Of his calling to the highest and holy office in the world, Howard W. Hunter, the fourteenth called prophet in these modern times, said:
“My greatest strength through these past hours and recent days has been my abiding testimony that this is the work of God and not men, that Jesus Christ is the authorized and living head of this church and he leads it in word and deed. I pledge my life, my strength, and the full measure of my soul to serving Him fully. …
“To the membership of the Church in every country of the world and to people everywhere I extend my love. … I pray that we might treat each other with more kindness, more courtesy, more humility and patience and forgiveness. …
“I … 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.” (James E. Faust, “‘The Way of an Eagle’,” Ensign, Aug 1994, 2)
Yes, President Hunter encouraged all of us to attend the temple and to do so frequently. It was the deepest desire of his heart that we find ourselves comfortable within the walls of the holy temples which can be found across the globe. He also invited all those who had left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) to come home. Of this wonderful man, Elder James E. Faust said,
Trying to describe this charming, charismatic, exceptionally gifted President Hunter is rather like trying to capture “the way of an eagle in the air.” (Ibid)
His ancestors hail from Scotland, Scandinavia and the United States. Of their exposure to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, his great-grandmother wrote:
“I went to hear the Mormon preacher [Joseph Smith] with great caution, hoping not to be deceived. His subject was the second coming of Christ. I had the testimony that he spoke the truth, and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, called and ordained of God to do a great work, because he had brought forth the truth as it was taught by Jesus Christ and his apostles. I asked to be baptized.” (Ibid)
An Eagle Scout, he was, ever and always, devoted to God. His sister, Dorothy said, “I have never known him to do a wrong thing in my life.” She went on to say:
Howard was always doing something; he always had a job. He sold papers, did all kinds of things, won a xylophone. Our parents had a long living room, and against one wall Howard had all his instruments—he has perfect pitch. He worked in arts school, before school, and learned to frame pictures.” Another boyhood pursuit 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. (Ibid>
At fifteen year’s of age, President Hunter put together his own orchestra and tagged it “Hunter’s Croonaders.” They played high school socials in the Boise area and after graduation played on a cruise ship.
On June 10th of 1931, Howard W. Hunter married Clara (Claire) Jeffs. They began married life during the depression, but ever resourceful, President Hunter found work where it was available, door-to-door soap salesman, bridge painter, etc.
Three years later, they became the parents of a beautiful little boy, Billy. He was not long to live with them, for he died later that summer. A tragic and far-reaching event which certainly tore at the hearts and souls of these young parents.
As evidenced by his Eagle Scout Award, Howard W. Hunter was not a slacker. Ever one to excel, President Hunter looked for a job that would support his wife and further his education at the same time.
That same year of 1934, Howard managed to get a job in the Los Angeles County Flood Control District, assisting attorneys with evidence and preparation for trials. With the steady income that job afforded, he went back to school and, based on his experience, decided to work for a degree in law. For the next few years he worked full-time and took a full class load of ten credit hours. He graduated, cum laude, in June of 1939, passed the bar examination, and in January of 1940 was sworn in and admitted to practice law in California. From then on he was financially secure, for he has always been an astute steward of everything with which the Lord has blessed him. A frugal man, he is nevertheless most generous with his time and talents to all who meet him. (Ibid)
He served as bishop, stake president and in October of 1959 he was ordained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a calling which upon being sustained as an Apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, he said, “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.” (Ibid)
Oh yes, he came to wear this mantle most comfortably. It was not an easy thing to do, to leave his profession, home and life in California and move to Utah. But he had long established an order to things in his life, service to God ranked above all things. And so to Utah they moved.
“Among his associates, Howard Hunter is described as a man of sound judgment and quiet wisdom. He rarely talks about himself and his accomplishments or shares his personal feelings. His concern is for the accomplishments and feelings and comfort of others. …
“The Twelve and those who work with them have learned that Elder Hunter weighs matters carefully before jumping in with opinions, conclusions, or solutions, undoubtedly a result of his legal training. He listens carefully as others express their opinions and feelings. If consensus isn’t reached or anyone in the group still has strong feelings about a matter, he will table it rather than force a vote.” (Ibid)
His service to the Lord was underlined with humility, meekness and yet a strength that came from knowing who he was, what he had to do and the God he served.
In 1983 his beloved wife, Clara, died. He had cared for her tenderly since a debilitating stroke several years earlier. The sweetheart of his youth had now passed from mortality, and he was left to struggle with that loss while continuing his service to God. President Gordon B. Hinckley, who lost his wife, Marjorie, said no one who has not experienced it can understand the “absolute devastation and consuming loneliness, which increases in intensity and gnaws at one’s very soul.” Yet in the darkest nights, there comes a voice that whispers “all is well, all is well, with a peace, certainty and unwavering affirmation that death is not the end” and that “as surely as there has been separation, there will be a joyful reuniting.” (Carrie A. Moore, Deseret Morning News, Wednesday, July 28, 2004 9:44 a.m. MD)
This must certainly have been what was uppermost in President Hunter’s mind and heart, broken as it was. James E. Faust relates the following:
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!”
In December 1988, after drawing on the faith and prayers of the Saints, he was able to walk to the council room in the temple where the Brethren were meeting.
