1 of 4
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Legacy of Life honoree Pamela Atkinson talks to President Russell M. Nelson and Sister Wendy Watson Nelson at the Legacy of Life Gala at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 30, 2017.

Working in the administration at LDS Hospital some years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Russell Nelson. His colleagues thought very highly of him as did the nursing staff and his patients.

I soon found out that he was perceived as a world renowned cardiovascular surgeon and travelled to various countries to speak at international conferences. One of the countries to which he travelled many times was China, where he was held in very high esteem.

To me, he came across as a very kind, caring and intelligent person who expected all employees to deliver exceptional quality care to all patients. I was very impressed with his listening skills and great eye contact — no wonder his patients thought the world of him! I loved the fact that he treated everyone with respect and kindness no matter their position in the hospital — a very humble man indeed.

At one of the hospital’s board of trustees’ meetings, he brought up the fact that he had noticed several of his patients were reading the local newspapers and asked how they had managed to get them delivered. Apparently they informed him that I had told them if they would like a daily newspaper whilst in the hospital that could be arranged. (Patients spent more time in the hospital then.) Dr. Nelson looked across the room at me and asked if I used petty cash or my own money — I said the latter. He then suggested that I should be given petty cash to purchase newspapers for patients who requested them.

He made the point that sometimes it is the small acts of kindness that helped his patients feel even more cared about during their hospital stay. This incident gave me further insight into this world-famous surgeon who noticed the little things and acted with gentleness and thoughtfulness.

In January 1984, I received a call from future LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, with whom I had become acquainted during my time at the hospital. He wanted me to find out on a confidential basis Dr. Nelson’s schedule for the next five months. So, I went over to his clinic and met with his nurse; we talked about a continuing education class that I wanted to set up in the next few months.

I duly noted when he was travelling both nationally and internationally; I returned to my office and called President Hinckley’s private secretary, Arthur Haycock, with the necessary information and then promptly put the incident out of my mind. Imagine my surprise when I heard in April that Dr. Nelson had received a call from President Hinckley and now was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

I had very mixed feelings about this news as I thought about all the patients who would never have the benefit of his tremendous expertise. When I spoke with him a few days later, I expressed my concerns about his new role in life. As usual, he listened very carefully and then, putting his hand on my shoulder, quietly explained to me how he would be involved in the Lord’s work of “saving souls” and that there were many other great surgeons who would be saving lives.

As I continued to listen to Dr. Nelson that morning I began to realize the magnitude of his calling and my anger started to dissipate. He understood exactly why I had reacted somewhat negatively to the news. His schedule that day was packed but he took the time to help this non-LDS person learn why he was moving on to a completely different role.

3 comments on this story

As I have watched President Nelson over the years I have come to respect and admire him even more. His intelligence and critical thinking skills have contributed a great deal to the LDS Church being more accepted into the mainstream of Christianity. (I actually believe he has a brilliant mind.) To me, he epitomizes the teachings of Christ. His graciousness, kindness, understanding and compassion have continued over the years and affected many people’s lives — saving souls can easily be equated with saving lives.

Pamela Atkinson is a renowned philanthropist in Utah and an advocate for the homeless, refugees and low-income families.