M. Russell Ballard
When the Ford Edsel failed, it lost car dealers hundreds of millions of dollars. One of the businessmen it devastated was M. Russell Ballard. His response was telling of his character. First, he used the failure as an opportunity to fill himself with compassion and empathy for others who undergo such experiences. Second, he remarked that “failure is only when you quit trying. If you keep working at a task and try to do what’s right and honest, ultimately it works out.”1 That straightforward approach of charity and diligence has blessed his life and the many lives touched by his service.
Early Life, Mission, and Family
Melvin Russell Ballard was born on October 8, 1928, and grew up in Salt Lake City. He was a leader among his peers at East High School and later at the University of Utah, where his fraternity brothers called him “the bishop” because of his consistent living of the gospel. He served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the British Isles and even served as a counselor in the mission presidency while he was there.
When he returned from his mission, he attended a dance where he met a woman named Barbara Bowen. He was only able to dance with her for thirty seconds, but determined that he was going to get to know her better. (Much later, in an LDS General Conference talk about missionary work, he cited this experience as evidence of the importance of persistent follow-up.2) They courted for eleven months and were married in 1951 in the Salt Lake Temple. He recalled, “She was not only beautiful, but had a sparkling personality” and joked that convincing her to marry him was “the greatest sales job [he] ever did.”3 They have two sons and five daughters, and his family says that President Ballard’s work, including his Church service, never interfered with his family. They were always his top priority, and his children felt his personal concern, mentoring stewardship, and understanding love for each of them.
Career and Church Service
M. Russell Ballard was involved in automotive, real estate, and investment businesses, including the inheritance of the Ballard Motor Company in 1956 from his father, who he says “instilled in [me] the desire to work hard.” He also served on many civic and Church committees and boards. Soon after the Ballards’ wedding, he was called to be a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he served in that calling twice. In 1974, he was called to preside over the Canada Toronto mission, and he was still serving as a mission president when he was called to the Seventy in 1976. Only four years later, he was called into the Presidency of the Seventy, and five years after that, in 1985, he was called—just before the morning session of General Conference—to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In January of 2018, he became the Acting President of that Quorum.
President Ballard’s professional success and Church leadership did not stop him from being teachable. President Russell M. Nelson once said that President Ballard’s meekness and eagerness to learn were some of his greatest qualities. Closer to home, that compliment is echoed by his son, who recalls that once after attending a stake conference, his father asked some missionaries to come talk to him about how the improved missionary discussions were working. He hungrily and humbly listened to their feedback. People who knew President Ballard’s capacity for leadership were often surprised by his willingness to be led.
President Ballard’s powerful family legacy of Church service both humbled and motivated him. He was the grandson of Elder Melvin J. Ballard on one side and of Elder Hyrum Mack Smith on the other, both of whom served in the Quorum of the Twelve. He was also the great-grandson of President Joseph F. Smith, the great-great-grandson of Hyrum Smith, and the great-great-nephew of the prophet Joseph Smith. He added to that legacy with his own devotion. Almost forty years ago in his first BYU devotional address, he counseled soon-to-be missionaries: “Do not let one day go by . . . when you do not demonstrate to the Lord that you are reliable, that you are trustworthy, that you are dedicated, that you are committed, that you are on His side.”4 This type of loyal service was evident in him. In 1980, as a member of the Seventy, he invited members to send him the name of a nonmember or less-active friend and promised he would write a letter of encouragement to those friends. He wrote over six hundred letters.
President Ballard continued to challenge Church members to serve the Lord with devotion until his passing on November 12, 2023. He employed the lessons he had learned in business and Church service, such as the importance of focused goal-setting and steadfast integrity to cherished beliefs, to bless the lives of countless Church members. He was known for his bold, stalwart testimony of the Restoration and the principles of the gospel.
 Kathleen Lubeck, “Elder M. Russell Ballard: True to the Faith,” Ensign, March 1986
2 Elder M. Russell Ballard, “Following Up,” Ensign, May 2014
3 Lubeck 1986
4 M. Russell Ballard, “You—the Leaders in 1988,” BYU devotional address, 16 May 1978