“Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” Ensign, Dec. 1994, 10
To meet Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, the newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is to find a warm, personable, buoyant friend. But to truly know him, it is necessary to know his roots.
He grew up in St. George, Utah, in a home his mother and father literally built with their own hands. Through his mother, Alice, he is descended from Latter-day Saint pioneers who wrested a living out of the hard-baked soil in Utah’s Dixie. Among them were Richard Bentley, the first mayor of St. George; William Snow and Robert Gardner, the first settlers of nearby Pine Valley; and William Carter, the first man to plow a furrow in both the Salt Lake and St. George valleys.
Jeffrey Holland’s father, Frank, was a different kind of pioneer, a man who conquered his own private frontiers. An Irish convert whose formal schooling ended with the seventh grade, he diligently sought education on his own, became a public accountant, and was a civic leader in St. George. Some who came under his influence in their youth still speak of the impact of his love of the Book of Mormon and still remember his Sunday School lessons. He was the kind of father who helped organize Little League baseball in the community after his son lamented that there were no baseball teams for boys his age.
Thus the three living children of Frank D. and Alice Bentley Holland—Dennis, Jeffrey, and Debbie—enjoy a dual heritage of strength. (Scott Bentley Holland, born in the time between the births of Jeffrey and Debbie, died in infancy.)
Debbie Holland Millett says their mother epitomized the ideal “that you give selflessly forever, without any thought or expectation of return. Jeff is like that too.” From their father, both Dennis and Jeffrey inherited Irish charm and wit, she says. “They have the ability to take everyday incidents and turn them into stories that have you holding your sides with laughter.” And Jeffrey has his own “spiritual exuberance” that gives way to quiet contemplation when his mind is focused on the things of eternity.
Those who know Elder Holland agree that his personality is a unique blend of wit, warmth, selflessness, and spirituality. Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve, a longtime friend, says that in Elder Holland’s new calling, “he will be able to use those special talents and abilities to bless so many people in a larger sphere.”
“He has a deep spirituality coupled with an exceptional sensitivity,” Elder Faust says, enabling him to see or feel things others may not perceive. A teacher at heart, he is “always building people and lifting people and drawing people to him. He has the marvelous capacity to make people feel that they are his very best friends.”
Moreover, “Elder Holland comes in a pair. Sister Holland is a perfect companion for him. They’re an exemplary couple.”
What distinguishes their relationship, perhaps, is the way they have helped to shape and build each other through the years as their lives intertwined.
Jeffrey Roy Holland was born 3 December 1940. He thrived on life in rural, small-town St. George. “I had an idyllic childhood,” he says.
While Frank Holland’s family was always first in his life, much of his effort was oriented toward his work and the community. Elder Holland remembers his mother as the anchor of the home; her love was a constant in his early life, a guiding force that made him always want to live up to what she thought of him.
He was an obedient boy, Alice Holland says. Once when he was a youth, she let him go to a party with the understanding that he would be home by ten o’clock. When he looked at the clock later and realized that he had only fifteen minutes to make it home, he ran from one end of St. George to the other. “He never gave me any trouble,” Alice says. “He was always at church, and he always took care of his priesthood duties.”
And he was friendly. Little children liked him because he was good to them. When he worked as a service station attendant (he had also been a paperboy and a grocery bagger), people deliberately sought him out to service their cars. His friendliness came naturally. “I have always loved people, and I think while growing up I knew everyone in the city of St. George,” he says.
Jeff Holland was a natural leader, says Karl Brooks, an administrator at Dixie College and a former mayor of St. George. “Jeff was in a position to lead his crowd away from church or toward it, and he chose always to go toward it.” While some young people might have felt that living the gospel ruled out having fun, “Jeff Holland showed that you can do both.”
“He was into things. He was involved,” Brother Brooks says. “If there was a ball game going on, he was either playing or watching.”
“The central joy of my life while I was growing up was sports,” Elder Holland reflects. “I played on every kind of team that could have been assembled.” He was a member of Dixie High School’s state championship football and basketball teams in 1958 and lettered in football, basketball, track, and baseball. After his mission, he was the co-captain of the Dixie College basketball team that won its conference championship.
One benefit of his high school involvement in athletics was that it kept him close to the young woman who would later become his wife. Patricia Terry was a cheerleader who had moved to St. George just as she entered high school. She and Jeff dated for two years before his mission. Like other adults who knew Jeff, Patricia’s parents, Maeser and Marilla Terry, were impressed with his many fine qualities.
