Spencer W. Kimball
As the grandson of Heber C. Kimball and the son of a mission and stake president, Spencer W. Kimball grew up learning of and meeting prophets and apostles. Their examples helped him gain a testimony of their callings as ministers of Jesus Christ. He, too, devoted his life to the service of God and his fellow man and influenced thousands of others to do the same.
Spencer Woolley Kimball was born March 28, 1895, in Salt Lake City. When he was three years old, his father accepted a call to preside over a stake in Thatcher, Arizona. The Kimball family moved and Spencer grew up there. He learned from diligent and faithful parents to work hard on the farm and in school and to love the gospel. His young faith and dedicated family were great sources of strength when Spencer’s mother, Olive, passed away, Spencer being only eleven years old.
In 1914, he graduated from the Gila Academy with highest honors. At only age nineteen, just before he was called to serve in the Swiss-Austrian mission, he was ordained as a general authority seventy. Because of World War I, he served in the Central States Mission instead. In 1917, he married Camilla Eyring, who had moved to the Gila Valley to teach. They were sealed the following year in the Salt Lake Temple. They had four children who recall that their home was one of support, encouragement, and appreciation between family members.
Spencer W. Kimball began work as a bank clerk, then moved on to the life insurance and real estate industries. He also stayed involved in the growth of his community through civic and volunteer organizations.
When Spencer was twenty-nine, his father passed away and Spencer was called to the stake presidency that his father had served in for three decades. After serving in stake presidencies and as a stake president, in 1943 Spencer W. Kimball was ordained an apostle. He served in the Quorum of the Twelve for thirty years and became the president of the Church in 1973. He served diligently despite various severe health problems. In 1957, he had to have some of his vocal cords removed due to throat cancer. In 1972, he underwent open-heart surgery—a practice pioneered and performed by President Russell M. Nelson.
While he was president, he dedicated twenty-one temples, including the Washington, D.C. Temple. He also toured the Middle East and dedicated the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. He oversaw reorganization of the structure of the Church to accommodate extensive growth and globalization. For example, the Presiding Bishopric was given stewardship over the temporal affairs of the Church so that the Quorum of the Twelve could focus on spiritual needs. The first area presidents outside of the United States and Canada were also set apart.
Feeling a special love and concern for those in the lands of the Book of Mormon, President Kimball conducted several area conferences in South America. Partly due to his work in Brazil and other South American countries, he was led to question the Church’s policy of restricting priesthood and temple blessings from those of African descent, a practice which had begun during the time of Brigham Young. President Kimball commissioned extensive study of the scriptures in regard to the matter, and after hearing from Elder Bruce R. McConkie that there was nothing in the scriptures to necessitate the restriction, he made it a matter of fervent and exhaustive prayer in the temple. Finally, in 1978 he announced that he had received a revelation which extended the holding of the priesthood to all worthy male members of the Church, also extending temple blessings regardless of race. It was the most monumental and celebrated revelation in the Church in its time.
The following year also brought an important development: the King James Version of the Bible was released with an inclusion of LDS study aids. These study aids were helpful not only in clarifying meaning, but also in linking the Bible, Book of Mormon, and other scripture more closely together, fulfilling the prophecy that the sticks of Joseph and Judah would be one in hand. This release was followed up in 1981 by a new edition of the triple combination (Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price).
President Kimball was an instrument in the Lord’s hands to bring about these and other progresses, and through his devoted and loving leadership the lives of countless Saints, then and now, have been blessed. President Spencer W. Kimball spoke frequently at Brigham Young University, encouraging students and faculty to strengthen their testimonies, increase their moral fiber, and rededicate themselves to the principles of education and service. He passed away in 1985 in Salt Lake City.