Howard W. Hunter
Howard William Hunter’s great grandparents, John and Margaret Hunter, joined the Mormon Church in 1860 when Mormon missionaries brought the message of the restored gospel to Scotland. At this particular time the Church leaders were encouraging new converts to gather with other members in the Salt Lake Valley. This proved to be a difficult problem for John, since he would have to give up his prosperous business and the comfortable home in which his family resided. “…When they reached the Salt Lake Valley in late September 1860, John soon became disenchanted and, as his son John, [Howard W. Hunter’s grandfather] described it, ‘finally detached himself and family from the Church…leaving the family in a strange country without a guide.'”1
Howard William Hunter, known for his Scottish heritage, was born on November 14, 1907, in Boise, Idaho, to John and Nellie Hunter. Howard’s mother, Nellie, met John while she was visiting her aunt in Boise, Idaho. They courted for the next two years; however, John was not a member of the Mormon Church and Nellie did not want to marry someone outside of the Church. With a distressed heart, Nellie returned to her home in Mt. Pleasant, Utah. John, saddened as well, did not want to lose Nellie, so he persisted in winning Nellie over, which he did, and they were married December 3, 1906.
Howard’s mother was active in the Mormon Church all her life and encouraged each of her children to participate in all the Church activities. When Howard reached eight years of age, his father would not allow him to be baptized into the Mormon Church. His father felt that he was not old enough to make that choice on his own. At twelve years old, Howard wanted to receive the priesthood and be allowed to pass the sacrament. He approached his father again for permission to be baptized, which his father gave, and on April 4, 1920, Howard was baptized. Soon after, he received the Aaronic Priesthood and was ordained a deacon. He stated: “I remember the first time I passed the sacrament. I was frightened, but thrilled to have the privilege. After the meeting the bishop complimented me on the way I had conducted myself. The bishop was always so thoughtful of me.”2
The Hunter home was one in which everyone had responsibilities in keeping the home functioning. Howard learned how to be industrious at a very young age. He sold newspapers on the street, caddied for golfers, framed pictures at an art store, delivered telegrams, and did odd jobs in a department store. Because of his success with a project at his after-school job in a drugstore, Howard won a correspondence course in pharmacy and fulfilled the requirements before he finished high school. Howard had a habit of picking up broken alarm clocks that had been thrown away. He would take them apart, refurbish them and sell them for pocket money. Whatever he decided to do, he worked hard at it and accomplished it.
Howard was born with a talent for music. Even as a little child, he could keep perfect time and perfect pitch. As a young boy, he won a marimba in a contest. He taught himself to play it well enough to perform in any event that arose. Most orchestras were not large enough to have a marimba player, so he learned to play numerous other instruments – the saxophone, clarinet, violin, trumpet and piano. After playing with several orchestras, Howard decided to organize his own group, which he named “Hunter’s Croonaders.” During its first holiday season, the group played for six dances. The next year they had fifty-three dances, parties, receptions, schools, churches, civic clubs, and fraternities to play for. Word got around, and in 1926, Howard was offered an opportunity to form a five-piece orchestra for a two-month cruise to the Orient on the passenger liner “SS President Jackson.”
The Boy Scout program had been functioning for only ten years when Howard became involved in it. There were no Eagle Scouts in Idaho at that time and Howard and his friend decided to change that. Howard earned all twenty-one merit badges and became the second Eagle Scout in Idaho, while his friend Edwin became the first.
Marriage, Family, Education
At a dance in 1928, Howard was introduced to Claire Jeffs and was attracted to her at once. After three years of dating, Howard and Claire were married in the Salt Lake City Temple in June of 1931. As his wedding approached, Howard made a key decision. For several years he had played with orchestras at dances and parties, in public ballrooms, and on radio and the stage. “It was glamorous in some respects,” he reflected, “and I made good money, but the association with many of the musicians was not enjoyable because of either drinking and/or moral standards.” Such associations were not compatible with the lifestyle he foresaw with a wife and family, so he decided to give up professional music. He stated later, “Since that [decision] I have never touched my musical instruments except on a few occasions, when the children were [at] home, [and] we sang Christmas carols and I accompanied on the clarinet.” Although this left a void where he had enjoyed his hobby immensely, Howard never regretted making the decision.
Soon after their marriage, the Hunters lived in Hermosa Beach, California, and Howard worked at a bank in Hawthorne. After the bank went out of business during the depression, Howard took on numerous odd jobs – selling soap from door to door, helping in road surveying, and painting bridges. In 1934 he obtained work in the title department of the Los Angeles County Flood Control District. There he learned that he had a talent for understanding legal work, and at age 26 he made a decision to study law.
Upon completion of the prerequisite classes, Howard entered Southwestern University law school. After four years of attending classes at night, while working full time and adding three children to the family, Howard graduated from law school. One week after graduating third in his class, he began preparing for the California bar exam. He was informed that only one in three participants would pass the exam. After three days of grueling tests, Howard completed his bar exam and waited for the results. In December, two months later, the letter arrived stating that he had successfully passed the exam. Of the 718 who took the exam, 254 passed.
