“The Life and Ministry of Spencer W. Kimball,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball (2006), xiv–xxxvii
“The Life and Ministry of Spencer W. Kimball,” Teachings: Spencer W. Kimball, xiv–xxxvii
During an autumn evening in the early 1900s, Orville Allen stopped by Andrew Kimball’s home to deliver some pumpkins. As the two men unloaded the pumpkins, they overheard Andrew’s son Spencer in the barn, singing as he milked the cows. Brother Allen remarked to Andrew, “Your boy must be happy.” Andrew responded: “Yes, he is always happy. He is a clean and obedient boy and always minds what I ask him to do. I have dedicated him to the Lord and to His service. He will become a mighty man in the Church.”1
Through years of preparation, Spencer did become a mighty man. The Lord “was not just preparing a businessman, nor a civic leader, nor a speaker, nor a poet, nor a musician, nor a teacher—though he would be all of these. He was preparing a father, a patriarch for his family, an apostle and prophet, and a president for His church.”2
Spencer W. Kimball’s family had deep roots in the restored Church. His grandfathers on both sides were prominent in the early history of the latter-day work. Heber C. Kimball was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when it was organized in 1835. He later served as First Counselor to President Brigham Young for over two decades and was a faithful servant of the Lord throughout his ministry. Edwin D. Woolley, Spencer’s grandfather on his mother’s side, was a former Pennsylvania Quaker who embraced the gospel in the days of Joseph Smith. He was a respected bishop in the Salt Lake Valley. He also served from time to time as a manager of Brigham Young’s personal business affairs. Bishop Woolley’s concern for the needy and his unyielding commitment to the gospel were enduring legacies for his descendants.
Spencer’s grandmother Ann Alice Gheen Kimball was “a faithful woman, … shy in society, tall and plain-faced, with a soft heart for the weak and sick.”3 Andrew Kimball was her third son. Spencer’s other grandmother, Mary Ann Olpin Woolley, was from England and became the mother of eleven children, the sixth being named Olive.
Andrew Kimball married Olive Woolley on February 2, 1882, in Salt Lake City, where they made their home. About three years later, Andrew received a call to leave home and serve in the Indian Territory Mission, located in the present-day state of Oklahoma. After serving for two and a half years as a full-time missionary, he was then called to preside over the mission. The new calling allowed him to live at home, however, and so for the next 10 years he resided in Utah with his family while directing the mission through letters and trips to the area.
Andrew’s 12 years of service in the Indian Territory Mission were soon followed by another calling, this time to settle in the Gila Valley of south-central Arizona. There he was to preside as stake president over the Latter-day Saint settlements of that region, which were organized as the St. Joseph Stake. In 1898, Andrew and Olive and their six children (including three-year-old Spencer) packed up their household goods and made the move 600 miles south from Salt Lake City.
Spencer Woolley Kimball was born on March 28, 1895, the sixth of Andrew and Olive Kimball’s eleven children.
Recalling the Arizona landscape of his youth, he wrote, “It was an arid country, yet it was fruitful under the hands of determined laborers.”4 He further remembered: “We lived on a small farm on the south edge of Thatcher, Arizona. Our home was on the corner with open farm country south and east. Back from the home were the well, the pump, the windmill, a big wooden tank for our supply of water, the tool building, and a little farther back, a very large woodpile. Then came the pigpens, corrals, haystacks, and the granary.”5
Spencer learned important gospel lessons early from his parents. “I remember as a youth,” he said, “walking with my mother up the dusty road to the bishop’s house in a day when we often paid tithing from our animals and produce. As we walked, I said, ‘Why do we take the eggs to the bishop?’ She answered, ‘Because they are tithing eggs and the bishop receives the tithing for Heavenly Father.’ My mother then recounted how each evening when the eggs were brought in, the first one went into a small basket and the next nine went into a large basket.”6
Andrew Kimball’s example of dedicated service had a great influence on Spencer, who later said: “My first impressions of the labor of a stake president came from observing my own father. … I believe that father so ministered to his people that he fulfilled a blessing given him by President Joseph F. Smith, who promised that the people of the Gila Valley would ‘seek unto him as children to a parent.’ Although I am sure I did not then fully appreciate his example, the standard he set was one worthy of any stake president.”7
The Kimball family lived modestly. “We didn’t know we were poor,” remembered Spencer. “We thought we were living pretty well.”8 Their clothes were homemade and hand-me-downs. Their meals were basic, consisting of meat and produce raised on their own property.
