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President M. Russell Ballard Passes Away at Age 95

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President M. Russell Ballard — a faithful witness of Jesus Christ, devoted husband, beloved father and the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — died Sunday, Nov. 12, at home surrounded by loved ones. He was 95 years old.

President Ballard served for 47 years as a general Church leader; at the time of his death, he was the Church’s longest-serving living general authority.

President Ballard had been briefly hospitalized last month, then returned to his home, where he attended to duties as he was able before passing away about 11:15 p.m. Sunday.

President Ballard served for 47 years as a general Church leader, and at the time of his death was the Church’s longest-serving living general authority. He was called in 1976 to the First Quorum of the Seventy and then served as an Apostle for more than a third of a century.

Funeral arrangements have been announced and the details can be found here.

 

“President Ballard was never indecisive,” President Russell M. Nelson said. “He knew exactly what the Lord taught and how it could be applied in one’s personal life and bring joy and happiness.”

“We worked together closely, and I always loved his warm manner,” said President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, who sat beside President Ballard in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for more than three decades. “He was a man to be trusted. And he was a man who trusted you.”

President Ballard is survived by his seven children, 43 grandchildren, 105 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

In October 2021, just weeks after his 93rd birthday, the veteran Church leader returned to the brick-and-stone walkways and green farmland of Great Britain, where he had served as a full-time missionary decades before.

In a missionary meeting, he acknowledged that he may have to account for his life soon. “What will the Lord be most interested in the life of M. Russell Ballard?” he asked. “As I have pondered that, I think it will be two major things.”

The first: “What kind of life did I live? What kind of disciple or believer am I really?”

And the second: “Who did you help along the way? All of us will be asked, ‘Who did you bring unto me during your sojourn in mortality?’” he said.

As an energetic, diligent disciple of Jesus Christ, President Ballard and his life reflect favorably on both counts.

A grandson of the Apostle Melvin J. Ballard through his father and a descendant of Church President Joseph F. Smith and Hyrum Smith, brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith, through his mother, President Ballard often acknowledged the influence of his strong Latter-day Saint lineage. 

“Knowing I was born into a goodly family and realizing the sacrifices my forefathers made for the gospel gave me a greater desire to do what is right and accept callings,” he said when he was called to the Quorum of the Seventy.

Throughout his tenure as a general Church leader, he prominently displayed the sculpted busts of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith and Joseph F. Smith in his office at Church headquarters. 

“They’re looking at me all the time, and sometimes I think I hear them say: ‘Get with it, boy, don’t just sit there. Get something done,’” President Ballard told the Church News in an interview in 2018.

And although he referred to himself as “pretty common and ordinary,” that drive to “get something done” pushed him to accomplish a lot: for his family, in his business, for the Church and in the world. 

His duties as a general authority took him to the far corners of the earth — “There are not very many places I haven’t been,” he stated. He dedicated several lands for the preaching of the gospel — such as Moldova, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago — and two temples as houses of the Lord. He visited with Syrian refugees in Europe, shook hands with U.S. presidents, represented the Church in front of national and international media, spearheaded projects that would transform the operations of the Church, offered counsel to multitudes and ministered one-on-one to members and missionaries — all while fulfilling his favorite role as husband, father and grandfather.

Having spoken more than 80 times in general conference, his sermons were replete with the sage, loving advice of a grandfather, his strong conviction of the Restoration of the Church in the latter days and his love for the Savior Jesus Christ.

President Ballard’s family

Melvin Russell Ballard Jr. was born Oct. 8, 1928, to Melvin R. and Geraldine Smith Ballard, the only son among their four children. 

President Ballard described his father as a “brilliant” man, strong-willed, who instilled in him the value of hard work. “A repairman was never called to our home because Father fixed everything.” His mother was a “very soft, sweet, tender-hearted person. … During my growing-up years, she was probably my best friend” (Friend, February 1983).

