By Jaren Wood and Emma Butler Price
M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died on Nov. 12 as a result of old age. He was 95 years old.
Following the death of President Ballard, the Church’s First Presidency released the following statement:
“We are saddened to announce that President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has died. After a recent brief hospital stay, he returned to his home where he attended to duties as he was able to before passing away at approximately 11:15 p.m. on Sunday, November 12, 2023, surrounded by loved ones. He was 95.”
“President Ballard was never indecisive,” Church President Russell M. Nelson said. “He knew exactly what the Lord taught and how it could be applied in one’s personal life and bring joy and happiness.’”
Ballard was born in Salt Lake City on Oct. 8, 1928, to Melvin R. Ballard and Geraldine Smith Ballard. While he grew up with two grandfathers who were Apostles for the Church, his immediate family was not very active. He had friends and grandparents who kept him going to church, and he ended up serving in the British mission.
He married Barbara Bowen on Aug. 28, 1951 in the Salt Lake Temple. They are the parents of two sons and five daughters. President Ballard attended the University of Utah, but he left school after he realized he was a particularly good car salesman and began his professional life.
Ballard was involved in several enterprises throughout his professional career, including automotive, real estate and other investment avenues. He ran his father’s car dealership for a time, was later president of the Keystone Securities Corporation and was also the president of Valley Music Hall in Bountiful, Utah.
His professional career ended when he was called, along with his wife, to preside over the Canada Toronto mission in 1974.
After serving for two years as mission leaders, President Ballard was called into the First Quorum of the Seventy in April of 1976. As a member of the Seventy, he supervised and trained leaders in his assigned geographic regions. He later served as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy from February 1980 to October 1985.
On Oct. 6, 1985, Ballard was called to be an Apostle for the Quorum of the Twelve. In 2018, he became acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve as senior Apostle, and he has served in that position since that time.
Ballard gave his first BYU devotional speech in 1978, speaking about where he believed the Church would be in 10 years from that time (1988). It was one of 22 BYU devotionals that President Ballard has given from 1978 until 2020, his most recent.
In 2020, Ballard’s most recent BYU devotional, he focused his message on the idea that we are all children of God.
“We declare that we are all the spiritual children of Heavenly Parents; thus we are brothers and sisters in God’s family,” he said. “We will continue to be a part of God’s family after we die and throughout all eternity. Nothing can change that relationship.”
“The little things in life are what matter most … The important thing is knowing who we are and following the great pathway, the great road to immortality and eternal life,” he closed his message.
One of Ballard’s other notable BYU devotionals took place on Jan. 18, 2000, opening the new millennium. His message focused on the important work the Lord has for each of His children, particularly the students of BYU.
“Make this year, this month, this day a new starting point in your life,” Ballard said. “If there is anything in your life that you need to repent of, then I call upon you in the name of the Lord to repent today … Why? Because we need you as faithful, courageous and prepared leaders.”
Much of Ballard’s ministry and service to the Lord has been focused on missionary work. Some of his most-studied talks from general conferences in the past have revolved around service to the Lord, including his April 2022 message. He referenced a talk that he gave back in 1985 about missionary preparation, his last general conference before being called as an Apostle.
“Of all the training I have received in my Church assignments, none has been more important to me than the training I received as a 19-year-old elder serving a full-time mission,” Ballard said in that 1985 address. “The Lord knows you. When you are serving your mission, you will have experiences that will help you come to know Him better … In His name, you will be sent on errands to serve others.”
He closed his April 2022 talk with a powerful invitation.
“As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I now call upon you young men — and those young women who desire to serve a mission — to begin right now to talk with your parents about serving a mission … I also invite you to talk with your friends about serving a mission, and if one of your friends is not sure about serving, encourage them to talk with their bishop,” Ballard said.
President Ballard’s lineage goes back to Hyrum Smith, and his ties to the lives of the pioneers were another regular focus. His general conference message in Oct. 2022 shared a testimony of the following in the faith of the footsteps of those who have gone before us.
“Let us follow Jesus Christ with faith in every footstep. We need to serve the Lord and serve one another … We need to strengthen ourselves spiritually by keeping and honoring our covenants. We should not lose the sense of urgency to keep the commandments. Satan tries to dull our commitment and our love for God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Please remember that if anyone should lose their way, we will never be lost to our Savior. With the blessing of repentance, we can turn to Him. He will help us learn, grow and change as we strive to stay on the covenant path,” Ballard said.
Ballard’s final General Conference address was given during the Sunday morning session of the Oct. 2023 conference.
Due to his worsening eyesight and inability to read the teleprompter, he shared an unscripted testimony about the truthfulness of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the prophet Joseph Smith.
“My beloved brothers and sisters, my testimony to you this morning is how abundantly blessed we are to know all that we know because we have Joseph Smith, the prophet of this last dispensation of time,” he said.
He finished his final public address by testifying of Jesus Christ and expressing his love to members of the Church all over the world, many of whom he was able to meet personally.
“Wherever you are in this world, may God bless you. May the Spirit of the Lord be with us … I leave you my witness and testimony that I know that Jesus is the Christ. He is our Savior, our Redeemer. He is our best friend,” Ballard said.
Funeral services are being arranged and will be communicated by the First Presidency of the Church.