Spencer assisted with chores around the farm. “I used to pump the water by hand to water the garden,” he recalled, “and also I learned to milk the cows, prune the fruit trees, mend the fences, and all the rest. I had two older brothers, who, I was convinced, took all the easy jobs and left me all the hard ones. But I don’t complain; it made me strong.”9 Beginning when he was nine years old, Spencer memorized the Articles of Faith, the Ten Commandments, and most of the hymns from the Church hymnal while milking the cows and watering the horses each day.
When Spencer was 11, his mother died. This was one of the great trials of his early years. He wondered how the family could go on. “But I found then,” he said, “as I have found out many times since, that one can endure almost anything.”10 In time, Andrew Kimball remarried, and Josephine Cluff became Spencer’s stepmother. “Josie,” as friends called her, could not fully take the place of Olive in Spencer’s life, but her capable and patient ways added stability to the Kimball family.
During his youth, Spencer not only learned basic hard work in a rugged land but also picked up several skills that prepared him to be of greater service later in life. He learned to sing and lead music and was appointed stake chorister at age 15. Although he had fingers that he described as “short and chubby,”11 he applied himself, learning to read music and play the piano. He improved until he was able to play the hymns and participate in a small orchestra. Years later, he alternated with Elder Harold B. Lee as accompanist for the weekly meetings of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Spencer started school a little later than most, as related in the following account: “Spencer’s mother thought children were not mature enough for school until they were seven, so when Spencer started he was a year behind the other children. … At noon he usually ran the three blocks from school to home to pump water for the animals, feed the pigs, and eat his lunch. One day his mother said, ‘What are you doing home at recess? It’s not noon yet.’ He ran back to school in a panic and found his classmates already inside from the brief recess. Everyone laughed—except the teacher, who took that occasion to tell the class that Spencer was ahead of all the other students in the second grade and would be moved up to be with the children his own age.”12
After finishing grade school, Spencer attended the Church-owned Gila Academy. There he earned consistently good grades, participated in sports, and was a school officer.
Spencer also grew in Church experience and had an almost perfect attendance record. Fulfilling priesthood assignments was a priority, as the following account illustrates: “As part of their job, the deacons hitched up horse and buggy each month before fast day and went house-to-house collecting offerings for the poor of the Church. Afterwards they took their gatherings to the bishop—bottles of fruit, flour, squash, honey, occasionally a half-dollar or so in loose change. So eager was Andrew to teach his boy his duty that nothing else interfered with Spencer’s collection on that day. The Kimball horse and buggy was never too busy to be used for deacons quorum work. If the other boy assigned to collect with him didn’t show up, Spencer went out alone and got the job done.”13
In addition to his home, school, and Church responsibilities, Spencer worked as a secretary for his father. Andrew wrote many letters, averaging six a day. Spencer took dictation from him and then typed the letters.
These experiences from early in Spencer’s life taught him the value of work, a lesson he applied and taught throughout his life. Years later as an Apostle in his 70s, he had occasional days when he felt physically exhausted. Of one such day he wrote: “I started out very miserable and found myself wondering if I could get through the day, but … I seemed to become intoxicated with my work and forgot myself and it was a good day.”14
In 1914, Spencer graduated from Gila Academy, expecting to enter the University of Arizona in the fall. During the graduation exercises, however, Andrew Kimball announced that Spencer was to be called on a mission.
In preparation for his mission, Spencer went to work in Globe, Arizona, as a dairy hand. This was his first experience living outside the Latter-day Saint settlements of the Gila Valley. He found that, without compromising his own standards, he could adapt to being around people whose standards did not entirely conform to his. He earned the respect of his co-workers. At the end of the summer, his cigar-smoking, non–Latter-day Saint boss threw a farewell party for Spencer and presented him with an engraved gold watch.
From October 1914 to December 1916, Spencer served as a full-time missionary in the Central States Mission, headquartered in Independence, Missouri. This was the same area where his father, his stepmother, and one of his older brothers had served.
Elder Kimball’s full-time service in the mission field was a period of growth. He faced physical challenges. His mission president directed the elders to seek food and shelter from those they proselyted. As a result, Elder Kimball spent many uneasy nights in little shacks in the backwoods of Missouri, sharing the bed with fleas or bedbugs while mosquitoes buzzed around. There were many hungry days, and when food was offered, he ate whatever was placed before him.
