influence in my personal life,” he says. “As he has been with so many other people, he has been a very special friend.” He recalls their association during his days as a mission president:
“One of the highlights was a trip we made with the Kimballs into Bolivia in 1967. There were no roads; we had to go up the river bed in a jeep to get in. Elder Kimball went, even though his health was not good. I thought we would leave Sister Kimball and Jeanene at the hotel; but he said, ‘Well, if Jeanene needs to stay, that would be fine, but Camilla’s going to come with me.’ Needless to say, we all went. It was very rugged; the border closed behind us, and martial law was declared.”
Sister Scott recalls a special highlight of that trip. “As we arrived at a small border town in Bolivia, the newspaper headlines announced that the Jews had recaptured Jerusalem; for the first time in two thousand years, they were in control of that great city. There we were, standing with the future prophet of God as he read the news, and we were privileged to hear his expression of the tremendous significance of that event. I’ll never forget that moment.”
“The Kimballs were delightful traveling companions,” says Elder Scott. “At one point on the trip into Bolivia, a rock hit our front window and knocked the whole windshield out. We had to drive four hours to get to a place where they could install a new windshield, and we traveled the entire distance in a cloud of very heavy, thick dust. But the Kimballs just laughed and joked about it.”
Smiling, Elder Scott describes their dusty pilgrimage. “We had it fixed so that by rolling all the side windows up we had a small air pocket; then we put a blanket between the front and back seat so that the women wouldn’t have all that dust. I stopped for gas and rolled my window down; then, as we started up, the air came whistling through. Elder Kimball leaned over and asked, ‘Don’t you think you’ve got enough air in here, Richard?’ They were such good sports, and so much fun to be with.”
In matters of personal and spiritual leadership, reflects Elder Scott, “time and time again this wonderful man would reach out. I asked about how to touch the hearts of youth, and he sent message after message from his own personal files. When you have someone who has that kind of personal interest in you, it’s a constant source of strength and inspiration.”
Back in Washington following their service in Argentina, the Scotts settled down to a not-so-quiet life of professional development, Church service, missionary work, and the rearing of a lively young family. Elder Scott joined MPR Associates, a consulting firm specializing in nuclear engineering and organized by former top Rickover aides. He was called as a member of the Washington D.C. Stake presidency and later served as Regional Representative to Uruguay and the Capitol, Potomac, and Richmond Regions in the District of Columbia area. The Scotts’ home was often the setting for “temple preview meetings,” missionary-oriented gatherings to which they invited nonmember friends and neighbors as the Washington Temple open house and dedication were observed.
During their marriage, Elder Scott has found time to cultivate the relaxing pastime of watercolor painting, and his paintings are in many rooms of their home. It has been about twenty-five years, as he recalls, since he and Jeanene went to visit one of her friends whose husband was a commercial artist. “He showed me a little bit about watercolor, which was fascinating to me. I went to the library, got some books, started to study, and then had the privilege of studying with a very competent watercolorist for a few lessons.” Of his hobby he says, “I don’t do it nearly as much as I’d like to.”
As parents, the Scotts have nurtured warm, trusting relationships with their children; these relationships have grown into genuine friendship. “One of the things I have always appreciated,” says daughter Mary Lee, “is being able to tell them everything, and always knowing that I would be accepted and helped. It’s really been a blessing—and we’re best friends.” She adds that her parents have wisely placed the responsibility for decisions on their children. “They would give us advice, and if anything went wrong, we had the responsibility for having chosen not to take their advice. They trusted us a lot.”
The feeling is mutual. “We’ve been blessed with good children,” says Elder Scott. “They’re very open; they love the Lord and keep the commandments.”
“And we do have a lot of fun together,” adds their mother.
The blending of Richard and Jeanene Scott’s lives and personalities to mold an affectionate, enduring marriage has been fundamental to the family’s success. In wordless communication, their closeness is eloquently portrayed by the gentle touch of a hand, the flicker of a smile as eyes meet, a shared chuckle at some unexplained but delightful memory, a tear of gratitude as a testimony is borne.
“I really appreciate my wife’s marvelous enthusiasm,” Elder Scott comments. “When she says, ‘Guess What!’ I don’t know whether that means she’s found a wonderful new place to buy thread, or we’ve just purchased a new chair. She has a tremendous enthusiasm for life. I also appreciate her deep spirituality. It was one of the things I recognized in her before I knew very much else about her, and it has been a constant source of strength all our married life. We’ve always worked together, and feel that we support one another.”
“One thing I have deeply appreciated,” says Sister Scott, “is that although he has traveled so much during our married life, he has always shared the responsibility of raising the children with me. No matter where he’s been in the world, if he could get to a phone, he has called me almost every night. If there had been a difficult problem with one of the children, he would talk directly to the child, and they knew their father was ever-present with them; they didn’t feel that he was a long way off. Sometimes I would have to make decisions, and he would always support me in those; but normally we could make them together because we kept in close contact.”
