SALT LAKE CITY — Elder W. Eugene Hansen, a farm boy, Army colonel and personal injury attorney whose tender heart marked his life and his service as a General Authority of the LDS Church and president of the Salt Lake Temple, died Saturday at age 88.
Elder Hansen died peacefully at his home in Salt Lake City 15 days after the passing of his wife of 66 years, Jeanine Showell Hansen. Both suffered from the effects of Alzheimer's at the end of lives touched by tragedy — three of their six children died before them.
Elder Hansen served from 1989-98 in the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was a member of the Presidency of the Seventy from 1993-98, when he also served as executive director of the church's Temple Department.
He served as the Salt Lake Temple president from 1999-2002, after church President Gordon B. Hinckley honorably released him from the Presidency of the Seventy and made him an Emeritus General Authority in 1998.
Born in Tremonton, Utah, Elder Hansen brought his farm boy work ethic to a lifetime of personal service. In the last of four talks he gave in general conferences of the church, he said he grew up on a small farm in northern Utah where each of the eight children had to contribute to the family's finances. That carried over to his own family.
"Sleeping in wasn't part of the Hansen family plan," said Stanton Hansen, one of Elder Hansen's six children.
Elder Hansen married Jeanine Showell in 1950. They had six children, 21 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Jeanine Hansen was a dancer and school teacher who built a family real estate business and then served alongside her husband while he was a patriarch and as temple matron. She died on Oct. 21.
Elder and Sister Hansen made personal service a priority. Despite growing memory-related challenges, they continued to visit widows and widowers until very recently, said their daughter, Susan Hansen Porter said. They volunteered in a first-grade reading program for at-risk kids until this year.
Stories were important to Elder Hansen. In another conference talk, he told the story of leading sheep through a canyon. He saw three rattlesnakes and tried in vain to guide his sheep away from danger. Two died. He encouraged youth to follow their "spiritual shepherds."
Steven Hansen, a son, remembered the many years the family took homemade eggnog and ice cream to shut-ins, widows and widowers.
"It taught me that dad was always reaching outside of himself to make sure people were happy," he said.
The Hansens regularly focused on a thoughtful Christmas gift. One year, Elder Hansen gave each child and their spouses a wooden box full of written notes of fond memories and feelings from each other and friends.
"That said a lot about his thoughtfulness," said Stanton Hansen. "What was important to him was those feelings, memories and relationships."
Elder Hansen graduated from Utah State University and earned a law degree at the University of Utah. He served in South Korea and served in the military for 20 years, rising to the rank of full colonel. He worked for 31 years as a trial attorney and was president of the Utah Bar Association from 1979-80.
The gruff stereotypes of Army officers and trial attorneys did not fit her father, Porter said.
"Where he really felt he could make a difference was connecting with people in very personal, meaningful ways. He had a very tender heart, a generous and giving heart."
His first conference talk, at the time of his call in 1989, was titled "Love." He gave a short formula for being loving — be considerate, be complimentary, be charitable and be grateful.
He suffered deep personal trials and adversity. Three of his sons died, one in a car accident, one from multiple schlerosis and one from a heart attack, but "he had a tremendous amount of faith," Stanton Hansen said.
A viewing is scheduled on Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Larkin Sunset Lawn, 2350 E. 1300 South in Salt Lake City. Funeral services are scheduled for Monday at noon at the Bonneville Stake Center, 1535 E. Bonneview Drive, Salt Lake City, with a viewing for family and friends from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.