President Spencer W. Kimball

“President Spencer W. Kimball,” New Era, Feb. 1974, 4

President Spencer W. Kimball

“It is the destiny of the spirits of men to come to this earth and travel a journey of indeterminate length. They travel sometimes dangerously, sometimes safely, sometimes sadly, sometimes happily. Always the road is marked by divine purpose.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness [Bookcraft: 1969], p. 1.) So wrote President Spencer W. Kimball, a man whose destiny has indeed been marked by divine purpose. On Monday, December 31, 1973, President Kimball was set apart as president of the Church by Elder Ezra Taft Benson, President of the Council of the Twelve.

President Kimball takes over leadership of the Church as the president following the death of President Harold B. Lee.

Spencer W. Kimball was born March 28, 1895, the sixth of 11 children born to Andrew and Olive Woolley Kimball. Three years after Spencer’s birth in Salt Lake City, Andrew Kimball moved his family to Thatcher, Arizona, where he had been called to preside over the St. Joseph Stake. Haying, plowing, caring for livestock, and other farm duties taught young Spencer the importance of hard work as preparation for things to come. In the October general conference of 1969, President Kimball related the following:

“When I was a youngster, a stirring challenge came to me that moved me not a little. I cannot remember who issued the challenge nor under what circumstances it came. I remember only that it struck me like a ‘bolt out of the blue heavens.’ The unknown voice postulated:

“‘The “Mormon Church” has stood its ground for the first two generations—but wait till the third and fourth and succeeding generations come along! The first generation fired with a new religion developed a great enthusiasm for it. Surrounded with bitterness, calumny of a hostile world, persecuted “from pillar to post,” they were forced to huddle together for survival. There was good reason to expect they would live and die faithful to their espoused cause.

“‘The second generation came along born to enthusiasts, zealots, devotees. They were born to men and women who had developed great faith, were inured to hardships and sacrifices for their faith. They inherited from their parents and soaked up from religious homes the stuff of which the faithful are made. They had full reservoirs of strength and faith upon which to draw.

“‘But wait till the third and fourth generations come along,’ said the cynical voice. ‘The fire will have gone out—the devotion will have been diluted—the sacrifice will have been nullified—the world will have hovered over them and surrounded them and eroded them—the faith will have been expended and the religious fervor leaked out.’

“That day I realized that I was a member of the third generation. That day I clenched my growing fists. I gritted my teeth and made a firm commitment to myself that here was one ‘third generation’ who would not fulfill that dire prediction.” (Improvement Era, November 1943, p. 678.)

The records show that President Kimball did clench his growing fists and dig in to become a faithful Church member whose destiny and divine purpose may well have been greater than he could have known.

When President Kimball was a small boy, he practiced the hymns of the Church every day to learn them by heart. He became a fine singer and pianist, directing and singing in various ward choirs and other musical groups.

Jesse A. Udall tells this story of President Kimball’s childhood:

“For years he had a record of perfect attendance at Sunday School and Primary. One Monday he was in the field tramping hay for his older brothers when the meetinghouse bell rang for Primary.

“‘I’ve got to go to Primary,’ he timidly suggested.

“‘You can’t go today; we need you,’ they said.

“‘Well, Father would let me go, if he were here,’ the boy countered.

“‘Father isn’t here,’ they said, ‘and you are not going.’

“The piles of hay came pouring up, literally covering Spencer, but finally he had caught up; sliding noiselessly from the back of the wagon, he was halfway to the meetinghouse before his absence was noticed, and his perfect record remained unbroken.” (“The Apostle from Arizona,” Improvement Era, October 1943, p. 591.)

President Kimball had begun a spiritual education that was a preparation of things to come—a preparation that would strengthen him against challenges physical, spiritual, and mental.

