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Elder Haight dies at 97 as oldest LDS apostle

Published: Monday, June 29 2015 11:35 p.m. MDT

Elder David B. Haight speaks during the Saturday morning session of LDS conference in April 2004. (Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News) Elder David B. Haight speaks during the Saturday morning session of LDS conference in April 2004. (Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News)
Elder David B. Haight, at 97 the oldest member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve and the oldest apostle in the history of the church, died at 4:15 a.m. Saturday, July 31, 2004, at his home, surrounded by family members.
His death of causes incident to age is the second loss of a top leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the past 10 days. Elder Neal A. Maxwell died July 21.
Funeral services for Elder Haight are scheduled for noon Thursday in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. There will be no public viewing, and burial services will be private.
Elder Haight attended Elder Maxwell's funeral on Tuesday, taking his place on the dais with help from fellow apostles. He sat next to the empty seat left by Elder Maxwell, and now leaves his own chair vacant in a group of fellow apostles and
Elder David B. Haight and his longtime wife, Ruby, enjoy each other's company at their home on Elder Haight's 97th birthday, Sept. 2, 2003. (Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News) Elder David B. Haight and his longtime wife, Ruby, enjoy each other's company at their home on Elder Haight's 97th birthday, Sept. 2, 2003. (Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News)
friends. The two of them had conducted a mock fencing match with their canes during their last meeting together with the Quorum of the Twelve.
The First Presidency of the LDS Church issued a statement saying, "We deeply regret the passing of our beloved friend and associate, Elder David Bruce Haight. His service has been long and dedicated.
"He has stirred the hearts of people across the Earth with his declaration of faith and his testimony of the living reality of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has borne that witness on many continents and has been influential in the church he loved."
Though his death was not unexpected, church leaders mourned his departure, saying, "our hearts reach out to his beloved companion, Ruby, and their children."
Elder Haight speaks in 1976 after joining the Quorum of the Twelve. (Deseret Morning News archives) Elder Haight speaks in 1976 after joining the Quorum of the Twelve. (Deseret Morning News archives)
During the last years of his life, Elder Haight had to forgo the scripted sermons given by LDS leaders during the faith's semi-annual general conferences because of failing eyesight. His extemporaneous remarks revealed the depth of his love for the faith and its leaders, as well as a constant and deep witness of Jesus Christ. Church members were awed by his stamina, warmed by his ready smile and certain of his dedication to God.
Many Latter-day Saints remember Elder Haight best for one particularly poignant sermon given in October 1989 during general conference. He told of becoming seriously ill several months earlier and, as his wife telephoned for help, pleading that God would spare his life "a while longer to give me a little more time to do his work, if that was His will."
As he heard the ambulance in the distance, he lost consciousness and remained unconscious for several days. At that time, he said he entered into a "holy presence and atmosphere," where he was "shown a panoramic view of (Christ's) earthly ministry: his baptism, his teaching, his healing the sick and lame, the mock trial, his crucifixion, his resurrection and ascension."
President Gordon B. Hinckley smiles as Elder David B. Haight waves before leaving the Conference Center during October 2003 conference.

 (Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News) President Gordon B. Hinckley smiles as Elder David B. Haight waves before leaving the Conference Center during October 2003 conference. (Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News)
In a voice filled with emotion, he described minute details of the Last Supper, describing "the washing of the dusty feet of each apostle, his breaking and blessing of the loaf of dark bread and blessing of the wine, then his dreadful disclosure that one would betray him."
Latter-day Saints regard members of the Quorum of the Twelve as Christ's living apostles who lead a modern version of Christ's original church restored to Earth through revelation by church founder Joseph Smith in 1830. Apostles are charged to serve as "special witnesses" of Jesus Christ throughout the world.
"During those days of unconsciousness I was given, by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, a more perfect knowledge of (Christ's) mission," Elder Haight said. He continued to share that knowledge with church members around the world for the rest of his life.

High callings
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."

Generosity and friendship
His generosity was also a hallmark, according to those close to him. After returning from serving as mission president in Scotland, Elder Haight was approached by BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson to assist him in establishing an endowment program for potential students who couldn't afford to attend school.
To this request he said, "My wife and I felt we could help assist youth financially. We love the youth, and we feel that if the world is to get back on its feet morally, we must develop strong, moral leaders of the world."
In a 1986 profile in the church's Ensign magazine, Elder Ronald E. Poelman of the First Quorum of the Seventy described how both Elder and Ruby Haight went out of their way to be of service to others. In fact, their home was open to any who needed a place to stay for a night.
Their daughter, Karen Huntsman, said, "I could come home from college and never know who would be sleeping in our house, who would be eating around our table."
Son-in-law and billionaire industrialist Jon Huntsman said he regarded Elder Haight as a combination of a brother, close friend and father. "He could not be in a crowd, or even with an individual, without saying something that would build them collectively or individually."
Elder Haight once said that one of the things he enjoyed most about representing the church around the world was meeting people that LDS missionaries had been teaching so he could testify in person that what they had been taught about the gospel was true.

Service and honors
David Bruce Haight was born Sept. 2, 1906, in Oakley, Idaho, to Hector C. and Clara Tuttle Haight. His father died when he was 9 years old, and he was reared primarily by his mother and his older brothers and sisters. After attending Oakley High School and Albion State Normal School in Idaho, he completed his schooling at Utah State University and served as a commander in the Navy during World War II, where he earned a special citation from the Pacific fleet commander.
He married Ruby Olson on Sept. 4, 1930, in the Salt Lake LDS Temple, and they have three children: Bruce, Robert and Karen. He served as mayor of Palo Alto, Calif., from 1959 to 1963, and resigned that position to serve the church as president of the Scottish Mission. After returning from Scotland, he served as assistant to the president of Brigham Young University.
Civic and business activities included executive positions with ZCMI and positions as district and regional manager in California and Chicago for Montgomery Ward and Co. Elder Haight had also served on the board of directors of Bonneville International, Deseret Management Corp., First Security Corp. and Huntsman Chemical Corp. Earlier civic service included work as a Red Cross campaign chairman, blood bank director, Stanford Area Boy Scout Council director, president of the Rotary Club, president of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and governor of the San Francisco Bay Area Council of Mayors.
Before his call as an LDS general authority, Elder Haight served the church as a regional representative, member of the Priesthood Missionary Committee, president of the Palo Alto California Stake, stake high councilor and bishop's counselor.
USU honored him with its "Distinguished Alumnus Award" in 1978 and again in 1989, and in 1991, the David B. Haight Alumni Center was dedicated at the school in his honor. He served on USU's national advisory board and received an honorary doctorate degree from BYU in 1998. Palo Alto recognized him for his community service in 1994, citing him at the time as the city's oldest living mayor.
He is survived by his wife, Ruby, their three children, 19 grandchildren and 78 great-grandchildren.


Contributing: Tom Hatch and Lynn Arave
E-mail: carrie@desnews.com

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