The drive to work hard manifested early in his life, and he consistently had a job, starting as a young boy mowing lawns or sweeping floors at his father’s automobile agency.

Though his parents did not regularly attend church during his youth — later in life, he witnessed them participate more fully again in the Church — President Ballard said he had good friends who encouraged him to attend church and seminary and serve a full-time mission.

He was the seminary president his senior year at East High School in Salt Lake City and was called in 1948 to serve a mission to the British Isles, where he had the opportunity to serve as a counselor to the mission president for a time.

Three days after returning home from his mission, he attended the University of Utah Hello Day Dance and one of his high school buddies introduced him to a “beautiful blue-eyed blonde” with a “sparkling personality” named Barbara Bowen. 

They had only danced for 30 seconds before he was tagged out by another young man, President Ballard recalled, but he had learned on his mission the importance of following up and soon called her for a date. After an 11-month courtship, she agreed to marry him, which he later said “was the greatest ‘sales’ job I ever did” (Ensign, March 1986).

They were married on Aug. 28, 1951, in the Salt Lake Temple. They are the parents of seven children: five daughters and two sons.

President Ballard referred to his wife “one of the most Christlike, gentle, loving people that anybody would ever meet in mortality” (“A Biography of M. Russell Ballard: Anxiously Engaged,” p. 332). 

Any success they had as a family, President Ballard attributed to his wife. “I married the right woman,” he said. “Without the help and direction of Barbara, our family relationships would not have happened as well as they did. … I give credit to Barbara and her good judgment” (Ensign, March 1986).

Sister Ballard, in turn, described her husband as organized and hard-driving. “He can juggle more things than anyone I know” (Church News, March 8, 1980). Their family relied on his great strength — emotionally and spiritually, she said. 

And, despite their frequently hectic life, he always made time for his family. Sister Ballard related how when they moved to Canada to serve as mission leaders, their son was in kindergarten and didn’t know one person. “He was frightened,” she recalled. “My husband took him to the office, knelt down with him, and prayed that Heavenly Father would help him find friends. They had that prayer together several days in a row. He’s helped several of our children that way when they’ve had special needs. And he made it a habit to interview each child regularly” (Ensign, March 1986).

Daughter Brynn Huntsman called her childhood a “fairy tale” having both as parents. “Dad was a consistent source of strength and wisdom as I grew up — always the gentleman toward Mom. It doesn’t get any better than that” (“Anxiously Engaged,” p. 333).

Another daughter, Tammy Brower, recalled sitting with her mother while her father spoke at the Provo Missionary Training Center. “She just glowed. They adored each other. They were complete partners.”

Sister Ballard died Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, at their home in Salt Lake City at age 86. Less than a week after her passing President Ballard spoke in general conference. “How grateful I am to know where my precious Barbara is and that we will be together again, with our family, for all eternity,” he said during that address.

President Ballard’s career

Prior to his full-time Church service, President Ballard was engaged in various business endeavors, including automotive, real estate and investments. He credited his pioneer heritage as giving him a willingness to lead out on ventures. “Consequently, I’ve had some very wonderful successes, and I’ve had some very unhappy failures,” he said.

Those struggles helped him gain more empathy and understanding, though, and President Ballard didn’t consider them losses.

“To me, failure is only when you quit trying,” he said (Ensign, March 1986). 

He served as a director of Deseret Book Company and on the advisory committee of the David O. McKay Institute of Education at BYU. He was president of Valley Music Hall and a member of the board of directors of the Deseret Farms and Ranches Corps., The Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, and Junior Achievement of Salt Lake City. He has also been a member of the Salt Palace Advisory Board.

After having been called into full-time Church service in his 40s, he sometimes referred to himself as a “businessman-emeritus” and advised, “Keep your financial affairs in order, but never become so involved in business that you feel unable to accept a Church calling” (Ensign, May 1976).