In 1934, with the formation of a new ward, the Stake President of the Pasadena Stake called Howard to be the Bishop of the newly formed El Sereno Ward. He was only thirty-two years old. His trepidation in accepting the call was expressed: “I had always thought of a bishop as being an older man, and I asked how I could be the father of the ward at the young age of thirty-two. They said I would be the youngest bishop that had been called in Southern California to that time, but they knew I could be equal to the assignment; I expressed my appreciation for their confidence and told them I would do my best.”3
In 1950, President Hunter was called to be the new Stake President of the Pasadena Stake. This time there was no trepidation in accepting the call. His journal recorded: “I could well understand the comments of the brethren when they told me [that I] had been selected because of the strength of [my wife], Claire…[she has] always stood close by with support and understanding during the years in law school, while I served as bishop, and in every office I have held.”4
After nine years of service as a Stake President, Howard and Claire’s lives would change considerably. The Hunters had traveled to Salt Lake City in October 1959 to attend the Mormon Church’s General Conference. President Hunter received a note saying that President David O. McKay, current President and Prophet of the Mormon Church, wanted to visit with him. President McKay informed him, “Tomorrow you’re going to be sustained as a member of the Council of the Twelve.” President Hunter recorded what President McKay said in detail, “‘The Lord has spoken. You are called to be one of his special witnesses, and tomorrow you will be sustained as a member of the Council of the Twelve.’ I cannot attempt to explain the feeling that came over me. Tears came to my eyes and I could not speak. I have never felt so completely humbled as when I sat in the presence of this great, sweet, kindly man—the prophet of the Lord. He told me what a great joy this would bring into my life, the wonderful association with the brethren, and that hereafter my life and time would be devoted as a servant of the Lord and that I would hereafter belong to the Church and the whole world.”4
During his time as an Apostle, President Hunter took the gospel to many lands. Through two special assignments by the First Presidency, he was able to travel more than two dozen times to the Holy Land conducting business for the Church and establishing friendships with both Jewish and Arab leaders. In 1993 he had visited almost every major Islamic nation in the world. Through his travels in the Middle East, President Hunter genuinely loved all people from all walks of life. He attended lectures, studied, and researched extensively about the Middle East. As a result of his understanding and love of the people, many doors were opened and valuable friendships were formed for the Mormon Church.
The Lord worked through President Hunter to acquire land in Jerusalem for the building of the new Jerusalem Center of Brigham Young University. And in October 1979, the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden was dedicated. Both were accomplished due to President Hunter’s dedication to the Lord’s work.
During a trip to Mexico in 1975, President Hunter was assigned to realign several stakes in Mexico. He wrote: “Our purpose was to reduce the size of the stakes, to better align them, to reduce travel of members, and also to provide for the rapid growth that is taking place in Mexico. It was the consensus that smaller stakes can be better trained, that leadership can be more effective, and the anticipated growth of about 1,000 members commencing by March will be better fellowshipped.”5
In May 1981, President Hunter’s wife, Claire, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.
When she returned home after two weeks in the hospital, she was in a wheelchair. The doctor’s diagnosis was that she would probably never walk again. Two weeks later the President wrote: “Although the doctors have said she would not be able to walk again, she is now able to stand if she is supported, and this morning by [my] holding her hands and leading her, she was able to walk from the bedroom to the kitchen.”6 President Hunter assisted his beloved wife Claire through his loving care and devotion. In 1983, Claire passed away. It was said of this remarkable couple, “We have never seen such an example of devotion of a husband to his wife. Theirs was a many-splendid love affair. Love is service.”7
May of 1988 saw the passing of President Marion G. Romney, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. On June 2, Howard W. Hunter was sustained and set apart as the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. One year prior to this assignment, President Hunter had had back surgery, and he was still struggling to regain the use of his legs. However, with his faith and the prayers of the brethren of the Twelve, he did (with strenuous physical therapy and determination) walk again.
Almost seven years following the death of his wife, President Hunter married Inis Bernice Egan on April 12, 1990, in the Salt Lake Temple. As he was nearing the end of a meeting with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he said, “‘Does anyone have anything that is not on the agenda?’ Having been forewarned privately that their president had something he wanted to bring up if there was time at the end of their meeting, none of those present said anything, ‘Well, then,’ he continued, ‘if no one else has anything to say, I thought I’d just let you know that I’m going to be married this afternoon.'” He continued to explain that Inis was a friend from California and he had been visiting with her for some time and they decided to get married.
Howard William Hunter became the fourteenth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on June 5, 1994. He loved the scriptures and admonished the members to “know them.” He said, “We ought to have a church full of [members] who know the scriptures thoroughly…Not in this dispensation, surely not in any dispensation, have the scriptures – the enduring enlightening word of God – been so readily available and so helpfully structured for the use of every man…who will search them. The written word of God is in the most readable and accessible form ever provided to lay members in the history of the world. Surely we will be held accountable if we do not read them.”
President Hunter encouraged the members to make Christ the center of their lives, to be worthy to enter the Mormon temple, and to seek all that is good in this life.
President Hunter passed away on March 3, 1995. It was said at his passing, “…his kindness, his thoughtfulness, his courtesy to others…is all true. He surrendered himself to the pattern of the Lord whom he loved. Howard W. Hunter, prophet, seer, and revelator had a sure and certain testimony of the living reality of God, our Eternal Father…He spoke with love for the Prophet Joseph Smith and for all those who succeeded him…”8
1 “Howard W. Hunter”, Knowles, 1994, p.1-2,4
2 “He Found Pleasure in Work”, Church News, Nov 1974, p.4
3 “Howard W. Hunter”, Knowles, 1994, p.94
4 “Ensign”, Faust, Aug 1994, p.8-9
5 “Howard W. Hunter”, Knowles, 1994, p.202
6 “Howard W. Hunter”, Knowles, 1994, p.267-268
7 “Ensign”, Faust, Aug 1994, p.10
8 “A Prophet Polished and Refined”, Ensign, Apr 1995, p.33-35