Membership topped 3,300,000 in the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints at the time Spencer W. Kimball became Prophet and
President in December of 1973. By the early 1980s over a quarter
of a million new members were baptized each year. In 1982 Church
membership passed five million.
President Kimball challenged members to lengthen their stride
to keep up with the rapid growth of the Church. A plaque displayed
on his desk said, “Do It.”
Born in Salt Lake City on March 28, 1895, Spencer was blessed
with a rich heritage of church service. From his parents, he
learned the importance of paying tithing and obedience.
He was only three years old when his family moved to southern
Arizona. The small farming community with its dry climate provided
many opportunities to work. While milking cows, he memorized the
Articles of Faith. Along side his father, he pitched hay, helped
with irrigating the crops, and did other work around the farm.
Since the Kimball home didn’t have electricity, Spencer read
the scriptures by the light of a coal oil lamp. He maintained a
nearly perfect attendance record at his church meetings.
Priesthood blessings were an important part of Spencer’s life.
From childhood, he suffered paralysis in his face. A blessing
helped him overcome that. He almost drowned while swimming in a
canal but was successfully revived.
After serving a mission in the Central States Mission, he
returned home and married Camilla Eyring. They became the parents
of four children.
In 1943, Spencer received a phone call from President J.
Reuben Clark, Jr. to notify him of his call to the Quorum of the
Twelve Apostles. Elder Kimball received a special charge from
President George Albert Smith to give special attention and
leadership to the Lamanite people. This, in part, fulfilled his
patriarchal blessing: “You will preach the gospel to many people,
but more especially to the Lamanites …”
Despite health problems, Elder Kimball carried out his duties
as an Apostle energetically, always trying to lengthen his own
stride. In 1957 throat cancer nearly robbed him of his voice. An
operation removed the cancer but took most of his vocal cords as
well. He worried whether he could carry on with his work. “Shall
I ever speak at another temple dedication? Shall I ever preach
again?” The Saints grew to love Elder Kimball’s gruff voice.
He underwent open heart surgery in 1972. His surgeon, Dr.
Russell M. Nelson, was given a special blessing before the
operation. Elder Nelson later recalled, “The Spirit told me that
I had just operated upon a man who would become president of the
Only a year after the operation, Spencer W. Kimball became the
twelfth President of the Church following the death of President
Harold B. Lee.
President Kimball kept up the brisk pace he’d set during his
years as an Apostle. He urged members of the Church to clean up
and repair their homes, plant gardens, store food, keep a journal,
and avoid debt.
Much of his counsel centered around the home. He placed great
importance of the mother’s role in the family: “Motherhood is near
to Divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by
mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service
next to the angels.” He also encouraged all young Latter-day
Saints to marry and have children.
President Kimball emphasized the importance of missionary
work. The Church’s Language Training Mission moved from Salt Lake
City to Provo, Utah and was renamed the Mission Training Center in
1976. Other training centers were established in Brazil, Mexico,
New Zealand, Japan, England, and Chile.
He challenged Church members to take the Gospel to every
nation, every land, every tongue, every people, and every soul. He
announced the organization of the First Quorum of the Seventy as a
General Authorities quorum ” … to assist in the carrying forth
of work of the Lord, especially in the missionary area.”
Two revelations were added to the scriptures in 1978, the
first additions to the standard works in almost seventy-five years.
The additions centered around life after death and became Sections
137 and 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants. In 1979 a new edition
of the King James Bible was published with excerpts from the Joseph
One of the most important events in Church history occurred on
June 1, 1978. President Kimball announced that he had received a
revelation extending the priesthood to worthy males of all races.
The Church began an era of temple building. Plans to build a
temple in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the first in South America, and Tokyo,
Japan, the first in Asia, were announced in 1975. Within a few
years, temples in Mexico City, Jordan River, Atlanta, Argentina,
Chile, Australia, Tonga, Tahiti, and Western Samoa followed.
Only fifteen temples were in service when President Kimball
was sustained as Prophet. By 1985, forty-seven temples were
planned or in operation. As the number of temples multiplied,
genealogical work grew as well.
After serving nearly twelve years as Prophet, President
Kimball died on November 5, 1985. Gordon B. Hinckley, who served
as one of his counselors, said of him, “For forty-two years he
served as Apostle and Prophet. His moving example of sincere
humility, his outreaching love for people, his quiet and earnest
declarations of faith have touched all of us.”