Elder Richard G. Scott, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve, died September 22 at 1:45 p.m. from causes incident to age, while surrounded by his family at his home in Salt Lake City. He was 86.
Elder Scott was born Nov. 7, 1928, in Pocatello, Idaho, but was raised in Washington D.C., where his father worked in the Department of Agriculture.
“Ours was a very close-knit, supportive family, and it gave me a great deal of opportunity and self-confidence that I probably wouldn’t have had under other circumstances,” Elder Scott said. “Dad and Mother taught us principles, and then gave us opportunities to make decisions for ourselves.”
When Elder Scott was young, his father was not a member of the LDS Church. Despite growing up without regular church activity, Elder Scott felt a desire to please the Lord. “When I was very young,” he said, “I secretly made a covenant with the Lord that I would devote my best energies to his work.”
Working as assistant Secretary of Agriculture, Elder Scott’s father became acquainted with Ezra Taft Benson, who also served as the Scotts’ stake president. Elder Scott attributed the friendship between the two men to the eventual baptism of his father and reactivation of his mother. “His integrity, his devotion, his great ability to defend principle — very deeply touched my father,” Elder Scott said of President Benson. President Benson, later a church president, issued the call to Elder Scott to be an apostle.
Elder Scott earned money for school with odd summer jobs around the U.S., such as working on an oyster boat, repairing railroad cars and felling trees in forests.
One year the Utah Parks Service denied his application to work. Rather than admit defeat, Elder Scott headed to Utah. With 3 cents in his pocket, he offered to wash dishes for room and board for a two-week trial period. He became one of the head cooks at the Park Service that summer. During his summers he read the Book of Mormon and became more converted to the gospel through his study.
He attended the George Washington University, studying mechanical engineering. A jazz lover, he also played the clarinet and the saxophone in the university’s jazz band.
While at GW he met Jeanene Watkins and began to court her. She told him she wanted to marry a returned missionary, and he put his career on hold to serve. He was called to Uruguay and served 31 months; Jeanene was called to the Northwestern States Mission.
Elder Scott threw his efforts into not only teaching the gospel but learning it and gaining a real testimony of it on his mission. “The expanded understanding of the gospel that came from an urgent desire to share the gospel with others filled all the voids of loneliness,” he said. “I began to recognize that those feelings need not have been part of my life if I had really understood the gospel.”
Elder Scott married Jeanene in the Manti temple July 16, 1953, two weeks after returning from his mission. They had seven children, five of whom lived to adulthood. Jeanene died of cancer in 1995.
Elder Scott spoke tenderly and often of his deceased wife and of the blessings of marriage. “Marriage enables you to really find out who you are. It provides an ideal setting for overcoming any tendency to be selfish or self-centered,” he said.
One of Elder Scott’s university professors had tried to discourage his serving a mission, saying Elder Scott would ruin his career by doing so. However, within weeks of his marriage, Elder Scott was hired to help develop the first nuclear submarine, the “Nautilus.” He also helped develop the first land-based nuclear power plant.
While working with Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, who headed the nuclear project, Elder Scott did postgraduate work in nuclear engineering at Oak Ridge School of Reactor Technology, in Tennessee. He didn’t receive a degree because of the secretive nature of his project. He received an Honorary Doctor of Christian Service degree from BYU in 2008.
Elder Scott did not limit his mental energy to nuclear engineering alone. He also loved painting with watercolors. “Creativity can engender a spirit of gratitude for life and for what the Lord has woven into your being,” he said. “Creativity gives a renewal, a spark of enthusiasm, a zest for life that we all need.” His watercolors were displayed at the flagship Deseret Book location in 2010 in Salt Lake City.
Elder Scott put his career on hold again for missionary work in 1965, when he was asked to preside over the Argentina North Mission. He was 37. “Garner strength by remembering that you can do anything the Lord asks you to do,” he later told BYU students.
Elder Scott presided from a mission home near where the current Cordoba temple stands. Though he was not able to attend the dedication this year due to failing health, one of his former missionaries, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, did attend. Elder Scott began missionary work in Bolivia with the Quechua Indians during his presidency.
Once again Elder Scott found employment quickly upon his return to Washington, D.C. He joined other former workers from Rickover’s projects at MPR Associates, a private nuclear engineering consulting firm.
He left MPR Associates in 1977 when he was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy. His responsibilities as a member of the Seventy included serving as executive administrator for Mexico and Central America, a call that took him to live in Mexico City for three years; serving as regional representative in North and South Carolina, Washington D.C., Uruguay and Paraguay; serving as managing director of the church’s Geneological Department, in which capacity he began introducing technology to family history work in the church; and serving as managing director in the church’s Priesthood Department.
In 1988, President Benson called Elder Scott to the Quorum of the Twelve.
Elder Scott was known for his gentle speaking manner and for conscientiously looking into the camera while giving talks as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, a habit he attributed to Jeanene’s coaching. His sermons often included counsel about families, personal revelation and applying the Atonement through repentance.
