When Elder Jeffrey R. Holland answered Wednesday evening's phone call from President Howard W. Hunter of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he didn't question his leader's request.
The new church president wanted Holland to come by his office early the next morning before President Hunter would go to the temple for his weekly meeting with other church apostles."That's not an unusual request," Elder Holland said at a press conference Thursday. But "I didn't have a terrific night."
And after a "tender" and "tearful" 20-minute talk with President Hunter, Elder Holland realized the private meeting was no ordinary briefing about church business.
Following the meeting, Elder Holland was ordained the church's newest apostle in the Salt Lake Temple during a meeting of the church's First Presidency and Council of the Twelve.
He fills a vacancy created by the recent death of President Ezra Taft Benson and ordination of President Hunter, who was most recently president of the Council of the Twelve.
"I'm not sure you can understand the overwhelming sense of responsibility this call brings," Elder Holland told reporters of his new lifetime calling in the LDS Church. "I'm equally sure you could not fully understand the unspeakable respect that I have for the office" of apostle.
His wife, Patricia Terry, expressed similar feelings. "It is a most humbling experience, one that we have prayed mightily in the last few hours that we will be prepared for," she said.
Elder Holland added that the couple, who have written a book together and are popular team speakers, will continue to work together.
"I am the one ordained, but we will travel, teach, pray, bear testimony and cry together, like we have our whole life," he said.
Elder Holland, 53, is the youngest among the 12-member quorum that oversees programs and operations of the worldwide church on an executive level. "I took a ribbing that a mere 53-year-old would be a member of that group . . . but it was in jest."
He said he has good health and will be willing to "take the most distant outpost . . . and I will do that lovingly and willing to protect any senior (apostle) who has already done all of that."
"Elder Holland is a perfect choice for the position because of the depth and breadth of character and because of his genuine love for all people," said Rex Lee, Elder Holland's successor as president of Brigham Young University.
Lee said Elder Holland and his wife inspired the BYU community during his nine-year tenure.
"His great friendly voice and his equally great spirit filled every room that he entered. Many addresses he delivered here are classic in the church," said Lee.
The call didn't come as a surprise to life-long acquaintance Karl Brooks, who grew up with Elder Holland in St. George.
"You could see it coming from the time he was a youngster," said Brooks, a former mayor of St. George and now a vice president at Dixie College. "He has a rather rare combination of natural intellect, great education and personality. And his wife, Pat, she also has that rare blend of spirituality and intellect."
Elder Holland holds bachelor's and master's degrees in English and religious education from BYU and received a master's in philosophy and a doctorate in American studies from Yale University.
R.J. Snow, BYU vice president for student life, also grew up with Elder Holland in St. George. He knows him to have sharp mind and a winning personality.
"Jeff has been brilliant his entire life," he said. "He has a gregarious and warm style that wins people over."
Snow, who is a little older than Elder Holland and friend of his brother Dennis Holland, recalled receiving a letter from "Dennis' little brother" while serving a mission. Elder Holland wanted to know if he should serve a mission. "You really should," Snow wrote back. Elder Holland served a mission in England.
Elder Holland's professional career has been in the church educational system, where he started in the 1960s as an instructor in LDS Institutes of Religion. He advanced to dean of the College of Religion at Brigham Young University and then Commissioner of Church Education. He was president of BYU from 1980 to 1989, when he was called to the church's First Quorum of Seventy.
Wm. Rolfe Kerr, a former BYU vice president and Utah commissioner of higher education, said Elder Holland has an amazing memory and could recount minute details from meetings. "It had long escaped me, but he would remember what I had told him," said Kerr, now serving as president of the Texas Dallas LDS Mission.
Richard H. Cracroft was dean of the college of humanities during Holland's presidency and co-taught an American literature class with him.
"I've always been fired and inspired by the warm wittiness of the man, yet always within a profound framework of spirituality," said Cracroft, an English professor at BYU and chairman of American Studies. "(Elder Holland) brings a buoyancy and liveliness and engagement to life that's fun."