“Elder David B. Haight: Joy in Lifting Others,” Tambuli, Sept. 1987, 18
Elder David B. Haight:
Joy in Lifting Others
David Haight was busy as the young merchandise manager of a large Salt Lake City department store one day in the mid-1930s when a distinguished visitor walked into his office—President Heber J. Grant.
Was it true, the Church president inquired, that Brother Haight was preparing to leave Salt Lake City for a position in California? Yes, the younger man answered, wondering if President Grant was about to tell him not to go.
President Grant’s reply was a surprise. “I’m glad to hear that,” he said, commenting that more faithful young Latter-day Saint men should leave Utah and get out where their influence could be felt.
“He said, ‘May the Lord bless you,’ and shook my hand and turned around and walked out of the office,” recalls Elder David B. Haight of the Council of the Twelve.
The Lord did bless David Haight—with success in business, in his family life, in Church service, and with the opportunity to affect many lives. He became a successful executive in the retail business. He also served his country—in the United States Navy in World War II—and his community—becoming one of the most respected and loved mayors in Palo Alto, California. He married Ruby Olson on 4 September 1930 in the Salt Lake Temple, and they have raised three children. He has served as a stake president, mission president, and regional representative. In April 1970, he was called as an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve. Six years later, on 8 January 1976, he was called to the Council of the Twelve, following the death of Elder Hugh B. Brown.
Might Have Been Killed
Looking to the past, we can see the spiritual growth and development of character that have made him a beloved leader. David Bruce Haight was born 2 September 1906 in Oakley, Idaho, a descendant of Latter-day Saint pioneers. His father, Hector Haight—the town banker, a bishop, and a state legislators—died when David was only nine. The boy was raised largely by his mother, Clara, and his older brothers and sisters.
He grew up as a normal small-town boy in Oakley, Idaho. Twice his life was spared when he might have been killed—once when he was jolted out of a runaway carriage and hit a telephone pole, and once when he hit his head diving into a swimming hole. “I think the Lord was preserving his life in his early years,” says his son Robert, because of the service his father would give later in life.
The initiative and energy that would serve him well throughout his life was put to use when he was courting Ruby. The first time he asked her for a date, she already had one that night at 8:00 P.M. So he asked if he could visit her at 6:00. Attractive Ruby had other suitors, but it was David whom she came to love.
A New Door Opens
It was fortunate that Ruby had accepted her mother’s counsel, given before their wedding, to go willingly wherever her husband’s occupation might take him. They moved frequently early in their marriage. Their children recall that their mother brought much spiritual strength and consistency into their early lives, while their father was so deeply involved in his career. “She was an incredible force,” says their daughter Karen.
As a young husband and father, David Haight attended Church meetings regularly, served in callings as requested, and enjoyed them. But there came a moment, during World War II, that was a critical turning point in his life as far as serving in the Church was concerned.
One chilly evening he left his wife and three small children standing on a landing dock off Treasure Island, in San Francisco Bay, as he flew out in a seaplane bound for Hawaii. Lieutenant Commander Haight spent a sleepless night over the dark Pacific in the noisy, vibrating airplane, thinking about what was important in his life. He realized that all that was of real value to him he had left back on the dock, and he wanted his family to be with him for eternity.
He felt his commitment to Church service had not been all that it could have been. He promised the Lord that if his life was spared through the war, he would accept whatever call came to him and do whatever it required. It represented, says his son Bruce, a new look at his life’s goals—the closing of one door, in a way, and the opening of another.
Qualities the Lord Required
He never sought Church positions, however, or felt that calls ought to come to him. When Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Council of the Twelve came to Palo Alto to reorganize the stake presidency in 1951, David Haight had served as a bishop’s counselor and was the junior high counselor. He felt sure he did not have the qualities the Lord required in a member of the stake presidency. But the next day he was sustained as stake president.
“He really did a great work while he was Palo Alto Stake president. He could see the growth coming,” says Ruby Haight. He oversaw the construction of a stake center and several chapels and acquired the pieces of land where all but one of the present chapels in the area have been built.
But more important, perhaps, he loved the people and gained their love in return. Richard Sonne, who served as a counselor in the stake presidency (he succeeded President Haight as stake president and later was president of the Oakland Temple), said President Haight “always complimented people. He went out of his way to get acquainted.”
President Haight’s leadership skills were steady. “He would explain to people, ‘This is what we should do,’ and expect them to carry out their responsibility.”
