Clark N. and Betty Stohl served 12 years as the Church's official host and hostess, greeting business and political leaders, royalty, and other public figures who visited Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
The Stohls, who were released in March from their full-time voluntary duties, have resisted the use of "VIP" (Very Important Person) in referring to the individuals whom they hosted."Everyone is a VIP," said Stohl, who worked for 37 years in U.S. government service, primarily with the U.S. Civil Service Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration.
"We never had any formal training in how to host people. We are ordinary people who have tried to treat everybody alike, but we've also tried to treat everybody well. We did not care if our guest was an ambassador from Japan making a courtesy call on the First Presidency or a little country farmer from Taiwan who came here for agricultural interests. We wanted all guests to return to their homes feeling like they had been treated royally."
Some of their guests were royalty. In hosting that caliber of guests, such as the Queen of Thailand, the Stohls relied as much upon common courtesy as they did upon protocol.
"Before the Queen of Thailand came, we received a visit from the queen's protocol officer who instructed us concerning things we should and should not do," recalled Sister Stohl.
"We were told to not touch her or to not initiate a handshake. We were told what was appropriate for walking with the queen, in seating her at a banquet table, and in hosting her at various functions.
"We were somewhat worried that we would make some terrible mistakes," continued Sister Stohl. "When the queen arrived and we were being introduced, she reached out to shake my hand. That really put me at ease. She shook hands with everybody she met. Later, as we were getting into her limousine, she took me by the hand and helped me into the car."
Such experiences, said Sister Stohl, demonstrate that courtesy and good manners are universal attributes to be demonstrated by everyone.
The Stohl's tenure as official host and hostess began in March 1976, when he was called to serve as coordinator of hosting for the Church. His wife was his ever-present assistant.
In addition to greeting and entertaining guests, they supervised the voluntary service of several couples who host special guests and more than 100 hostesses who serve as guides in the Church Office Building.
"One of our great joys was to assist the First Presidency and other General Authorities in hosting their visitors," said Stohl. "From time to time, we were asked to arrange for a luncheon or dinner or other special function for them."
Although the Stohls were on a voluntary status, they often put in more than 40 hours a week, many times working at least a portion of each day. They estimate that during their 12 years of service, they hosted more than 1,000 individuals. That is not counting their guests who were in groups and conventions.
"When we were called, President Spencer W. Kimball told us our mission was to open doors and warm hearts," said Stohl, who was a bishop for six years and served 21 years on the YMMIA General Board.
"When we were called as hosts, we thought it would be for two or three years. We never dreamed we would continue for 12 years. We never knew what was around the next corner.
"We were not called upon to proselyte, but we found many opportunities to answer questions about the Church. Quite often, Church members think government, business and civic leaders know more about the Church than they actually know.
"Many of these people have scant, if any, knowledge about the Church. A lot came here thinking the Mormons were some strange group but, after spending a little time with us, they discovered that we are pretty normal people, that we have some of the same interests and challenges as do other people.
"We were always careful to not represent ourselves as spokespeople for the Church, or as Church leaders."
Sister Stohl said one of the biggest rewards of their assignment was making friends with a vast number of people. "We have friends now from all over the world," she said. "We correspond with many of them; we receive and send Christmas cards, write personal notes, send newspaper clippings to each other."
The Stohls have several thick notebooks filled with cards and letters from ambassadors, dukes, duchesses, counts, countesses, politicians, clergymen, educators, journalists, and celebrities from all walks of life. Several other volumes are filled with photographs of prominent people they have hosted.
"Getting to know these people has made life very interesting," observed Stohl. "When we read the newspaper or watch the news on television, we pick up on names of people we know personally. There is hardly a major country from which we've not had a guest."
The Stohls said they regard their service as being part of their effort to "pay back the blessings" they have received. Among those blessings are a son and six daughters, and 33 grandchildren.