By Laura Johnson
Family members and friends gathered to honor Ho Nam Rhee, a dynamic church leader who helped establish The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Korea.
Rhee came to America in 1984 and began teaching East Asian languages at BYU in 1987. Rhee, who believed it was never too late to be a student, received a Ph.D. from BYU in 1997 and passed away June 5, 2003.
“He carried an unforgettable smile and delivered bona fide handshakes,” said Kate Rhee, Ho Nam”s daughter. “He was also known for his universal people skills, ”gift of tongues” and roaring voice.”
Her father opened the doors for the church in a war-torn country where hope was homeless, Kate said.
At 18 years old, Rhee was working in the army on a translating project when he met Calvin Beck, a Mormon soldier who later introduced him to the gospel.
Rhee later said when Beck drew him three circles representing the plan of salvation, he was 90 percent converted at that time and carried the piece of paper in his wallet for 17 years. He was baptized on September 5, 1954 and later confirmed by Elder Harold B. Lee.
Rhee served in many capacities, including branch president, stake president and mission president. He also established the Church Education System in Korea, laid the groundwork for the Seoul Temple, and served as interpreter to many apostles and presidents of the church.
Philip Munoa, a Provo resident, served in Ho Nam Rhee”s mission as well as worked with him on a KBYU documentary called, “The Korean Saints.” Munoa recalled one experience during his mission where President Gordon B. Hinckley came to speak to the missionaries and President Rhee was in charge of translating.
“President Hinckley began to say what a wonderful man Rhee was,” Munoa said. “Rhee was embarrassed so he stopped translating. Then President Hinckley realized what was happening and made Rhee translate what he said.”
BYU professor of ancient scripture, Ron Bartholomew, remembers hearing President Rhee”s distinct voice while serving in Korea.
“He was pretty short compared to us … but when he spoke he would just roar like a tiger, so we called him ”Tiger Man” because his oration was so powerful, so powerful – moving spiritually but also vocally. He would start small and then ROOOOAR! You”ve never heard anybody speak like that.”
Elder L. Edward Brown, a general authority and former mission president in Korea, said Rhee was concerned about the youth in Korea. Rhee urged Elder Brown to talk to the youth when he got to Korea.
“”Help them to know the sacrifice that has made the Church what it is today in Korea,”” Elder Brown quoted. “”Help them not to forget the sacrifice of the pioneers.””
The first official missionaries arrived in Korea in 1954. Rhee had great success as a Mission President in Pusan with 100 baptisms in one year. Today Seoul has a temple and more than 74,000 members across the country.
“Brothers and sisters, I think President Rhee would say ”go to the temple,”” Elder Brown said. “”Be involved in family history. Don”t forget your fathers and mothers. It may be the most pressing work in the Church today.””
Elder Brown continued by expressing his appreciation for Rhee”s great legacy of love.
“I”m so thankful for Brother Ho Nam Rhee,” Elder Brown said. “We thank the Lord for his humility, for his example, for his wonderful family and for his dedication to his country.”