“President Spencer W. Kimball,” New Era, Dec. 1985, insert
President Spencer W. Kimball
March 28, 1895–November 5, 1985
President Spencer W. Kimball, beloved prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died in Salt Lake City, Utah, shortly after 10 P.M. on November 5, 1985. He passed away quietly of causes incident to old age.
This special insert reviews President Kimball’s life, from his youth in Arizona to his leadership of a worldwide church with more than five million members.
Lengthening His Stride: President Spencer W. Kimball
Ten-year-old Spencer Kimball was milking a cow, singing a hymn at the top of his voice. His father listened and then turned to a neighbor who stood nearby. “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. He will become a mighty man in the Church.”
President Spencer W. Kimball was born on March 28, 1895 in Salt Lake City, Utah, the son of Andrew and Olive Woolley Kimball. He was the 6th of 11 children and the grandson of Heber C. Kimball.
When he was three years old, the family moved to Thatcher, Arizona, where Spencer grew into a strong, popular boy. “I could outwrestle almost any boy that was near my size.” He outgrew his five-foot mother but reached only five foot six himself. There was a giant inside his small body. More than one person prophesied that he would one day be an Apostle of the Lord.
He learned the principles of the gospel by watching his parents live them. He took the tithing eggs to Bishop Zundel’s house and learned to take the best hay for the Lord’s share. He saw rains come in response to fasting and prayer and witnessed people healed by the power of the priesthood.
He learned to work hard. He hauled water from the canal. He worked on the hay wagon. He rode the plow horse, dug post holes, and performed a hundred other labors. Sometimes he got a welcome break to practice the piano.
In 1906, Spencer’s mother died, an event he considered the greatest tragedy of his life. “I ran from the house out into the backyard to be alone in my deluge of tears. Out of sight and sound, away from everybody, I sobbed and sobbed. Each time I said the word ‘Ma’ fresh floods of tears gushed forth until I was drained dry. Ma—dead! But she couldn’t be! Life couldn’t go on for us. … My 11-year-old heart seemed to burst.”
His diary records that one sleepless night 50 years later, the old hurt was still tender. “I feel like sobbing again now in my room in New York as my memory takes me over those sad paths.”
In 1910 he entered the LDS academy in Thatcher. He was elected freshman class president and served as president of every class thereafter. He was the life of every party. He played the piano, danced well, and had a fine singing voice. He was the star basketball player even though he was the shortest man on the team. On the memorable occasion when the academy team defeated the University of Arizona, he was the high scorer.
In 1914 he spent the first year of his Central States mission traveling, relying on the good will of the people for his bed and a meal each night. He was made president of the East Missouri conference, in charge of 25 missionaries. According to his records, he personally contacted 3,800 nonmembers during the first half of 1916. Even his piano-playing skills were useful. Tracting one day in St. Louis he noticed a piano in a home. “It’s a Kimball, isn’t it?” he asked a woman who was closing the door. “That’s my name too. I could play a song on it for you that you might like to hear.” She let him in, and he played and sang, “O My Father.”
After returning from his mission, Spencer attended the University of Arizona and Brigham Young University. Perhaps more significantly, he began courting a young lady named Camilla Eyring. The couple was married on November 17, 1917. They were to have four children, Olive Beth, Spencer, Andrew, and Edward. Spencer and Camilla taught their children to work hard and love the Lord but left them free agency to make their own decisions. Theirs was a home full of song and love and happiness.
Spencer got a job in the local bank but had to take several other jobs to make ends meet, sometimes working 20 hours a day. He left the bank in 1926 to become a partner in the Kimball-Greenhalgh Agency, which sold insurance, bonds, and real estate. He was to work at this enterprise until the time of his call to the Quorum of the Twelve.
In 1938 Spencer was called as the president of the Mount Graham Stake. While president, he supervised the relief efforts after a devastating flood. World War II came, and he said good-bye to the boys going to war, wrote to them, and comforted families of those who were killed.
In 1940, the Kimballs began construction of their dream house, a pueblo-style home they designed themselves. The business was going well. Prosperity beckoned. They looked forward to a long, comfortable, and happy life in Safford.
Then, on July 8, 1943, the phone rang, a phone call that would change the Kimball’s lives.
“It must have taken only a few seconds for me to cross the room to the phone, grasp the receiver and say, ‘Hello,’ but it seemed that an hour’s thinking and retrospection coursed through my mind.”
