Skip to main content

Elder William R. Walker

Elder William R. Walker

07 Dec. 2015

Transcript

Three Apostles, Three Friends

I am pleased to be with you today for your devotional. I spoke at the LDS Business College once before, in 2003. It was the first year after I had been called as a general authority. So I am happy to be with you again today. Sister Walker and I are grateful for the warm welcome that we have received from President and Sister Richards and others.

The general conference of the Church held earlier this month was truly historic. Three new apostles were called to the Quorum of the Twelve. It was the first time in over a hundred years that that had happened. Elder Ronald A. Rasband, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, and Elder Dale G. Renlund were called to be members of the Quorum of the Twelve. We all joyfully raised our arms to the square to sustain them, having the full confidence that this is the work of the Lord and they were called to these holy and sacred callings through the direction of heaven. The need for three new members of the Twelve came about because of the passing of three of the great apostles of our dispensation, Elder L. Tom Perry, President Boyd K. Packer, and Elder Richard G. Scott. These three great leaders had a remarkable impact on the Church.

Elder Perry had served as a general authority for 43 years and as an apostle for 41 years. President Packer had served as a general authority for 54 years and as an apostle for 45 years. Elder Scott had served as a general authority for 38 years and as an apostle for 27 years. That means if we combine the years of service of these three men, they served as general authorities for a total of 135 years and as members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for a total of 113 years.

To me, that is truly remarkable. It is unlikely that the Church will ever again lose that kind of accumulated leadership experience in such a short period of time. The lives that have been influenced and blessed by these three great apostles would be impossible to count. Their influence has been felt throughout the entire Church and has reached every corner of the world.

Elder L. Tom Perry passed away on May 30, 2015, a little shy of his 93rd birthday. Elder Perry was known for his dynamic leadership style, for his enthusiasm for life, and for his love for Church, country, and family.

President Packer had served as the acting president or president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for 21 years. He passed away on July 3, 2015, a little shy of his 91st birthday. President Packer was known for his powerful and profound teaching, for his focus on the importance of the family, and for his unwavering devotion to the Lord. Like Abinadi, he was a fearless defender of the truth.

Elder Richard G. Scott passed away on September 22, 2015, just shy of his 87th birthday. Elder Scott was especially known for his kind and compassionate speaking style and for conference messages that seemed to so many people that he was speaking just to them personally. He was also known for his warmth and his gentle manner and for his love and devotion to his wife, Jeanene, who preceded him in death 20 years earlier.

All three were noble servants of the Lord who wore out their lives in taking their testimonies of the truthfulness of the gospel to the ends of the earth. They were called to be special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world, and they have surely fulfilled that calling.

As a general authority for 12 years, I was blessed to have some considerable association with these three great apostles. I thought for my message today I would share with you some of the lessons I learned from the experiences I had with them.

In Doctrine and Covenants section 52, the Lord says: “I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived” (verse 14).  I understand Elder Sitati used this scripture in his devotional last week—I read that in the Church News. So, in this revelation, the Lord tells us that we will be blessed with patterns in all things. If you are a seamstress, a pattern will show you how to cut cloth and sew clothing. For Latter-day Saints, the pattern will show us how to live our lives.

These three great apostles have lived lives worthy of emulation, and they have taught us how to live the gospel and be true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Surely one of the blessings of having these men as our leaders has been the pattern of their lives that we can see and follow.

Elder L. Tom Perry came to Japan in 2003 when I was serving as a member of the area presidency. I learned a lot about his leadership as I observed this dynamic and enthusiastic apostle in action. He asked us to convene a meeting of the stake presidents in the ten stakes in and around Tokyo. He included the area presidency, Area Seventies, mission presidents, and a few other leaders. As was his way of leading, Elder Perry came to inspire us and to improve things. He wanted to light a fire under all of us. He spoke like a leader right out of the scriptures; with boldness and with confidence, he challenged us to do better. He was positive and expressed confidence in all of us.

He said, “You can do better. I know you can do better.” He spoke for several hours, giving wonderful and practical counsel and answering many questions. He shared his love for them and shared experiences he had had as a United States Marine in Saipan and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War. He expressed his love and admiration for these leaders and for the Japanese people.