Door-to-door contacting was hard work, with limited returns. An account is given of an unusual approach Elder Kimball once used:
“While tracting in St. Louis he noticed a piano through the partly opened door, and he said to the woman, who was in the act of shutting the door in his face, ‘You have a nice-looking piano.’
“‘We just bought it,’ said the woman, hesitating.
“‘It’s a Kimball, isn’t it? That’s my name, too. I could play a song on it for you that you might like to hear.’
“Surprised, she answered, ‘Surely, come in.’
“Sitting on the bench, Spencer played and sang, ‘O, My Father.’
“So far as Spencer knew, she never joined the Church, but it was not because he had not tried.”15
Spencer’s mission reinforced what his upbringing in Arizona had already established: faith in the Lord, hard work, dedication, quiet service, and sacrifice.
In the summer of 1917, about seven months after Spencer Kimball returned home from his mission, he noticed an announcement in the local newspaper. Camilla Eyring, who had moved to the Gila Valley in 1912 with her family, would be teaching home economics at the Gila Academy. As Spencer read and reread the article, he determined that he would someday marry Camilla Eyring. By “coincidence,” he met her waiting at the bus stop near the academy and struck up a conversation. He sat with her on the bus, where they continued to talk, and he received her permission to call on her.
Camilla’s mother took a strong liking to the young Spencer Kimball. She invited him to dinner every time he was over to visit Camilla. And Brother Eyring, who was very strict regarding the quality of his daughters’ suitors, raised no objection. After 31 days, Spencer had become a fixture at the Eyring household. The couple decided to marry, but their plans were affected by the ongoing World War I. Spencer was obligated to stay in Thatcher, Arizona, to await possible draft into the army, so they would not be able to make the long trip to a temple in Utah. They were married civilly on November 16, 1917, but looked forward to a temple sealing as soon as possible. That goal was realized the following June in the Salt Lake Temple.
Spencer and Camilla eventually had four children: three sons and a daughter (Spencer LeVan, Andrew Eyring, Edward Lawrence, and Olive Beth). As parents they provided an environment in which their children not only felt loved and supported but also entrusted to make individual decisions. One of their sons later recalled:
“When the children performed at school, Church or elsewhere, my parents were in attendance, even at some personal sacrifice. They always showed their interest and pride in us.
“In our family, there was a sense of association, not of ownership. Ultimate responsibility for our acts was on us. Our parents would encourage and guide, but not command.”
This same son went on to say of his father:
“I know of no one more generous in spirit than my father. He is kindly and considerate, almost to a fault. Children tend to think of their parents as powerful authority figures, not subject to ordinary needs. But I know how much my father appreciates a sincere compliment or word of appreciation. And no expression of appreciation or affection counts quite as much as from his own family.
“I know there is nothing that gives him more satisfaction—after feeling that the Lord approves of his efforts—than to see his own family following his lead in trying to live righteously.
“If I had a choice by whom to be judged at the last day, there is no human being I would choose before my father.”16
With Camilla at his side and the responsibilities of a family before him, Spencer began his professional life as a bank clerk. As the years passed, he moved from banking to life insurance and real estate development. The economic upheaval of the Great Depression (1929–39) hit Spencer’s business interests hard, but the family was able to weather the adversity.
Spencer’s father passed away in 1924, after having served as stake president for nearly three decades. When President Heber J. Grant, seventh President of the Church, subsequently reorganized the stake presidency, 29-year-old Spencer was called to serve as second counselor.
In addition to his family life, professional endeavors, and Church service, Spencer was an active contributor to the community. He helped to found the first local radio station. He was active as a member of the Rotary Club, a service organization, eventually holding the post of district governor.
In 1938 the St. Joseph Stake was divided, and Spencer was called to be the president of the new Mount Graham Stake. Concerned that some over whom he would preside might harbor ill feelings toward him, Spencer and Camilla visited with any who might have such feelings in order to “clear the slate.”17
In September 1941, during his service as stake president, a major flood hit the community. Continuous rains raised the level of the Gila River until it ran down the streets of some of the settlements. Homes and farms were washed away by the waters. The residents, mostly members of the Church, desperately needed help. Upon hearing of the devastation, Spencer filled his car with food drawn from Church resources and headed for the towns affected by the flooding. He arranged to have dirty clothing cleaned. He helped farmers obtain grain to feed livestock. Soon a truckload of food and clothing arrived. Within a week, those who had suffered the most in the flooding were on the way to recovery. Church members demonstrated unqualified generosity. Spencer directed the assessment of needs and the distribution of resources. In all of this, he stayed in close contact with Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, whose responsibilities included the welfare program.
