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Elder Haight dies at 97 as oldest LDS apostle

Published: Sunday, Aug. 1 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

After being sustained as an assistant to the Twelve on April 6, 1970, Elder Haight was ordained an apostle on Jan. 8, 1976, to fill the vacancy created by the death of Elder Hugh B. Brown. "My concern in embarking on this new assignment is how I can measure up," he said at the time. But he decided it was best to "just get in the harness and go."

Reflecting later on that calling, Elder Haight said he didn't have the words to relate the deep spiritual impressions that filled his heart as President Spencer W. Kimball asked him to serve.

"As I held this great man's hand and looked into his face, I knew in my heart and soul that I was in the presence of the Lord's anointed," Elder Haight said afterward.

That day, Elder Haight said, he reiterated the promise he had made to the Lord years before during a sleepless night on military duty in the Pacific: "I am completely committed to serve the Master, wherever I might be called to serve or whatever I might be asked to do."

Elder Haight was known for his good humor and love of people. He once counseled one of his grandsons, "The Lord isn't going to be concerned about whether you were a bishop, or stake president or apostle. He's going to be concerned about how you treated people."

Though ill health prevented him from speaking during the October 2003 general conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley told church members he had come to the meeting so he might wave and smile to let Latter-day Saints know of his love for them.

Introducing him during his last general conference appearance in April, President Hinckley said, "What a great soldier he's been in the army of the Lord." When he took the podium, Elder Haight smiled and spoke to the crowd, referring to his previous appearance at the pulpit. "I've heard from some people who thought I was waving a farewell. But I've come here today to indicate to you and to tell you I'm back. And I don't have anyone else pushing my arm for me."

A love of family

Family was the "key to life" for Elder Haight, according to his son Robert, who took his father home to Oakley, Idaho, his birthplace, last weekend for what would be a final visit. From the 7 a.m. start to the 6 p.m. return to Salt Lake City, "he talked all about his boyhood, his life and the people he loved."

After visiting the home he was born in, Elder Haight spoke to an overflow crowd of Latter-day Saints at a local stake center, then headed to the town park for a picnic, where he was honored as the town's oldest veteran of World War II. Many took the chance to meet and chat with him, and "he took the time to talk with them and express love to them. They could just feel a great warmth from him."

Family members knew of his love in word and action, as he taught them integrity, good grooming, proper speaking and kindness to others. He often told about being on a football team that lost a game by the score of 106 to 6, remembering "what it's like to be on the losing side. He taught us to reach down and help those who are downtrodden," his son says.

His inspiration went beyond his own family, into civic and church responsibilities. Residents of Palo Alto who heard he was resigning as mayor to serve as an LDS mission president "wanted to send a delegation to Salt Lake City to ask President (David O.) McKay to rescind the call" so he could finish his mayoral term. "That's the kind of legacy he left behind."

Asked why he believes his father lived so long, Robert Haight doesn't hesitate. "He was a fighter. When the doctors would come in and say, 'We want you to practice sitting up in bed,' he'd tell me he did twice what the doctors expected. He was still planning to be here for a couple more years."

Though he suffered various health problems through the years, he would always fight back so he could resume "carrying his load" with the other apostles, telling his family, "I don't have time to die."

But perhaps his greatest legacy was his love for his wife, Ruby, according to their son. "Everyone who heard him speak knew her name. That's what marked him" as a great husband and family man.

"He always talked about this great love for his wife," Robert Haight says, "and she feels the same way about him. That transmits on through the family."

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