However, his message was consistent: we can do better, and the Lord will help us to do better. He challenged each of us to ponder the counsel that had been given and then to return home and prayerfully ask the Lord how we could individually do better. His testimony was strong and powerful.

At the end of the meeting, I had the impression: what a leader. What an example of how to lead.

On another occasion, I personally experienced the enthusiasm and positive attitude of Elder Perry. In 2012, the ABC television network contacted Church Public Affairs and asked if one of the leaders of the Church could be available for an interview with Barbara Walters in New York. Barbara Walters was doing a 20/20 television special on the subject of heaven. She would interview leaders of various religions to get their views and beliefs about heaven. The producers of the special wanted to include the LDS point of view in the broadcast.

Elder Perry was the senior apostle on the Church Public Affairs Committee, and I was informed that the Brethren had decided that Bill Walker should do the interview with Barbara Walters. I was really surprised and pretty nervous when I received word of the assignment. I wondered why they had chosen me. I had had quite a bit of experience with the media because of my assignment as the executive director of the Temple Department, but I was still worried. I realized that millions of people would see the television broadcast, and I didn’t want to say or do anything that would not be positive for the Church.

Elder Perry invited me to his office to talk about the assignment. I was immediately uplifted by his positive attitude and his enthusiastic encouragement. My worries seemed to dissipate when he seemed so positive about me doing the interview. He said, “Bill, you can do this. You’re perfect for this. With your smile and personality, you’ll be great.”

He gave me some wise counsel and then added, “All of the First Presidency and the Twelve will be praying for you.” Having expressed that much confidence in me, when I left the office I don’t think my feet touched the ground. With the powerful words of encouragement from this great apostle, I went to New York with confidence that the Lord would surely bless me. When it came time for the interview, I was calm and relaxed and all went well. Barbara Walters was very complimentary as she thanked me after the interview was over. She said she had learned a lot about the Church from the interview. Everyone seemed pleased with how the Church was represented in that 20/20 special, and I attributed much of our success to the confidence and enthusiastic encouragement of Elder L. Tom Perry.

I think you might enjoy another story that tells you about the personality of this great apostle. A few years ago, Sister Walker and I arrived at the Church parking lot on a general conference weekend. We prepared to get a ride on a golf cart over to the Conference Center for the upcoming session. We felt honored when Elder and Sister Perry invited us to ride on a cart with them. I asked Elder Perry if he was going to speak that session. He said, “Yes, I am. I’ve scheduled to be the last speaker in this session, and then I can relax for the rest of the conference.”

We told him we were looking forward to hearing his message. As we approached the backstage area of the Conference Center, I noted that we were getting close to the little makeup room where speakers stop to make sure they will look good on television. The makeup person makes sure that our hair is combed and puts a little powder on us to reduce the glare of the bright lights bouncing off our ample foreheads. I had done it before when I spoke at conference and thought everyone did it. As we approached the makeup room, I said to Elder Perry, “Don’t you want to stop at the makeup room?”

Without hesitation he said, “No. I’m a United States Marine. I don’t wear makeup.” We didn’t stop, and he didn’t get any makeup on his head. I suppose his forehead looked a little shiny for the broadcast, but he wasn’t going to wear makeup. I thought it was wonderful, and it showed his personality.

On another occasion, I accompanied Elder Perry when he gave a speech paying tribute to the first responders who had lost their lives in the 9-11 disaster. He was impressive and inspiring as he spoke with faith, conviction, and love for our country. I will never forget it.  I love and admire Elder Perry and will miss him dearly.

I learned many things from Elder Richard G. Scott, and I loved my association with him. Elder Scott was a remarkable man with many talents and a great intellect. But most impressive to me was his complete devotion to his calling as an apostle, combined with his love for people and his desire to bless and help others. For years, I met with him weekly when he was one of the presiding apostles on the Temple and Family History Executive Council. His love for the temple was most impressive. Many of his conference messages gave us counsel on the importance of family history work and the blessings of going to the temple to do the ordinances.

