“Act Well Thy Part,” Ensign, Sept. 1999, 68–69
Actor Rockne Tarkington has been in movies and television programs for 40 years. Believed to be the first black actor to appear on the Andy Griffith Show and the first to appear in a recurring role in a television series (Daktari), Brother Tarkington has had a prolific acting career since 1958. But when he went home to be with his mother during an illness several years ago, it turned out to be the scene for a dramatic change in his life.
After traveling from Los Angeles, where he has spent the majority of his career, to his hometown in Junction City, Kansas, Brother Tarkington found a change of pace living in the quiet town and caring for his mother. He also found the gospel.
“When Mother got ill,” he recalls, “I began praying for the first time in a long while. But why should God listen to me when I hadn’t spoken to Him for years?” A lifelong determination to find the true church was reawakened, and he began visiting different churches in the area.
One afternoon he saw a television commercial from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This church seemed somehow different from other churches, so he decided to call. But he missed the phone number. It was nearly two months before he saw the commercial again, wrote down the number, and called.
The missionaries taught Rockne the discussions, and he was baptized on 4 June 1997. “Just like the missionaries said, I asked God to let me know whether or not the Church was true, and He did.” Through the process of seeing her son change and watching the ward members accept him into their social group, Rockne’s mother became interested in the Church. She was baptized about three weeks before she passed away in September 1998.
For the sesquicentennial celebrations in his ward, Brother Tarkington directed several plays. He is currently working on a documentary project about the geographical history of each of the 50 United States. “He’d been waiting for this project to come through for months, but nothing came,” says Bishop Brent Methvin of the Junction City Ward. “Rockne was left with the time to care for his mother and to investigate and join the Church. Right after she died—after he had received his patriarchal blessing, his temple endowment, and done the work for his father and grandparents—the job came through.”
“The gospel changed my life completely,” says Brother Tarkington. “I wish I could help people understand how fully and completely I know this is the true Church.”—AJ Nielsen, Provo, Utah