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Born and reared in Boise, immersed in Southern California's boom climate as a young man, trained as a lawyer and by nature a family man and church servant, Howard William Hunter became a worldwide ambassador for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with his ordination as an apostle in October 1959.

He was born Nov. 14, 1907, the son of John William and Nellie Rasmussen Hunter. John William Hunter was descended from a Scotsman who joined the church early in its history when missionaries carried the gospel message to Scotland. However, that ancestor later left the church and John Hunter was not a member when he married Nellie Rasmussen, whose background was firmly rooted in several generations of faithful LDS members.When Howard and his sister, Dorothy, were children, it was the mother's influence that gave them their earliest testimonies. John did not object to the rearing of his children in the LDS faith, and he often accompanied them to church meetings, but he felt Howard and Dorothy should make more adult, informed decisions regarding baptism.

So Howard was not baptized at 8 years old. He was continuously active, however, and as he approached the usual age for priesthood involvement, he became more intent on baptism. On April 4, 1920, five months after his 12th birthday, he was baptized in a large indoor swimming pool in Boise, along with his sister. He was ordained a deacon 11 weeks later. He sometimes was assigned to pump the big bellows for the organist or to cut kindling wood for the stove behind the choir loft as part of his duties.

"My mother had taught me to pray and to thank Heavenly Father for all the things that I enjoyed. I often thanked him for the beauty of the earth and for the wonderful times that I had at the ranch and by the river and with the Scouts," President Hunter wrote of this period in his life.

He was the second Eagle Scout in Idaho, and as an adult he was sometimes involved in Scouting leadership and in helping his own sons to fill Scout merit badge requirements.

He also learned early about the financial obligations that are involved in church membership. When church leaders decided to build a tabernacle in Boise, he pledged to donate $25 - an enormous sum for him at that time - and paid the pledge in full. Later, as he became a bishop, then stake president in fast-growing California communities, the same obligation to raise building funds often became the focus of his efforts.

He learned to work as a child, blacking the kitchen stove, carrying coal and kindling, tending chickens and helping with the family garden. On one occasion, when he pulled up his father's potato plants, his efforts were less than appreciated. Another time, young Howard scalded his arm and his mother performed standard first aid for that era, packing his arm in mashed potatoes.

John Hunter encouraged in his children a healthy curiosity about the world. All of the Hunters made good use of library cards and "went exploring" in their own living room via the Wonder World Encyclopedia.

Hunter children milestones were typical Americana - buying a new family Hupmobile to usher them into the age of autos, attending school at nearby Lowell Elementary, participating in the spontaneous Armistice Day parade that marked the end of World War I, earning spending money delivering telegrams and selling newspapers, sleeping in an enclosed porch, swimming in the nearby canals and catching "hookey-bobbing" rides behind slow-moving vehicles.

When John Hunter acquired a homestead and began ranching, young Howard found particular joy in being at the ranch, sometimes sleeping on top of a haystack.

Although he was a good student, young Howard had a built-in deficit. He was color-blind, a fact that influenced several of his undertakings. When he worked for a local photographer, he learned to select picture frames mechanically because he could not match colors. Later, in California, trying to sort lemons by color proved impossible.

Music played a significant role in his youth and early manhood. He won a marimba in a sales promotion and taught himself to play - just as he had learned to play piano by ear after a year of lessons. Ultimately, he mastered many instruments, including saxophone, clarinet and trumpet.

As a youth, he organized "Hunter's Croonaders," a dance band that was in demand for many local events. A brush with death occurred when he was involved in a car accident while returning from a dance engagement. He was thrown from the vehicle when it rolled down a hill and felt his life was preserved because the car rolled over a large outcrop of rock, sparing him its full weight.

In 1926, President Hunter was offered a contract to provide a five-piece ensemble to play aboard the passenger liner S.S. President Jackson of the Admiral Oriental Line. After a terrible, stormy start when most everyone aboard was seasick, the trip took the young musicians to the Orient. They got a little taste of world unrest in Shanghai, which was besieged by Chiang Kai-Shek. Troops from several countries had been alerted for battle.