Elder Scott has spoken fondly of his deceased loved ones in general conference talks and CES addresses.
He spoke of his quest to live a worthy life so as to see his loved ones again: “I know that as I continue to live worthily I will have the privilege of being with my beautiful wife, whom I love with all my heart, and with those children who are with her on the other side of the veil, because of the opportunities made possible through the eternal ordinances that were performed in the Manti Temple.”
Elder Scott spoke often about the importance of communicating with the Lord. “You do not have the assurance of making the right choices in essential matters without divine guidance,” he said.
It is not enough to merely seek revelation, Elder Scott said. “I believe we often leave precious personal direction of the Spirit unheard because we do not record and respond to the first promptings that come to us when we are in need or when impressions come in response to urgent prayer.” Elder Scott testified of the power that comes from taking time, even in hectic schedules, to write down inspiration received.
He spoke of the vital importance of seeking and acting upon personal revelation in this life. “Your Father’s eternal purpose is for you to be successful in this mortal experience. Be attentive to the personal guidance given to you through the Holy Spirit. Continue to live worthy to receive it. Record is so that you can fulfill it. Then it will be available throughout your life.”
First things first
Elder Scott taught the wisdom of having priorities in place, especially with regard to things of eternal significance.
“Think of the long view of life, not just what’s going to happen today or tomorrow,” Elder Scott said. “Don’t give up what you most want in life for something you think you want now.” He taught that the purpose of life is to be tried, not to be entertained. The Lord should always come first, he said. It will, “in the long run, always lead to the best outcomes. However, that pattern may require you to set aside something you very much desire now for a greater future good.”
Having such a perspective will aid in avoiding distraction, confusion and unnecessary suffering. “To the degree that we can find out what the Lord really wants us to do, and make that our desire and goal in life, we can eliminate a good many things that otherwise are rocks and even boulders in the road of life,” Elder Scott said.
To BYU students in 2001, Elder Scott emphasized the importance of making time for the most important things in life. “When you encounter more vital things to do than you can possibly accomplish yourself, you will learn how the Lord can, through guidance of the Spirit, give you help and assurance. … That is a test to teach the importance of establishing priorities.”
He urged BYU students to “Order your life more effectively and eliminate trivia, meaningless detail and activity. They waste the perishable, fixed and limited resource of time.” It is important to “choose to emphasize those matters that have an eternal consequence,” he said.
He warned of the adversary’s tactics in twisting people’s priorities: “He will encourage you to do many worthwhile things but not the essential ones. Then he will try to lead you through rationalization in gray areas and subsequently into dark ones.” Elder Scott taught the importance of living according to a person’s priorities daily. “Simple, consistent, good habits lead to a life full of bountiful blessings … stay on the Lord’s side, and you will win every time.”
Elder Scott considered the scriptures a source of friendship. He called the Book of Mormon “a precious friend.” He urged members to memorize scriptures, calling it the forging of “a new friendship.”
Elder Scott regarded the scriptures as key in receiving personal revelation. “Scriptures are like packets of light that illuminate our minds and give place to guidance and inspiration from on high,” he said. “They can become the key to open the channel to communion with our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.”
By studying the scriptures, people invest in understanding the gospel. They reach “a much clearer feeling about the nearness and the reality of our Father in heaven and his Son Jesus Christ than others have. That becomes the center of their life, the motivating influence — that which gives them strength and courage in time of challenge, helps them to work out difficult decisions, and gives them a sense of self-worth.”
The doctrines of the scriptures “bolster faith in truth,” Elder Scott said and, when “applied diligently,” motivate those invested in them to good works and further conversion.
Atonement of Jesus Christ
“We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day,” Elder Scott said. However, people will fall short in their quest for perfection. Sin and the effects of a fallen world distance all from the channels of heaven. But Elder Scott testified of the power of the Atonement of the “perfect friend — our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.” He testified that “The best way to make a permanent change for good is to make Jesus Christ your model and His teachings your guide for life.”
“I cannot comprehend (the Lord’s) power,” he said, “his majesty, his perfections. But I do understand something of his love, his compassion, his mercy. There is no burden he cannot lift. There is no heart he cannot purify and fill with joy. There is no life he cannot cleanse and restore when one is obedient to his teachings.”
The Atonement applies to sinner and saint, Elder Scott taught. “The Atonement will not only help us overcome our transgressions and mistakes, but in His time, it will resolve all inequities of life.”
Elder Scott testified of the power of the Atonement to help people stay on a continual track of eternal progression. “I know that every difficulty we face in life, even those that come from our own negligence or even transgression, can be turned by the Lord into growth experiences, a virtual ladder upward. I certainly do not recommend transgression as a path to growth. It is painful, difficult and so totally unnecessary. It is far wiser and so much easier to move forward in righteousness. But through proper repentance, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to His commandments, even the disappointment that comes from transgression can be converted into a return to happiness.”