LDS leader describes writing Elder Neal A. Maxwell's inspiring life story
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News file photo
When he set out to write the biography of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Elder Bruce C. Hafen wanted not just to record the life of a famous Church leader – as important as that was – “but also to honor his experience as one model to anyone seeking to be a true disciple” of Jesus Christ.
Elder Hafen, now an emeritus General Authority, spoke Feb. 13 of his experience in writing the book A Disciple’s Life. He was the first speaker in this year’s Men and Women of Faith Lecture Series organized by the Church History Library and held monthly in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
Several members of the Maxwell family were in attendance, including his wife, Sister Colleen Maxwell; several members of the Seventy and other General Authorities, and members of the Relief Society general presidency and board.
Elder Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles died of leukemia on July 21, 2004, but not before helping Elder Hafen with the preparation of the book.
Called to the First Quorum of Seventy in 1996, Elder Hafen was assigned to an area presidency in Australia, where he would serve four years.
“Like so many of you,” he recalled, “my wife, Marie, and I were stunned when we learned that Elder Maxwell had leukemia later that year of 1996. He was 70 years old.
“After we heard that he was receiving daily and intensive in-patient chemotherapy, we prayed continually for him. We then shared with the Church a profound sense of gratitude when his cancer went into remission in 1997 and he made that unforgettable appearance in general conference.”
Two years later, during October conference, Elder Maxwell invited Elder Hafen to his office.
“I still remember this phrase: ‘Well, I am OK now, but one of these days the leukemia will be back,” Elder Hafen recalled. For that reason, the apostle anticipated he hadn’t long to live, that he was finally yielding to the prodding of people to have his biography written.
“I thought he was asking for my advice about that. I said, ‘Yes, you should have it written, by all means,’ and I told him the reasons why. He asked if I would write it, and I couldn’t believe he was serious. I was honored that he would even think of me. I hadn’t written a biography before.”
Elder Hafen tried to cite reasons why he didn’t think it was a good idea: He was overseas on assignment and it would take a lot of work, research and interviews. Elder Maxwell hadn’t even kept a personal journal.
“I said I’d be glad to recommend somebody else, and he just nodded quietly and kind of waited for me to be done with that.”
After some subsequent prodding Elder Hafen agreed to go ahead with the project.
“I would remember scriptures about how the Lord will help us when we have a work to do,” he said. “Then, as time went by, I found really wonderful people who wanted to help, and that brought about peace to both Marie and me. We realized we had been given a rare privilege.”
Elder Hafen said he believes in retrospect that Church members witnessed a miracle in Elder Maxwell’s prolonged life after the initial diagnosis. The oncologist, a Church member named Clyde Ford, said the apostle had beaten the statistical odds when the disease went into a first remission; when it returned in 1998, the odds were much worse.
Then, in his research Dr. Ford found a small-scale study done in Sweden about a new treatment pattern. Though the sample size was too small to justify much of a prediction, the treatment was attempted, and it kept the leukemia at bay for another six years, until 2004.