President Kimball’s life has been one full of service to the Church. From 1914 to 1916 he served in the Central States Mission, after which he attended the University of Arizona. He served as clerk and counselor to the president of the St. Joseph Stake and as president of the Mt. Graham Stake. Then in July 1943 he received a phone call from Salt Lake City that stunned him and changed his life. When President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., informed President Kimball over the telephone of his call to the Council of the Twelve, he was so overwhelmed that he blurted out, “Not me, Brother Clark! You can’t mean that!”

When his son had told him there was a phone call from Salt Lake City, he had had a premonition it was about a high Church calling, but he didn’t think it would be the apostleship. Later he said of the experience, “My heart pounded fiercely. I was virtually speechless. I felt as though the sky had fallen in—this seemed utterly impossible.” The Lord had chosen him to be an apostle through his mouthpiece on the earth, President Heber J. Grant. President Kimball was ordained an apostle and set apart as a member of the Council of the Twelve October 7, 1943.

Speaking of that call President Kimball has said, “In these long weeks since July eighth, I can tell you that I have been overwhelmed and have felt that I was unable to carry on this great work; that I was unworthy; that I was incapable because of my weaknesses and my limitations. I have felt many times that I was up against a blank wall. And in that interim I have been out in the desert and in high mountains alone, apart, and have poured out my soul to God. I have taken courage, from one or two scriptures which constantly came to my mind and of which people continued to remind me. One was from Paul and as I felt so foolish, small, and weak, I remembered that he said: ‘Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men, after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise: and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; … that no flesh should glory in his presence.’ (1 Cor. 1:25–29.)

“When my feeling of incompetence wholly overwhelmed me, I remembered the words of Nephi when he said: ‘… I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commanded them.’ (1 Ne. 3:7.) I want to tell you that I lean heavily on these promises, that the Lord will strengthen and give me growth and fit and qualify me for this great work. I have seen the Lord qualify men. In my church experiences I have helped to make many bishops. I have seen them grow and prosper and become great and mighty men in the church; men who were weak and men who were foolish, and they became strong and confounded the wise, and so I rely upon that promise of the Lord that he will strengthen and empower me that I may be able to do this work to which I have been called.” (Improvement Era, November 1943, p. 702.)

In 1917, President Kimball married Camilla Eyring. They are the parents of four living children, three sons and one daughter. They have 27 grandchildren and ten great grandchildren, and for President and Sister Kimball, the family remains a central concern in their life. It is evident that President Kimball had the vision of the divine purpose of eternal marriage. Speaking of marriage and preparation for marriage, President Kimball said, “Our marriages are forever. There is no place for trial marriage. Consequently, our courtship is to find out if he has character, integrity, industry, kindliness, ambition, cleanliness, and all the qualities which will make him a continuing perfect husband and a perfect father; and he learns if she will be staunch and true, clean and loyal, full of faith, a good teacher, with an unswerving devotion to the Lord, her husband and to her family.”

The divine purposes of the Lord for President Kimball have been many. A leader in his family, in his community, and in his church, President Kimball has served as chairman of the executive committee of the Missionary Committee, presiding over all the missions of the world and lifting countless young men from discouragement and loneliness to renewed strength and vigor in the gospel. Speaking of missions President Kimball has said:

“A mission is not only a privilege and opportunity, but a solemn duty and obligation. My son, you are heavily obligated for the numerous blessings you enjoy, none of which you have provided yourself, like brains and faculties, sight, hearing. You are the recipient of accumulated ‘blessings of the ages’ and more particularly of the century. More than 140 years your people have suffered and sacrificed to bring our culture to its present height. Your faith and knowledge of truth are the result of missionary work of days gone by which you can repay only by giving to others the same opportunities. Hence, it is well for every worthy and prepared young man, as he grows up, to desire mightily to fill a mission. Of course, there is no compulsion. Each person makes up his mind on this matter as he does in receiving the priesthood, paying his tithes, marrying in the temple, serving in the Church. He ought to do all these things but has his free agency.” (New Era, June 1973, p. 8.)

President Kimball was a great and active missionary himself. Brother Udall tells this story of President Kimball’s mission in the Central States.

