Marion G. Romney was born 19 September 1897, in Colonia Juarez, Mexico. A week after Marion’s birth, his father left to serve a mission. In the earlier days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, married men were often called to serve on missions away from home. Since missionaries serve without pay, as called for in the Bible, his mother supported Marion and herself, as well as earning enough to send her husband money, by sewing and knitting. Today, many people know this church by the nickname the “Mormon Church.”
Romney became extremely ill while his father was away. A priesthood blessing of healing saved his life, and he grew up with a testimony of the power of the priesthood. There was little money in the family, even when his father returned, but Marion grew up learning how to work hard and how to sacrifice for the greater good–lessons which served him well. He helped his father produce everything the family ate, teaching him the value of being self-sufficient.
His primary textbook for school was the scriptures, since few schoolbooks were available to the children in Colonia Juarez. As a result, he became extremely knowledgeable about the scriptures from a young age, a skill that would serve him well throughout his life, but particularly in his later church work. Spencer W. Kimball, who would later become the Mormon prophet, said of him, “President Romney is able to reflect on an issue before us in the context of the scriptures which he knows so well and he relates problems to the scriptures in an especially keen way” (In Regional Representatives’ seminar, 5 Oct. 1979).
Life in Colonia, Mexico, was often frightening for the Mormons, who were largely persecuted for being Americans, rather than for their religion. In 1912, the revolution began and Marion could hear the shooting taking place only ten miles from home. Troops often raced through his neighborhood and stole from the Mormons. However, his mother would sing soothing hymns to her children to comfort them during the frightening hours.
When he was fourteen, Marion’s family was forced to escape to the United States, along with other colonists in danger due to their nationality. With almost no warning, they were able to pack only one suitcase for the entire family. As they fled, two soldiers stopped them, pointing their guns at the colonists. Their money was taken, but Marion prayed for protection and no one was killed.
His family first settled in California, where Marion skipped a year of school in order to learn carpentry so he could help the family earn a living. When they moved to Idaho, he would attend only a portion of the school year so he could help with the planting and harvesting on the family’s farm. In Utah, where his father worked to finish his college degree, Marion took another year off to work in order to help support the family while his father got his education.
Marion also took time off to serve a mission, despite the family’s financial situation. He used all his savings and had to borrow some, which he paid back when he returned and began to work.
His family moved to Rexburg, Idaho, so Marion’s father could serve as the president of Ricks Academy, which was in the process of becoming a two-year college. Marion attended the school as a student, serving as the captain of both the basketball and the football teams. He graduated in 1920 and then received his B.S. degree in 1926 and his LL.B. degree in 1932 at the University of Utah.
He married Ida Jensen on 12 September 1924. She had been hired as a teacher at the school after Marion’s father became president of Ricks Academy. They married six years later after he had served his mission and both had continued their educations.
Marion G. Romney worked in law, as the assistant county attorney, assistant district attorney, assistant city attorney, and state legislator.
Mormons serve as volunteers and so leaders, even at the highest level, come from secular fields of employment. They do not attend a formal seminary and train for religious leadership except through personal study and ordinary church service throughout their lives. And so, Marion found himself serving in high-level church leadership unexpectedly. He was first called to be the Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the first person to ever hold that position. Ten years later he became an apostle. This is a lifetime and full-time unpaid position, although those who have no other means of support receive a modest stipend that does not come from tithing funds (faithful Latter-day Saints pay ten percent of their income to the Church to help build the kingdom of God on the earth).
About twenty years later, Marion became the second counselor to the Mormon prophet. The Church is run by the prophet and two counselors (or occasionally three), known as the First Presidency. The second highest leadership body is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Marion served as second counselor first to Harold B. Lee and then to Spencer W. Kimball. In 1982 he became the first counselor to President Kimball. Three years later, he also became the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a position which is based on seniority in order of the date called to the quorum.
As an apostle, he supervised Church work in Mexico, Europe, South Africa, and Asia and also organized the first Spanish-speaking stake (similar to a diocese) in Mexico. He also signed, as a member of the First Presidency, the revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy male members of The Church of Jesus Christ.
Marion G. Romney died in 1988.
This article is adapted from Every Person in the Doctrine and Covenants by Lynn F. Price, Cedar Fort, 2007 and Marvin K. Gardner, President Marion G. Romney, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Ensign, April 1986
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.