He truly loved going to the temple. Following the death of his sweetheart, he made a commitment to himself to go to the temple weekly, if possible, for the rest of his life. He told me that when he was in the temple, he felt close to the Lord, and he loved the feelings he had when he was there, including a closeness to his wife, to whom he had been sealed for time and for all eternity.

On one occasion, I was informed that Elder Scott had accepted an invitation to speak at a stake youth conference that was being held in Manti. I offered to be his driver when I heard he was traveling alone. He said he would enjoy having me travel with him and he would enjoy the company, so I had the delightful experience of talking with him for hours in the car, just the two of us. He gave me wonderful insights into his heart and mind, and he shared experiences with me that he had had as he traveled throughout the Church.

We reflected on a wonderful experience for me when I had accompanied him on a mission tour of the Montana Billings Mission during my first year as a general authority. He was a great teacher, and I learned things from him that I used whenever I toured missions for the rest of my years as a general authority.

He was an inspired and insightful teacher, and he loved missionaries and missionary work. In his late thirties, Elder Scott had been called to be a mission president in Córdoba, Argentina. One of his missionaries was Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Twelve. Isn’t that remarkable?

As we were driving along the highway to Manti, I said to him, “Elder Scott, with all that you have to do as a busy member of the Quorum of the Twelve, I’m surprised that you would accept the invitation to speak at a youth conference this far away from Salt Lake.”

He smiled and said to me, “You want to know a secret?”

I said, “Sure.”

He said, “Jeanene and I were married in the Manti Temple, so this is my temple. And any time I can, I come to Manti. It makes me happy, and it brings back very good memories for me.” Then he said, “I know we’re on a tight schedule and we have to get back to Salt Lake tonight, but if you can arrange for us to visit the Manti Temple after I speak to the youth, I would be very pleased.”

It wasn’t very difficult to make the arrangements. I called the temple president and told him that Elder Scott would be speaking to a youth group and then he wanted to visit the temple. Of course, the temple president was delighted. Following a wonderful message to the youth, Elder Scott and I drove up to the temple. He beamed as we walked up to the front entrance to the temple. The sun was just setting and it was beautiful.

The temple president greeted us warmly in front of the recommend desk and indicated we didn’t need to show him our recommends. Always teaching, Elder Scott insisted, and he took out his temple recommend and showed the temple president, which of course I did as well.

We went to the temple president’s office and visited for a few minutes. Although Elder Scott did not know the temple president well, he was warm and personable with him. He asked him about his family, his children and grandchildren, and asked how he was enjoying his experience as a temple president. Elder Scott asked if he could do anything to help. He then expressed his love and confidence in the temple president and said words that would have made it a cherished experience for the temple president.

I was very impressed because even though we were on a tight schedule, for 15 minutes Elder Scott acted like he had all the time in the world and that the temple president was his best friend. I learned a lot from that. The temple president said, “Elder Scott, would you like to walk through the temple?”

Elder Scott said, “No, I wish we had time to do some ordinance work, but we don’t. And I don’t want to walk through the temple and be a disruption. It’s just been wonderful to be in the temple and to be here with you. I’ve enjoyed the feelings I’ve had just being in this magnificent temple, and I’m so glad that we came.”

On the ride back to Salt Lake, Elder Scott shared with me his courtship with Jeanene Watkins. He told me that when he first began expressing his affection for her, Jeanene told him, “When I get married, it’s going to be in the temple to a returned missionary.” Elder Scott said that at that point in his life, he hadn’t planned on serving a mission. But he knew he loved Jeanene, so his plans changed. He went on a mission and so did she. When they were home from their missions, they married in the Manti Temple. As he tenderly expressed his love for his wife, he said to me, “I’m sure I wouldn’t be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve if it wasn’t for Jeanene.”

The ride to Manti was a cherished experience for me. What an example he has been to me and hopefully to each of you as well. I love and admire Elder Scott, and I will miss him dearly.

President Boyd K. Packer was my friend and mentor. He had a huge impact on my life. He ordained me a high priest in 1970 when I was called to be a counselor in a bishopric at age 26. Sister Walker and I were living in Vancouver, British Columbia. At that time, the Church policy was that all bishops and high priests had to be ordained by a general authority, so the new bishopric and our wives drove to Mount Vernon, Washington in order to be ordained by Elder Packer, who was there for a regular stake conference. He gave me a beautiful blessing when he ordained me, and from that connection, from then on I always felt an affinity for President Packer and paid special attention to his general conference messages.