On July 8, 1943, President J. Reuben Clark Jr. of the First Presidency called Spencer at home. He said that Spencer had been called to fill one of the two vacant seats in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. To this, Spencer responded: “Oh, Brother Clark! Not me? You don’t mean me? There must be some mistake. I surely couldn’t have heard you right. … It seems so impossible. I am so weak and small and limited and incapable.”18 Spencer assured President Clark that there could be only one response to a call from the Lord, but his willingness to serve did not immediately overcome his feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.
Those feelings intensified over the next few days, during which Spencer had little or no sleep. While he was in Boulder, Colorado, to visit his son, he went walking in the hills early one morning. As he climbed higher and higher, he reflected on the magnitude of the apostolic office. He was tormented by the thought that he might not measure up, that his calling might have been some mistake. In this frame of mind, he approached the peak of the mountain he was climbing, where he fell in prayer and meditation. “How I prayed!” he recalled. “How I suffered! How I wept! How I struggled!” As he agonized, a dream came to him of his grandfather Heber C. Kimball and “the great work he had done.” This awareness calmed Spencer’s heart. “A calm feeling of assurance came over me, doubt and questionings subdued. It was as though a great burden had been lifted. I sat in tranquil silence surveying the beautiful valley, thanking the Lord for the satisfaction and the reassuring answer to my prayers.”19 On October 7, 1943, at age 48, Spencer W. Kimball was ordained an Apostle.
Elder Kimball’s service in the Quorum of the Twelve spanned three decades. In that time, he traveled extensively, strengthening the members and assisting in the growth of the kingdom. By special assignment from President George Albert Smith, Elder Kimball took a particular interest in descendants of the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi—native peoples of North, Central, and South America. He was an eloquent voice for their interests both in the senior quorums of the Church and among the membership at large. He decried all racial prejudice and oppression of the poor.
In his sermons, Elder Kimball could be both poetic and plainspoken. He often dealt with sensitive topics of practical concern to the average Church member. In addition to numerous addresses, he authored the book The Miracle of Forgiveness. This book arose from Elder Kimball’s long experience as an Apostle, counseling those who had yielded to serious transgression. In the book he outlined the Lord’s expectations of us, our divine potential, and the pathway we must follow to repent and obtain the assurance of complete divine forgiveness. Elder Kimball bore witness to the reader that the Lord was merciful and would forgive those who sincerely repented.
Over the course of his life, Spencer W. Kimball suffered various injuries and illnesses. Two significant health challenges figured prominently in his years as an Apostle. The first illness left a lasting mark on Elder Kimball that was apparent whenever he spoke. Late in 1956, he felt a hoarseness in his voice. The diagnosis was cancer of the throat. An operation in July 1957 resulted in the removal of one vocal cord and part of another. In the aftermath, he rested his voice to permit the fullest possible healing. Through sleepless nights, Elder Kimball wondered if he would ever speak again.
Six months after the operation, the doctors declared Elder Kimball’s throat healed. Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recounted how Elder Kimball used humor to introduce listeners to his new voice:
“Then came the test. Could he speak? Could he preach?
“He went back home [to Arizona] for his maiden speech. … There, in a conference of the St. Joseph Stake, … he stood at the pulpit.
“‘I have come back here,’ he said, ‘to be among my own people. In this valley I presided as stake president.’ Perhaps he thought that should he fail, here he would be among those who loved him most and would understand.
