“Chapter 14: Howard W. Hunter: Fourteenth President of the Church,” Presidents of the Church Student Manual (2004), 232–52
“Chapter 14,” Presidents of the Church Student Manual, 232–52
Howard W. Hunter
Fourteenth President of the Church
Highlights In The Life Of Howard W. Hunter
He was born 14 November 1907 in Boise, Idaho, to John William and Nellie Marie Rasmussen Hunter.
He contracted polio and recovered (1911).
He was baptized in an indoor swimming pool (4 Apr. 1920).
He earned the rank of Eagle Scout (11 May 1923).
He set sail aboard the SS President Jackson with “Hunter’s Croonaders,” a dance band and the ship’s orchestra, for a two-month Oriental cruise (5 Jan. 1927).
The Great Depression began in the United States (Oct. 1929).
He received his patriarchal blessing (Mar. 1930).
He married Claire Jeffs (10 June 1931; she died 9 Oct. 1983).
He graduated cum laude, third in his class, from law school (1939).
He was called as president of the Pasadena California Stake (25 Feb. 1950).
He was sealed to his parents in the Mesa Arizona Temple (14 Nov. 1953).
He was ordained an Apostle by President David O. McKay (15 Oct. 1959).
He was called as Church Historian (24 Jan. 1970).
He was set apart as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (10 Nov. 1985).
He became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (2 June 1988).
He dedicated the BYU Jerusalem Center (May 1989).
He married Inis Bernice Egan (12 Apr. 1990).
He was confronted by a threatening intruder while speaking at the BYU Marriott Center, Provo, Utah (7 Feb. 1993).
He became President of the Church (5 June 1994).
He presided over the creation of the Church’s two thousandth stake—the Mexico City Mexico Contreras Stake (11 Dec. 1994); he died in Salt Lake City, Utah (3 Mar. 1995).
President Howard W. Hunter could well have been describing his own life when he said:
“There is no such thing as instant greatness. This is because the achievement of true greatness is a long-term process. It may involve occasional setbacks. The end result may not always be clearly visible, but it seems that it always requires regular, consistent, small, and sometimes ordinary and mundane steps over a long period of time. …
“True greatness is never a result of a chance occurrence or a one-time effort or achievement. It requires the development of character. It requires a multitude of correct decisions for the everyday choices between good and evil. …
“As we evaluate our lives, it is important that we look, not only at our accomplishments, but also at the conditions under which we have labored. We are all different and unique individuals. We have each had different starting points in the race of life. We each have a unique mixture of talents and skills. We each have our own set of challenges and constraints to contend with” (“What Is True Greatness,” in Brigham Young University 1986–87 Devotional and Fireside Speeches , 115).
He Was of Scottish Heritage
The Hunter clan settled in Scotland during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. There they built Hunterston Castle near Hunter’s Toune (town). “On May 2, 1374, Scotland’s King Robert II signed a piece of parchment confirming a royal charter of land to William Hunter, the laird (lord, or owner) of Hunterston Castle, ‘for his faithful service rendered and to be rendered to us.’ …
“John Hunter, Howard W. Hunter’s great-grandfather, was born in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, not far from Hunterston Castle. …
“In 1860 missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brought the message of the restored gospel to Paisley, and among those whom they baptized were John and Margaret [his wife] Hunter. At the time the Church was encouraging new converts to gather with the Saints in the Salt Lake Valley, and the missionaries urged John and his family to emigrate. This presented a difficult problem, for John would have to give up a prosperous business, and the family, a comfortable home. …
“… When they reached the Salt Lake Valley in late September 1860, John soon became disenchanted and, as his son John [Howard W. Hunter’s grandfather] described it, ‘finally detached himself and family from the Church, … leaving the family in a strange country without a guide’” (Eleanor Knowles, Howard W. Hunter , 1–2, 4).
His Parents and Early Years Helped Shape Him
“In 1904, Nellie Marie Rasmussen, who would become President Hunter’s mother, traveled from her home in Mt. Pleasant, Utah, to visit an aunt in Boise, Idaho. While there, she met John William Hunter. They courted for the next two years; however, he was not a member of the Church at the time, and Nellie, not wanting to marry out of the Church, returned to Mt. Pleasant. But John persisted, and they were married 3 December 1906. The couple moved to Boise, where they rented a little house on Sherman Street. Howard William Hunter was born in Boise on 14 November 1907, and his sister, Dorothy, was born two years later” (James E. Faust, “The Way of an Eagle,” Ensign, Aug. 1994, 4).
Howard’s mother was active in the Church all her life and encouraged Howard to participate in all of the Church activities available in Boise, Idaho. Occasionally, Howard’s father would attend Church with Nellie and the children. Howard was not allowed to be baptized when he was eight years old because his father felt that he was not old enough to make such choices on his own. But when Howard was twelve years old he approached his father and asked that he be allowed to be baptized. He wanted earnestly to receive the Aaronic Priesthood and be allowed to pass the sacrament. His father consented and he was baptized on 4 April 1920. Eleven weeks after his baptism he was ordained a deacon. “I remember the first time I passed the sacrament,” he said. “I was frightened, but thrilled to have the privilege. After the meeting the bishop complimented me on the way I had conducted myself. The bishop was always so thoughtful of me” (quoted in J. M. Heslop, “He Found Pleasure in Work,” Church News, 16 Nov. 1974, 4).
Experiences of His Early Youth Showed His Determination and Strength
“Not long after Dorothy [Howard W. Hunter’s sister] was born, Nellie sterilized some water by boiling it in a pan on the living-room stove that the family used for heat. She had taken it off the stove and, because it was too hot to hold, set it on the floor when Howard came running through the house. He fell headlong into the pan, throwing his left hand in front of himself, and it was badly scalded. In his history many years later he described what happened:
“‘A call was made to the doctor and he recommended that my arm be packed in mashed potatoes and bandaged. Some of the neighbor ladies came in to help. I can remember sitting on the drain board in the kitchen while boiled potatoes were mashed and packed around my arm and cloths were torn into strips to make a bandage. Fortunately the serious burn did not hinder the growth of my arm, but I have carried the scar all my life’” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 18).
“Young Howard sold newspapers on a street corner in Boise. His family lived near the country club, so he frequently caddied for golfers there. He framed pictures in an art store, delivered telegrams, did odd jobs in a department store. Because of his success with a project at his after-school job in a drugstore, he won a correspondence course in pharmacy and completed it before he was out of high school.
“It seemed that whatever good thing he set his mind to do, he succeeded. In 1919, when funds were being raised for a new chapel in Boise, Howard, a deacon, was the first to offer a pledge. He donated twenty-five dollars—not a small sum for a boy of twelve” (Don L. Searle, “President Howard W. Hunter, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” Ensign, Apr. 1986, 22).