Then came the voice of President J. Reuben Clark, a counselor to President Heber J. Grant, and a call to the Quorum of the Twelve. There followed six days and nights of weeping, confusion, and prayer. He yearned for a confirmation from the Lord. Finally on a hilltop in Boulder, Colorado, where he and his wife had been visiting their son, he received the calm assurance and peace that his call was indeed inspired. “My tears were dry, my soul was at peace. 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.”
As an Apostle, Elder Kimball was asked to assist in supervising the Indian mission. He attended tribal council meetings and visited trading posts. He pleaded with the government to give the help that had been promised. This started a lifelong concern for Indians that fulfilled a prophecy contained in his patriarchal blessing.
Persistent heart pains curtailed some of Elder Kimball’s scheduled assignments, and he was forced to rest. He chose to recuperate on the Navajo Reservation close to the people he loved so much. Problems with his heart were to plague him for more than 30 years.
In the spring of 1950, he began to worry more about an annoying hoarseness. Cancer was diagnosed, and he was operated on. Doctors removed all of one and part of the other vocal cord, which would leave him with a raspy voice.
Under total anesthesia after having been operated on, he was being wheeled back to his room. Still drugged, Spencer sensed his table stop by an elevator and heard the orderly, angry at something, profaning the Lord’s name. Half-conscious, he managed to say, “Please don’t say that. I love Him more than anything in this world.” The orderly answered softly, “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.”
After years of serving in the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Kimball compiled his thoughts in two books, The Miracle of Forgiveness and Faith Precedes the Miracle.
In 1973, Elder Kimball had served as a General Authority for 30 years. Following a quiet Christmas spent with family and friends, he received an urgent call from President Lee’s secretary. President Lee had taken ill and had been rushed to the hospital, where he died the evening of December 26th. Now, as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Kimball was turned to for leadership. Spencer W. Kimball was ordained as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In an address to Regional Representatives, President Kimball chose to speak on “lengthening your stride.” This phrase became a watchcry for Latter-day Saints the world over. Under President Kimball the Church entered a new temple-building phase. Plans for 31 new temples were announced during his administration. At the time of his death, there were 36 temples in operation and 11 in various stages of construction.
President Kimball received a revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy males regardless of race or color. He said that while pondering the subject, he often went to the temple. “I went there when I could be alone. I was very humble … I was searching for this … I wanted to be sure.”
President Kimball called a special meeting for the members of the Quorum of the Twelve. He said, “I offered the final prayer and I told the Lord if it wasn’t right, if He didn’t want this change to come in the Church, that I would be true to it all the rest of my life, and I’d fight the world against it if that’s what He wanted. We had this special prayer circle; then I knew that the time had come. This revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it.” On June 9, 1978, a statement signed by the members of the First Presidency was released. “He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood.”
President Kimball loved all people. He even enjoyed shaking hands. It was his way of expressing his love. “I milked cows all my life so I could shake hands. I don’t get tired.” And people everywhere loved President Kimball.
New Leaders Announced
Ezra Taft Benson was ordained and set apart on November 10, 1985, as the 13th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President Benson named as his counselors Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, and Thomas S. Monson, Second Counselor in the First Presidency.
Marion G. Romney, who was serving as first counselor to President Kimball, is now President of the Quorum of the Twelve, with Elder Howard W. Hunter as Acting President.
At a press conference announcing the reorganization, President Benson said, “This is a day I have not anticipated. My wife, Flora, and I have prayed continually that President Kimball’s days would be prolonged on this earth.”
He said that President Kimball will be missed, but that “his great love and teachings will never be forgotten.” He also expressed his love for Church members and Heavenly Father’s children everywhere. “I love all our Father’s children of every color, creed, and political persuasion. My only desire is to serve as the Lord would have me do,” he said.
He also described the future direction of the Church. “The Lord, through President Kimball, has sharply focused on the threefold mission of the Church: to preach the gospel, to perfect the Saints, and to redeem the dead. We shall continue every effort to carry out this mission.”
President Benson stressed that the Church is led by Jesus Christ, that Church members “know Him to be the literal Son of God. We invite all men, as the Book of Mormon declares, to ‘come unto Christ, and be perfected in him’” (Moro. 10:32).
The January 1986 New Era will feature stories about President Benson, his counselors, and the changes in the Quorum of the Twelve.