“There was a great outpouring of love. The tension of this dramatic moment was broken when he continued, ‘I must tell you what has happened to me. I went away to the East, and while there I fell among cutthroats. …’ After that it didn’t matter what he said. Elder Kimball was back!”20
His new voice was soft, deep, and gravelly. It was, in Elder Packer’s words, “a quiet, persuasive, mellow voice, an acquired voice, an appealing voice, a voice … loved by the Latter-day Saints.”21
Elder Kimball also experienced serious heart problems. After becoming an Apostle, he suffered a series of heart attacks. In 1972, while serving as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, he underwent a high-risk operation. Dr. Russell M. Nelson was President Kimball’s heart surgeon at the time. Later, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Nelson recounted what happened during the operation: “I shall never forget the feeling I had as his heart resumed beating, leaping with power and vigor. At that very moment, the Spirit made known to me that this special patient would live to become the prophet of God on earth.”22
The night of December 26, 1973, President Harold B. Lee, the 11th President of the Church, died suddenly. Consistent with the order of apostolic succession in the Church, on December 30, 1973, Spencer W. Kimball, as the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve, became President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This came as a surprise to members of the Church—and especially to President Kimball. He had been ordained an Apostle two and a half years after Harold B. Lee. Given that President Kimball was four years older than President Lee and, it appeared, in poorer health, President Kimball fully anticipated that he would not live to be President Lee’s successor. As he recounted later: “I felt absolutely certain that I would die, when my time came, as president of the Twelve. … I said at President Lee’s funeral that no one had prayed harder than Sister Kimball and I for his restoration when he was ill and for his continuation while he was well.”23
President Kimball was sustained by members of the Church in the April 1974 general conference. He had not aspired to this position, but the Lord had chosen him to be His prophet, seer, and revelator and to lead His Church and kingdom on earth.
In connection with that April general conference, President Kimball gave an address on missionary work at a meeting for Church leaders. Elder William Grant Bangerter, later a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, was a regional representative at the time and was present for the meeting. He later recalled the effect of President Kimball’s words:
“We realized that President Kimball was opening spiritual windows and beckoning to us to come and gaze with him on the plans of eternity. It was as if he were drawing back the curtains which covered the purpose of the Almighty and inviting us to view with him the destiny of the gospel and the vision of its ministry.
“I doubt that any person present that day will ever forget the occasion. I, myself, have scarcely reread President Kimball’s address since, but the substance of what he said was so vividly impressed upon my mind that I could repeat most of it at this moment from memory.
“The Spirit of the Lord was upon President Kimball and it proceeded from him to us as a tangible presence, which was at once both moving and shocking. He unrolled to our view a glorious vision.”24
President Kimball’s address on that occasion sounded a central theme of his ministry as President of the Church:
“My brethren, I wonder if we are doing all we can. Are we complacent in our approach to teaching all the world? We have been proselyting now 144 years. Are we prepared to lengthen our stride? To enlarge our vision? …
“I am under no delusion, brethren, to think that this will be an easy matter without strain or that it can be done overnight, but I do have this faith that we can move forward and expand much faster than we now are. …
“… I think that if we are all of one mind and one heart and one purpose that we can move forward and change the image which seems to be that ‘We are doing pretty well. Let’s not “rock the boat.’”25
Thus began a remarkable decade of growth and change. Although missionary work was the initial emphasis, it soon became clear to the membership of the Church that President Kimball was not interested in standing still in any area of righteous endeavor.
President Kimball sought to open the doors of nations to the preaching of the gospel. The divisions of the so-called “Cold War” between democratic governments and communist governments prevented proselyting in many nations of Europe and Asia. Also, Church policy with respect to ordination to the priesthood limited missionary efforts in Africa, parts of South America, and the Caribbean. President Kimball looked for every opportunity to expand the geographic reach of the Church.
At the same time, he emphasized that greater opportunities to teach the nations depended on Church members’ willingness to embrace those opportunities. For those young men worthy and fully prepared, missionary service was not to be viewed as an option but as a divine duty and opportunity. This obligation rested on young men regardless of where they resided. Young women could also serve as missionaries but were not under the same obligation as the young men. In addition, older couples were encouraged to serve in the missionary force. When Spencer W. Kimball began his service as President of the Church, 17,000 full-time missionaries were serving around the world. When he died about 12 years later, that number had increased to nearly 30,000. The increased missionary efforts bore substantial fruit: Church membership rose from 3.3 million to nearly 6 million.
Speaking to a group of young Church members in 1975, President Kimball said: “Do you know what the Lord has done for you young men? You are handsome young fellows. You look strong and well and happy. Who gave you your health? Who gave you your eyes? Who gave you your ears? Who gave you your voice? Did you ever think about that? Somebody must have provided you with these priceless possessions.”
He then described his experience of having throat surgery and how it left him with only part of his voice. Continuing, he said: “Let me ask you how many of you would be willing to give up your voice? Did you buy it or trade for it? Did somebody give it to you? Did the Lord give you a voice so that you could express yourself? Then why don’t you go out into the world and express the greatest story in the world, and tell the people that the truth has been restored; that the Lord has a continuation of prophets from Adam to now; and that you yourself have the holy priesthood, and you are going to magnify it all the days of your life? Tell the world that! They need it!