In the early 1980s, I met President Packer on an airplane. He saw me looking at him, and he smiled and said, “Do I know you?”

I said, “Well, I’m sure you don’t remember, but you ordained me a high priest 13 years ago.”

Showing his delightful sense of humor, he smiled and said, “Well, did it do any good?” He invited me to change seats and sit next to him on the plane. I enjoyed the experience immensely, not knowing the influence he would have on my life in the years ahead.

After living in Atlanta and Chicago for a number of years, Sister Walker and I moved back to Utah. When we bought our house, we didn’t realize that President and Sister Packer lived in the stake, just a few blocks from the house we purchased.

A few years later, I was called to be the stake president. I thought, “What will it be like to have the president of the Quorum of the Twelve live in your stake?” Well, it turned out to be a wonderful and significant blessing in my life. He sustained me, supported me, and encouraged me as much as any member of the stake. He became my mentor and my friend. He said, “You’re welcome to call me on the phone any time.” Of course, I tried to be discreet and not take advantage of that invitation. However, he would call me as well.

President Packer taught me the importance of getting up early. He said the early morning hours were the best time for study and inspiration. I didn’t realize that he was getting up really early—like 4:30 in the morning. After several years of being his stake president, whenever the phone would ring at 6 a.m., my wife would roll over and say, “You can answer it; it’s President Packer. No one else calls us at 6 a.m.” Of course, I was delighted to get a call from him, no matter what time of the night or day it was. It was always inspiring to me to speak with him.

He would often invite me to his home, where he taught me and trained me in my priesthood duties, and it was wonderful. I learned so many lessons from him. One of the things I learned was how earnestly he prepared his general conference messages.

One year in early August, he invited me to his home. It was warm, so we sat outside under the trees. After a few minutes, President Packer said, “I want you to help me. I would like you to read the conference talk I am preparing and tell me what you think.” I about died. I was humbled, and I thought I couldn’t possibly be any help at all. And I doubt that I was. However, he was teaching me how to be serious about preparation, and how to prepare an important message. It was eight weeks before general conference, and he had already prepared a talk that he had spent a lot of time working on.

He asked me to read it out loud to him and comment as we went through it together. More than anything, I know he was teaching me. When I left his home that day, I left feeling honored and trusted. I left wanting to do better and to be better. I left with increased confidence, and I left feeling that, as stake president, I could follow the pattern he had just shown me.

When I was called to be a general authority, I followed his pattern. I asked other general authorities to read my general conference talk, and help me as I prepared. Once I even asked President Packer to read and comment on my conference talk several weeks before the general conference. He didn’t recommend I make any changes, but his words of encouragement were uplifting and gave me confidence and courage, and I learned a lot from that.

I learned so many other lessons from President Packer. I watched and listened to him as he showed respect for his leaders and those who had gone before him. He spoke reverently of President David O. McKay, who had called him to be a general authority in 1971. He spoke with deep respect and admiration for President Joseph Fielding Smith, who was the president of the Church who called him to be an apostle. And he spoke respectfully of Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, and Howard W. Hunter—all the presidents of the Church under whom he had served as an apostle. And that continued as I witnessed his love, admiration, and sustaining of President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson. I learned that I should be even more respectful of the prophets of God, past and present.

President Packer had traveled the world, but he always said there was no place he would rather be than at home. His messages and counsel reflected his counsel about the importance of home, and he lived that way. I love his teachings: the ultimate end of all activity in the Church is to have a father and a mother, a husband and his wife and their children, sealed in the temple and happy together at home. (See “The Power of the Priesthood,” Apr. 2010 General Conference.

President Packer taught me the importance of being a covenant keeper. He said it begins with training ourselves to be rule keepers. He taught that we should teach ourselves and our children to keep the rules as we go through life. This seems particularly important when we live in a popular culture that likes to question all the rules. That isn’t helpful. If we have trained ourselves to be rule keepers, then when we make serious covenants with the Lord, it will be more natural for us to keep those covenants because we will have trained ourselves to be obedient.