He Had Many Talents
“‘My mother said that from the time he was a baby, he always kept perfect time’ to music, recalls [Howard W. Hunter’s] sister, Dorothy Hunter Rasmussen. ‘He has perfect pitch,’ she says, and ‘a beautiful voice.’ Those musical talents would become important in his life.
“But some other qualities showed up early, too. ‘He was always a very good student,’ Sister Rasmussen says. He had ‘this driving ambition, and he had a brilliant mind.’ And yet his ambition and intelligence were tempered with love and compassion. He would win other boys’ marbles in play—and then decline to keep them. He once turned down a job he wanted when he learned that another boy would be let go to make a place for him” (Searle, Ensign, Apr. 1986, 22).
“For the most part Howard did well in school. However, he claims he did have two handicaps: ‘I was not good in sports and I had a problem telling colors—not all colors, but shades of red, green, and brown.’
“He devised an ingenious way to solve his color-blindness problem. He would put his crayons at the top of his desk, and when the art teacher asked the students to pick up a crayon of a certain color, he would run his finger over the crayons on his desk and Beatrice Beach, who sat behind him, would touch him on the shoulder when he came to the right one. He was embarrassed to admit to the teacher that he couldn’t distinguish the colors.
“As for Howard’s other ‘handicap,’ his lack of interest in sports, the closest he got to even attending an athletic contest was when he went to football games one year in high school and called in the scores to the local newspaper. He enjoyed reading, writing, and most other academic subjects, but he didn’t always work hard to master them. He had many other interests as well, such as a succession of after-school and summer jobs” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 32).
He Became an Eagle Scout
The scouting program was only a decade old when Howard W. Hunter became involved in it. At one point he realized that if he continued earning merit badges at the pace he was going, he would be the first Eagle Scout in Idaho.
“When Howard returned from camp that year, he had passed nine more merit badges. These badges, and one he had earned before camp, were awarded at a court of honor September 14, 1922, at a joint meeting of the Rotary Club and the Boise Council, with the mayor and other prominent men of the city present.
“‘By the time the court of honor was held,’ Howard said, ‘I had qualified for fifteen merit badges and for the Life Scout and Star Scout awards. Only six more were required for the rank of Eagle Scout. The scouting magazine had carried stories of boys who had gained the rank of Eagle, but we were told there had not yet been one in Idaho. The race was on between Edwin Phipps of Troop 6 and me.’
“When the next court of honor was held, both boys had earned twenty-one merit badges, the number necessary for Eagle rank, but Edwin had completed all the required ones, while Howard still lacked the required badges in athletics, civics, and cooking. Thus, Edwin received his Eagle in March 1923, two months before Howard received his” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 39–40).
He has since been recognized as the second Eagle Scout in Boise and possibly the entire state of Idaho.
He Was a Young Entrepreneur
“Another boyhood pursuit [of Howard W. Hunter] was picking up broken alarm clocks that had been discarded. He took them apart, repaired and lubricated them, and got them in working order. Then he would sell them for pocket money.
“One job Howard tried was sorting lemons, separating the green ones from the yellow ones. This was one of the few tasks for which he had no aptitude whatever—being colorblind, he could not tell the difference! Interestingly, he later went on to become somewhat of an expert on bananas” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 6).
He Organized Hunter’s Croonaders
“During Howard’s second year in high school, he entered a sales contest sponsored by Sampson Music Company. Purchasers of merchandise in the store received one point for every dollar spent and could designate which contest entrant would receive the points. Howard encouraged all his friends and acquaintances to shop at Sampson’s, and the points credited to him gave him the second-place prize, a marimba. He soon taught himself to play it well enough to perform at school, church, and other programs, and then as part of a dance orchestra.
“‘Most orchestras were not large enough to have a marimba player unless he doubled on other instruments,’ Howard explained, ‘so I commenced to play drums as well. As I played more and more on a professional basis, I started to play saxophone and clarinet and later added the trumpet.’ He also played the piano and the violin, which he had studied for about a year each while in elementary school.
“In the fall of 1924, after playing with several orchestras, Howard organized his own group, which he named Hunter’s Croonaders. That November and December the group played for six dances, and the next year they had fifty-three dance engagements at public halls and restaurants, private parties and wedding receptions, schools and churches, civic clubs and fraternities. Most of the work was in Boise and nearby towns, but occasionally the group played a little farther afield” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 45–46).
In 1926 Howard was offered an opportunity to form a five-piece orchestra for a two-month cruise to the Orient on the passenger liner SS President Jackson. The group was hired to play background music for movies shown on the ship. They also played classical music for dinner and ballroom dancing.
A Sunday School Lesson Encouraged Him to Receive His Patriarchal Blessing
“In the young adult Sunday School class [Howard W. Hunter] experienced a major turning point in his hunger for gospel knowledge. In his history he wrote:
“‘Although I had attended Church classes most of my life, my first real awakening to the gospel came in a Sunday School class in Adams Ward taught by Brother Peter A. Clayton. He had a wealth of knowledge and the ability to inspire young people. I studied the lessons, read the outside assignments he gave us, and participated in speaking on assigned subjects. I suddenly became aware of the real meaning of some of the gospel principles, an understanding of the degrees of glory, and the requirements of celestial exaltation as Brother Clayton taught and instructed us. I think of this period of my life as the time the truths of the gospel commenced to unfold. I always had a testimony of the gospel, but suddenly I commenced to understand.’
“The subject of one of Brother Clayton’s lessons in early March 1930 was patriarchal blessings. ‘I had never really understood patriarchal blessings, but now they had meaning,’ Howard wrote. ‘That day I went to see Brother George T. Wride, the stake patriarch, and he asked me to come to the office in the mission home behind the Adams Ward Chapel the next Sunday.’
“That March Sunday, after talking with Howard for a few minutes, Brother Wride laid his hands on the young man’s head and gave him a patriarchal blessing.
“The blessing stated that Howard was one ‘whom the Lord foreknew,’ and that he had shown ‘strong leadership among the hosts of heaven’ and had been ordained ‘to perform an important work in mortality in bringing to pass [the Lord’s] purposes with relation to His chosen people.’ He was promised that if he remained faithful, he would have showered upon him ‘intelligence from on high,’ he would be ‘a master of worldly skill and a teacher of worldly wisdom as well as a priest of the most high God,’ and he would use his talents in serving the Church, would sit in its councils, and would be known for his wisdom and righteous judgments” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 70–71).
He Married Clara Jeffs
A friend introduced Howard W. Hunter to a young lady at a young adult dance in California on 8 June 1928. “Her name was Clara (Claire) Jeffs. Attracted to her at once, Howard said to Claire: ‘Why don’t you ever go out with me?’ She said, ‘Why don’t you ask me?’ Soon she and Howard began dating. They became engaged early in 1931 and were married [in the Salt Lake Temple] on June 10 that year” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 7).
