When I served as a bishop in Oldham and Chester wards in England, it was always a special delight to sit on the stand, look at the congregation and see the faithful Mormon members anxious to partake of the sacrament, and be edified by the Spirit as hymns were sung and speakers gave their messages.
The combined faith, humility and prayers of all those present created the appropriate climate in which the Holy Ghost touched hearts.
I was always grateful for the excellent support of other dedicated priesthood leaders and also energetic, loving, devoted sisters who provided leadership in the individual organizations.
Additionally, I have long felt a very high regard for faithful widows and widowers — active member brothers and sisters who continue faithfully often on their own. These members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may continue active in the church when other family members do not and may suffer with poor physical and mental health but hold fast to their covenants with the Lord. I have often been deeply touched by their faithfulness and reliance on the Lord for the strength to carry on.
One such person was Mair Elsbeth Burns. In 1988, I was asked by the missionaries to visit her with them prior to her baptism.
She lived in her rented home alone, as her husband Peter had tragically died from a brain tumour at age 48, about five years before. They had had four children with whom Mair remained in regular contact.
During this first home visit, I privately wondered whether she would have the strength to remain active and in particular keep the Word of Wisdom. I should not have worried! Despite having been a very heavy smoker, she succeeded in giving up the habit, was baptized and became an active, temple-attending, much-loved and contributing member of the ward.
Mair had always been a keen reader, so she also read her scriptures, Ensign magazines and other LDS Church publications to expand her gospel knowledge.
Mair was a good listener and was known for this in her neighborhood: people would discus their troubles with her, and she would listen and help where she could.
Her son Gavin recalls that many years ago, after his marriage broke up, he sought her wise counsel and this proved very helpful to him.
For many years, I was Mair's home teacher. She had a deep and simple faith in the Lord. As her health was not good, plus the added stress of family worries, she would often ask for a priesthood blessing which I and others were pleased to give her.
Because of her great faith in the savior and her righteous life, the spirit was always strong — and the blessings were a great comfort too her. What a privilege is was to use my priesthood in this way.
Mair died at home alone, suddenly and unexpectedly in 2002, at age 64. Ward members were all saddened by this but happy that she had gone to join her beloved husband, Peter (to whom she had been sealed in an LDS temple) and other relatives and friends in the spirit world.
She was now freed from the burdens of physical pain and emotional distress inherent in this earthly life.
Obviously no two people are identical, but I believe there are Mairs in every ward and branch of the LDS Church who rise above their trials and because of their steady faith, good works and absolute dependability, they are a wonderful asset to the church. We should always treasure them.
She was never an auxiliary president and hardly known outside her own circle of friends and relatives, but she was known to the Lord and blessed by him.
At her funeral service a poem written by her son Simon was read to the mourners and later inscribed on her gravestone:
A person of such love,
Generous and kind,
In the world today is very hard to find,
To listen and advise but never sit and judge,
If someone did upset her she wouldn't bear a grudge,
Over 60 years on earth and dealt a lot of pain,
Each shock that took its toll, never would she complain,
Fortunate are many,
Privileged are some, to know this lady Mair,
Our Rock, our friend, Our Mum
Peter Lee is compiling a not-for-profit collection of inspirational family history stories and contributions are appreciated. For information or to share stories, his website is furnissfamilysearch.co.uk. and his email is [email protected].