Heber J. Grant was born November 22, 1856, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Jedediah M. Grant and Rachel Ivans Grant. Heber’s father died nine days after Heber was born, leaving Rachel to raise her first and only child alone.
Even though Heber never knew his father, his influence would be present throughout his life. President Brigham Young, speaking at Jedediah Grant’s funeral, said the following: “Brother Jedediah had been in the church a total of twenty-five years, but in those twenty-five years he had given the Lord one hundred years of Church service.”
In 1891, Heber asked a president of a bank, a respected man who was not a member of the Mormon Church, to sign some bonds. He promptly refused to do so. Just a few minutes later, he sent a messenger and asked Heber to return. As Heber entered the office, the businessman said: “Young man, give me those bonds.” He signed them and then said, “When you were here a few moments ago, I did not know you. I have met you on the street now and then for a number of years and have spoken to you, but really did not know you. After you went out, I asked who you were. Learning that you were a son of Jedediah M. Grant, I at once sent for you. It gives me pleasure to sign your bonds. I would almost be willing to sign a bond for a son of Brother Jedediah if I knew I would have to pay it. In this case, however, I have no fears of having that to do.”1 Even though he was not alive during Heber’s lifetime, Jedediah was an enormous influence in his son’s life through all those that had known him previously. His testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, his concern for others, his honesty in his dealings with mankind, all set the pattern for Heber to follow in his own life.
Heber’s mother never remarried; she spent her life struggling to support herself and Heber by sewing and having others board in her home. She was taught and baptized into the Mormon Church by the Prophet Joseph Smith and Erastus Snow. Heber would always remember his mother’s unwavering testimony of the gospel and the tender teachings with which she taught her son. She knew that he would grow to become an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and as he did, he would give credit to his mother. She would be the one who changed Heber’s shyness to courage, his self-deprecation to self-confidence, impulsiveness to self-control, and lack of initiative to determination.
Throughout his life, Heber would encounter numerous obstacles. He would say later in life that he felt the only reason he was able to combat them was because of the goals he would set for himself, and the determination and consistent effort he would put forth. For example: “Being an only child, my mother reared me very carefully. Indeed, I grew more or less on the principle of a hothouse plant, the growth of which is ‘long and lanky’ but not substantial. I learned to sweep, and to wash and wipe dishes, but did little stone throwing and little indulging in those sports which are interesting and attractive to boys, and which develop their physical frames. Therefore, when I joined a baseball club…I could not throw the ball from one base to the other…I lacked physical strength to run or bat well. When I picked up a ball, the boys would generally shout: ‘Throw it here, sissy!’ So much fun was engendered on my account by my…companions that I solemnly vowed that I would play baseball…and would win the championship of the Territory of Utah…I spent hours and hours throwing the ball at Bishop…Woolley’s barn…Often my arm would ache so that I could scarcely go to sleep at night. But I kept practicing and finally succeeded in getting in the…club. Subsequently I joined a better club…and played [on the team] that won the championship…having thus made good my promise to myself, I retired from the baseball arena.”2
Whenever Heber was told that he couldn’t do something, he proceeded to prove them wrong. He would continually set goals for himself to be the best that he could possibly be. He knew that he had weak social skills and was determined to improve himself. He took up dancing even though it was a challenge for him, but it eventually became one of his favorite activities. His penmanship went from looking like “hen tracks” to being the best in the territory. A Professor told him that he could not sing and would never be able to sing – Heber proved them wrong again. By setting goals and working diligently to meet them, Heber was able to combat weaknesses and turn them into some of his greatest strengths. This would serve him well throughout his life.
One goal that he set for himself was to be married before he was twenty-one. He stated, “I promised myself when I was a young man that I would be married before I was twenty-one if I could persuade some good girl to marry me…”3 Heber married Lucy Stringham in the St. George Temple on November 1, 1877, three weeks prior to Heber’s twenty-first birthday. In 1884, with Lucy’s approval, Heber also married Hulda Augusta Winters and Emily Wells.
