SALT LAKE CITY — Early last week, President Boyd K. Packer was preparing his talk for the LDS Church's upcoming October general conference before his health began to fail and he died Friday at 90 years old of causes incident to old age.
For the man who had spent the past 21 years as the acting president or president of the faith's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the talk would have been the 108th conference address in 53 years as a general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"He was anticipating another message," his son, Elder Allan F. Packer, himself an LDS general authority as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. "Unfortunately, that's probably never going to be heard.
"The body just got tired."
President Packer's longevity as an LDS leader was noteworthy, though he had been dealing with the aftereffects of childhood polio for a number of years, delivering his final eight conference talks while seated in a maroon chair.
He died Friday at about 2 p.m., a day before a planned Packer family reunion of the 423 descendants of his parents in Brigham City, Utah.
"A lot of the family was gathering for the reunion," Elder Packer said. "So most of the family was able to be there. He passed peacefully with the family around him. I hope he — I think he enjoyed that, appreciated that."
The reunion went ahead as planned.
"I think maybe he decided that's the only way he was going to be be able to attend," Elder Packer said. "It was a wonderful gathering, really a celebration of his life and passing. That did take a center spot in the reunion."
President Packer and his wife, Donna Smith Packer, had 10 children and 60 grandchildren. On Monday, the family welcomed the 111th great-grandchild.
"All of the family, of course, are going through some ups and downs, emotions," Elder Packer said, "and feelings about 'I wish I'd talked about this' or 'I've got this question I wish I would have asked.'"
Including spouses, President and Sister Packer now have a family of about 236, Elder Packer said.
"That's his legacy, really," Elder Packer said. "I think he'd want to be remembered as a father and husband first, and then as an obedient member of the church and a priesthood holder who did all that he could to respond to what the Lord wanted him to do."
He also said he believed President Packer would be remembered "as one who knew the doctrine and was a teacher and tried to teach in such a way that people understood and didn't misunderstand."
He said the family's faith in Jesus Christ eases the sting of separation, which they consider temporary.
"I think that's immeasurable. Dad was always optimistic and positive and not afraid of anything. He said over and over again — we've heard him say — 'The Twelve are not afraid of what's going on in the world.' That brings great peace to the church and the family.
"We'll miss him, but it's more of a graduation, as we look at things."
President Packer became an Assistant to the Twelve in 1961, a member of the Twelve in 1970. He has been a fixture in church leadership ever since.
In fact, it is a rarity for one to serve so long and not become church president. Of the 97 men who have served as LDS apostles, only four served longer than the 53 years President Packer spent as a general authority (1961-2015). Each of those four became presidents of the church.
President Packer spent 45 years in the Quorum of the Twelve (1970-2015). Only two have served longer in the quorum without becoming president of the church — Franklin D. Richards and Orson Pratt.
Since church founder Joseph Smith, each succeeding church president has been the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve. Only three church presidents served longer in the quorum than President Packer before they became church president — President Joseph Fielding Smith, 59 years, President Wilford Woodruff and President Lorenzo Snow, each 49 years.
President Thomas S. Monson spent 44 years in the quorum before becoming the church's president in 2008. Elder Russell M. Nelson, who succeeds President Packer as the quorum's senior member, has been a member of the Twelve for 31 years. He is expected to become the new president of the Twelve.
Elder Nelson and Elder Dallin H. Oaks, another member of the Twelve, visited President Packer and the family on the day he died.
President Packer remained involved in quorum work until his passing, though his activity was more restricted in his final months. He conducted a lot of business from home, with staff coming to him. He visited Elder L. Tom Perry, his longtime colleague in the Twelve, just prior to Elder Perry's death on May 30, and he attended Elder Perry's funeral.
"He thought of himself," his son said, "as really an ordinary person that responded to the calls and allowed the Lord to do with him what the Lord wanted."
Elder Packer said his mother, who is 87, is doing well. She and the rest of the family are overwhelmed by and appreciate the "hundreds and hundreds" of well-wishes that have arrived from neighbors, friends and church members.
Elder Packer said his most meaningful memory of his father isn't a single event and is an ongoing legacy.
Often, he'd come home and tell Sister Packer of a prompting and that she should send some money to one of their children. She would say she had the day before, and twice the amount he proposed.
"That illustrated the unity of mom and dad," their son said. "They're in tune."
"This happened over and over again," he said. "The timing of his ability to reach out at key and important times in my life, at times when I was anxious over something or really concerned. It seemed like he always knew and called, either a call or a visit.
"As I've become a parent, what I've learned and discovered is that he was close enough to the Spirit to get the promptings about each of us individually."
President Packer's funeral is scheduled Friday at 11 a.m. in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square. The funeral services will be broadcast live at DeseretNews.com, on KSL TV 5.2 and via LDS.org, BYUtv, BYUtv Global, BYUtv Eleven, BYUtv International, Mormon Channel and on the Church satellite system. Audio broadcasts will air on KSL radio, BYU Classical 89 and BYU-Radio.
In lieu of flowers, Elder Packer’s family has asked that contributions be made to the Church’s Family History work. Donations can be made at give.lds.org/familyhistory.
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