When he returned home, he was pleased to learn that his father had been baptized during his voyage abroad. Years later, on President Hunter's 46th birthday, he was speaking to a group in the Mesa, Ariz., temple when his parents came into the room, clothed in white and prepared for sealing. He was so overcome he couldn't continue his talk, and their sealing as a family that day was one of the joyous occasions of his life. His sister was sealed to their parents later in the Los Angeles Temple, completing the eternal family circle.

Ultimately, President Hunter gave up professional music because of the undesirable atmospheres in which performances so often were demanded. Later, he also discouraged one of his sons from becoming involved in the movie industry for the same reason.

In 1928, President Hunter was lured by the prospects of good jobs and marvelous climate to California. After an adventurous hike to the West Coast (he spent one night in a school bus when no other lodging offered itself), he set about settling into the California lifestyle. He bought a secondhand car for $5 and also went into a store to buy a pair of shoes. He came out with the shoes and a part-time job selling on Saturdays. Working an assortment of jobs, he also enrolled for adult education courses at Huntington Park High School.

President Hunter's first church callings came during this period and a young adult Sunday School teacher sparked his desire to dig beneath the surface of the gospel to explore its core.

"I suddenly became aware of the real meaning of some of the gospel principles, an understanding of the degrees of glory and the requirements of celestial exaltation . . . I think of this time of my life as the time the truths of the gospel commenced to unfold. I always had a testimony of the gospel, but suddenly I commenced to understand," he wrote of this era.

He was led to seek a patriarchal blessing, which promised he would "perform an important work in mortality in bringing to pass (the Lord's) purposes with relation to his chosen people."

The rest of his family followed him to California. As he became immersed in the round of church-sponsored parties and beach outings, he also met the young woman who was to become his first wife. Clara May "Claire" Jeffs became first a casual date over a period of three years, then a serious consideration for a marriage partner.

He had saved some money for a mission, and she offered to support him if he chose to fulfill a mission. But given the financial realities, they decided it would be best to marry and "go on a mission together at a later time." He concluded in later years that his service as a local church leader was that alternative mission.

When they went to obtain recommends to marry in the Salt Lake Temple, young Howard nearly learned to his sorrow the effects of failing to pay a full tithing - a habit he hadn't established in his part-member home. But when he promised never to be remiss again - a promise he and Claire faithfully kept - the bishop and stake president signed his recommend and the young couple prepared for the trip to Utah.

The prospects of driving to Utah in his old $5 Model A Ford coupe was "a test of true love," he said. So, he surprised his bride-to-be with a 1931 Chevrolet sports coupe with red wheels and a rumble seat.

They were married by Elder Richard R. Lyman of the Council of the Twelve on June 10, 1931, and became a couple united in their desire to serve the Lord. Claire Hunter's long, debilitating illness, beginning in the 1970s and culminating in her death in October 1983, was one of President Hunter's many challenges. He cared for her tenderly over a period of 12 years, combining that responsibility with assignments that came to him as an apostle.

Several years after her death, he married Inis Stanton, an acquaintance from the Hunters' California period, in a quiet, simple ceremony in the Salt Lake Temple. She has been a strong companion and has accompanied him on his more recent travels throughout the world.

President Hunter and Claire had three sons. The first, Howard William Hunter Jr., died as a baby of an intestinal problem, a heartbreaking event for the parents. The two younger sons, John Jacob and Richard Allen, ultimately provided President Hunter 18 grandchildren who are extremely dear to him and who now are adding to his progeny. The families often get together for "pandemonious" holidays or vacation outings, replete with raids on the refrigerator and cookie jar. His almost continuous travel calendar led one of the grandchildren to refer to him as "the grandfather who lives at the airport."

Early in his California experience, President Hunter settled into a banking career, learning from the bottom up as he took succeedingly more responsible assignments. During the Depression, however, his bank failed and he was forced to look at other options.

He decided to return to college, with law as a major, although he had graduated from high school eight years earlier. Howard and Claire Hunter struggled financially for five years as he focused on his law studies. During her hospital trips to deliver their sons, he always had a textbook in hand to study when she didn't need him. He graduated in June 1939 and that fall was one of those one-in-three who passed California's bar exam. He became a successful corporate lawyer but often gave free legal advice, particularly to childless couples pursuing adoptions. He was invited to sit on the boards of many of the companies he represented and continued to take an active role in businesses even after his appointment to the church's hierarchy.