At twenty-three years of age, Heber was called to be the president of the Tooele Stake in Utah. In his opening remarks before the members of the stake, Heber announced the following: “…I would ask no man in Tooele to be a more honest tithe payer than I would be; that I would ask no man to give more of his means in proportion to what he had than I would give; I would ask no man to live the Word of Wisdom better than I would live it, and I would give the best that was in me for the benefit of the people in that stake of Zion.”
At one time, Heber was asked if he knew the gospel was absolutely true—he remarked that he did not. Some of the brethren were stunned and wanted to release Heber from his callings. However, President Taylor laughed and said, “…He knows it just as well as you do. The only thing that he does not know is that he does know it. It will be but a short time until he does know it…you do not need to worry.” Heber went to the town of Vernon to preach and when he got up to say a few words, he spoke for forty-five minutes. ‘ [I spoke] with perfect ease under the inspiration of the Lord. That night I shed tears of gratitude to the Lord for the abiding, perfect, and absolute testimony that came into my life of the divinity of this work.”4 From that time forward, Heber vowed to only say or read things that would be of lasting benefit to those who listened to his voice. He continued to do as the Lord asked, whether that be in callings, business, or family. He knew that if he did, the Lord would bless him in numerous ways.
Heber loved his family and made each member feel important when he was with them. He treated each member with courtesy and generosity. His family brought him great joy, but there was also great sadness when one of them was stricken with sickness or one was taken in death. Heber lost his only two sons – one as a baby and the other as a young boy. The untimely deaths of two of his wives was devastating to him as well, but also confirmed to him that God’s love is sustaining even through the loss of loved ones.
Throughout the community, the business world, and the Church, Heber had a reputation for being honest in all his dealings. By the time he became President of the Mormon Church, Heber had many friends in the world, “…whose admiration for his ability and integrity was so great that they simply took the position that nothing he had anything to do with could be the least bit dishonest or bad.”4 One month before Heber’s twenty-sixth birthday, he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Both as an Apostle and before he was called to the Apostleship, Heber took advantage of every opportunity to use his friendships to promote the Church. When he spoke to nonmembers, he would tell the story of the Mormons, who they were, and what principles they followed.
President Grant organized and presided over the Japanese and European missions. At age sixty, in 1916, he became the president of the Quorum of the Twelve. In 1918, Heber became President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and held this position for twenty-seven years. Regarding his call to be the President and Prophet, he said, “On the day that Brother Joseph F. Smith bade me goodbye, and he died that very night, he told me that the Lord never makes a mistake. He said, ‘You have a great responsibility resting upon you. The Lord knows whom he wants to preside over his Church, and he never makes a mistake.'”5
During his presidency, he dedicated the Hawaiian, Canadian, and Arizona Temples. The Church Welfare Program was also instituted. Heber J. Grant said, upon the program’s creation, that it was “Our primary purpose… to set up, in so far as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift, and self-respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership.”6 He also admonished the Saints to keep the following principles: the word of wisdom, the law of the fast, the payment of tithes and offerings, and the avoidance of debt. These principles tied into the Welfare Program.
His service in the Mormon Church included numerous assignments with the youth, where he held numerous leadership positions. While working with the youth, he helped establish the Improvement Era, the youth magazine, and served as an editor and contributor from its beginning.
On May 14, 1945, President Grant passed away in Salt Lake City. At the funeral, President J. Reuben Clark Jr. stated, “He so lived his life that it had no dark place across which he must draw a curtain. His life had nothing to embarrass, nothing to hide, nothing of which he must be ashamed.”7
1″Classical Stories From the Lives of Our Prophets”, Hartshorn, 1981, p.190
2 “Gospel Standards”, Durham, 1969, p.324-43
3 “Heber J. Grant: Man of Steel, Prophet of God”, Gibbons, 1979, p.27-2
4 “Gospel Standards”, Durham, 1969, p.191-93, 70
5 “Classic stories from the lives of our Prophets”, Hartshorn, 1981, p.191
6 “Conference Report”, Oct 1936, p.3
7 “Heber J. Grant”, Hinckley, p.262