Barbara Washburn is prone to become emotional when she describes the noble qualities of her husband, Elder J Ballard Washburn, recently sustained as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy.
She refers to him by the title "president" in deference to his leadership role in the Arizona Phoenix Mission, and she turns to the Book of Mormon for an apt description."In the scriptures Hel. 10:4-5T it says that Nephi served the Lord with unwearyingness," she said. "That is certainly true of Pres. Washburn. He's always served with unwearyingness. In fact, he's driven thousands of miles fulfilling his Church callings. He never takes the easy way out or thinks it isn't important. He's worked very hard and been very obedient, and given his best effort to the Lord."
For Elder Washburn, 61, giving his best effort to the Lord translates into unfailing service to others.
His first year at BYU, he played the French horn in the concert band and sang in a chorus that performed in general conference. But after serving a mission to England, he forsook his music major for courses that would lead to a medical degree.
"I think the Lord wanted me in medicine," he reflected. "It's been a very satisfying profession. I wanted to work with the Indian people, and I could do a lot more for them in the medical field than in the field of music."
To serve them required that he be an unusual kind of physician, one that made house calls. Many of the calls took him onto the Navajo reservation near his home in Page, Ariz.
He never charged extra for the house calls.
"I always felt that if they were that sick, they really needed a doctor, so I'd just go see them," he explained.
His dedication brought its rewards in the form of many cherished experiences, some exciting and some sad.
On one occasion, a nurse called him at 3 a.m. to say that his patient, an Indian woman, had died. He immediately drove 15 miles onto the reservation to tell her family of her passing.
"I'll never forget that experience," he said. "They were good people, members of the Church. Later, they were sealed to her in the temple. She was a great lady."
Some of the house calls were at the Washburns' own house.
"A lot of people would come there at night, especially the Indian people," he said.
Even without the frequent visits from patients, the Washburn home was always a busy place. They reared 10 children, the youngest of whom was in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, when he saw his father sustained as a General Authority on March 31, while watching the conference session on television.
In addition to their own family, the Washburns cared for foster Indian children, totaling about a dozen over the years.
"We've enjoyed them and loved them," he commented. "One winter, my wife had seven teenagers living in our home, five of our own and two foster Lamanites."
"I packed my suitcase several times that year," she joked.
With such a large posterity, Elder Washburn follows the example of his parents, who also had 10 children - six girls and four boys.
His parents named him Ballard after Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Council of the Twelve, not because of any familial relationship but because they thought Elder Ballard was a great man.
His boyhood in Blanding, Utah, was challenging, especially after the death of his father when Ballard was 12.
Through perseverence and hard work, the family managed. Young Ballard worked in the hayfields during summers. He also drove cattle for his uncle, who had 500 head.
A natural leader, Ballard was senior class president in high school and was captain of the first basketball team from Blanding to ever win a game in a state tournament.
"Blanding was an ideal place to grow up because of the young people that were there," he commented. "We did things together. We did the right things, we went to the right places, and most of the things were sponsored by the Church."
Despite the rigors of providing for a large family, Elder Washburn's mother was committed to her children's education. The year he graduated from high school, she moved the family to Provo, Utah, so the children could more conveniently attend BYU. She enrolled as well and earned a degree in elementary education.
"She had never even finished high school, so that was a great hurdle for her," he said.
Today, at 93, she still lives in Provo and attends the temple daily. She bakes biscuits for her grandchildren who attend BYU.
Sister Washburn's widowed mother, Aileen Harries, 85, also is held in high regard by the Washburns. She has lived with them during their three-year mission, and has cooked meals for missionaries who stay at the mission home.
After his first year at BYU, Ballard went on a mission to New England. Through his entire mission, he labored in the Northern Maine District. In the summer, he and his companions traveled, in the scriptural tradition, "without purse or scrip," spending many nights in a vacant church or under a tree.
After his mission, his homecoming sacrament meeting was attended by a BYU coed, a home economics major named Barbara, whom he had not met.
They began dating and were married within nine months.
By the time he began medical school at the University of Utah, they had three children _ including twins _ all under the age of 2.
"I put my wife in an upstairs apartment while I went to medical school, and she stayed there for nine months," Elder Washburn recalled half-jokingly. "We didn't have a car, and she couldn't get downstairs with a stroller to take the kids outside."
After his graduation and an internship at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, they moved to Page, where he served in the branch presidency. The branch shortly became a ward, and he was called to the bishopric.
While in the bishopric, he was called to preside over the stake, with headquarters in Kanab, Utah, 75 miles away. For five years, he drove there twice a week for stake meetings.
After that period, a stake was formed in Page, and he was its first president. He served for three more years, and in 1978, was called as a regional representative.
He served in that calling for almost seven years, followed by his call as a mission president.
Reflecting on his Church service, Elder Washburn pointed out that he has served people in roughly the same geographic area for many years.
"When we were called on a mission, our town where we were living, Page, was part of our mission; my hometown, Blanding, was part of our mission, and both the regions where I had served as a regional representative were part of our mission. It was very nice to be able to serve with those people."
He said he is thrilled to have seen that corner of the Kingdom progress.
"Thirty years ago, when we first went to Page, the work among the Lamanites, speaking primarily of the Navajos, was in its infancy. There were probably not more than a half a dozen men who held the Melchizedek Priesthood, and fewer than that who had been to the temple.
"And even though the work hasn't gone as fast as you'd like to have seen it, now there are half a dozen Lamanite wards led by Lamanite bishops and Lamanite leaders, Lamanites in the stake presidency and a Lamanite patriarch.
"The Page 4th Ward, which is 95 percent Lamanite, does more temple work than any other ward in Page, does more missionary work than any other ward in Page. It's just been a thrill to see the gospel grow among the Lamanite people."
Elder Washburn considers the missionary program the greatest in the world to prepare young people for life.
"It's better than any college education," he said. "If there were no converts resulting from it, it would still be a great, great program. Even the missionaries who come to you not quite as well-prepared as you would wish go home a lot better people. And, of course some of them come to you well-prepared. And they go home spiritual giants because of the growth they get. It's been a great blessing for us to be associated with the missionaries and their spirit, and to watch them grow."
The new General Authority is unpretentious with regard to Church callings.
"You could do all the good that any person is capable of doing in the Church without having any official calling," he affirmed. "If you're a good home teacher and a good member missionary, and if you go to the temple and you visit the widows and fatherless, you could do all the good you're capable of doing.
"I can remember when I was released from being a stake president, I had a little time between callings, and I said, `Thank heavens. We'll now have time to live the gospel.' So I certainly don't associate having positions with the essence of the gospel and what is important in the gospel."
Elder J. Ballard Washburn
-Family: born Jan. 18, 1929, a son of Alvin Lovell and Wasel Black Washburn; married Harriet Barbara Harries on Sept. 20, 1951; 10 children: Mark Harries, 37; Jay Aldean, 36; Kay Aileen (Pearce), 36; Andrew Ford, 33; James Kirk, 32; Rebecca (Rudder), 30; Richard, 28; David Wayne, 24; Daniel Scott, 21, and Joseph Kelly, 19.
-Education: received bachelor's degree from BYU in 1953 and medical degree from University of Utah in 1957.
-Employment: medical doctor in private practice for 28 years.
-Church service: president of the Arizona Phoenix Mission, 1987 to present; former regional representative, stake president, bishop's counselor and branch president's counselor; served mission in New England, 1948-50.