An Asset to the Family
Today, he is known and appreciated throughout the Church for his focus on and ability to train priesthood leaders in the organization and effective use of priesthood councils and quorums.
Those years in Palo Alto were very busy ones for David Haight. The loving support of his very capable, accomplished wife was a great asset to the family. Their children emphasize that some of their mother’s spiritual strength, eternal optimism, and love of service undoubtedly has influenced their father through the years.
In the same situation, some wives might have resented the activities that called a husband away so much of the time. “I was never home being idle. I was involved in the community work, sewing, reading, and my own church work,” Ruby Haight says. “I was just happy, I guess.”
In grade school, friends teased her for always being so optimistic, she recalls, laughing. “But there’s always a beautiful side of things.”
David and Ruby Haight both went out of their way to be of service to others. Their home was open to any who needed a place to stay for a night. “I could come home from college and never know who would be sleeping in our house, who would be eating around our table,” recalls their daughter Karen. Frequently the guests would be Latter-day Saint students from Stanford University (California), and many of them would want to talk of deep philosophical issues about the Church’s doctrine. Karen recalls her father telling them many times, “The gospel is simple. Don’t complicate it.”
Though he was busy during their growth years, his children never felt neglected. He went out of his way to be close to them and support them in their activities. “He always made me feel that I was a princess in his life,” Karen says.
“As we were growing up,” Bruce says, “he used to like to go to the high mountain country and do some hiking and camping.” The whole family would go on these vacations to get away from daily pressures. If they could see a sign of civilization, they were not far enough away. “Once we were so far into the wilderness the only other person we saw was lost,” Robert adds. After these outings, Bruce says, his father would come back feeling refreshed.
As mayor of Palo Alto, he brought about a number of civic developments and projects that serve Palo Alto’s needs today. But his warmth and goodness also helped him win friends for the Church. They grew to understand and respect the standards he lived by. Still, few of his non-member acquaintances realized the depth of Mayor Haight’s commitment to his church—until one night in 1963.
At the end of a city council meeting, Mayor Haight told city officials, citizens, and reporters that there was one additional item of business not listed on the agenda. “I want to announce,” he said, “that as of tonight I am resigning as the mayor of Palo Alto and as a member of the city council, as Mrs. Haight and I have been asked to go to Scotland for the Mormon Church. The meeting is now adjourned.”
Non-member friends on the city council tried to persuade him not to go, but he explained that the call to service had come from President David O. McKay, a man he regarded as a prophet. David Haight felt the only matter to be resolved was when he would be needed in Scotland.
Hand to the Plow
“The Savior talked about putting your hands to the plow and not looking back, and I’ve thought of that many, many times,” Elder Haight says now. “You don’t look back with regrets, with a sense of wishing for what you had been involved in.”
That day, twenty-four years ago, he put his hand to the plow and has never looked back with regret. Calls to higher positions in the Church have brought increased opportunities to serve. But with the increased responsibility, he has not given less service to his family. In fact, it has increased as his family has grown.
One of the techniques he uses to keep in touch with his family is the three-minute phone call. When his son-in-law, Jon Huntsman was serving as a mission president in Washington, D.C., Karen would occasionally pick up the phone to hear her father ask, “Is the gospel still true in Washington?” Reassured that all was well with them, he would hang up. If the talk turns to a problem during these calls, he assures them with characteristic optimism: “Oh, you’ll work it out.” The important thing for him is to be reassured of their activity and testimony.
One of the Haight’s granddaughters says occasionally she will answer the phone and hear her grandfather say, “I was just looking through the telephone book and saw your number. …”
How You Treated People
In addition to calls, he makes an effort to be at special occasions—missionary farewells, weddings, baptisms.
Making time to deal with individuals is something very important to Elder Haight. He counseled one of Robert’s sons: “The Lord isn’t going to be concerned about whether you were a bishop, or stake president, or Apostle. He’s going to be concerned about how you treated people.”
His position as a special witness of the Savior has its own challenge, of course. “I’ve always felt it is my responsibility to see that the channel is open,” Elder Haight explains. That requires pleading humbly in prayer “to know the mind and will of the Lord.”
“I’m sure that each of us in the Quorum of the Twelve may feel that we’re the least important. But I know that I am,” he says.
“My great concern is to fulfill my calling totally and fully, with all the ability I have. I know I have been blessed far beyond my natural ability.”