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See Photos and Catch a Glimpse Into the Life of President M. Russell Ballard

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By Christine Rappleye, Church News

When his alarm goes off in the morning, President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, says: “Well, I’m still here. I guess I better get up.”

His lifelong habit is to arrive early to work. His office in the Church Administration Building is connected to a series of offices and a meeting room reserved for Quorum of the Twelve committees and quorum meetings.

Young M. Russell Ballard in 1929. Photo courtesy of Ballard family, photo courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

“I find myself all day long answering questions and giving directions and learning how to do the things that matter most,” President Ballard shares in Anxiously Engaged: A Biography of M. Russell Ballard (Deseret Book, 2021) by Susan Easton Black and Joseph Walker.

Even though President Ballard grew up in Salt Lake City, both his grandfathers were Apostles and he has a family tree that includes Hyrum Smith, his family wasn’t particularly active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His mother coached him to pass his baptism interview, and his grandparents, friends and youth leaders supported him at church. President Ballard later served a mission in the British Mission, and he and his wife, Sister Barbara Ballard, presided over the Canada Toronto Mission before he was called as a General Authority.

“I’m not so very different from others — as I see it, I’m pretty common and ordinary,” he said. “But in 92-plus years, this common, ordinary man has had some rather remarkable experiences through which I have learned extremely valuable and worthwhile lessons that have shaped me as a special witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. If I can share these experiences in such a way that readers can understand what I’ve learned and see the hand of the Lord in my life, maybe it will help them to better understand the lessons of their own lives and to see how God has been there for them as well.”

Here are a few excerpts from his biography. (Some have been edited for length and style.)

A Missionary’s ‘Perfect Day’

Elder M. Russell Ballard preaching at a street meeting in Nottingham Square in May 1949. He served as a young missionary in the British Mission. Photo courtesy of Ballard family, photo courtesy of Church News.© Copyright 2021 Deseret News Publishing Company.

When Elder Ballard served in England, tracting, street meetings and cottage meetings were staples of missionary work at the time. This experience is from his journal entry on May 20, 1948:

“I had the most interesting experience that I have had since I arrived in the mission field today. The same man who was yesterday’s heckler came back to the Nottingham Square with his Book of Mormon. He caused a great deal of trouble in our meeting and even held one of his own. He stated that the Mormons were evil devils and all the things that he could think of. After one hour and 45 minutes, he let us have our turn again.

“We answered in a friendly way, and the crowd pulled for us, each and every one of them were on our side before we left. I know that it was the Spirit of the Lord. I know that we are the true church and that the Lord will defend us if we work for Him in righteousness. A perfect day!” (37).

Meeting His Wife

Three days after he returned home from his mission, 21-year-old Russ Ballard and a few friends attended the “Hello Day” dance at the University of Utah. The dance was an excuse for the friends to get together, share mission stories and, if lucky, dance with some young women.

It was a friend, Dick Harris, who first spotted a beautiful, blue-eyed blonde sophomore on the dance floor. He wanted Russ to meet her. Without Russ’s encouragement, Dick tagged out the young man dancing with her and danced her over to where Russ was standing.

Dick introduced Russ to Barbara Bowen and moved aside. “Barbara was vivacious and popular, so I got to dance with her for less than a minute before another young man tagged me out,” President Ballard said years later. “That was just not acceptable to me. Having learned the importance of follow-up on my mission, I got her telephone number” (59).

Newlyweds M. Russell Ballard and Barbara Bowen Ballard cut the cake during their reception. They were married on August 28, 1951, in the Salt Lake Temple. Photo courtesy of Ballard family, photo courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

A ‘Businessman-emeritus’

President Ballard didn’t know it then, but when he and his wife left for their mission to Canada, he was leaving his full-time professional business career behind him forever. For the rest of his life, he would occasionally refer to himself as a “businessman-emeritus” and talk about how he sometimes misses “the satisfaction of working in the business world.” But he knew in 1973 — and still knows today — that the opportunity to serve the Lord trumps any investment project. His advice, then and now, is, “Keep your financial affairs in order, but never become so involved in business that you feel unable to accept a Church calling” (114).

Earthshaking Moment

In 1976, while the Ballards were serving in Canada, President N. Eldon Tanner invited them to attend general conference and come by his office for a short visit.

The Ballards arrived in Salt Lake City on the evening of March 31. At 3 p.m. on April 1, they were seated across the desk from President Tanner. President Tanner took them completely by surprise when he said, “President Kimball wants to see you.”

They couldn’t imagine what they had done to require a visit with the President of the Church. President Tanner walked across the hall with them to President Spencer W. Kimball’s office.

President Kimball invited them to sit down. He paused to look at them for a moment before saying, “We have invited you to come to conference to extend an invitation to you, Brother Ballard, to become a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of the Church.”

It was an earthshaking moment for President and Sister Ballard. President Ballard wondered if he was really worthy and capable of serving among the General Authorities of the Church.