“As his wedding day approached, Howard made another major decision. For several years he had played with orchestras at dances and parties, in public ballrooms, and on radio and the stage. ‘It was glamorous in some respects,’ he reflected, ‘and I made good money, but the association with many of the musicians was not enjoyable because of their drinking and moral standards.’ Such associations were not compatible with the lifestyle he envisioned with a wife and family, so he decided to give up professional music.
“On June 6, 1931, four days before their wedding, Howard played his last engagement at the Virginia Ballroom in Huntington Park. After he got home that night, he packed up his saxophones and clarinets and his music and put them away. He had already sold his drums and marimba and packed up his trumpet and violin.
“‘Since that night,’ he said, ‘I have never touched my musical instruments except on a few occasions, when the children were home, [and] we sang Christmas carols and I accompanied on the clarinet. Although this left a void of something I had enjoyed, the decision has never been regretted’” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 81).
Early Married Life Was Sweet
“Howard and Claire began married life in a furnished apartment overlooking the ocean at Hermosa Beach [in California]. Each morning, he recalled, ‘we were up early. I put on my swimming trunks, ran across the beach, and dived into the breakers. After a vigorous swim and a warm shower, breakfast was ready. It took only fifteen minutes to drive to the bank in Hawthorne and I was ready for the day’s work. We often went swimming together in the evening after I got home, and we usually walked down the beach under the stars before we went to bed. Even though the days were warm, the sea breeze made the evenings cool and comfortable, and the pounding surf was a lullaby.’
“When they rented the apartment, he said, they knew they couldn’t afford to live there long—‘but we wanted the luxury of a nice place to start our marriage.’
“Soon afterwards they moved to a three-room unfurnished house within walking distance of the bank at Hawthorne. Claire had a bedroom suite and they bought a few other furniture and household items, but they were determined … not to go into debt. ‘For this reason we didn’t have all the things we wanted, but we had what we needed to make us comfortable,’ Howard said” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 83).
He Was Interested in Law
“After the bank where he worked went out of business [during the Great Depression], 24-year-old Howard sold soap door to door, helped in road surveying, and painted bridges.
“In 1934 a major development occurred for him when he obtained work in the title department of the Los Angeles County Flood Control District. He learned that he had an aptitude for understanding legal work, and at age 26 he made a momentous decision to study law. After taking prerequisite classes, he entered Southwestern University law school, from which he graduated four years later while working full-time, taking classes at night, and welcoming three babies into the family” (Jay M. Todd, “President Howard W. Hunter: Fourteenth President of the Church,” Ensign, July 1994, 6).
“It was a momentous decision for the Hunters when Howard decided to go to law school. … ‘I worked eight hours a day and took most of my classes at night. I did my studying at night and over the weekend,’ President Hunter recalls. At first, he would study until two in the morning. Then he found it was less taxing if he went to bed earlier and got up at two in the morning to study.
“It was, he says, a period of rigorous training that helped him learn the discipline required to handle the demands of a career, Church work, and family life. He graduated cum laude” (Searle, Ensign, Apr. 1986, 23).
One week after graduating third in his class, he began preparing for the California bar exam. He was informed that only one in three participants would pass the exam.
“Howard took the examination, ‘one of the most grueling experiences of my life,’ October 23, 24, and 25 . ‘After the third day I was completely exhausted. I had done my best but there was the anxiety of not knowing whether or not that was good enough.’
“The wait seemed interminable, for ‘several years of intense work was all focused on the results of one single event.’ He knew that if he received a thin letter, it meant he had not passed the examination. A thick letter would include not only a letter with the happy news that he had passed, but also several application forms for admission to the bar and the courts.
“It was on the morning of December 12 that Claire called me at the office and said the postman had just brought a letter from the Committee of Bar Examiners,’ he recalled. ‘Is it a thick or a thin letter?’ I asked. ‘A fat one,’ she replied. I felt a surge of blood to my head and I closed my eyes and waited for her to open and read the letter. The hard work and the sacrifices we had made were at a successful conclusion.’ And his professor was right: Of 718 who took the examination that session, 254, or 35.4 percent, passed. Nearly two-thirds failed” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 93).
He Was Called to Be a Bishop and Then a Stake President
In August 1940, Bertrum M. Jones, president of the Pasadena Stake, called Howard W. Hunter to serve as bishop of the new El Sereno Ward. “Howard was stunned. ‘I had always thought of a bishop as being an older man,’ he recalled, ‘and I asked how I could be the father of the ward at the young age of thirty-two. They said I would be the youngest bishop that had been called in Southern California to that time, but they knew I could be equal to the assignment. I expressed my appreciation for their confidence and told them I would do my best.’
“Still shocked, he went home and shared the news with Claire. ‘We recalled the decision we made to get married instead of going on a mission, and that someday we would fill a mission together,’ he said. ‘Perhaps this was that mission in a different form than what we had expected’” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 94).
Nearly ten years later, “in February 1950, Elders Stephen L Richards and Harold B. Lee were assigned to divide the Pasadena Stake, and they called Howard W. Hunter to be the president of the Pasadena Stake. He had no hesitation accepting this call. A meticulous journal keeper since his youth, he wrote this response: ‘I could well understand the comments of the brethren when they told us we had been selected because of the strength of our wives. Claire … always stood close by with support and understanding during the years in law school, while I served as bishop, and in every office I have held’” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 8).
He Was Called to Be an Apostle
“A dramatic change occurred in the life of Howard W. Hunter on 9 October 1959. He and Claire had gone to Salt Lake City to attend the October general conference, and Howard received a note saying President David O. McKay would like to visit with him. President McKay informed him: ‘Tomorrow you’re going to be sustained as a member of the Council of the Twelve” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 8–9).
In his account of the experience, Elder Hunter wrote:
“President McKay greeted me with a pleasant smile and a warm handshake and then said to me, ‘Sit down, President Hunter, I want to talk with you. The Lord has spoken. You are called to be one of his special witnesses, and tomorrow you will be sustained as a member of the Council of the Twelve.’
“I cannot attempt to explain the feeling that came over me. Tears came to my eyes and I could not speak. I have never felt so completely humbled as when I sat in the presence of this great, sweet, kindly man—the prophet of the Lord. He told me what a great joy this would bring into my life, the wonderful association with the brethren, and that hereafter my life and time would be devoted as a servant of the Lord and that I would hereafter belong to the Church and the whole world. He said other things to me but I was so overcome I can’t remember the details, but I do remember he put his arms around me and assured me that the Lord would love me and I would have the sustaining confidence of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve.