“On the other side,” interjects Elder Scott, “when you know you have to travel, whether professionally or on a Church assignment, to feel completely supported by your wife is an incredible blessing—and I’ve enjoyed that all of our lives.”
“All of our lives” has taken on new meaning since that spring day eight years ago when President Kimball extended a call to lifetime service as a General Authority. Remembering, they smile at their own reactions to the “totally unexpected.”
“Being called is really quite an experience,” says Elder Scott, an amused twinkle in his eye. “Just after the interview, we were walking back to our hotel room, and Jeanene turned to me and said, ‘President Kimball said there were three called. He mentioned Jim Paramore, and he mentioned Homer Durham. Let’s see, now; who was the third one?”
Sister Scott finishes the story. “Rich said, ‘Me,’ and I realized I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was really in such a state of shock, I could hardly walk back to the hotel.”
On the day the appointment was announced in general conference, they called the children from their hotel room. Mary Lee was on a mission in Spain at the time. “I just remember being very pleased,” she says, “and thinking that it was right.”
Linda, then thirteen, was at a friend’s house; Sister Scott describes their telephone conversation. “Rich got on the phone and said, ‘Linda, guess what? I’ve just been called as a General Authority.’ Linda dropped the phone, and we heard her dancing around the room, squealing to her friends about what had just happened to her father. Then, when she finally came back to the phone, she said, ‘Dad, what’s a General Authority?’”
Excitement and humor aside, such a calling prompts the most serious kind of introspection and personal rededication to the Lord’s purposes. “There isn’t a problem with dedicating your whole life,” says Elder Scott. “The privilege of serving is so great that you wouldn’t ever question that. The problem is whether you’re really prepared to do what the Lord wants you to do. That’s constantly on my mind.
“But,” he continues, “there are quiet confirmations that the call did come from the Lord, and that’s really needed. I know the Lord knows that I need to have that confirmation, because I really don’t feel any personal merit to justify the kind of calling that has come. It’s only because I know it has come from that source that I can carry on, understanding that if I do the best I can, I’ll be given insight and inspiration and power to do what the Lord would have me do.”
He recalls the struggle to learn gospel principles without, as a boy, a priesthood leader in the home to be a guide. When one comes to a point where he has to know those principles with certainty, “there are very sacred experiences that come—promptings, answers to prayer, indications given so clearly that you can write them down as though they’re being dictated, and that personal direction serves as a guide for your life. The really rich, rewarding experiences are the times when you feel undeniable direction from the Lord, or when things you’re told come to pass later on in your life and you can see the direction of the Lord in the unfolding of those events.”
Elder Scott is no stranger to the trials and challenges of life, but he prefers to view them as growth experiences rather than occasions to be lamented. “Everyone has them,” he says with quiet intensity; “but they are difficult to share when they are very sacred.” Indeed, he does not often speak of them. He focuses instead on the process by which, he is convinced, any challenge can be met and overcome:
“The way to resolve difficulty is always the same—to seek the guidance of the Lord; to live to merit personal inspiration so you will know what the Lord’s will is; and then to have the strength and ability to carry it out. When you do those things, you feel stronger and better supported by the Lord, and you can then understand other people’s challenges far better. The more you live the commandments of the Lord and understand the principles of the gospel, the more positive you are that the challenges that come can be worked out—and the more effectively you can also act as an instrument in the Lord’s hands to help others.”
He believes deeply in the proper exercise of human agency. “Some things don’t need to be challenges in our lives. I think people often have difficulties purely and simply because they choose not to be obedient; they feel in their own hearts that they want to do something, and then they set about to do that—no matter what. But I understand from the scriptures, and from the counsel the Brethren give us, that to the degree we can find out what the Lord really wants us to do, and make that our desire and goal in life, we can eliminate a good many of the things that otherwise are rocks and even boulders in the road of life.”
His counsel to members of the Church is fundamental, and to hear him say it leaves no doubt of his deep personal conviction. “There is a power,” he reflects, “that comes through pondering and meditating and reading the scriptures. That’s where great strength has come into my own life, bringing crystallization of principles that I’m not sure I could have gained in any other way. Such study and reflection leads one to feel very close to the Savior and to our Father in Heaven.
“My own feeling and observation in working with members of the Church, both those who are strong and those who are having difficulty finding the way, is that the ones who have a testimony that the gospel is true, and understand the gospel from their own invested effort, have a much clearer feeling about the nearness and the reality of our Father in Heaven and his Son Jesus Christ than others have. That becomes the center of their life, the motivating influence—that which gives them strength and courage in times of challenge, helps them to work out difficult decisions, and gives them a sense of self-worth.
“In our circumstance now,” says Elder Scott, with his wife nodding her assent, “all we want to do, really, is to serve and carry out our assignment to the best of our ability. We have everything that anyone could possibly want in terms of family and personal happiness. And we have the confirmation of the absolute reality of the teachings of the Savior, that the priesthood power of God is with this Church and that the prophet guides the Church by inspiration. That testimony is a constant source of joy and direction.”
[photo] Elder and Sister Scott with their son Michael, daughter Linda Mickle, and granddaughter Emily Anne.