Though he was active in the Church, enjoyed seminary, and lived the gospel, he credits Pat’s faith with solidifying his determination to serve a mission at a time when it was not so clearly delineated that every worthy young man should go. Pat’s parents say strong faith was a part of her nature even as a little child. Elder Holland comments, “Her faith has always been as pure and as powerful and as strong as any person’s I’ve ever known.” And when they were dating, Pat knew even before he was sure of it himself that he should serve a mission.
He looks back on his service in the British Mission as “the major spiritual turning point of my life—the beginning of my beginnings” in mature gospel growth. Under President T. Bowring Woodbury, he gained experience and seasoning as a missionary. Then, with the arrival of a new mission president—Elder Marion D. Hanks of the Seventy—came inspiration and opportunities that changed young Elder Holland’s future forever. “President Hanks taught me to love the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon,” Elder Holland says. “He had a profound influence on my life, as he did upon all the missionaries.” Before his mission, he had had every intention of becoming a medical doctor. But, he explains, “I came home from my mission believing that God intended me to be a teacher.”
“Jeffrey Holland is by nature a teacher,” says Elder Hanks, now an emeritus member of the Seventy. “He is a gentleman, a scholar, and a diplomat—but in all those things he is a teacher.”
As his mission president, Elder Hanks saw some exceptional qualities in young Elder Holland and made him part of a traveling team of trainers. Their assignment was to help other missionaries become disciples of Jesus Christ after the manner of Mormon, who recorded: “I have been called of him to proclaim his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life” (3 Ne. 5:13). Elder Hanks says Jeffrey Holland “blossomed into a discipleship, even then, centered in Jesus Christ,” and responded diligently to his mission president’s call to teach from the Book of Mormon. Elder Hanks says that Elder Holland’s love for that book and his ability to teach from it seem to have grown continuously stronger through the years.
Frank and Alice Holland had been called to the British Mission during their son’s service there. Alice Holland laughs when she recalls that her son claimed to be the only missionary who ever said farewell to his parents at both ends of his mission. They were still serving as missionaries when Jeff and Pat were married in the St. George Temple on 7 June 1963. (Frank Holland lived to see his second son’s children, but died in 1977 at age 66.)
Jeff and Pat struggled through their student years at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, like so many other young married couples. Nearing graduation in 1965, he was not eager to become a teacher of English, his academic major. Then came an opportunity to teach religion half-time at BYU the next year while he worked on a master’s degree in religious instruction. He regarded it as an answer to prayer and felt privileged to be hired as an institute teacher in the Church Educational System on completion of his graduate work in 1966.
After a year in Hayward, California, teaching at several institutes in the area, he was appointed director of the institute in Seattle. He was instrumental in building that institute “into a major force for good” among Latter-day Saint students on the University of Washington campus, says Seattle Temple President Brent Nash. President Nash, who was called as stake president during that time, says Jeffrey Holland reached out to many young members who might otherwise have faded into anonymity on campus. “Youth were drawn to him. If he was able to bring some of those young people back into the institute, the gospel changed them.”
It was a time when uninformed comment about the Church had generated controversy on campus, but the young institute director’s ability to make friends and touch hearts helped erase ill feeling among students and organizations allied with other faiths. He became a sought-after speaker for firesides and other Church programs, and his wife frequently spoke along with him.
But a lifelong career in the field of education would mean a need for more schooling, including a doctoral degree. Years earlier, at BYU, he had opened a Yale University catalog and felt prompted that one day he would go there. A Yale-educated professor at the University of Washington recommended him for Yale’s American studies program, and the Hollands moved to New Haven, Connecticut, in 1970.
The early years of their marriage were a time of development in Church service for Jeff and Pat Holland. In their student ward at BYU, she had been Relief Society president. In Seattle, he had been bishop of the singles ward. Not long after they were settled in New Haven, he was called into the stake presidency. Pat served again as ward Relief Society president.
Elder Holland says he now believes that his Church calling was one more reason he was supposed to be in New England. “What I really got was an education in Church government”—a quick course in how the Church was run in areas where it had not been long established, where branches and wards had to struggle. During a visit to Connecticut, Maeser Terry observed that although his son-in-law frequently “would travel many, many miles and come home exhausted” in the course of his Church work, Jeffrey Holland never gave less than his best to his calling. The experience helped prepare him for service in two other stake presidencies and as a regional representative before his call as a General Authority.