“The interview lasted only a few minutes, and as I left I told him I loved the Church, that I sustained him and the other members of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, and I would gladly give my time, my life, and all that I possessed to this service. He told me I could call Sister Hunter and tell her. … I went back to the Hotel Utah and called Claire in Provo, but when she answered the phone I could hardly talk” (quoted in Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 144–45).
“After his name had been presented in general conference and he had been sustained, President Clark invited him to take his place with the Twelve on the stand. He recalled, ‘My heart increased its pounding as I climbed the steps. Elder Hugh B. Brown moved over to make room for me and I took my place as the twelfth member of the Quorum. I felt the eyes of everyone fastened upon me as well as the weight of the world on my shoulders. As the conference proceeded I was most uncomfortable and wondered if I could ever feel that this was my proper place’” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 9).
He Expressed His Feelings about Being an Apostle
“Elder Hunter has never ceased to marvel at the privilege he has had each week to meet with the First Presidency and the Twelve in the temple to partake of the sacrament, petition the Lord in prayer, and discuss the affairs of the Lord’s kingdom. ‘The meeting of this council in the temple is an experience which makes one feel he should be better and do better,’ he wrote in 1967. ‘There is kindness, unity and love.’
“Many such expressions are tempered with feelings of wonder at being so blessed, such as these: ‘Sitting with this group of my brethren makes me feel my inadequacies, but always brings a resolution to try harder.’ ‘Times like these make me feel my own insignificance and unworthiness to be allowed such privileges and blessings.’ ‘These meetings are highlights in my life and always leave me with the question as to why I was selected and why I am privileged to sit in this council.’ ‘I left the temple today, as I have on previous occasions, feeling my inadequacies and wondering why I was selected for this association. I always resolve to attempt to do better and strive to be the example of what is expected’” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 226–27).
He Taught about True Religion
Elder Howard W. Hunter explained:
“There is a great difference between ethics and religion. There is a distinction between one whose life is based on mere ethics and one who lives a truly religious life. We have a need for ethics, but true religion includes the truths of ethics and goes far beyond. True religion has its roots in the belief in a supreme being. Christian religion is based upon a belief in God the Eternal Father and in his Son Jesus Christ and in the word of the Lord as contained in scripture. Religion also goes beyond theology. It is more than just a belief in Deity; it is the practice of the belief. …
“True religion to the Christian is demonstrated by a real belief in God and the realization that we are responsible to him for our acts and conduct. A person who lives such religion is willing to live the principles of the gospel of Christ and walk uprightly before the Lord in all things according to his revealed law. This brings to a man or a woman a sense of peace and freedom from confusion in life and gives an assurance of eternal life hereafter” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1969, 112).
He Traveled the World in His Apostolic Calling
One duty of an Apostle is to take the gospel to the world, and Elder Howard W. Hunter traveled the world meeting with the Saints in many lands. He traveled more than two dozen times to the Holy Land conducting business for the Church and helped establish friendships with both Jewish and Arab leaders throughout the Middle East. These friendships eventually helped the Church secure permission to build the Jerusalem Center. He loved to travel to the Holy Land with other members of the Twelve and renew friendships with those he knew. By 1993 he had visited almost every major Islamic nation in the world. He often reminded the Saints that the Jews and the Arabs are both children of promise and that they should not take sides.
“Heavenly gifts and attributes were honed as he went time, time, and time again to Jerusalem in the Holy Land. Jerusalem was like a magnet to him. His leadership in acquiring the land and building the Jerusalem Center of Brigham Young University was truly inspired. His desire to be where the Savior walked and taught seemed insatiable. He loved all the sights and the sounds. He especially loved the Galilee. But he loved one place most of all. He would always say, ‘Let’s go to the Garden Tomb just once more, for old time’s sake.’ There he would sit and meditate as though he were piercing the veil between himself and the Savior” (James E. Faust, “Howard W. Hunter: Man of God,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, 27).
His Love of the Holy Land Led to Special Assignments
In 1961 Elder Howard W. Hunter, along with Elder Spencer W. Kimball and their wives, went on a trip to Egypt and the Middle East. In a letter to their associates in the Quorum of the Twelve, the two Apostles wrote:
“We were in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve where Christ was born. There were some 20,000 others there from every land and of every color, race, language and creed. But when we went down to Shepherds’ Field, we were all alone in the dark. That is, it would have been dark but for the bright moonlight and the starry sky. We sang softly to ourselves: ‘Far, far away on Judea’s plains, shepherds of old heard the joyous strains: Glory to God in the highest.’ Here no mosques nor cathedrals marred the scene and we felt a sweet spirit and could well believe that few changes had taken place here since the holy night. …
“… In and around and through Jerusalem we visited most of the traditional places.
“We four walked the few miles from Bethany up to the Mount of Olives and down into Jerusalem—the path He followed so many times. We climbed the hill which could well be Calvary—Golgotha, and sat and lingered to read of the cruel arrest, trial, persecution and crucifixion of our Savior.
“We went with the sorrowing crowd down the hill and spent considerable time in the tomb and the garden which are claimed to be the excavated places. We had a good spiritual warm feeling here. We felt sure it could well be the authentic place. And the Gospels had a new meaning as we read them on the spot.
“And from the Mt. of Olives we read of the ascension. This was a glorious experience. … We believe these travels will have made us more aware of the realness of the past; the relationship of the past to the present; and our debt to our Lord whose life and death and sacrifice seem even more real” (quoted in Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 163–64).
“In the Middle East, Elder Hunter met heads of state and other government leaders, yet he also conversed with camel drivers and servants. He was entertained in palaces and in Bedouin tents; rode in limousines and on mules and camels; ate sumptuous meals and simple peasant food. He related to individuals in all walks of life because of his genuine interest in people. He attended lectures and read extensively about the Middle East, and his knowledge of these countries opened doors and resulted in valuable friendships for the Church. …
“As a result of Elder Hunter’s understanding of this special place, the First Presidency assigned him to spearhead two significant undertakings of the Church in the Holy Land: the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden and the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 210–12).
The Orson Hyde Memorial Garden Was Constructed
“On October 24, 1841, Elder Orson Hyde of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was in Palestine, as the Holy Land was then known, on a special mission for the Church. … As he stood on the [Mount of Olives,] across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem, he offered a prayer, dedicating the land of Palestine for the building up of Jerusalem and the gathering of Abraham’s posterity.
“On October 24, 1979, President Spencer W. Kimball stood on that same hill to dedicate a memorial garden commemorating Elder Hyde’s prayer. Elder Howard W. Hunter was present on that occasion, having taken a major role in raising funds and in the negotiations leading to the construction of the garden.