“And so I ask you again, who gave you your voice? Why?—just so that you could sing or talk or have fun with people? Or did he give that voice to you so you could teach the gospel? …
“Now I think we had better go in the mission field, don’t you?—every boy that is worthy.”26
As President of the Church, Spencer W. Kimball oversaw a significant increase in temple building. At the beginning of his administration, 15 temples were in operation; when he passed away about 12 years later, the number had grown to 36, more than double. President Gordon B. Hinckley, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, testified, “This great impetus in temple building was given by President Kimball under revelation from the Lord.”27
Regarding temple work, President Kimball said: “The day is coming and not too far ahead of us when all temples on this earth will be going night and day. … There will be a corps of workers night and day almost to exhaustion, because of the importance of the work and the great number of people who lie asleep in the eternity and who are craving, needing, the blessings that can come to them.”28
During 1975 and 1976, President Kimball directed a reorganization and expansion of Church government to keep pace with Church growth. As part of the unfolding organization and responsibilities of the General Authorities, the First Quorum of the Seventy was reconstituted and by October 1976 included 39 brethren. “With this move,” President Kimball explained, “the three governing quorums of the Church defined by the revelations,—the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the First Quorum of the Seventy,—have been set in their places as revealed by the Lord. This will make it possible to handle efficiently the present heavy workload and to prepare for the increasing expansion and acceleration of the work, anticipating the day when the Lord will return to take direct charge of His church and kingdom.”29 This revelation from the Lord to His prophet has since led to other changes in the government of the Church as required by “the labor in the vineyard” (D&C 107:96).
In 1976, President Kimball directed that two revelations, one to the Prophet Joseph Smith and one to President Joseph F. Smith, be added to the canon of scripture (see D&C 137 and 138). Under President Kimball’s direction, an LDS edition of the King James Bible was published in 1979, and a new edition of the triple combination (the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price) was published in 1981. Referring to the coming forth of these editions of the standard works, Elder Boyd K. Packer said, “As the generations roll on, this will be regarded, in the perspective of history, as the crowning achievement in the administration of President Spencer W. Kimball.”30
During President Kimball’s tenure, the scriptures also became the basis for the Church’s Sunday School curriculum.
As the Church’s size and sphere of operations extended, President Kimball and other Church leaders recognized the need to simplify the various programs of the Church so that the most essential could be readily available in some form to those in the newest branch as well as those in a long-established ward. President Kimball said:
“The mission of the Church to its members is to make available the principles, programs, and priesthood by which they can prepare themselves for exaltation. Our success, individually and as a Church, will largely be determined by how faithfully we focus on living the gospel in the home. Only as we see clearly the responsibilities of each individual and the role of families and homes can we properly understand that priesthood quorums and auxiliary organizations, even wards and stakes, exist primarily to help members live the gospel in the home. Then we can understand that people are more important than programs, and that Church programs should always support and never detract from gospel-centered family activities. …
“Our commitment to home-centered gospel living should become the clear message of every priesthood and auxiliary program, reducing, where necessary, some of the optional activities that may detract from proper focus on the family and the home.”31
One important change during President Kimball’s administration was the introduction of the three-hour block meeting schedule on Sunday. This combined various weekday and Sunday meetings into a simple and more convenient set of meetings on Sunday. The introduction of this consolidated schedule in 1980 greatly reduced the expenditure of time and money by Church members in order that they might participate in the full range of the Lord’s program.
One of the most significant changes that came about during the presidency of Spencer W. Kimball was the revelation on the priesthood (see Official Declaration 2 in the Doctrine and Covenants).
On June 1, 1978, President Kimball, with other members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, met in an upper room in the Salt Lake Temple. President Gordon B. Hinckley, who was present on that occasion as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, later reported:
“The question of extending the blessings of the priesthood to blacks had been on the minds of many of the Brethren over a period of years. It had repeatedly been brought up by Presidents of the Church. It had become a matter of particular concern to President Spencer W. Kimball.
“Over a considerable period of time he had prayed concerning this serious and difficult question. He had spent many hours in that upper room in the temple by himself in prayer and meditation.
