President Boyd K. Packer, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve, died at home Friday, July 3, 2015, at about 2 p.m. (MDT) from causes incident to age. He was 90 years old.
“He had a deep testimony of the gospel, an inherent love of the Savior, of the people themselves, and wanted to share with them that which was important,” said Elder Allan Packer, President Packer’s son and a member of the Seventy. “So I think he, when he knew those things, felt a responsibility to communicate and to share and to teach.”
President Packer recalled praying for a testimony of the gospel while stationed in Japan during World War II. “I felt the need for something more,” he said. “I wanted to know!”
His witness came one night while he was on his knees. “Almost mid-sentence it happened,” he said. “I could not describe to you what happened if I were determined to do so. It is beyond my power of expression, but it is as clear today as it was that night more than 65 years ago. I knew it to be a very private, very individual manifestation. At last I knew for myself. I knew for a certainty, for it had been given to me.”
Rather than feel important or special because he had received such a witness, President Packer believed anyone who sought one could also receive one.
“You can come to know, as many of us come to know, and I bear witness, that the Lord lives,” he once told members. “I know His voice when He speaks.”
Testifying of the truths he knew and urging others to follow and recognize the Spirit that testifies were themes of his sermons to members of the LDS Church during his ministry.
Born Sept. 10, 1924, in Brigham City, he grew up as the 10th of 11 children. He showed promise as an artist at a young age and even considered becoming one. Often he put his love of art and his love of birds together to paint and carve beautiful works, many of which are on display, at the Church History Museum and BYU’s renovated Monte L. Bean Museum.
President Packer suffered from an undiagnosed case of polio as a small child and had to learn how to walk again. This resulted in difficulty with his knees and hips throughout his life, but it did not stop him from developing and working hard as a young man. He helped build an army hospital in Brigham City upon graduating from high school. Polio taught him that trials could refine him and that he had “nothing to be gained by talking to other people about aches and pains. I just moved on through life,” he said.
His dedication to the gospel started early. As a young man, he said, “I went before (God) and said, ‘I’m not neutral, and you can do with me what you want to do. If you need my vote, it’s there. I don’t care what you do with me and you don’t have to take anything from me because I give it to you — everything, all I own, all I am.”
He joined the Air Force after high school, became a bomber pilot and was sent to the Pacific Theater for the end of World War II, serving in Japan in the war’s aftermath. In Japan he did unofficial missionary work, participating in baptisms while stationed in the country. It was also in Japan that he decided to become a teacher.
Upon returning to the States, he worked to achieve his new career goal. He earned his associate’s degree at Weber State in 1946, a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Utah State in 1949 and 1953 and an Ed.D. from BYU in 1962. While at Weber State he married Donna Edith Smith. They were sealed July 27, 1947, in the Logan temple and had 10 children.
He supported his family during his school years by teaching seminary. Aside from church callings, he also served during this time as coordinator of Indian Affairs at the Brigham City School for Indians (1949–1955, housed in the army hospital he’d built), as a city councilman and as an assistant administrator of seminaries and institutes for the church. He opened the city’s first American Indian seminary during this time.
He hadn’t quite completed his Ed.D when he was called to be an assistant to the Twelve and president of the New England States mission in 1961. He was called to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1970.
Aware of his own limitations and imperfections where this calling were concerned, he said, “There is so much in my effort to serve that is wanting. There is only one single thing, one qualification that can explain it. Like Peter and all of those that have since been ordained, I have that witness. I know that God is our Father. He introduced His Son, Jesus Christ, to Joseph Smith. I declare to you that I know that Jesus is the Christ.”
During his ministry his responsibilities included managing the military relations committee for the church; serving as an adviser to the church’s organization for African-American members, the Genesis Group; and helping obtain microfilm for the Genealogical Society of Utah in 1977, from Native American record centers. In 1991 he traveled to Ukraine and dedicated it for missionary work. He dedicated the San Diego Temple in 1993 in Spanish, dedicated the Regina Saskatchewan Temple in 1999 and dedicated the Brigham City Temple in 2012. He served on the church’s board of education and as a member of the BYU board of trustees.
He served as managing director of the church’s home teaching and family home evening programs as well and supervised missions in France, South Africa and the Netherlands.
President Packer spent his ministry unfolding the truths of the gospel, via written word and public speech. “The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior,” he said. His works on the doctrines of the gospel are prolific.