“Groundwork for this project was laid when President Harold B. Lee, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Twelve, and President Edwin Q. Cannon Jr. of the Swiss Mission visited Israel in September 1972. They met with representatives of the Israeli ministries of religion, foreign affairs, and tourism, and explored the possibility of a monument to Orson Hyde in Jerusalem.
“Three months later, on December 19, 1972, Elder Hunter wrote in his journal: ‘Because I am going to the Holy Land next week, the First Presidency called me to their meeting this morning and asked if I would meet with the group leader [for the Church] in Jerusalem and with the mayor, if necessary, regarding a monument to the prayer of Orson Hyde in Jerusalem.’
“In Jerusalem on New Year’s Day, Elder and Sister Hunter looked at possible sites for the monument. He reported to President Lee on his impressions of the sites visited, but nothing was decided at that time. Two years later, the City of Jerusalem invited the Church to participate in a green-belt park development surrounding the walls of the Holy City. After a visit to Jerusalem, Elder Hunter reported that the proposed site, located on the Mount of Olives, would be the largest single tract in the park. Thus the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden began to be a reality” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 212–13).
“All Are Alike unto God”
During the time the Church was engaged in the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden project, Elder Howard W. Hunter taught:
“As members of the Lord’s church, we need to lift our vision beyond personal prejudices. We need to discover the supreme truth that indeed our Father is no respecter of persons. Sometimes we unduly offend brothers and sisters of other nations by assigning exclusiveness to one nationality of people over another.
“Let me cite, as an example of exclusiveness, the present problem in the Middle East—the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews. …
“We have members of the Church in the Muslim world. … Sometimes they are offended by members of the Church who give the impression that we favor only the aims of the Jews. The Church has an interest in all of Abraham’s descendants, and we should remember that the history of the Arabs goes back to Abraham through his son Ishmael.
“Imagine a father with many sons, each having different temperaments, aptitudes, and spiritual traits. Does he love one son less than another? Perhaps the son who is least spiritually inclined has the father’s attention, prayers, and pleadings more than the others. Does that mean he loves the others less? Do you imagine our Heavenly Father loving one nationality of his offspring more exclusively than others? As members of the Church, we need to be reminded of Nephi’s challenging question: ‘Know ye not that there are more nations than one?’ (2 Nephi 29:7).
“At the present time we are engaged in a project of beautifying the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem by a garden, in memory of Orson Hyde, an early apostle of the Church, and the dedicatory prayer he offered on that site. It is not because we favor one people over another. Jerusalem is sacred to the Jews, but it is also sacred to the Arabs.
“A cabinet minister of Egypt once told me that if a bridge is ever to be built between Christianity and Islam it must be built by the Mormon Church. In making inquiry as to the reason for his statement I was impressed by his recitation of the similarities and the common bonds of brotherhood.
“Both the Jews and the Arabs are children of our Father. They are both children of promise, and as a church we do not take sides. We have love for and an interest in each” (“‘All Are Alike unto God,’” 1979 Devotional Speeches of the Year , 35–36).
The Jerusalem Center Was Built
“While plans were proceeding on the Orson Hyde project in Jerusalem, Elder Hunter was also searching and negotiating for a site for a center to house the Brigham Young University semester-abroad program and the Jerusalem branch and district of the Church.
“However, finding a suitable site, coming up with a suitable architectural plan, and negotiating the way through countless bureaucratic requirements would not be easy. …
“The search for a site began in earnest in 1979, when the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden was nearing completion. On February 8, 1979, Elder Hunter met with a group of General Authorities and BYU officials to determine if the Church should consider building in Jerusalem.
“Two months later Elder Hunter, Elder James E. Faust, and Church Commissioner of Education Jeffrey R. Holland met with the First Presidency and, Elder Hunter wrote, ‘recommended the purchase of land in Jerusalem and the construction of a building for a branch chapel, … also housing and classrooms for the BYU studies-abroad program.’ The proposal was approved, and Elder Hunter was ‘authorized to seek out and negotiate for a parcel of property.
“That decision set in motion countless meetings, telephone calls, and trips to Israel, as Elder Hunter learned about Israel’s complex laws governing transfer of property and other requirements that must be met before construction could start. …
“The site the Church favored was one that President Kimball had visited when he was in Jerusalem to dedicate the Orson Hyde gardens. Owned by the Israeli government, it was on the Mount of Olives, adjacent to Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus and near the site of a proposed Israeli Supreme Court building. …
“Finally, in January 1981 Elder Hunter received word that the registration of Brigham Young University in Israel had been approved, paving the way for the acquisition of land there. Four months later the Israel Lands Authority agreed to lease to BYU approximately five acres of the land the Church had sought, for a term of forty-nine years with an option to renew for an additional forty-nine years. …
“After nearly three years of negotiations and lengthy reviews, David Galbraith [who was called by President Harold B. Lee in 1972 to be the first branch president in Israel] called Elder Hunter on September 27, 1983, and told him that the plans had been approved by the Jerusalem District Council. …
“But that did not end the problems in getting the center built. Though the Church’s intention to build an educational center had been posted much earlier, opposition by both Jews and Arabs escalated dramatically as soon as construction work began at the site. ‘The Jews have a fear that our presence in Jerusalem is a means of proselyting, and the Arabs are concerned because we are building on what they consider to be occupied land,’ Elder Hunter reported to the First Presidency after a trip to Jerusalem in February 1985 to try to defuse the opposition.
“Articles in Jerusalem newspapers called on the Knesset to rescind permission to proceed with the project, and protestors increased their pressure on public officials and threatened violence at the construction site. …
“The issue of proselyting was central to the position of the Jews. The Church had agreed, as a condition for building in Jerusalem, not to engage in proselyting, a position reiterated in a Church News article in which a Church spokesman pointed out, ‘Where missionary work is against the law, we don’t do it’ [Church News, 28 July 1985, 4]. However, the protestors refused to accept this assurance, and the controversy continued to rage.
“Meanwhile, construction of the center moved ahead. Elder Hunter and Elder Faust flew to Jerusalem again in May 1986. ‘The afternoon [of May 21] was spent touring the building,’ Elder Hunter wrote. ‘The heavy construction work is nearly all completed and by October the student quarters will be ready for occupancy. … We have delivered to each of the 120 members of the Knesset a copy of a letter signed by 154 members of the U.S. Congress from both parties making a joint appeal to allow the completion of the BYU Center for Near Eastern Studies in Jerusalem’” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 215–20).
The Israeli cabinet gave permission for the center to proceed. In March 1987 students moved into the center while it was still under construction and a lease was signed in May 1988. President Hunter dedicated the center on 16 May 1989.