Yet those who knew the Hollands during their five years in Seattle and New Haven say their family was always a high priority. Jeff Holland made time for his children, even if it meant taking them with him on a Church assignment or activity. When she was a teenager, Debbie, Jeff’s sister, spent part of a summer with her brother and sister-in-law in New Haven. She was impressed with the way Jeff and Pat involved their small children in family scripture study.
Matthew Holland was born in 1966, Mary Alice in 1969, and David Frank (who recently returned after serving a mission in the Czech Republic) in 1973. Matt, now a doctoral student at Duke University, recalls that spiritual training was a part of everyday family life. On an outing when he was about twelve, he had his first experience with feeling personal revelation.
Returning from an exploring trip on backcountry roads, he and his father came to an unexpected fork and could not remember which road to take. It was late in the day, and they knew darkness would be enveloping them in unfamiliar territory. Seizing a teaching moment, Jeffrey Holland asked his son to pray for direction. Afterward, he asked his son what he felt, and Matt replied that he felt strongly they should go to the left. Replying that he had felt the same way, his father turned the truck to the left. Ten minutes later, they came to a dead end and returned to take the other route.
Matt thought for a time and then asked his father why they would get that kind of answer to a prayer. His father replied that with the sun going down, that was undoubtedly the quickest way for the Lord to give them information—in this case, which one was the wrong road. Now, though the other road might not be familiar and could be difficult in places, they could proceed confidently, knowing it was the right one, even in the dark.
When the Hollands left New Haven and returned to Utah in the fall of 1972, Jeffrey entered a new era of his life. From then on, his work would have much broader impact on the Church’s programs and its educational system. He taught at the Salt Lake institute for only a few months before he was called to be director of the Church’s new Melchizedek Priesthood MIA. In that position, he worked with Elder Faust, Elder Perry, and Elder Hanks, who notes that Jeffrey Holland’s work had a significant impact on Church programs reaching out to single adults.
Then, in 1974, he was appointed dean of Religious Education at BYU. As a young dean—young in years and new to the faculty—he benefitted both from his academic credentials and his diplomatic skills, encouraging a strong, central role for religious education at the university.
In 1976, he was named commissioner of education for the Church. In that capacity, he was asked in 1980 to serve on the search committee that would recommend someone to follow Dallin H. Oaks as president of BYU. A few days later, he was called into a meeting with the First Presidency and told that he was to be the new president. His stunned reply: “President Kimball, you’ve got to be joking!” President Spencer W. Kimball answered wryly, “Brother Holland, in this room, we don’t joke very much.”
BYU “is a cherished place for me,” Elder Holland comments, because of the spirit he has always felt there and the ways the university has touched his life. As a faculty member and then as president, he delighted in serving students. “I have loved being known as a teacher,” he says.
Sister Holland “is an extremely charitable person. She has given and given and given—of her time and of her love—all her life,” her husband says. Of her service opportunities at BYU, Sister Holland comments: “It was a privilege, my privilege—to love so many people.” She and her husband became known for the way they reached out, as a team and individually, to others. Among the means they used there were a number of landmark assemblies, which the students came to call affectionately “The Jeff and Pat Show,” when they shared counsel, experiences, and love with thousands of students in what felt almost like friendly one-on-one chats.
But their commitment to service was not a matter of duty or mere public behavior, says BYU provost Bruce C. Hafen, who grew up in St. George with Elder Holland and has known the Hollands virtually all his life. Some may wonder if they are “as good up close and under stress as they are when they are in the spotlight, and the answer is yes.”
Despite their accessibility, however, the Hollands managed to keep a private place for the family inside the president’s home on campus. It was important, Sister Holland says, to maintain as normal a family life as possible. She tried never to be away from home two nights in a row, regardless of the university activity requiring her attendance. Because her family and their home are of such prime importance in her life, it was an act of faith and a sacrifice when she accepted a calling as a counselor in the Young Women general presidency while her husband continued to serve as university president. “We had to rely on Heavenly Father,” she says, for assurance that she would be able to meet all the demands of her different roles. She says she could not have done it without the support of her children and husband.
Throughout those years, the Holland children felt their father was available whenever they needed him. Mary Alice (now Mrs. Lee McCann and the mother of the Hollands’ two grandchildren), felt free to call him at any time if she had a problem or a need. When one of his children had a play, recital, or other important activity, he would make the effort to be there.
He’s the type of father, Mary says, who carefully planned daddy-daughter activities he knew she would enjoy, even though they might not be his preference. And he strengthened her immensely while she was growing up by helping her understand what an honor it is to be a woman and what a privilege it would be to be a mother.
