“A Prophet Polished and Refined,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, 33–35
I am grateful for all that has been said and voiced in music. This has been an hour of sweet peace. It is befitting the man of peace whose life we honor. I pray that as we conclude this service I may be guided by the Holy Spirit, whose workings were so often evidenced in his life.
A majestic tree in the forest has fallen, leaving a place of emptiness. A great and quiet strength has departed from our midst.
Much has been said about his suffering. I believe that it went on longer and was more sharp and deep than any of us really knew. He developed a high tolerance for pain and did not complain about it. That he lived so long is a miracle in and of itself. His suffering has comforted and mitigated the pain of many others who suffer. They know that he understood the heaviness of their burdens. He reached out to these with a special kind of love.
Much has been said about his kindness, his thoughtfulness, his courtesy to others. It is all true. He surrendered himself to the pattern of the Lord whom he loved. He was a quiet and thoughtful man. But he also could be aroused to voice strong and wise opinions. For twenty years I sat next to him in the Council of the Twelve, from the time I was ordained to the apostleship in 1961 until I was called into the Presidency in 1981. The meetings at which I sat at his elbow could be counted in the hundreds. I have seen him in all of his moods, his times of reflection, and in the speaking of his opinions.
The Council of the Twelve Apostles is an open forum for those who sit in that sacred circle. Each man, be he the most recently called or the most seasoned, has an equal right to express himself and to be listened to by his brethren. Whatever the issue that might come before that body, each is free to speak his mind, to give his opinion. It is a wonderful thing. These men come from a variety of backgrounds and widely different experiences. Each brings his own point of view. It is interesting to watch the gradual melding of various opinions. No action is taken until there is unanimous accord. The Lord has made it clear that this must be so.
Brother Hunter was kind and gentle. But he also could be strong and persuasive in his statements. As has been said, he was trained in the law. He knew how to present a matter. He laid out the various premises in orderly fashion. He moved from these to his conclusion. When he spoke we all listened. His suggestions most often prevailed. But when they were not accepted, he had the flexibility to withdraw his advocacy, to accept the decision of the President of the Church, his prophet, and to thereafter go throughout the Church furthering with conviction the conclusion that was reached and the program determined upon.
For thirty-six years now, wearing the mantle of the holy apostleship, his has been a leading and powerful voice in declaring the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ and in moving forward the work of the Church. He has traveled widely over the earth as a true and able minister in the service of the Master. From our point of view it is tragic that he has served so briefly as President and prophet, seer, and revelator of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But during this brief period he touched the hearts of countless thousands at home and abroad. Regardless of his failing strength, he traveled back and forth across the country to Hawaii and to Europe and Mexico. It was in Mexico City that he created the two thousandth stake of Zion, a significant milestone in the history of the Church.
We were with him and Sister Hunter last June in Nauvoo and Carthage to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. It was a wonderful thing to observe him and listen to him as he spoke words of inspiration and gratitude in testimony, both moving and persuasive, concerning the first great prophet of this dispensation.
Wherever we went people crowded around him. He shook hands with thousands, with a particular smile when children gathered about to look into his eyes and grasp his hand.
His last public activity was the dedication of the Bountiful Utah Temple. I am grateful that he had the opportunity to dedicate this beautiful structure, particularly in light of his earlier plea that members of the Church “look to the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of [their] membership” (Ensign, Nov. 1994, p. 8).
Many of us knew his first wife, Claire. She was the mother of his sons, two of whom, John and Richard, have followed him in the law. They have distinguished themselves in the professional field which their father loved. They too are wise and able men, with distinguished companions and wonderful children and grandchildren who are faithful and true to this, the work of the Lord.
Claire suffered much in the later years of her life. President Hunter carried that burden locked in his heart. We sensed something of the depth of his quiet suffering, but he seldom spoke of it. Though her illness had been long and difficult, when she passed away it was a crushing blow to him.
We watched him through those years of loneliness. Then came his marriage to Inis. He invited me to officiate at that ceremony. He was wonderfully bright and happy and full of smiles and buoyant talk on that day. She has been a great blessing to him. Together they have traveled far and wide under assignment in the Church. She added a dimension to his life, and today we share in some small measure her deep sorrow. Great has been her tragedy in this, the passing of her beloved husband.