He Taught about Developing Spirituality
Elder Howard W. Hunter said:
“Developing spirituality and attuning ourselves to the highest influences of godliness is not an easy matter. It takes time and frequently involves a struggle. It will not happen by chance, but is accomplished only through deliberate effort and by calling upon God and keeping his commandments. …
“Part of our difficulty as we strive to acquire spirituality is the feeling that there is much to do and that we are falling far short. Perfection is something yet ahead for every one of us; but we can capitalize on our strengths, begin where we are, and seek after the happiness that can be found in pursuing the things of God. …
“None of us has attained perfection or the zenith of spiritual growth that is possible in mortality. Every person can and must make spiritual progress. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the divine plan for that spiritual growth eternally. It is more than a code of ethics. It is more than an ideal social order. It is more than positive thinking about self-improvement and determination. The gospel is the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ with his priesthood and sustenance and with the Holy Spirit. With faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to his gospel, a step at a time improving as we go, pleading for strength, improving our attitudes and our ambitions, we will find ourselves successfully in the fold of the Good Shepherd. That will require discipline and training and exertion and strength. But as the Apostle Paul said, ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.’ (Philip. 4:13)” (in Conference Report, Mar.–Apr. 1979, 34–36; or Ensign, May 1979, 25–26).
He Was Well Fed by the Saints
Elder Howard W. Hunter traveled many places throughout the world and faced a variety of challenges. He wrote about one surprising challenge that he faced as a General Authority:
“It’s almost impossible for General Authorities of the Church to keep slender. Every weekend we stay at the home of a stake president, and his wife always goes to every effort to cook, bake and spread the table with an abundance of everything. I never object because I have no dislikes—there is nothing I don’t enjoy. Most people like baked ham and fried chicken and so do I, but recently I have had so much that I can’t look a pig or chicken squarely in the eye without a guilty feeling for the dislike I feel is commencing to creep in. …
“I am grateful for the wonderful people with whom we stay each weekend and I appreciate their goodness to us, but as I passed [a hamburger restaurant] on the way home, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t a hamburger and a malt make a wonderful banquet?’” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 172–73).
He Was Interested in South and Central American Archaeology
Elder Howard W. Hunter had a deep love of the Book of Mormon and for its divine mission. He was also interested in the historical and archeological details it contained. On 26 January 1961, he was appointed the chairman of an advisory board for the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF). He served as chairman for twenty-four years. This organization associated with BYU-sponsored archaeological work in southern Mexico and northern Central America. “Its goal was to search for sites connected with the descendants of Lehi. Some of these sites were very primitive, and his assignment literally took him into the jungle. Elder Hunter learned to survive such conditions by eating boiled eggs and bananas” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 10).
“Elder Hunter took an active interest in the foundation, meeting often with board members and personally inspecting the archaeological sites two or three times a year. He also took a strong fatherly interest in the staff workers and their families. His expeditions, often combined with Church assignments, took him into primitive—at times even dangerous—areas, and he immersed himself in learning as much as possible about the ancient civilizations and artifacts” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 198–99).
He Set A New Record
During a trip to Mexico in November 1975, Elder Howard W. Hunter established a record thus far unequaled in the history of the Church. “Assisted by Elder J. Thomas Fyans, who was then serving as an Assistant to the Twelve, Elder Hunter had been assigned to realign several stakes in Mexico. After meeting with the regional representatives and the mission president and reviewing information provided by the stake presidents, he determined that the five existing stakes, together with some branches from the Mexico City Mission, should be made into fifteen stakes.
“‘Our purpose,’ he wrote in his journal, ‘was to reduce the size of the stakes, to better align them, to reduce travel of members, and also to provide for the rapid growth that is taking place in Mexico. It was the consensus that smaller stakes can be better trained, that leadership can be more effective, and the anticipated growth of about 1,000 members commencing by March will be better fellowshipped’” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 202).
His Wife Died
Since the early 1970s, Elder Howard W. Hunter’s wife, Claire, had suffered serious health problems. “In May 1981, Claire suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. The doctors’ prognosis: she probably would not be able to walk again. When she was released from the hospital two and a half weeks later, she was in a wheelchair, still unable to walk. Two weeks later Howard wrote hopefully, “Although the doctors have said she would not be able to walk again, she is now able to stand if she is supported, and this morning by [my] holding her hands and leading her, she was able to walk from the bedroom to the kitchen.’
“Dorothy Nielsen, Howard and Claire’s dear friend and neighbor across the street, remembers being present when Howard returned home from the office or a trip. He would help Claire to her feet from her wheelchair and, supporting her tightly, whirl her around the room just as he had done when they went dancing so many years before. He took her regularly to her favorite hair dresser for permanents and shampoos, and even though she couldn’t communicate, he would talk to her and tell her about his day and share news with her about family and friends” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 267–68).
“In 1983 his beloved wife, Clara Jeffs Hunter, passed away. … President Hunter [had] tended to her needs, providing loving care with respect and an uncommon devotion for many years, with a complete disregard for his own health. But there was a reward, for as diminished as she was, Claire would smile and respond only to him. The tenderness so evident in their communication was heartrending. We have never seen such an example of devotion of a husband to his wife. Theirs was a many-splendid love affair. Love is service” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 10).
He Spoke to Concerned Parents
Elder Howard W. Hunter taught consoling doctrine to parents who felt discouraged because of wayward children:
“There are many in the Church and in the world who are living with feelings of guilt and unworthiness because some of their sons and daughters have wandered or strayed from the fold. …
“At the outset we understand that conscientious parents try their best, yet nearly all have made mistakes. One does not launch into such a project as parenthood without soon realizing that there will be many errors along the way. Surely our Heavenly Father knows, when he entrusts his spirit children into the care of young and inexperienced parents, that there will be mistakes and errors in judgment. …
“What more challenging responsibility is there than working effectively with young people? There are numerous variables that determine the character and the personality of a child. It is probably true that parents are, in many or perhaps most cases, the greatest influence in shaping the life of a child, but sometimes there are other influences that also are very significant. …
“… Remember that ours was not the only influence that contributed to the actions of our children, whether those actions were good or bad.
“… Know that our Heavenly Father will recognize the love and the sacrifice, the worry and the concern, even though our great effort has been unsuccessful. Parents’ hearts are ofttimes broken, yet they must realize that the ultimate responsibility lies with the child after parents have taught correct principles. …
“A successful parent is one who has loved, one who has sacrificed, and one who has cared for, taught, and ministered to the needs of a child. If you have done all of these and your child is still wayward or troublesome or worldly, it could well be that you are, nevertheless, a successful parent. Perhaps there are children who have come into the world that would challenge any set of parents under any set of circumstances. Likewise, perhaps there are others who would bless the lives of, and be a joy to, almost any father or mother.
“My concern today is that there are parents who may be pronouncing harsh judgments upon themselves and may be allowing these feelings to destroy their lives, when in fact they have done their best and should continue in faith” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1983, 91–94; or Ensign, Nov. 1983, 63–65).
