Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles
This article appeared in the Improvement Era, May 1970. Elder Packer was ordained an apostle on April 9, 1970.
The name of Elder Boyd K. Packer is not new to members of the Church. He has been a General Authority for nine years and is now only 45 years of age. Saints in many parts of the globe have heard his counsel, given in easy and candid delivery that is both quiet and compelling, and likely punctuated by his keen sense of humor.
After visiting him, one remembers an irrepressible smile and pleasant demeanor. As a man among men, he has known for more years than his age belies what it means to have wisdom and to be sought after for its expression. But it is as one newly sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator–as are all members of the Council of the Twelve–that Elder Boyd Packer begins to fill a singular niche, one unique and peculiar to himself.
The outlines of his life can quickly be noted: a Brigham City, Utah, youth; World War II bomber pilot in the Pacific theatre; marriage to Donna Smith in the Logan Temple; college degree in education; child Indian Affairs coordinator at the Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City; while in his 20’s simultaneously serving six years as a high councilor and four years as a member of a city council, and being awarded a civic distinguished service award; assistant administrator of Church seminaries and institutes (named while still in his 20’s); and his call in 1961 (after having just turned 37) as an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve.
But the man, his mission, and what he stands for cannot be so quickly profiled. These things are found in his own words and in the words of those who know him best:
“A number of years ago I chose several basic objectives in life–things that I wanted to be and do. First, I wanted to be a good father. This was not to be limited by occupational choice or setting. I felt that being a good father would be a permanent anchor for my orientation, and that livelihood, hobbies, even social opportunities had to be weighed against whether or not they related to that ideal. I soon learned that the perfect plan for fatherhood was the gospel. When I want to know how to be a good father, I go to church, consult the scriptures, and listen to the authorities. This has been my storehouse of knowledge. Home is the center of
the gospel–and of my life. Of all the places in the world–and I’ve seen some interesting and enticing ones–I’d rather be home than anywhere else.”
Elder Packer and his wife (“who I’ve been willing to modestly admit is perfect”) are parents of ten children–seven boys and three girls. Their small farm, secluded in southern Salt Lake Valley, is indeed a retreat and haven. “Home to him,” says a friend, “is where he has horses, cows, chickens, ducks, birds, and dogs. It’s a place where he and his wife have created a special environment to constantly stimulate their children, provide them with chores, duties; a place where he and Donna can foster opportunities for teaching about life and God.”
“I think in some ways it is easier to raise a large family. It depends upon what you want to accomplish. If you want to provide material benefits, obviously the fewer children you have, the more you can provide for each one. But if you are trying to teach unselfishness, responsibility, cooperation, regard for one another–these things can happen in a well-ordered family only if there are sufficient persons there in the first place. We’ve learned that extra material benefits per child are offset when children learn thrift, to make do, to make and build something. I felt that way when growing up, and I thought my children deserved that kind of
The tenth child of eleven children born to Ira W. and Emma Jensen Packer (he was born September l0, l924), Elder Packer knows whereof he speaks when he discusses large families: “It’s a little hard to explain my coming to a position like this, except out of a family such as I came from. I used to think we were poor–but we weren’t; we just didn’t have any money. But we were rich in number, in a father and mother who were
interested in and set their whole lives on raising a good family. It’s true when I say that all I know in life that is important to talk about is what I’ve learned from my family–parents, brothers, and sisters–and on my own family, where I get an even greater schooling.”
“His mother,” says an acquaintance, “used to let him pile up the thirteen chairs from around the big kitchen table so he could make a kind of jungle bar and weave his way through. It was one of his chief joys as a child. A lot of mothers wouldn’t allow that–it’s too much bother, and anyway, that’s not what chairs are for–or is it?”
“I’ll tell you something about that Packer family,” says an associate. “I’ve not seen a family quite so united. It’s a family environment that has tempered him, set his goals, qualified him. You have to understand all this to understand him, to know that nothing in the world is more important to him than his family. In his home they have some very unusual family activities and practices that reflect his strong personal philosophy about family life, the privacy and sacredness of which he guards closely.”
“The second goal that I had was that I wanted to be good. Most people would be ashamed to say that. I’m not. I just wanted to be good–good for something. Mostly I wanted to be a good son, to both my earthly father and my Heavenly Father. I have never thought that I deserved to have good children unless I could be one myself. I’ve had an idea that we contribute to the glory of our Father in heaven when we add in our own
person one more worthy individual. I’ve felt that I wasn’t worthy to get what I wasn’t willing to give.”
“Everything in his life,” comments a friend, “revolves around his goals. In the use of these goals he has the ability to see relationships, the rare gift of perception to see things in perspective. In this sense, I think that the Lord has called a seer to the apostleship.”
Even his personal interests indicate the nature of his soul: “You don’t really get to know him until you’ve walked through a forest with him,” says his longtime intimate, President A. Theodore Tuttle of the First Council of the Seventy. “Boyd loves nature, loves the mountains, animals, and especially birds. He’s a great bird watcher. When he hears or sees a bird, he can identify it. He knows birds, their names and habits, and loves to paint and sculpt them. And he’s very good at it. He could have been a fine naturalist–maybe even a good painter of nature. On the wall of one of the homes he lived in, he painted every kind of bird that was common to that area. It was beautiful, and the birds were beautifully painted. He has a great reverence for life–trees, plants, animals, and especially birds.”
