Remembering President Boyd K. Packer

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President Boyd K. Packer, president of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, died Friday, July 3, 2015. He was 90 years old.

President Packer spent his entire life serving in the church — first as a seminary teacher, followed by various leadership positions, culminating in his appointment to the Quorum of the Twelve.

Early life and career

Elder Packer was born in Brigham City, Utah, on Sept. 10, 1924, to Ira W. and Emma Jensen Packer. He spent four years as a bomber pilot in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1946. He enrolled at Weber College after the war, where he met his wife, Donna Smith. They married on July 27, 1947.

Subsequently, President Packer completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Utah State University. He later received a doctorate in educational administration from Brigham Young University in 1962. President Packer spent his career working for the LDS Church, first as a teacher, then as an administrator in the church’s educational system when he was appointed to that position in 1955.

In his Seminary Centennial Broadcast talk in January 2012, President Packer spoke of an experience he had during World War II that directed him toward his career path. As he watched the sun going down over an island in Japan, where he was serving, he pondered on what he wanted to be if he survived the war.

“It was on that night that I decided I wanted to be a teacher,” he said. “I reasoned that teachers are always learning. Learning is a basic purpose of life.”

President Packer spent his early years working with the pioneers of church education, such as Abel S. Rich, A. Theodore Tuttle and William E. Berrett.

President Packer held on to a thread that goes to the earliest days of the Church Educational System, recalls Scott Esplin, an assistant professor of Church history at BYU. “He was himself a student at the church’s second seminary in Brigham City,” Esplin said. “(He) taught in an era when he still knew some the earliest teachers ever in church education.”

One of President Packer’s greatest contributions to the Seminaries and Institutes Program was the introduction of a course on The Book of Mormon in seminary. While in the war, he had fallen in love with The Book of Mormon, Esplin said.

“Prior to his influence, there wasn’t a class on the Book of Mormon,” he said. “He developed the course because of his love for the text.”

Housed here at BYU, the seminary program was administered until the early 1970s, and President Packer worked under then-BYU-president Ernest L. Wilkinson. During that same time period, he authored a book titled “Teach Ye Diligently” on how to teach like the Savior taught. It was his master’s thesis, Esplin said. He studied the Savior’s teaching methods and was one of the first  students to get a doctorate from BYU.

“He had a love for teaching, wanted to become a teacher, was an early teacher, trained and taught teachers (and) wrote a text that has shaped teaching in the church for generations,” Esplin said.

As a general authority, President Packer was also on the Board of Church Education, where he served for more than three decades on the Board of Seminaries and Institutes, and also for Brigham Young University.

While serving as supervisor of the Church Seminaries and Institutes and as a member of the Brigham Young University Administrative Council in 1961, he received a call, summoning him to President David O. McKay’s office, then president of the church. At 37, he was called to serve as an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve. In 1970, President Packer was called to fill the vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve following the death of President McKay. Called to serve as acting president of the Quorum in June 1994, he served in that capacity until the death of President Gordon B. Hinckley. He was set apart to his current calling on Feb. 3, 2008.

Aside from his calling, President Packer was an avid painter and wood carver. His art featured the birds and wildlife from his childhood but also included sketches and carvings of the pioneers’ lives.

“I have always had a love of nature and animals,” wrote President Packer in his book “The Earth Shall Teach Thee.” “My artwork can serve to illustrate one of the most fundamental messages of the gospel: that God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all things that are in them, that all nature bears testimony of that divinely directed creation.”

A love for the youth

In his various positions in the church, President Packer said he came to love the youth.

“Fifty years and more than 2.5 million miles of worldwide travel later, I have an ever-deepening interest in the seminary and institute programs and more particularly in the youth,” he said.

In his last CES address in 2011, President Packer counseled young adults to always turn to the Savior, that the Holy Ghost would guide them in all things.

“For those who do not yet have all of the blessings you feel you want and need to have, I firmly believe that no experience or opportunity essential for redemption and salvation will be denied you who live faithfully,” he said. “Remain worthy; be hopeful, patient, and prayerful. Things have a way of working out.”

Mikelle Norton, a junior from Cottonwood Heights majoring in psychology, grew up in the same home ward as President Packer. She said when friends would visit her ward, they would be “freaking out” that there was an apostle there.

“I think (that) was one of the greatest testimony builders to me about callings from God, because I saw that he was just a man, but he had real power,” she said. “He was an apostle, and he had that power.”

When Norton’s mission call came a week later than expected, President Packer teased her parents the Sunday before the call was supposed to arrive, responding to their queries as to whether or not he knew where she would serve with a “maybe.”

Norton also said that every Christmas, President Packer would spend sacrament meeting speaking to the ward, telling Christmas stories. He would sometimes summarize what he had done that year.

“It was pretty much like a personal fireside for our ward,” she said.

Family 

At the end of it all, through his callings and positions in the church, President Packer’s main priority and responsibility was his family.

“I have earnestly tried when I have been home with the children to be with the children,” he said, recounting his time at home.

In his April 2015 general conference address, President Packer counseled church members to make their family their first priority.

“The end of all activity in the church is to see that a man and a woman with their children are happy at home, sealed for eternity.”

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