We All Face Adversity in Our Lives
Trials were a part of Howard W. Hunter’s life. He learned much by staying faithful during his times of difficulty. His experience assisted him in teaching the Saints:
“We will all have some adversity in our lives. I think we can be reasonably sure of that. Some of it will have the potential to be violent and damaging and destructive. Some of it may even strain our faith in a loving God who has the power to administer relief in our behalf.
“To those anxieties I think the Father of us all would say, ‘Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?’ And of course that has to be faith for the whole journey, the entire experience, the fulness of our life, not simply around the bits and pieces and tempestuous moments. …
“… Jesus was not spared grief and pain and anguish and buffeting. …
“Peace was on the lips and in the heart of the Savior no matter how fiercely the tempest was raging. May it so be with us—in our own hearts, in our own homes, in our nations of the world, and even in the buffetings faced from time to time by the Church. We should not expect to get through life individually or collectively without some opposition” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1984, 43; or Ensign, Nov. 1984, 34–35).
He Became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
“On Friday, May 20, 1988, Marion G. Romney, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, died at his home in Salt Lake City. Thirteen days later, at the weekly temple meeting on June 2, Howard W. Hunter was sustained and set apart as president of the Twelve.
“Though it had been one year since his back surgery and he was still struggling to regain the use of his legs, President Hunter was determined to let nothing deter him from fulfilling his responsibilities in presiding over the quorum. Having served as acting president of the quorum for more than thirty months, he was well aware of what those responsibilities were” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 287).
He Had Faith to Walk Again
In a 1991 general conference address, Elder Rulon G. Craven spoke of President Howard W. Hunter’s determination to walk again:
“Many will remember a number of years ago President Hunter was informed that he would not walk again. However, his faith and determination was greater than that message. Daily, without fanfare and the knowledge of others, he went through some very strenuous physical therapy exercises with determination, faith, and the vision that he would walk again. During those difficult months, his Brethren of the Twelve were praying for him daily in their quorum meetings and in their private prayers.
“Months later, on a Thursday morning, I went to President Hunter’s office to discuss an agenda item for the temple meeting that morning. I found he left early and was informed that he was walking to the temple. I questioned that information and then hurried to catch up with him. When I caught up with him, he was walking with the help of a walker. We walked together to the elevator and then up to the fourth floor. We went down the hall to the upper room of the temple. When their president walked into that room, the Twelve stood and began to clap their hands. They tenderly watched him walk over to his chair and let his body down into the chair. Then with magnificent love, honor, and tenderness, each of the Twelve went up to him and extended to him an affectionate touch, kiss on the forehead, and a hug, showing their great love and admiration for him. They all sat down, and President Hunter thanked them and said, ‘I was not supposed to walk again, but with the Lord’s help and my determination and, most important, the faith of my Brethren of the Twelve, I am walking again.’ President Howard W. Hunter is an example of maintaining faith and determination in the face of adversity” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1991, 35–36; or Ensign, May 1991, 28–29).
Elder James E. Faust, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, wrote of how President Hunter kept his sense of humor during his health challenges:
“When it was difficult for him to walk or even stand, he surprised the congregation in general conference by addressing them from a wheelchair. His gentle humor shines through the opening sentences: ‘Forgive me if I remain seated while I present these few remarks. It is not by choice that I speak from a wheelchair. I notice that the rest of you seem to enjoy the conference sitting down, so I will follow your example’ [in Conference Report, Oct. 1987, 68; or Ensign, Nov. 1987, 54].
“In April 1988, with the aid of a walker, he stood at the pulpit to deliver his conference message. Near the middle of the talk he lost his balance and fell backwards. President Monson, Elder Packer, and a security guard quickly lifted him up on his feet, and he continued his talk as though nothing had happened. At the close of the conference session, with his ever-present sense of humor intact, he said: ‘I landed in the flowers!’” (Ensign, Aug. 1994, 10). He broke three ribs when he fell (see Boyd K. Packer, “President Howard W. Hunter—He Endured to the End,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, 28–29).
We Ought to Know the Scriptures
Studying the scriptures was one of President Howard W. Hunter’s great loves. He taught:
“We ought to have a church full of women and men who know the scriptures thoroughly, who cross-reference and mark them, who develop lessons and talks from the Topical Guide, and who have mastered the maps, the Bible Dictionary, and the other helps that are contained in this wonderful set of standard works. …
“Not in this dispensation, surely not in any dispensation, have the scriptures—the enduring, enlightening word of God—been so readily available and so helpfully structured for the use of every man, woman, and child who will search them. The written word of God is in the most readable and accessible form ever provided to lay members in the history of the world. Surely we will be held accountable if we do not read them” (Eternal Investments [address to religious educators, 10 Feb. 1989], 2–3).
We Should Center Our Lives on Christ
President Howard W. Hunter loved the Savior and often taught the Saints to follow the Lord’s teachings and example in their lives: “Please remember this one thing. If our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong. On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and his teachings, no other success can ever be permanently right” (“Fear Not, Little Flock,” Brigham Young University 1988-89 Devotional and Fireside Speeches , 112).
He Married Inis Bernice Egan
Almost seven years after his wife died, President Howard W. Hunter had a surprise announcement to make to his Brethren of the Twelve. “Near the end of the Twelve’s meeting on Thursday, April , 1990, after all agenda items had been covered, President Hunter asked, ‘Does anyone have anything that is not on the agenda?’ Having been forewarned privately that their president had something he wanted to bring up if there was time at the end of their meeting, none of those present said anything. ‘Well, then,’ he continued, ‘if no one else has anything to say, I thought I’d just let you know that I’m going to be married this afternoon.’
“… Then President Hunter, in his very modest way, explained, ‘Inis Stanton is an old acquaintance from California. I’ve been visiting with her for some time, and I’ve decided to be married.’ …
“At two o’clock that Thursday afternoon, Howard W. Hunter and Inis Bernice Egan Stanton knelt at the altar in one of the sealing rooms of the temple, and President Hinckley performed the sealing ceremony and pronounced them husband and wife” (Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 291–92).
On his wedding anniversary two years later, President Hunter wrote in his journal that the last two years had been happy ones. Inis had traveled extensively around the world with him, and he commented on how she made their home a delight. President Boyd K. Packer shared an experience that further illustrates his love for his wife:
“Three days before President Hunter’s passing, Elder Russell M. Nelson and I visited with the President. He was seated in the sunroom which overlooks the temple and the gardens. We knelt before him, each holding one of his hands. As we talked with him, he kept looking over his shoulder into the living room and then called to his wife, Inis.