David recalls his father’s willingness to sacrifice for his children. Once, when the rest of the family was away, Jeffrey Holland took several days out of his BYU schedule for a one-on-one trip to southern Utah with his younger son. Later, when the family prepared to move after Elder Holland was called as a General Authority, he drove an hour or more out of his way each day for nearly two months to take David to football practices at his new high school.
Matt says his “fondest memories from childhood are at the dinner table. Every night was a kind of family home evening filled with laughter, compliments, encouragement, interesting conversation, testimony, teaching, and expressions of love. You always knew Dad was happiest when he was at home with his family.”
Jeffrey Holland drew on the private support of his family for strength during those BYU years while he was so much in the public eye. He was necessarily involved in a number of educational organizations. He spearheaded major public efforts of the university, including a $100,000,000 fund-raising campaign. He helped the school celebrate and deal with athletic successes. As president, he bore the brunt of strong protests by ultraconservative Jews against the building of the BYU Jerusalem Center; in the process, he won the respect of many opponents. He also worked closely on the project with Elder Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve and President Howard W. Hunter, President of the Quorum of the Twelve. That “sweet association” with President Hunter was a special blessing in his life, he says.
That association became closer and the blessing of it richer when Elder Holland was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy on 1 April 1989. That fall, in his first general conference address as a General Authority, he expressed “gratitude to the Lord for the privilege of this holy calling and opportunity to serve. There is no sufficient way to express either the sense of responsibility or feelings of inadequacy one has in being called to such a ministry” (Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 25).
Dennis Holland was among those who were not surprised by the call to the Twelve that has since come to his brother. “All Jeff ever wanted to do was teach the gospel to students in a classroom. I was always sure that the Lord had the same goal in mind for him, but that the size of the classroom and the number of students were on a much grander scale than he was envisioning.”
The events of 23 June 1994 were stunning for Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. There had been no particular sense of foreshadowing in President Hunter’s invitation to a 7:30 A.M. visit. But by midday, Elder Holland’s future had been altered once more. He had received the call to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve, had been introduced in the quorum by President Hunter, had been given his charge as an Apostle and had been ordained by the President, and had taken his place among his Brethren.
He marveled at the vigor of President Hunter in handling surely and rapidly the events of the morning. It is evidence “that the Lord has worked a miracle in the life of Howard W. Hunter,” Elder Holland says. He speaks of feeling a powerful witness that President Hunter has been spared and strengthened to lead the Church. “I love him so much, and I see the hand of the Lord on him.”
Mary McCann believes her father’s focus on the role and mission of Jesus Christ, along with a “complete dedication” to the Lord, will serve him well in his new calling. She says that the strong interdependent relationship between her parents buoys up both of them and will help give him strength to meet daily challenges.
Matt Holland comments that the hallmark of his parents’ relationship is respect. “Mom and Dad are both very strong individuals. However, my mother gives her full, unreserved allegiance to my father’s priesthood leadership, and my father constantly turns to my mother for counsel and insight.”
Elder Holland says that his wife’s spiritual sensitivity, her intelligence, her deep faith, and her love have been blessings in his life. “It’s been a joy to be married to her.”
It is true that they strengthen and feed each other emotionally and intellectually, Sister Holland says. But she adds that her husband is long used to living by faith and seeking the Spirit’s direction in making decisions. He exerts a powerful uplifting influence, helping those who are discouraged to see that there is hope through the Savior. He views others and their lives through the lens of charity. “He believes—he believes in people, he believes in God, he believes that our Father only wants good for us.”
In quieter moments, after the rush of events on June 23 had passed, there came a period of soul searching for Elder Holland. It went on for some time, motivated in part by his “unspeakable respect” for the office to which he has been ordained. The calling, he reflects, requires a member of the Twelve “to be a witness of the Lord Jesus Christ and all that he stands for, all that he is, and all that his church represents. There is an overwhelming sense of responsibility in that.” It brings a deep desire “to live up to the standard that the entire Christian world holds for the title ‘Apostle,’ never doing anything that could ever diminish that office in anyone’s sight.”
He says that serving in the office to which he has been ordained will be for him, as it has been for others who have accepted the same call, a lifelong refining process. He begins it with this resolve: “I pledge everything I have and everything I know how to give to witnessing and reaffirming the divinity of the Savior’s life and the restoration of his gospel. My greatest joy and my solemn obligation is to testify of Jesus Christ wherever I may go and with whomever I may be for as long as I shall live.”