1 of 2
Keith Johnson, Deseret News
Marlin K. Jensen, church historian for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (left), presents a copy of the Joseph Smith Papers to Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during a press conference introducing a volume of the Joseph Smith Papers Project September 22, 2009 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Taking the measure of the man in the case of President Russell M. Nelson is not easy. A man of his capacities laboring diligently for more than 93 years can produce an amazing body of work and become an exceptional human being.

I was blessed to work under his direction for about a third of my 24 years as a General Authority Seventy and share these feelings and observations at the invitation of the Deseret News.

President Nelson may be 93 years old, but he is an enviable physical specimen. He sits and walks with near perfect posture. He goes for walks in spare moments, and takes the stairs instead of the elevator. In winter he skis on Mondays, his day off.

His children and grandchildren will confirm that he still attacks the slopes. He is disciplined and careful about what he eats — a good example of moderation and temperance. He is seldom ill and has a resiliency that sometimes astounds.

He can return from a 10- to 12-day international trip and be at his office the next morning as bright and vigorous as if he hadn't gone. He can certainly "run and not be weary." Or, he may actually be weary and simply has the grit not to admit as much. I have never seen him fall asleep in a meeting — something I can't say about many others, including myself.

His intellectual powers are legendary. He earned a Ph.D on top of an M.D. and has never stopped learning. He reads quickly, widely and with comprehension. When he was the apostolic adviser to the Church History Department, he read and provided insightful editorial and content review of the beginning volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. He always returned the voluminous drafts he was asked to read within a few days.

The scriptures of the church have been his focus for many years. He is a master of the Master's life and teachings. He knows biblical and church history very well and is especially fond of and conversant with The Book of Mormon. He has a profound knowledge of the doctrines of the church and teaches them with unusual clarity. I personally appreciated his clarification of the Spirit of Elijah as being "a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family." (April 1998 general conference talk.)

Most recently, he reminded us all that "there is no amorphous entity called 'the Atonement' upon which we may call for succor, healing, forgiveness, or power. Jesus Christ is the source." (April 2017 general conference talk.)

President Nelson is a gifted musician. He has provided the organ accompaniment for the singing of hymns in General Authority meetings for many years. His ear for tone and timbre (he has perfect pitch), coupled with his retentive mind, have enabled him to become a respected linguist. He is able to give prepared talks in several languages, including Spanish and Mandarin, and can often navigate conversations, interviews and other situations related to his church duties without the aid of translation.

I would describe President Nelson's leadership philosophy as seeking to help those he leads to reach their fullest potential. He delegates freely, guides, corrects and encourages, and has high expectations. He expresses and shows love, trust and gratitude. He is highly organized and responsive. My own experience was that telephone calls, emails and memos directed to him were all responded to or otherwise dispatched the day they arrived at his desk. He is a good listener and seeks the strength to be had in council.

Since effective leadership is often based on relationships, President Nelson excels here as well. For instance, he knows the names (including middle initials) of all 108 General Authorities and their wives. He even remembers those of us who have been released and made emeritus.

When my wife and I attended the Mormon Tabernacle Choir summer concert last July, we passed by President Nelson on the way to our seats in the Conference Center. Upon seeing us (after a five-year absence), he quickly arose and said, "Kathy, Marlin, so good to see you. You are missed around here."

Needless to say, we were both amazed and humbled to know that we were still in his seemingly indestructible memory bank. Many of the staff and other workers at church headquarters as well as church leaders and members around the world will have their own stories to tell of personal relationships and encounters with this remarkable man who is sincerely interested in others and remembers them.

Despite the press of church duties President Nelson has carried for more than 50 years, his spouse and family members have always occupied a privileged place in his life. The respect, love and tenderness he showed to his late wife, Danzel, and he shows now to his current wife, Wendy, provide a model for every man to follow. He elevates and values womanhood in word and deed.

The overriding impression I will always have of President Nelson is his love of God and his desire to be a true and worthy witness of the Savior, Jesus Christ. In his ministry of now nearly 34 years, he has always been obedient and loyal to the teachings and counsel of the president and prophet of the church.

9 comments on this story

Now that he has become the president and prophet, I invite us all to offer that same obedience and loyalty to him. He is superbly prepared for the destiny that is now his and will carry out his prophetic calling as the highly competent and consummate Christian gentleman that he is.

Elder Marlin K. Jensen, has been a general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1989, including serving as Church Historian and Recorder from 2005 to 2012. He was made an emeritus general authority in October 2012.