Nathan Eldon Tanner
January 2010

“Nathan Eldon Tanner,” Ensign, Jan. 2010, 73

Great Lives Remembered

Nathan Eldon Tanner

Though he was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, N. Eldon Tanner grew up in Canada, where his parents, Nathan William and Sarah Edna Brown Tanner, had helped settle the small town of Aetna, near Cardston, Alberta. Their first home was a one-room dugout cut from a hillside and reinforced with timber. The hard farm life on the prairies of western Canada developed a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility in Nathan.

When he was young, the rest of his family fell ill with smallpox. The neighbors were afraid to come in because of the disease, so young Nathan spent two nights and three days without sleep as he cared for the sick.

Despite heavy responsibilities on the farm, Nathan completed his schooling and became principal of a three-room school, where he fell in love with one of the teachers, Sara Isabelle Merrill. They married and became the parents of five daughters.

N. Eldon Tanner’s reputation for hard work and integrity led to many leadership responsibilities in government and business. He was speaker of the house in the Alberta legislature, a minister in the provincial cabinet, president of a petroleum company, and head of the company that built the 2,000-mile (3,220-km) Trans-Canada Pipeline.

But his family and the Church always came first. He was a devoted father who played an active role in rearing and nurturing his daughters from the time they were infants. When he became counselor to a bishop in Cardston and adviser to the deacons quorum, Brother Tanner found that some of the boys were not attending because their families could not afford Sunday clothes, and the boys were embarrassed to wear their overalls. He made an agreement with the boys, and when they showed up at priesthood meeting the next Sunday wearing overalls, there was Brother Tanner, also wearing overalls. He won the hearts of those boys, and soon they were all active.

N. Eldon Tanner became bishop of the Cardston Ward, later served as a stake high councilor, and then became president of the newly formed Calgary Alberta Stake. It was while he was serving as stake president that the call came to serve as a General Authority and Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve in October 1960.

When N. Eldon Tanner passed away, President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said of him: “Nathan Eldon Tanner was one of the great and noble men of our time. He was recognized as a giant among men. In the annals of Church history he will be remembered as one of the influential counselors in the First Presidency of the Church.”1


  1. In “President N. Eldon Tanner Dies,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 11.

Above: Elder N. Eldon Tanner. Below, left: Elder and Sister Tanner with their family. Below, right: Elder Tanner as a young man.

Right, top: photography Visual Resource Library; right, bottom: photographs courtesy George Homer Durham.