President Packer told me one time that he had spent his summer break reading through the scriptures to make sure that he had not overlooked any commandments because he wanted to be obedient to all of God’s commandments. That taught me a lot about the importance of our attitude toward sacred things and about the importance of wanting to be obedient.

I learned another important lesson from President Packer when I went to him with questions. I soon realized that he seldom would give me a direct answer to my question. Instead, he would listen and ask questions that caused me to think more about the matter. He would teach correct principle, and most often he would leave me with more questions. Then he would suggest that I study and pray about it and seek the direction of heaven to know the answer.

What a blessing to learn that very important principle about teaching, and to learn that the most effective teachers send the student away with understanding but also a heightened curiosity and a desire to learn more. He once said to me, “Teach the youth that they can learn a lot, and it will cost them very little—but they have to ask a lot of questions.” I learned to ask a lot of questions.

President Packer loved his hometown. He was born in Brigham City, Utah, as was Sister Packer. They were raised there. President Packer loved birds, as some of you know. When I was visiting with him on one occasion, he said, “Did you have meadowlarks in Alberta where you grew up?”

I said, “Yes, and I loved the song of the meadowlark. They have such a unique little song when they sing.”

President Packer grinned, and said, “I love it too. Do you know what they’re singing?”

I said I didn’t know. And he said, “They’re singing ‘Brigham City is a pretty little town.’”

When the Brigham City Utah Temple was nearing completion, I met with President Monson to make plans for the open house, cultural celebration, and temple dedication. President Monson said, “Brigham City is Boyd’s hometown. I want him to dedicate the temple. My counselors and I will stay away, and we will let it be his day.”

It was a wonderful and magnanimous gesture by the president of the Church, as he showed his love and admiration for this great apostle who had sat next to him for so many years in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. President Packer dedicated the Brigham City Utah Temple on September 23, 2012. It was a great day for all who knew and loved him, and it was a great day for the entire community of Brigham City. I learned from President Packer that it was all right to love your hometown and be proud of it. President Packer was buried in the Brigham City Cemetery. If you visit there in the springtime, you may be fortunate enough to hear a meadowlark singing, “Brigham City is a pretty little town.”

All three of these apostles lived lives of devotion to the Lord. Each had a strong and fervent testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel and of the Savior Jesus Christ. They lived exemplary lives.

We can also learn another important lesson when we observe that they were different. They had different personalities.  They had different styles. But each of them was wonderfully effective in serving the Lord. Elder Perry was tall and bold. He had a booming voice, and he projected self-confidence and enthusiasm in all that he said and did.

Elder Scott was thoughtful and gentle. He was measured and pensive as he considered things. He had a sensitive manner, even as he asked direct and pointed questions. His love for people was obvious.

President Packer was no less confident than Elder Perry, but he showed it in different ways. He was more reserved and private, in some ways even shy. But he had an iron will and determination like few men I have known.

From this we can learn that we don’t have to be a certain personality to serve the Lord. The Lord doesn’t expect us all to be the same. He can use every one of us to serve in His kingdom. We just need to be the best that we can be. The Lord’s admonition in Doctrine and Covenants 42 applies to all of us: “If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me and keep all my commandments” (verse 29).

Perhaps the most important thing about these three men is that they were equally powerful in their ministry as apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we have been blessed to know them, to listen to their words and counsel, to see their exemplary lives. And we have the opportunity to follow the pattern that the Lord has given us.

I pray that something I have shared with you today will be a blessing to you. I hope that you will have an increased love and appreciation for the servants of the Lord, these special witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ. We should give strict heed to their counsel and teachings. I testify that God lives and that He loves us. His Son Jesus Christ is our Savior and our Redeemer. This is His work and His Church. I testify that we are led by apostles and prophets. They have been called by the Lord. I testify to you that President Thomas S. Monson is the Lord’s prophet on the earth today.

Thank you for coming. I am honored that you chose to spend this time with me today. I express my love to each of you and pray that God’s most choice blessings will be with each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.