Sermons he has preached have been turned into church films for education, notably “Worthy Thoughts,” “The Mediator” and “The Touch of the Master’s Hand.” His book “Teach Ye Diligently” is used by ward and CES teachers in the church today. The church pamphlet “Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple” includes material from President Packer, and his book “The Holy Temple” is also popular for those preparing to enter the temple. A poet, he occasionally included original poems in his general conference talks.
“The lessons that he’s taught are long in the hearts of people and in their minds,” Elder Packer said.
President Packer also served with Elder Bruce R. McConkie on the committee that organized and researched for the 1981 edition of the scriptures, complete with cross-references and indexes, the Bible dictionary and a topical guide.
“President Packer always felt that if we could read the words of the Lord we would be far better off and much safer than speculating with our own ideas,” said Elder M. Russell Ballard, of the Quorum of the Twelve. “It was not unusual for him to say, ‘Brethren, let me read to you.’ And then he would turn to a very important scripture in the standard works and let us listen to what the Lord had to say. And we all learned at his feet.”
For many years he served as acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve because he, with Presidents Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson in the First Presidency, was the most senior of the members of the Twelve. He was the only acting president to serve under two church presidents to date — President Howard W. Hunter and President Ezra Taft Benson. Upon President Hinckley’s death and President Monson’s sustaining as the president of the church, President Packer became the president of the Quorum of the Twelve.
President Packer’s legacy on the BYU campus is quite pronounced. He announced the creation of the university’s School of Family Life in 1998 and issued a call for faculty to produce and use textbooks that taught about the family. At the dedication of the School of Family Life he stated that the school’s purpose was to implement the document “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” in its programs. He was the driving force behind the creation of a BYU class based on the proclamation (SFL 100).
He was the keynote speaker for the David O. McKay School of Education’s first annual Symposium on Education in 1996, and his BYU Devotional talk “The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord” is known by aspiring students in BYU’s arts majors. Interviewed on the topic of the arts by students in 1998, he said, “Artists who sell themselves out to the world’s standards are like a jewel in the snout of a swine … don’t let your work become corrupted. Create beauty, follow the example of Jesus Christ. He was the ultimate creator.”
BYU gave President Packer an honorary doctorate in humanities in 1985 due to his work and service.
A proponent of the family unit, President Packer was involved in Utah events preparing for the Second World Congress of Families (1998). Named Father of the Year in 1971 by the Utah Civic Young Men’s Association, President Packer served on the Governor’s Committee on Children and Youth during the 1960s and defended “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” over the pulpit repeatedly as an apostle.
“There have been five proclamations issued in the history of the church,” he said. “So the issuing of proclamations is a major thing. We could see what was happening — the spirit of prophecy. We issued the proclamation on the family. It’s strong and direct and states our cause. That’s one of those things that says who we are, that we won’t change the home and the family.” He defended church doctrine related to sexual morality despite criticism.
President Packer also supported limiting activities in the church that detracted from quality family time. “The end of all activity in the church,” he said, “is to see that a man and a woman with their children are happy at home, sealed for eternity.” He called for simplification of church programs in order to give families time together.
Themes of President Packer’s conference talks often had to do with obedience and sustaining church leaders. “Stand steady,” he told members. “Keep your faith. … The church is on the right course. It is on schedule. And I bear witness that it is righteously led by a prophet of God.”
He also stressed the importance of missionary work, calling the Book of Mormon “the single most powerful influence in my life,” and of the plan of salvation. “At times I struggle under the burden of imperfections,” he said. “Nevertheless, because I know that He lives, there is a supreme recurring happiness and joy.”
President Packer often spoke about the importance of listening to the Spirit and following its promptings. “There is a spiritual beam, with a constant signal,” he said. “If you know how to pray and how to listen, spiritually listen, you may move through life, through clear weather, through storms, through wars, through peace, and be all right.”
President Packer constantly bore witness to the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he stressed to church members the importance of gaining their own witness, as he had. “There’s an old saying that ‘no matter how tall your grandpa is, you’ve got to do your own growing,'” he said in an interview with PBS. “There is one area, one bridge that if you cross, you cross alone. You can’t explain it and you teach others so they can find it. … But the testing goes on. … But through it, you have to have faith that things will be all right. … Finding that ‘pearl of great price’ is just the beginning, not the end.”
Elder Ballard spoke of the strength of President Packer’s witness. “He was truly an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. From the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, he represented the Savior of the world.”
President Packer’s funeral will take place Friday, July 10, at 11 a.m. at the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City It is undetermined when the vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will be filled.
To learn more about his service and ministry, visit MormonNewsroom.org.