Missionary minded

Aside from his family, one of President Ballard’s greatest loves was missionary work. “The promise of watching the light of the gospel convert people from spiritual darkness is one of life’s most beautiful experiences,” he said. “The gospel messages are always thrilling to share with others” (Church News, March 1980).

In April 2022 general conference, he testified of how his own full-time missionary service in the British Isles blessed his life and shaped his spiritual destiny.

“My missionary service prepared me to be a better husband and father and to be successful in business. It also prepared me for a lifetime of service to the Lord in His Church,” he said.  

He also testified “my mission is where I came to know that my Heavenly Father and my Savior, Jesus Christ, know and love me.”

In 1974, President Ballard continued his mission service by moving with his wife and children to Toronto to serve as president of the Canada Toronto Mission.

President Ballard told the Church News that time was “filled with laughter, tears and wonderful spiritual experiences” and was “one of the most refining periods of my life.”

Michael Finnigan, who served as a bishop and stake presidency member in Toronto during that time, said: “It was a very engaging time. People were engaged in the work. [President Ballard] was, without a doubt, out in front, leading in making missionary work a very important part of the kingdom here. He was consumed by it. He helped others be engaged in it just by his example.”

President Ballard applied many of the lessons he had learned as a missionary, mission president and general authority in the development of “Preach My Gospel,” the Church’s missionary resource, when he was assigned to serve as chairman of the Missionary Executive Council in 2002. He directed efforts to change how the missionaries taught lessons, recognizing that having the elders and sisters teach memorized lessons was less effective.

“‘Preach My Gospel’ is one of the most significant things we have done in the last 20 years,” he said in 2021. 

 He encouraged Church members many times to become better “member missionaries.” 

“We must be more faithful. We must be more spiritually in tune. We must prepare ourselves to assist the missionaries in finding those of our Heavenly Father’s children who will embrace the message of the Restoration,” he declared (April 2003 general conference).

In an interview in 2019, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who served alongside President Ballard in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for 47 years, observed: “He lives, thinks and breathes missionary work all the time. … If we were all as missionary minded as Russell Ballard, we would be adding millions to the Church each year, not just hundreds of thousands” (“Anxiously Engaged,” p. 355).

A compassionate leader

During his time as a General Authority Seventy, President Ballard served as the executive director of the Curriculum, Correlation and Missionary departments. He was sustained to serve in the Presidency of the Seventy on Feb. 21, 1980.

While serving in the Presidency of the Seventy, then-Elder Ballard traveled with Glenn L. Pace, then managing director of Church Welfare Services, to drought-stricken Ethiopia in 1985 to help evaluate how best to distribute $6 million gathered from a special fast. Witnessing the scenes of poverty, hunger, despair and human suffering was “by far the most heart-wrenching experience of my life,” he said (Church News, April 20, 1986, p. 4).

Years later, he reflected: “I’d have to say that that was one of the molding experiences in my ministry. I learned, I think, about compassion, love and gentleness, and appreciating anguish, anxiety and suffering on that experience, which I believe has blessed me the rest of the time that I’ve tried to serve the Lord as a general authority” (Church News podcast).

Sister Ballard noted that her husband was someone with a deep reservoir of compassion. “I don’t know how he cares for so many people. … He just gives and gives and gives” (Ensign, October 1986).

In October 1980 general conference he invited Church members who had an inactive or nonmember friend to make a commitment to help that person come to the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He told them: “I want to help you keep the commitment you’ve just made. I invite you to write to me when your time has come for some additional help. Send me the name of the person you seek to rescue, and I’ll write a letter of encouragement to him.”

His secretary at the time, Dorothy Anderson, recalled that he wrote more than 600 letters of encouragement. “The responses he received showed that many lives were touched by his concern,” she said.

“He has a great compassion for people who suffer or are unhappy,” said Sister Ballard.