“Ever present and ever attentive, she responded immediately and asked what he needed. He said, ‘You are too far away; I want you close to me.’ I said, ‘President, she was only thirty feet away.’ He said, ‘I know, that’s too far’” (Ensign, Apr. 1995, 30).
He Gave Counsel to the Sisters
In an address to the women of the Church, President Hunter counseled them to stand with the Brethren and to seek service over status:
“As our Lord and Savior needed the women of his time for a comforting hand, a listening ear, a believing heart, a kind look, an encouraging word, loyalty—even in his hour of humiliation, agony, and death—so we, his servants all across the Church, need you, the women of the Church, to stand with us and for us in stemming the tide of evil that threatens to engulf us. Together we must stand faithful and firm in the faith against superior numbers of other-minded people. It seems to me that there is a great need to rally the women of the Church to stand with and for the Brethren in stemming the tide of evil that surrounds us and in moving forward the work of our Savior. Nephi said, ‘Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men, [women, and children].’ (2 Ne. 31:20.) Obedient to him we are a majority. But only together can we accomplish the work he has given us to do and be prepared for the day when we shall see him. …
“Sisters, continue to seek opportunities for service. Don’t be overly concerned with status. Do you recall the counsel of the Savior regarding those who seek the ‘chief seats’ or the ‘uppermost rooms’? ‘He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.’ (Matt. 23:6, 11.) It is important to be appreciated. But our focus should be on righteousness, not recognition; on service, not status. The faithful visiting teacher, who quietly goes about her work month after month, is just as important to the work of the Lord as those who occupy what some see as more prominent positions in the Church. Visibility does not equate to value” (“To the Women of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, 96–97).
He Was Calm When His Life Was Threatened
“President Hunter [was] always … a man of great resolution. On 7 February 1993, he was on the Brigham Young University campus to speak at a nineteen-stake fireside and Church Educational System broadcast. As President Hunter rose to address the nearly twenty thousand young adults assembled in the Marriott Center, an assailant threatened him, shouting, ‘Stop right there!’ The man claimed to have a bomb and a detonator and ordered everyone to leave the stand except President Hunter. Many people did leave, yet President Hunter resolutely stayed at the pulpit, with two security guards. Although threatened by what looked like a gun, President Hunter firmly declined to read the written statement the man handed to him. When students spontaneously began to sing ‘We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet,’ the assailant was momentarily distracted. A security guard rushed him and took him into custody. Other security guards lowered President Hunter to the floor for safety.
“There was, of course, a considerable commotion in the audience, but soon a reasonable calm returned. After a few moments to collect himself, President Hunter made a second approach to the microphone and read the opening line of his prepared text: ‘Life has a fair number of challenges in it.’ He stopped, looked over the audience, and added, ‘As demonstrated.’ Then he went on with his message as though nothing had happened” (Faust, Ensign, Aug. 1994, 11–12).
He faced a similar threat on another occasion. President Boyd K. Packer explained: “We accompanied him to Jerusalem for the dedication of the BYU Center. As I was speaking, there was some excitement in the back of the hall. Men in military uniforms had entered the room. They sent a note to President Hunter. I turned and asked for instructions. He said, ‘There’s been a bomb threat. Are you afraid?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Neither am I; finish your talk’” (Ensign, Apr. 1995, 29).
He Became President of the Church
On 5 June 1994, Howard W. Hunter was ordained and set apart as the fourteenth president of the Church. He had served for over three decades as a General Authority. During a press conference held the next day, he invited “all members of the Church to live with ever more attention to the life and example of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially the love and hope and compassion He displayed.
“I pray that we might treat each other with more kindness, more courtesy, more humility and patience and forgiveness. We do have high expectations of one another, and all can improve. Our world cries out for more disciplined living of the commandments of God. But the way we are to encourage that, as the Lord told the Prophet Joseph in the wintry depths of Liberty Jail, is ‘by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; … without hypocrisy, and without guile’ (D&C 121:41–42).
“To those who have transgressed or been offended, we say, come back. To those who are hurt and struggling and afraid, we say, let us stand with you and dry your tears. To those who are confused and assailed by error on every side, we say, come to the God of all truth and the Church of continuing revelation. Come back. Stand with us. Carry on. Be believing. All is well, and all will be well. Feast at the table laid before you in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and strive to follow the Good Shepherd who has provided it. Have hope, exert faith, receive—and give—charity, the pure love of Christ” (quoted in Todd, Ensign, July 1994, 4–5).
Though his service as President of the Church was a short nine months, President Hunter’s example and teachings were endearing to the Saints.
Every Member Should Be Temple Worthy
With his invitation to follow the Savior’s life and example with greater diligence, President Howard W. Hunter said:
“I also invite the members of the Church to establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of their membership and the supernal setting for their most sacred covenants. It would be the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church be temple worthy. I would hope that every adult member would be worthy of—and carry—a current temple recommend, even if proximity to a temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it.
“Let us be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. Let us hasten to the temple as frequently as time and means and personal circumstances allow. Let us go not only for our kindred dead, but let us also go for the personal blessing of temple worship, for the sanctity and safety which is provided within those hallowed and consecrated walls. The temple is a place of beauty, it is a place of revelation, it is a place of peace. It is the house of the Lord. It is holy unto the Lord. It should be holy unto us” (quoted in Todd, Ensign, July 1994, 5).
He Bore a Strong Witness of Christ
During his first general conference address as President of the Church, and what was to be his last general conference, President Howard W. Hunter left the Saints with his witness of Jesus Christ and the Church:
“My greatest strength through these past months has been my abiding testimony that this is the work of God and not of men. Jesus Christ is the head of this church. He leads it in word and deed. I am honored beyond expression to be called for a season to be an instrument in his hands to preside over his church. But without the knowledge that Christ is the head of the Church, neither I nor any other man could bear the weight of the calling that has come.
“In assuming this responsibility, I acknowledge God’s miraculous hand in my life. He has repeatedly spared my life and restored my strength, has repeatedly brought me back from the edge of eternity, and has allowed me to continue in my mortal ministry for another season. I have wondered on occasion why my life has been spared. But now I have set that question aside and ask only for the faith and prayers of the members of the Church so we can work together, I laboring with you, to fulfill God’s purposes in this season of our lives” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 6; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 7).
Seek a Christlike Life
In a Christmas devotional, President Howard W. Hunter encouraged people to follow the Savior’s example: “This Christmas, ‘Mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again.’ (Adapted from an unknown author.)” (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed. Clyde J. Williams , 270–71).
He Was Paid a Final Tribute
President Howard W. Hunter passed away on 3 March 1995. At President Hunter’s funeral service, President Gordon B. Hinckley said:
“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. …
“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. …
“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 those who succeeded him in the line of succession until President Hunter’s own time. …
“May God bless his memory to our great good” (“A Prophet Polished and Refined,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, 33–35).