“While tracting in St. Louis one day he saw through the partly opened door a new piano and said to the woman who was in the act of closing the door in his face, ‘I see that you have a new piano.’

“‘Yes, we’ve just bought it,’ she replied with pride.

“‘It is a “Kimball” isn’t it? That is my name also,’ he said, as the door opened wider. ‘Would you like me to sing and play for you?’

“‘Surely, come in,’ she answered.

“Walking to the piano he played and sang ‘O, My Father.’ This pleasant introduction led to many subsequent gospel conversations.” (“The Apostle from Arizona,” Improvement Era, October 1943, p. 591.)

President Kimball in other Church service has been a loyal friend to and advocate of the Lamanite people. He served as chairman of the Indian Committee of the Church for a quarter of a century and was instrumental in securing for them many social, religious, and educational opportunities, including the Student Placement Program.

“I do not know when I began to love the children of Lehi. It may have come to me at birth, because those years preceding and after I was born, were spent by my father on missions among the Indians in Indian territory. He was president of the mission. This love may have come in those first years of my childhood, when my father used to sing the chants to us children and show us souvenirs from the pictures of his Indian friends. It may have come from my patriarchal blessing which was given to me by Patriarch Samuel Claridge, when I was nine years of age. One line of the blessing reads:

“‘You will preach the gospel to many people, but more especially to the Lamanites, for the Lord will bless you with the gift of language and power to portray before that people, the gospel in great plainness. You will see them organized and be prepared to stand as the bulwark “round this people.’”

“I do not know when my appreciation for them came, but I have always had a sympathetic heart for the sons and daughters of Lehi, and so, recently, when President Smith called Brother Cowley, Brother Ivins, and myself to give attention to their problems and to … the work of disseminating the gospel among the Indians … not only to the Indians close to us but also over the world, in the islands of the sea and elsewhere … a great thrill came to me such as I have had few times in my life.” (Conference Report, April 1947, pp. 144–45.)

And now President Spencer W. Kimball comes, by the divine purposes and calling of the Lord, to the highest calling the Lord can bestow upon one of his sons on this earth. When President Kimball was ten years old, his father made a prophecy about him. Young Spencer was milking a cow, singing a Church hymn. Andrew Kimball, watching him, remarked to a neighbor: “That boy, Spencer, is an exceptional boy. He always tries to mind me, whatever I ask him to do. I have dedicated him to be one of the mouthpieces of the Lord—the Lord willing. You will see him some day as a great leader. I have dedicated him to the service of God, and he will become a mighty man in the Church.” (Improvement Era, November 1943, p. 702.)

In fulfillment of this prophecy, President Kimball does not come to the office of president of the Church as an ambitious man, but rather as a man of rare spiritual humility. In his address at the funeral of President Lee, President Kimball remarked, “President Lee has gone. I never thought it could happen. I sincerely wanted it never to happen. I doubt if anyone in the Church has prayed harder and more consistently for a long life and the general welfare for President Lee than my Camilla and myself. I have not been ambitious. I am four years older than Brother Lee (to the exact day, March 28). I have expected that I would go long before he would go. My heart cries out to him and for him. How we loved him!”

“Always the road is marked by divine purpose.” The Lord’s ways are not man’s ways and President Spencer W. Kimball leads the Church because it is the Lord’s way.

And so the 12th President of the Church comes from a great heritage, bringing great spiritual leadership to his new calling. Like his grandfather, Heber C. Kimball, President Kimball is an effective speaker. He speaks from the heart in words that we can all understand—and now, he speaks to us as the prophet.

President Kimball and his wife Camilla have happily traveled the road of dedicated Church service

President Kimball often spends long hours in his office preparing and administering the affairs of his stewardship

As a young man, President Kimball knew the meaning of hard work. He was a great help on the farm when it came time for haying

President Kimball at the age of 11, shortly after his mother’s death

Young Spencer Woolley Kimball is seated in a wicker chair in this family portrait