At the weekly temple meeting on Thursday, April 12, 1990, after all the agenda items had been covered, President Hunter asked, “Does anyone have anything that is not on the agenda?” No one spoke, so he said, “Well, then, 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.” There were gasps, then he went on to explain, “Inis is an old acquaintance from California. I’ve been visiting with her for some time, and we’ve decided to get married.”
This was a delightful surprise for the Brethren, who had been concerned about President Hunter’s being alone. And now, happily, they learned that he would have a companion who is outgoing, warm, cordial, and gracious. Since the time of their marriage, Inis has been unfailing in her concern for President Hunter and in her attentiveness to him. It has been a delight for him to have a traveling companion and to show her something of the dimension of Church service, with the many and varied assignments and responsibilities a man of President Hunter’s stature carries. For her part, she has experienced all the joys and emotions that come to the wife of a General Authority, and she quickly learned to speak extemporaneously as she was called on repeatedly to speak in Church settings and missionary meetings. Sister Hunter continues to be a comfort and a joy to him. (James E. Faust, “‘The Way of an Eagle’,” Ensign, Aug 1994, 2)
While still an apostle, a year prior to being called, ordained and sustained as the 14th prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President exhibited the true measure of his character:
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. (Ibid)
A man who was described as meek, humble and ever in the service of his fellowman, demonstrated all the strength and resolution of character in this instance that truly showed to all listening, that Howard W. Hunter trusted God over all, even in a deadly circumstance such as this.
Of him, President Boyd K. Packer said,
“Sometimes people have asked me about the real Howard W. Hunter: ‘You have known him and have worked very closely with him for many years. What is he really like?’ The answer to that question is disarmingly simple: President Howard W. Hunter is just as you see him to be. A quiet, wise, uncomplicated man. He is pleasant to work with and has a quick sense of humor. Few men know the doctrines and procedures of the Church as he knows them. He has never shied away from the difficult decisions and is firm in his convictions. I find no mystery in him at all. The ‘real Howard W. Hunter’ is just as you see him to be.”(Ibid)
And so we come full circle. On June 5, 1994 Howard W. Hunter was called and ordained the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . . . a living prophet of God. During his short tenure as prophet, he displayed such love and belief in the membership of the Church, that we could succeed in our eternal goals of living our lives as Jesus Christ lived His, following all the teachings and principles of His gospel and return to live with Him once again.
My own personal memory of that historic time is as follows:
It was President Ezra Taft Benson‘s funeral. President Hunter, as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve was sure to be our next prophet, for the line of succession has always followed that path. He was old and infirm and I feared for his ability to carry out that sacred calling. He made his way slowly to the pulpit and as the mantle of that sacred call fell upon his bowed shoulders, he straightened to his full height, his shoulders back, his eyes clear and his voice piercing my heart and the Spirit testified to me at that very moment, this is the prophet of God. Sustained and strengthened by the Lord, he fulfilled his prophetic calling, drawing upon the strength, wisdom and experience of his years as a servant of God.
President Hunter equated the role of prophets in the Church today with those in Old Testament and Book of Mormon times: “to stand at the head of the church and to provide spiritual bearings for those who espouse the gospel.” He went on to say, “Popularity is not the basis for teaching certain doctrines, though some feel that popularity makes them right. … We follow the course of teaching scripture and following strictly the teachings of the Savior as contained in scripture” (Twila Van Leer, “Christian Living Is Way to Reverse Moral Decline,” Deseret News, 3 July 1994, sec. A, pp. 1, 5).
On March 3, 1995, Howard W. Hunter passed away, having fulfilled the purpose of his creation. He served as a loyal and dedicated servant of God in all that he and said. From the beginning of this modern Church, a full restoration of Jesus Christ’s Gospel established in the meridian time, from Joseph Smith to Howard W. Hunter, the keys of the prophetic calling were passed down.
Because of the volatile political season Americans find themselves in, the spotlight has shone brighter on Mormons than it has in a very long time. It is wonderful then, to hear a prophet of God, one who has already shuffled off this mortal coil, to clearly and definitely state:
“My greatest strength through these past hours and recent days has been my abiding testimony that this is the work of God and not men, that Jesus Christ is the authorized and living head of this church and He leads it in word and deed” (Ensign, July 1994, p. 4).
“If our lives and our faith are centered on 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.” (Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Finding a Safe Harbor,” Ensign, May 2000, 59)
“I bear solemn and grateful witness that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world. Certainly he is the center of our worship and the key to our happiness. Let us follow the Son of God in all ways and all walks of life. Let us make him our exemplar and our guide.
“We are at a time in the history of the world and the growth of the Church when we must think more of holy things and act more like the Savior would expect his disciples to act. We should at every opportunity ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” and then act more courageously upon the answer. We must be about his work as he was about his Father’s. We should make every effort to become like Christ, the one perfect and sinless example this world has ever seen.” (Howard W. Hunter, “Follow the Son of God,” Ensign, Nov 1994, 87)
More about Howard W. Hunter:
- “President Howard W. Hunter: The Lord’s ‘Good and Faithful Servant’,” Ensign, Apr 1995, 8
- Howard W. Hunter, “‘Exceeding Great and Precious Promises’,” Ensign, Nov 1994, 7
- Howard W. Hunter, “Being a Righteous Husband and Father,” Ensign, Nov 1994, 49