One thing you can say about him,” notes another acquaintance, “is that he beautifies things. He spruces things up–paints, scrubs, hammers, plants, plows–by himself and with his family. He makes everything about him seem pleasant and beautiful in a special, creative way.”
When he was a seminary administrator,” says a friend, “one of the older teachers, an astute observer of men, once commented, “That man has one of the keenest minds I have ever known. By that I mean he can make sense out of something and put things in their true order.” Another associate notes, “I’ve never seen him do or say anything without a philosophy behind it. I once asked him, ‘Where does all your wisdom come from?'”
The question might make him uneasy, but not the answer, a secret that Elder Packer deeply believes all members of the Church need to discover for themselves: “It seems to me that there is a great power in the Church–in all of us–that is untapped because we are always setting about to do things in our way, when the Lord’s way would accomplish much greater returns. And then, when we don’t know what to do or think, or what would be the Lord’s way or will, we don’t ask. Why don’t we talk to our Father? In specifics? About real problems? As often as we would with our earthly father if he were nearby?
“He is a man given to prayer, a lot of it,” says a co-worker, “he will say, ‘Let’s get away down here, go to another room.’ And then we kneel down and just talk to the Lord about the matter. It’s been a revelation to learn about prayer, that it works in all aspects of life.”
The supervision of individuals involves administrative and leadership abilities. In this, Elder Packer has long stood out: “He’s a natural leader, having the personal bearing, joined with a fixed, resolute purpose that exudes confidence,” says an associate. “He treats a man as he ought to be treated,” says a subordinate. “When he delegates authority, he gives it. You soon learn that when you speak, you’re speaking for him also. This makes you want to be your best, be more creative, more responsible, to be everything you yourself want to be.”
It was during his years as a seminary administrator that an incident of lasting personal meaning occurred. Both he and Elder Tuttle were assistant administrators over seminaries and institutes of religion. The challenge of leadership pressed heavily on the two young men, both conscious of their lack of long administrative and collegiate teaching experience. They set aside a day in which they reviewed, examined,
discussed, and prayed about their responsibilities in directing beloved co-workers. “At the end of the day, after all that thinking, talking, and praying, we came up with three little words that we felt were the answer to our problems and assignments. Those words were simply, ‘Follow the brethren.'” It is fitting that they who set about to teach such a course are now in the position to be followed.
As for his own assignments, Elder Packer carries a responsible load. At the time he was called to the Council of the Twelve, he was serving as supervisor of the Franco-Belgian, Netherlands, French, French East, and South African missions. He was also managing director of the great priesthood home teaching program, as well as of the family home evening program, and was managing director of the Church’s Military Relations Committee. He is a member of the Church Board of Education and serves on the board of trustees of Brigham Young University. Only two years ago he returned from Cambridge, Massachusetts,
where he had presided over the New England States Mission for three years.
He has also been blessed with the gift of teaching, in which activity he always seems to be functioning. “I don’t know of a better teacher,” says an academic acquaintance. “Certainly, the youth of the Church have a great friend in him. He understands them and knows how to make a principle real in their lives. I remember when he was a seminary teacher. He wanted to teach the concept of loving your neighbor, so he told his students, ‘To do this, you first have to make a friend. In order to do that, I want you to walk to school with a person you normally haven’t walked with–just to communicate and to learn how to get
acquainted, so you can love people better.'”
When he speaks to students–even college students struggling to get their degrees and to ferret out truth–Dr. Packer knows whereof he speaks. He has acquired the credentials of the academic world–B.S. and M.S. from Utah State University and Ph.D. from Brigham Young University. On education he has definite opinions: “The academic world can be a pretty dangerous world because it is made up of the philosophies of men. And a lot of people–some of our people–go through and take a leave of church activities in their schooling; they end up as academic giants but spiritual and moral pygmies. That imbalance can be tragic. They can articulate and gain high positions and yet have home and family lives that are such disappointments that all their learning and little faith bring them nothing but sorrow. But we should remember that people don’t get in serious trouble in one step. I don’t think anyone steps off a precipice into the depths of immorality and apostasy. They slide down the slippery sides of the chasm. When they hit bottom it’s interesting that usually they want to take one step out. There’s not one step out any more than there was one step in. It’s a long, hard climb. Mostly they have to crawl to get out–on their knees. The best way out is to get into the organized activity pattern of the Church, to stay in it and resist the temptation to be drawn out of it. When people get out of this pattern, penalties come. They find themselves unhappy–and no one wants to be unhappy.”
Such are the thoughts of Elder Boyd K. Packer and of those who know him well. This is in part a profile of the man recently called to fill the vacancy in the Council of the Twelve. Aptly says a General Authority associate: “The Church will realize soon enough that the Lord was right in the calling–that the Lord doesn’t make mistakes.” — Improvement Era, May 1970