“On this occasion he raised the question before his Brethren—his Counselors and the Apostles. Following this discussion we joined in prayer in the most sacred of circumstances. President Kimball himself was voice in that prayer. … The Spirit of God was there. And by the power of the Holy Ghost there came to that prophet an assurance that the thing for which he prayed was right, that the time had come, and that now the wondrous blessings of the priesthood should be extended to worthy men everywhere regardless of lineage.
“Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing.
“It was a quiet and sublime occasion. …
“… Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same.”32
Announcement of the revelation took the form of a letter dated June 8, 1978, to all general and local priesthood officers in the Church: “Every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple” (D&C, Official Declaration 2).
President Hinckley recalled: “The letter was released to the Church and to the world. I need not tell you of the electric effect that was felt both within the Church and without. There was much weeping, with tears of gratitude not only on the part of those who previously had been denied the priesthood and who became the immediate beneficiaries of this announcement, but also by men and women of the Church across the world who had felt as we had felt concerning this matter.”33
About three months later, President Kimball stated, referring to the revelation: “One of the Brethren said yesterday that now has come one of the greatest changes and blessings that has ever been known. … Outside of a few people who always want to be contrary, the people of the world have accepted this change with their gratitude. … So we are very, very happy about this, especially for those who had been deprived of these blessings before.”34
Describing President Kimball, Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “There was a pervasive warmth in the ministry of this man. The loving but penetrating look of his eyes, his embrace, his holy kiss, his tenderness—felt by so many—all created a deserved aura about this man, not of unapproachability, but of special warmth. His love was inclusive; no one ever felt left out. Every General Authority could assume that he was President Kimball’s favorite, for he loved each of us so much! How could one think otherwise?”35
President Kimball told the members of the Church, “I would like to be known as one who loves his brothers and sisters.”36 Latter-day Saints felt and expressed love for him in return, for which he was grateful. He said: “I always tell people when they say they love me, ‘Well, that’s wonderful, because that’s what I live on.’ And I mean that literally.”37
In his loving but determined way, President Kimball admonished the Latter-day Saints to stretch themselves further in the service of the Lord, overcoming the complacency, sin, or other problems that kept them from moving forward. In his own life, he served as an example of moving forward in the Lord’s service, no matter what the obstacles.
Elder Robert D. Hales, then a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, said of President Kimball: “He is a man of action, demonstrated by the simple sign on his desk that says, ‘Do It.’ … His example and love motivate those who follow his example to achieve higher goals and lengthen their stride toward perfection.”38
In an address given at the October 1979 general conference, President Kimball told the Old Testament story of Caleb, who, faced with challenges related to entering the promised land, said, “Give me this mountain” (Joshua 14:12). Referring to these words, President Kimball said:
“This is my feeling for the work at this moment. There are great challenges ahead of us, giant opportunities to be met. I welcome that exciting prospect and feel to say to the Lord, humbly, ‘Give me this mountain,’ give me these challenges.
“Humbly, I give this pledge to the Lord and to you, my beloved brothers and sisters, fellow workers in this sacred cause of Christ: I will go forward, with faith in the God of Israel, knowing that he will guide and direct us, and lead us, finally, to the accomplishment of his purposes and to our promised land and our promised blessings. …
“Earnestly and fervently I urge that each of you make this same pledge and effort—every priesthood leader, every woman in Israel, each young man, each young woman, every boy and girl.”39
On November 5, 1985, after nearly 12 years serving as President of the Church, Spencer W. Kimball passed away. At the time of his passing, President Kimball’s counselor President Gordon B. Hinckley declared: “It has been my great privilege and opportunity to work at President Kimball’s side in the harness of the work of the Lord. On one occasion I tried to slow him down a little, and he said, ‘Gordon, my life is like my shoes—to be worn out in service.’ He so lived. He so died. He has gone to the company of Him whose servant he was, even the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom he bore witness and testimony.”40
Young Spencer W. Kimball (left) with a boyhood friend, Clarence Naylor.
Camilla Eyring and Spencer W. Kimball near the time of their wedding.
The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1958. Standing, left to right: Delbert L. Stapley, Marion G. Romney, LeGrand Richards, Richard L. Evans, George Q. Morris, and Hugh B. Brown. Seated, left to right: Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Mark E. Petersen, and Henry D. Moyle.
President Spencer W. Kimball, center, with his counselors in the First Presidency from 1973 to 1981: Presidents N. Eldon Tanner (left) and Marion G. Romney (right).
President Kimball said, “I would like to be known as one who loves his brothers and sisters.”