Lowell Tom Perry is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often misnamed the Mormon Church).
Elder Perry was born August 5, 1922, in Logan, Utah. From the moment of his birth, he was immersed into a family life that centered around the Church. His father was a bishop, similar to a pastor. However, the Mormon Church is a lay church, meaning all positions are held by volunteers. His father served as bishop while raising a family and managing his secular career. At the same time, his mother served as a counselor in the Relief Society. The Relief Society is the women’s auxiliary, and oversees many critical aspects of a congregation, including compassionate service and the needs of all the adult women. Both parents took their children with them as they went about their church work, and the children grew up serving the church as they helped their parents. They mowed the church lawn, cleaned the building, and did chores for older or ill people in their congregations who needed help. As a result, he grew up seeing a life of service as perfectly normal. As the oldest son, he also had many chores at home and a paper route. He grew up knowing how to work hard.
After a year of college, he served a two-year volunteer mission for the Mormon Church in the United States. Elder Perry’s sense of humor and love for a good story shows in a tale he loves to share about his first days as a missionary.
He explains that although he’d always had a testimony, it had not really been tested prior to his missionary service. When he went door to door, he encountered people who knew their scriptures far better than he did, and he found himself swayed by their arguments, since nearly anything can be proved by scripture if you know enough of it and show only your side of the argument. He decided he needed to get this under control, so he set out a plan to stay awake after his companion (missionaries serve in two-person companionships) had gone to bed and to write a speech on one aspect of the church. He went into the basement to practice his first speech and coaxed a mouse out of the wall with a cracker to be his audience. The mouse stayed only long enough to get the cracker and left, but each day, the mouse stayed a bit longer, and when he delivered his speech on baptism by immersion, the mouse stayed the entire time, apparently listening. Elder Perry was pleased by his growing ability to reach his “audience.” The next morning he found the mouse at the bottom of a dishpan of water, apparently having decided, due to the force of the speech on baptism, to baptize himself by immersion.
Six weeks after his mission ended, he was drafted, and selected the Marine Corp as his service. When the atomic bomb exploded in Japan, he was sent in there to work. On the island of Saipan, he found himself saddened by the devastation done to their people, and he gathered a group of Marines together, convincing them to help build them a small chapel. He again recruited Marines to help rebuild a Protestant chapel in Nagasaki a short time later. Using what he had learned as a Mormon missionary, he helped teach some of his fellow Marines about his faith, and actually converted twice as many people in the Marines as he had on his mission.
After the military, he returned to college and graduated from Utah State University with a degree in business. During that time, he married Virginia Lee and together they had three children.
He began his career in retail in Idaho. During that time, he was asked to serve as second counselor in the bishopric of his congregation. This was, of course, an unpaid position, and it meant he would serve as an advisor and assistant to the bishop (pastor.) Although he found it challenging to take on heavy volunteer service at the very beginning of his career, he discovered that this church job, as do most callings, improved his career skills as well. Management skills learned at church could also be applied at work.
His career required frequent moves, exposing him to many parts of the country and many different types of people, an important education for one who would later serve as a Mormon Apostle.
In 1974, his wife died, and in 1983, he also lost a daughter. Two grandchildren died as well, and Elder Perry learned how to cope with grief and move on to the next step in life. He remarried in 1976, to Barbara Dayton, who taught at Brigham Young University’s school of nursing.
Elder L. Tom Perry became a Mormon apostle in 1974. One line of his family had been members of the church since 1832, nearly from the beginnings of the religion. Another line joined the church in 1872, after emigrating from Denmark. His own father lived with an earlier church prophet, Joseph F. Smith, as an employee after he graduated from school. Elder Perry has continued the long, distinguished church devotion of his family.