Leonard Arrington's three children have been bugging him for a long time about how fascinating his life has been. They argued that in addition to the 20 books he has written, he should write with the same distinction about his own life.
They said that someone who grew up on an irrigated farm in southern Idaho and went on to obtain a Ph.D. in economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he met and married their mother, "Charming Grace" Fort, had a strong story to tell.They were proud of his teaching career in economics and history, the most acclaimed of which are "Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-Day Saints," and a definitive biography of the second Mormon prophet, "Brigham Young: American Moses."
In particular, they thought his "Camelot" tenure as the first professionally trained historian to head the LDS church historian's office should be analyzed.
With the help of talented editors, he has compiled many of the experiences of his life, but he had never given the same attention to his own life that he has so richly given to others.
His children were satisfied this summer with the publication of his engaging memoir, "Adventures of a Church Historian," a happy culmination of 4 years of work.
After getting some honest criticism from nonhistorian scholar friends, who advised him to expand its scope, he gave the manuscript to the University of Illinois Press.
"They have 40 Mormon books on their list," says Arrington, "and they're good. They have both a local and national reputation. They said they'd be delighted to publish it."
Prior to publication, Jan Shipps, an eminent non-Mormon historian of Mormonism, made one pointed suggestion: "Please tell about some of your spiritual experiences."
As a historian, Arrington was accustomed to writing in a dry-eyed dispassionate style, and he had considered his spiritual experiences to be too private to share.
After thinking about Shipps' suggestion, Arrington re-evaluated the manuscript, finally including four spiritual experiences that affected both his life and his craft.
Available since early summer, the book has received nothing but compliments. "I suppose if anybody didn't like it," Arrington says wryly, "they wouldn't write me or let me know."
Arrington's approach is honest and candid, but he consciously chose not to write about every negative experience.
"To me, the book is a loving reminiscence and I bear my testimony in every chapter. I don't want anybody to get the impression that I wrote it to try to expose anything. That was not my purpose. It was a way of recalling an important experience in my life."
Expressing the need for candor in history, he says, "I don't think I'm doing anything out of the ordinary. It's just that we're not accustomed to having a historian who talks about his craft."
Arrington loved the church historian's job, and he sincerely believes that the formal administration of priesthood blessings given to him by Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball and Howard W. Hunter, while each presided over the church, were crucial to his success.
"They gave me the confidence that at least they thought I was doing the Lord's work."
On the other hand, there were disagreements during his tenure over various historical matters, and Arrington remembers that he and church officials did their best to "overcome those problems in the spirit of faithfulness."
Although Arrington is now in his 82nd year, his prolific habits have not abated. He has recently finished a book on commission about W.W Clyde, who not only built most of the bridges and highways in Utah, but was revered by many as a loving LDS bishop.
"It was an exciting experience for me, because I've been thinking seriously of writing about my own father, Noah Arrington, who was a bishop in southern Idaho for 17 years."
Arrington is planning on assisting his second wife, Harriet Horne, with a biography of her grandmother, Alice Merrill Horne, and possibly a biography of her great grandmother, Bathsheba Smith.
Finally, he is determined to write a history of New Deal agencies in Utah during the 1930s, an unfinished project he began before he became church historian.
"I think it's important for people to know about that era. People don't realize that a lot of the public things in Utah were created by New Deal agencies. Many people have hated Roosevelt and think he ruined the country. But look at the positive side! Every time you go out camping , use the sidewalks and roads, or see the timber cleared for this and that - you have to realize it was all done by New Deal agencies. I feel a mission to write about the positive side of the New Deal in Utah."
Arrington pledges to continue his writing as long as his health permits, and so far, he is feeling very energetic. But he is also surrounded by family members who keep him humble.
After receiving his previous book as a gift, one unnamed family member said he had gotten to page two before falling asleep. After that, he put the book under his pillow and "has had a good sleep ever since."
When the same man received "Adventures of a Church Historian," as a gift, he reached page four before falling asleep. "That," says Arrington with his famous broad grin, "was a real compliment."