Melvin Russell Ballard is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (frequenlty misnamed the Mormon Church).
As the grandson of two former Apostles, Elder Hyrum M. Smith and Elder Melvin J. Ballard; the great-grandson of former Prophet Joseph F. Smith; the great-great-grandson of Hyrum Smith, (the brother of Joseph Smith); and the great-great nephew of the Prophet Joseph Smith; M. Russell Ballard realizes the heritage that has been left to him. It is a heritage that he gladly accepts and strives each day to live up to. When Russell was sustained as an apostle at General Conference, he acknowledged: “I would like to bear witness…[that] the veil between here and the hereafter is rather thin. I acknowledge that it’s been a great blessing in my life to be born of goodly parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who have given everything they have been asked to give to the building of the kingdom of God on the earth.”
Melvin Russell Ballard, Jr. was born in Salt Lake City on October 8, 1928, to Melvin Russell and Geraldine Smith Ballard. Russell was the only son born to this couple. Russell, along with his three sisters, lived in the same home in Salt Lake City from the time of their births to the time of their marriages.
Russell’s father was the owner of Ballard Motor Company in Salt Lake City. He instilled in his son the desire to work hard at whatever he did. Just as his father was known for his concern for others, so was Russell known as he encountered others from every walk of life. From the time that Russell was old enough to work, he always had a job. Whatever job he did, he performed it with vigor and commitment. To Russell, his mother was his best friend in his growing years; she was a very compassionate and tender woman.
In 1948, Russell was called by the First Presidency to serve a Mormon mission to England. As a twenty-one-year-old missionary, he was called in 1949 to be the first counselor in the presidency of the British Mission.
Upon returning from his mission, he met Barbara Bowen. While attending a dance at the University of Utah, a friend of Russell’s wanted him to meet Barbara, so he “tagged in” to dance with her. His friend danced over to where Russell was, introduced them, and Russell danced with Barbara for thirty seconds before he was “tagged out.” That was the beginning of a courtship that would last for eleven months. “She was not only beautiful, but had a sparkling personality. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to marry her, but she didn’t share the same feelings. It was a little hard convincing her. I kid her now that getting her to agree to marry me was the greatest sales job I ever did,” declared Russell.
Russell and Barbara were married eternally in 1951 in the Salt Lake Mormon Temple and were blessed with seven children—two sons and five daughters. Family was always his top priority, even with all the responsibilities he had in the Church and in his business. Barbara stated, “He’s extremely devoted to his family, and they’ve always come first. He was a bishop for many years and held lots of Church jobs, but those responsibilities have never been to the detriment of his family. When he was home, he made the time count.”
Russell always gave his wife the credit in helping him fulfill his family responsibilities. “I married the right woman. Without the help and direction of Barbara, our family relationships would not have happened as well as they did. It was hard to be the bishop, the owner of my own business, and at the same time father of these children that came along, but somehow it worked out. I give credit to Barbara and her good judgment.”
When Russell attended East High School in Salt Lake, his friends looked to him as their leader. Russell attended the University of Utah and was known as the “bishop” to his fraternity brothers. His friends knew that whatever situation Russell was in, he would remain true to his faith and be an example of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all.
Russell’s education was a lot of hands-on work. With his father owning Ballard Motor Company, Russell had the opportunity to work with his father and learn the importance of hard work. He learned how to set goals and have objectives in business, church, and family affairs.
Professionally, Russell became involved in several enterprises, including automotive, real estate, and investment businesses. Russell was the top-selling salesman for his father’s Nash car dealership when he left it in the 1950s. In 1956, Russell returned and took over the Ballard Motor Company from his father. During that time, he also served in the United States Army Reserve. In 1957, when he left the reserves, Russell held the rank of first lieutenant.
In the late 1950s, upon returning from a business trip, Russell won the right to be the Edsel car dealer for Salt Lake. His dealership became the most successful in the country; the Ford Motor Company invited him and his associates to Detroit to explain to the other dealers how they did it. In the end, the Edsel was a failure and the motor company and dealers around the country, including Russell’s business, lost hundreds of millions of dollars. Recovery took years, but with his hard work and integrity intact over the next years, Russell was able to recover and still have the confidence of the financial institutions. He said, “To me, 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.”
A business venture that Russell was most proud of was his responsibility as president of the Valley Music Hall in Bountiful, Utah. The theater offered high-quality family entertainment for many years. Russell was able to work with numerous people in the entertainment business who offered their expertise and advice. Even though the Music Hall failed financially, Russell made sure that all investors had opportunities to recover the money they had put into it.
Russell continued over the years in various business projects. His time was also spent in various leadership positions in professional organizations and in the Chamber of Commerce. He has served on numerous board of directors such as Deseret Book Company and the Salt Palace Advisory Board.
Shortly after Russell and Barbara were married, Russell was called into a bishopric and has served in numerous Church positions ever since. In 1974, Russell was called as the president of the Canada Toronto Mission, where he served for two years. In 1976, his call to full-time Church service became permanent when he was sustained as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. And in 1980, he was called to the presidency of that Quorum.
Along the way, he fulfilled callings as the Executive Director of the Mormon Church’s Missionary Department, he directed the curriculum and correlation departments, and served as the president of the International Mission.
October 1985 brought a change to the Ballard family, one that came unexpectedly. Barbara recalls, “It came as such a surprise. We were just ready to leave the house to go to conference. The phone rang, and it was President Hinckley who asked my husband to come to the office. He thought he would perhaps be called on to speak in conference, since one of the speakers was ill. We were relaxed on the way to President Hinckley’s office and discussed what Russell might talk about if called to speak. When we got to the office, President Hinckley called my husband to be an Apostle. I almost thought, please say that again. I don’t know if I heard correctly. Russell looked at me with tears in his eyes. It was a sobering experience.” With that, M. Russell Ballard was sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in October 1985 at General Conference.
With his calling as an Apostle, Elder Ballard is now a witness and testifier of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As he sits in his office with pictures and statues of his forebearers surrounding him, Elder Ballard is humbled by the responsibility the Lord has placed on him. Speaking at General Conference in 1985 he meekly said: “I am deeply humbled at the confidence the Lord and my brethren have, and pledge to you that I will do the very best I know how… I understand the source of [this] call. This is our Heavenly Father’s Church. …I know, as I now stand before you, that Jesus is the Christ that he lives. He is very close to this work, and very close to all of us who are asked to perform the work throughout the earth in his name.”