We were there on Friday a few minutes after he spoke his last words to his wife, to his nurse, to his secretary, and his attendant. We looked briefly upon his lifeless form. We knew that the long struggle was over. We sensed the sorrow of his loved ones, for we too were reduced to mourning. Since then expressions of love have come from across the world. This past Sunday I went to my home ward of which he also was a member. It was a day of fasting for our people, who in their sacrament meetings on this first Sunday are given opportunity for expressions of their faith and feelings.
One after another they arose to speak of their love for this good man. I am confident that a similar thing occurred in the many thousands of our congregations who met last Sunday across the world.
President Clinton called me Monday to personally express his condolences, as he put it, “on the loss of your great leader.”
Robert Ingersoll, speaking at the funeral of his brother long ago, said these words which might be said of President Hunter:
“He added to the sum of human joy; and were every one to whom he did some loving service to bring a blossom to his grave, he would sleep tonight beneath a wilderness of flowers.”
He continued: “Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud, and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry. From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead there comes no word; but in the night of death hope sees a star and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing” (quoted in Elbert Hubbard’s Scrap Book, New York City: Wm. H. Wise & Co., 1923, pp. 131–32).
But for President Hunter there was much more than the echo of a wailing cry. There was the mighty power of faith. There was the certitude of knowledge of things divine and of things eternal.
Faith and knowledge testified to him of the premortal existence of the sons and daughters of God. It was with President Hunter as it was with Jeremiah, who was told by the Lord that before he was born he knew him and sanctified him and ordained him “a prophet unto the nations” (Jer. 1:5).
Mortal life for Howard W. Hunter has been more of a mission than a career. And as certain as have been premortal life and mortality, there is an ongoing continuance after stepping over the threshold of death.
Last Friday morning he said “Thank you” to those about him; his spirit left his pain-racked body and stepped across that threshold into a better world.
He has gone to a reunion with loved ones who have preceded him. And I think I can see him being welcomed into a circle with Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, and Ezra Taft Benson. I think they have embraced him and thanked him for his great service to the people of the Church they also led and loved. He carried on in their tradition. He taught with added emphasis that which they had taught. He served well the cause for which some of them paid a terrible price, in the case of Joseph Smith, life itself.
In behalf of his family, I thank all who have ministered to him. His physicians—they were all attentive to his needs and served him faithfully and well in the finest traditions of their profession; his nurses, who gently and carefully looked after him, comforted him, encouraged him, and dealt with him with great gentleness; those of his aides around him who generously assisted him in getting about and in looking after his needs. To Dale Springer and his associates I express special gratitude in behalf of the family.
The media have been generous and honest in speaking of his great service and tremendous contribution. The world is much the better for his life. Our lives have been enriched by his friendship. We have enjoyed the warmth of his personality and been stirred by the strength of his teaching and testimony.
We mourn his passing. It is appropriate that we do so because we loved him. The Lord has said, “Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die.” Then he promised that “those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them” (D&C 42:45–46). I believe Howard Hunter’s passing has for him been a sweet and beautiful experience.
To the sorrowing Martha, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
“And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).
Howard W. Hunter, prophet, seer, and revelator, had a sure and certain testimony of the living reality of God, our Eternal Father. He voiced with great conviction his witness of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of mankind. He spoke with love for the Prophet Joseph Smith, and for all of those who succeeded him in line of succession until President Hunter’s own time.
I add my witness that God lives and that Jesus is our Redeemer and our Savior, and that what has happened has occurred in their wisdom. I believe that President Hunter’s life was preserved over this long period, and that during these years he was polished and refined, that he was disciplined and trained and taught under the plan of the Almighty to stand at this season as prophet to the nations and revelator to the people. I pray that his loved ones will be comforted and sustained in the lonely days that lie ahead, and may his posterity, through all the generations to come, look back with appreciation to his life and with resolution to follow his example.
May God bless his memory to our great good, I humbly pray as I say, “Good-bye, dear friend” in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.