Preserving the past

President Ballard was also known for his strong support of historical preservation and history. The Ensign Peak Park and Nature Trail; the restored village at Historic Kirtland, Ohio; the development of This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City; the Smith Family Cemetery in Nauvoo, Illinois; the Smith ancestral farm and church at Topsfield, Massachusetts; and commemoration of the Mormon Battalion were some of the key projects he was involved with. In 1996-97 he oversaw the Church’s Pioneer Sesquicentennial Celebration of the 1847 pioneer trek to Utah. 

“I feel very strongly about the youth of this Church not losing an appreciation for our forefathers, who gave everything to accept the gospel, to support the Prophet Joseph Smith and Hyrum to carry the gospel out to these valleys and to establish it and then to carry the gospel out into the world from here. If we lose that, we have lost something that’s irreplaceable,” President Ballard said (“Anxiously Engaged,” p. 304).

He was honored several times for being a “bridge builder” or someone with the ability to bring diverse communities together in unified efforts to help people in need.

On July 23, 2021, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox honored President Ballard for his continuing support of This Is the Place Heritage Park; his push to “share the story of the sovereign tribal nations” at the park; his help in creating the “Walk of Pioneer Faiths” to note the contributions of members of the “Catholic, Jewish, Congregational, Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and Greek Orthodox faiths,” along with the Church; and his continual work as “a bridge builder among people of all faiths and walks of life.”

A remarkable example of his bridge-building abilities would include President Russell M. Nelson’s visit with Pope Francis in 2019.

Due to several of his close personal relationships with individuals from different faiths, a meeting was arranged between President Ballard and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the secretary of state for the Vatican and the Pope’s close associate, at Vatican City in October 2017. 

That meeting served as an important precursor to President Nelson’s meeting with the pope in 2019. President Ballard recalled of that historic meeting, “The embrace of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Pope of the Holy Roman Apostolic Church was a wonderful moment” (“Anxiously Engaged,” p. 339).  

His ability to reach out and befriend a wide circle of friends was something that impressed Susan Easton Black, emeritus BYU professor and historian and one of his biographers. “Sometimes people don’t always have the best things to say about everybody. But person for person … they just couldn’t say enough (good) about President Ballard, the unity, the wisdom. He’s a unifier. He knows how to pull people together”

President Ballard’s legacy

President Ballard was a great proponent of the simple truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In a Church News podcast, he commented that his children engraved “Keep it simple” on the back of the headstone he will share with his dear wife, Barbara. 

“I’m a great advocate of keeping it simple, because simplicity is powerful. Complexity is dangerous. I think Lucifer is the master of complexity, and the Lord is the master of simplicity. The gospel is simple, and it’s simply beautiful,” he said.

He was also a self-proclaimed advocate for the council system and the need for Latter-day Saints to counsel together in an inspired and inspiring way in their homes, wards, stakes and beyond. “I’m an advocate of the council system. I wrote a book on it. I have preached it. I gave two general conference talks on it, trying to get the Church membership to understand it,” he said in a Church News interview.

A fellow Apostle, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, commented, “President Ballard can be credited with almost single-handedly reestablishing the use of councils in Church government at every level.”

Elder David A. Bednar used four words to describe his senior member of the Twelve: President Ballard is “wise,” “steady,” “practical” and a ”link” to the earliest days of the Restoration.

“To me President Ballard is the ‘grandpa of the Church’ in appearance, demeanor, love and affection for everyone,” Elder Bednar said (“Anxiously Engaged,” p. 356).

In contemplating his 45-plus years as a general authority, President Ballard said the most exhilarating moments in his ministry were getting to bear witness of the Savior. “He does live, and I know that, and I love Him” (Church News podcast).

Likewise, the most important thing he wanted his family, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to know was his testimony of Father in Heaven and of the life and ministry of His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. “I know of no gift that I could leave to those I love that would be as important and precious” (“Anxiously Engaged,” p. 357). 

In October 2023 general conference, President Ballard bore testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

“Because we have Joseph Smith, the Prophet of this last dispensation of time, we have the Book of Mormon. What a marvelous, wonderful gift the Book of Mormon is to the membership of the Church.”

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