President Howard W. Hunter's service as the 14th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spanned about nine months (June 5, 1994 to March 3, 1995), but it remains a special memory for President Thomas S. Monson.
"One of the most personally satisfying and spiritually rewarding experiences of my life has been to serve, along with President (Gordon B.) Hinckley, as a counselor to President Howard W. Hunter in the First Presidency of the church," President Monson wrote in an April 1995 Ensign article titled "President Howard W. Hunter: A Man for All Seasons." "We could not possibly have had a better role model to follow. His life has been rich, his love far-reaching, his testimony of the truth ever firm."
In his tribute, President Monson mentioned President Hunter's contributions to family history work, the BYU Jerusalem Center and the Polynesian Cultural Center, and his dedication of the Orlando Florida and Bountiful Utah temples. Additionally, President Hunter's example, faith and testimony touched many lives, President Monson said.
"President Howard W. Hunter lived as he taught, after the pattern of the Savior whom he served," wrote President Monson, who now serves as president of the LDS Church.
LDS Church members can learn about the life of President Hunter as they study "Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter," as part of the 2016 curriculum. With that in mind, here are 11 interesting facts and stories from President Hunter's life, taken from his biography, "Howard W. Hunter," by Eleanor Knowles, and other LDS.org articles as indicated.
The Hunter clan settled in Scotland around the 12th and 13th century and built Hunterston Castle, Knowles wrote.
Mormon missionaries baptized John and Margaret Hunter, President Hunter's great-grandparents, in 1860. John Hunter gave up a prospering business and comfortable home to journey to the Salt Lake Valley.
The couple lost one child while crossing the Atlantic Ocean. They reached Utah by late September, but at that point, John Hunter's feelings about the church had changed.
"When they reached the Salt Lake Valley in late September 1860, John soon became disenchanted and, as his son John (Howard W. Hunter’s grandfather) described it, ‘finally detached himself and family from the church … leaving the family in a strange country without a guide,’” Knowles wrote.
In the years that followed, the family moved to Wyoming and around the Intermountain West. Young John worked as a teamster and was once ordered to deliver 75 pack mules to Gen. George Armstrong Custer.
"After turning the animals over to one of Custer's officers, he returned to Cheyenne, where he learned that he had narrowly missed the massacre that became known as 'Custer's last stand,'" Knowles wrote.
President Hunter's mother, Nellie Rasmussen, hesitated to marry his father, John William Hunter, because he was not a member of the church. After a two-year courtship, Hunter talked Rasmussen into marriage, and they settled in Boise, Idaho.
John W. Hunter supported his wife's activity in the LDS Church but would not give his children permission to be baptized because he felt they were too young to make such an important decision.
At age 12, it was difficult for young Howard to see his friends become deacons and pass the sacrament. He asked his father again, and he finally consented. Howard was baptized on April 4, 1920, and was ordained as a deacon that June. Decades later, in a 1974 interview with the LDS Church News, President Hunter recalled passing the sacrament for the first time.
"I was frightened, but thrilled to have the privilege," President Hunter said. "After the meeting, the bishop complimented me on the way I had conducted myself."
The Boy Scouts of America had only been around for a decade when young Howard Hunter became a deacon. In the years that followed, he earned 32 merit badges and became the second boy in Boise (and possibly all of Idaho) to earn the rank of Eagle, according to his biography.
To celebrate this big accomplishment, President Hunter's court of honor was held at city hall, and he was featured in a newspaper article. His merit badges and other scouting items were also displayed in the window of a local pharmacy for a time, Knowles wrote.
In 1923, LDS Church leaders decided to build a new tabernacle in Boise. Then 15, President Hunter was among the first to raise his hand to make a pledge — $25, a significant sum for a teenager in those days, Knowles wrote.
"I worked and saved until I was able to pay my commitment in full," President Hunter said in his biography.
Two years later, LDS Church President Heber J. Grant dedicated the new tabernacle.
According to his biography, President Hunter was blessed with many musical talents. In addition to having a "beautiful" singing voice, his sister Dorothy Hunter Rasmussen said, he learned to play several musical instruments, including the marimba, saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, piano and violin.
In 1924, he organized his own group called Hunter's Croonaders. The group played at dances, public halls, restaurants, private parties, weddings, schools, churches and civic clubs.
Two years later, the Croonaders accepted an invitation to play on a two-month cruise to Asia on the S.S. President Jackson. During the trip, they played at cities in Japan, China and the Philippines.
When President Hunter returned home, he learned his father had been baptized, Knowles wrote.
In 1928, President Hunter was at a young adult dance in California when a friend introduced him to Claire Jeffs. There was an instant connection. Three years later, the couple married in the Salt Lake Temple.
As the wedding approached, Howard realized that although he delighted in playing his instruments and made good money, "the association with many of the musicians was not enjoyable because of their drinking and moral standards," which didn't cater to an LDS family lifestyle. President Hunter decided to leave professional music.
"Although this left a void of something I had enjoyed, the decision has never been regretted,’” President Hunter said in his biography.
During the Great Depression, the bank where President Hunter worked went out of business. He worked at different jobs until he determined he wanted a career in law, according to his biography.