Fifteen minutes later, they left President Kimball’s office with President Tanner, who cautioned them to keep a low profile until the Saturday afternoon session of general conference. President and Sister Ballard watched the Saturday morning session on a television set at the home of his parents. They walked into the Tabernacle on Temple Square for the afternoon session, taking their seats as inconspicuously as possible. In that session, Elders Carlos E. Asay, John H. Groberg and Jacob de Jager were also sustained as members of the First Quorum of the Seventy, along with Elder Ballard. They were the second group called to the First Quorum of the Seventy, which had been organized six months earlier at the October general conference of 1975.

From the time of that call until today, President Ballard has served more than 45 years as a General Authority (135–136).

With the First Presidency of the Church in 1976. Left to right: N. Eldon Tanner, M. Russell Ballard, Spencer W. Kimball, Marion G. Romney. Photo courtesy of Ballard family, photo courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

It Wasn’t a Call to Speak

Early Sunday morning, October 6, 1985, President Gordon B. Hinckley called then-Elder Ballard at home … and asked if he was planning on attending conference that morning. In the same jovial tone, he asked if Elder Ballard and Barbara could stop in to see him about 9 o’clock before heading over to the Tabernacle.

When Elder Ballard hung up the phone, he “started to prepare Barbara for the fact that we might be receiving an assignment to go overseas.” He said to her, “You know, the members of the Seventy are being moved all over the world, and I just want you to know that when you get a call like this, it’s very likely that President Hinckley wants to assign us to an overseas assignment.”

He confessed, “I was preparing her to be ready to go to Hong Kong, or to Latin America, or to Europe. I didn’t want her to be too shocked when we were told that we were going someplace out of the country.”

As Elder and Sister Ballard were driving toward President Hinckley’s office, he “thought he would perhaps be called on to speak in conference, since one of the speakers was ill,” Barbara said. “We were relaxed on the way to President Hinckley’s office and discussed what Russ might talk about if called to speak.”

When the Ballards arrived at President Hinckley’s office, he invited Elder Ballard to come in alone. President Hinckley explained that he had just come from President Kimball’s apartment. He then said, “I am authorized to extend to you the invitation to serve as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.”

Elder Ballard was shocked. “Immediately, I lost control of my emotions,” he said. “Tears streamed from my eyes. To this day, I am endeared to President Hinckley because he came around from his desk, took me in his arms and wept with me” (189–190).

Health Challenges and Frozen Yogurt

Elder Ballard had back pain while attending the Denver Colorado Temple dedication. When he came home, the next day he went, under protest, to LDS Hospital for a CT scan of his back. The scan, which included a larger area than originally planned, showed a cyst on his left kidney. It was drained, but an exploratory surgery was scheduled.

Elder Ballard entered LDS Hospital, and shortly thereafter, Elder Boyd K. Packer came into his room, followed by the surgeon. Together they gave him a priesthood blessing, after which Elder Packer and Elder Ballard gave the surgeon a blessing that he would receive inspiration and guidance as he did the work he was trained to do. During the procedure, the surgeon found in Elder Ballard’s left kidney what he said was the smallest malignant tumor he had encountered in his 30 years of practice. They removed the kidney, and no other procedures were required.

Within days of his hospital release, President Howard W. Hunter called Jon Huntsman and said, “We need to take Russ out for some yogurt.” This was a tradition among the friends — whenever one of them had health issues, the other two took him out for yogurt at their favorite frozen yogurt shop. The two friends picked him up, and “the three of us enjoyed our frozen yogurt together” (208).

Serving Around the World

As an Apostle, Elder Ballard learned that there was no such thing as settling into a routine. Around every corner, it seemed, was a new experience, a new adventure, a new opportunity to serve the Lord’s children. In early 1990, for example, he and Elder Charles Didier — along with approximately 108 missionaries, members and investigators — met in Port of Spain for the dedication of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago for the preaching of the gospel.

The next day, Elder Ballard, again with Elder Didier, offered a dedicatory prayer in Georgetown, Guyana. This was followed by dedicatory prayers in Paramaribo, Suriname and Kourou, French Guiana, on February 27.

Just a few months later, Elder Ballard was back in Toronto to attend the dedicatory ceremonies of the Toronto Canada Temple. He hosted Lord Thomson of Fleet as well as a group of local clergy for a tour of the temple. One clergyman took him aside after the tour and said, “I have felt the Spirit of the Lord twice in my life abundantly: Once as I stood at the open tomb in the Holy Land and the second time as I stood in the celestial room of this temple. I have never felt anything like this except on these two occasions.” Elder Ballard replied, “That is Heavenly Father and the power of the Holy Ghost witnessing to your heart and to your mind that our message is true, that these temples are in fact houses of the Lord. His Spirit dwells here. The work of eternal salvation for our Father’s children is undertaken in this holy house.” The clergyman shook hands with Elder Ballard as if “we had been friends for many, many years” (216–217).

Elder Charles Didier and Elder M. Russell Ballard, front row, mingle with children and others in the congregation when Suriname was dedicated for the preaching of the gospel in February 1990. Photo courtesy of Church News. Copyright 2021 Deseret News Publishing Company.

Copyright 2021 Deseret News Publishing Company

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