For four years, President Hunter worked full time, took night classes at Southwestern University and helped his wife welcome three babies to the family (the couple's first child, Billy, died seven months after he was born). During this time, he said, he learned to manage the rigorous demands of a career, family life and church responsibilities, Knowles wrote.
One professor told students that only 1 in 3 of them would pass the bar examination. President Hunter was among the 35 percent (254 of 718 students) who received good news, Knowles wrote.
"The hard work and the sacrifices we had made were at a successful conclusion," he said in his biography.
At age 32, in 1940, President Hunter was called to be the bishop of the newly formed El Sereno Ward in the Pasadena Stake, according to his biography.
A few years later, the United States became involved in World War II. With a shortage of local male church leadership, Bishop Hunter also served as Scoutmaster, according to a 1995 Ensign article. He was released as bishop in 1946.
In 1950, Elders Stephen L. Richards and Harold B. Lee of the Quorum the Twelve Apostles came to divide the Pasadena California Stake and called President Hunter to be a stake president. In his journal, President Hunter gave all the credit to his wife.
"I could well understand the comments of the brethren when they told us we had been selected because of the strength of our wives," President Hunter wrote. "Claire … always stood close by with support and understanding during the years in law school, while I served as bishop, and in every office I have held."
While he was serving as a stake president in 1953, President Hunter's parents surprised him with a special gift on his 46th birthday. They arranged to be sealed to him in the Mesa Arizona Temple, according to a 1995 Ensign article "President Howard W. Hunter: The Lord’s 'Good and Faithful Servant.'"
According to his biography, President Hunter was called to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles by President David O. McKay in October 1959. Among his early assignments, then-Elder Hunter served as president of the church's genealogical society (he oversaw the dedication of the Granite Mountain Record Vault in 1966), president of the Polynesian Cultural Center, and church historian and recorder.
President Hunter gained a deep love for the Holy Land and traveled there many times, cultivating friendships with Jewish and Arab leaders throughout the Middle East. These friendly connections were instrumental in obtaining permission to build the BYU Jerusalem Center and create the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden, Knowles wrote in the biography.
Sister Claire Hunter began to have serious health problems in the 1970s and died in 1983. Seven years later, President Hunter married Inis Bernice Egan Stanton in the Salt Lake Temple.
President Hunter also endured a series of health problems in the latter part of his life. In a 1984 Ensign article titled "Master, the Tempest is Raging," he shared lessons he had learned while facing adversity.
"We will all have some adversity in our lives," Elder Hunter said. "Some of it will have the potential to be violent and damaging and destructive. … Some of it may even strain our faith in a loving God who has the power to administer relief in our behalf. … Jesus was not spared grief and pain and anguish and buffeting.
"Peace was on the lips and in the heart of the Savior no matter how fiercely the tempest was raging. May it so be with us — in our own hearts, in our own homes, in our nations of the world, and even in the buffetings faced from time to time by the church. We should not expect to get through life individually or collectively without some opposition."
While dealing with his health challenges, President Hunter maintained a sense of humor and poise under pressure.
While speaking at general conference in 1987 as acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he opened his remarks by saying: "Forgive me if I remain seated while I present these few remarks. It is not by choice that I speak from a wheelchair. I notice that the rest of you seem to enjoy the conference sitting down, so I will follow your example."
During a conference talk in April 1989, President Hunter, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, lost his balance and fell backward into some flowers. President Monson; then-Elder Boyd K. Packer, also a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; and a security guard helped him to his feet, and he continued his remarks unflustered. In a tribute to his colleague in 1995, Elder Packer shared that President Hunter broke three ribs in the fall.
When church leaders were in Jerusalem to dedicate the BYU Jerusalem Center in May 1989, Elder Packer was speaking when men in military uniform entered the room with a note for President Hunter. Elder Packer asked President Hunter what he should do.
"He (President Hunter) said, ‘There’s been a bomb threat. Are you afraid?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Neither am I; finish your talk,’” Elder Packer wrote in his 1995 article, "President Howard W. Hunter — He Endured to the End."
In 1993, President Hunter was speaking at Brigham Young University when a man claiming to have a bomb approached the stand and demanded the church leader read a written statement. President Hunter remained at the pulpit, undeterred. When the students began singing, "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet," the man was distracted and security guards captured him. President Hunter collected himself and continued his talk (see "The Life and Ministry of Howard W. Hunter" in the "Presidents of the Church" manual).
"Life has a fair number of challenges in it," he said, pausing to add, "as demonstrated."
On Feb. 10, 1987, President Hunter spoke at a BYU devotional and titled his remarks "What is True Greatness?"
“There is no such thing as instant greatness," he said. "This is because the achievement of true greatness is a long-term process. It may involve occasional setbacks. The end result may not always be clearly visible, but it seems that it always requires regular, consistent, small, and sometimes ordinary and mundane steps over a long period of time. …
“True greatness is never a result of a chance occurrence or a one-time effort or achievement. It requires the development of character. It requires a multitude of correct decisions for the everyday choices between good and evil. …
“As we evaluate our lives, it is important that we look not only at our accomplishments but also at the conditions under which we have labored. We are all different and unique individuals. We have each had different starting points in the race of life. We each have a unique mixture of talents and skills. We each have our own set of challenges and constraints to contend with.”