He once declined a judgeship in California's state court system so he could continue to devote his time to church work and his other interests.

As a church leader in the Pasadena area (at the age of 32 the youngest bishop called in that part of the church), he was involved in establishing such important church programs as early morning seminary, welfare projects and in the continuous division of wards and stakes as California experienced unprecedented growth. He became recognized as an effective organizer who got things done, but his own recollections of that era revolve around the "laughter and singing of people doing the Lord's work."

Charles C. Pulsipher later wrote: "As a bishop, he brought our small membership together in a united effort and taught us to accomplish goals that seemed beyond our reach. We worked together as a ward, we prayed together, played together and worshiped together."

Between sessions of the 1959 semiannual general conference, a fellow church leader from California notified President Hunter he had been summoned to the office of President David O. McKay. President Hunter had been asked to gather some information for the church in California and supposed that was the nature of his call to meet with the prophet.

However, the substance of President McKay's message was startling: "The Lord has spoken. You are called to be one of his special witnesses and tomorrow you will be sustained as a member of the Council of the Twelve."

The call was mind-boggling and President Hunter left a conference meeting to walk around the state Capitol area, trying to assimilate the meaning of the assignment. In the closing session, he spoke, assuring church leaders: "I accept without reservation the call which you have made of me and I am willing to devote my life and all that I have in this service." With the sustaining vote of the congregation, he became, at age 51, the 74th apostle in this dispensation.

His many assignments have included positions on the welfare, priesthood and missionary committees, the Brigham Young University Board of Trustees, Church Board of Education, adviser to Sunday School and Primary. For years, he was assigned to review applications of church members seeking divorce clearances. He was named to the board of the Genealogical Society in 1960 and served until 1972, overseeing its evolution into the Family History Department and the implementation of important new technologies that speeded the work.

He served as church historian for a short time following the death of President Joseph Fielding Smith, who had held the position for 49 years.

President Hunter developed a deep interest in archaeology, particularly in Mesoamerica, where there were suggestions of linkages with Book of Mormon history. He was instrumental in creating the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii and in increasing the church's presence in Israel, including establishment of the Jerusalem Center and the Orson Hyde Memorial.

He has served as leader of the Council of the Twelve since the death of Marion G. Romney on May 20, 1988.

For some time, he has experienced challenges to his health, including a heart attack and several surgeries. His natural penchant for staying busy gave him a reputation as an "impatient patient."

In his own writings he expressed his frustration at inactivity: "I have had surgery, and a heart attack and the next may be a nervous breakdown from not being allowed to do anything."

While he learned to give and accept love from church members throughout the world, he also experienced some of the animosity occasionally aimed at the church. Speaking at the Marriott Center at BYU last year, he was accosted by a man carrying a briefcase and a black object that was thought to be a bomb. President Hunter refused demands to read a statement the man thrust at him and when the intruder was subdued, he returned to the microphone and continued his talk, commenting that "Life has a fair number of challenges in it - as demonstrated." It was the only allusion to the disturbance.

Cody Robert Judy was later sentenced to prison for up to 15 years for crimes related to the event.

President Hunter's service to church, business and mankind has earned him numerous awards and recognitions, including honorary degrees, a Distinguished Eagle Award, an honorary professorship at BYU's law school and recognition from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Los Angeles.

His most recent call to Latter-day Saints to follow the Savior was in the General Conference of April this year.

"Let us follow the Son of God in all ways and in all walks of life. Let us make him our exemplar and our guide. We should at every opportunity ask ourselves, `What would Jesus do?' and then be more courageous to act upon the answer. We must follow Christ in the best sense of that word. We must be about his work as he was about his Father's."



Unabashed witness for church is intensely private man

The materials in this brief biography were excerpted from a new Deseret Book publication titled "Howard W. Hunter."

Eleanor Knowles, former Deseret News writer and current Deseret Book vice president and executive editor, spent two years accumulating materials on President Hunter's life before writing the biography.

"I was amazed at what I found," she said. As she interviewed President Hunter's associates and family members and researched written resources, including his own journals, she found "a fascinating story" about a general authority who has tended to maintain a shield around his private life.

An ardent and unabashed spokesman in his role as a witness for Jesus Christ, President Hunter has nevertheless been reticent about himself, she said. "He is a private person who doesn't share publicly much of his life. He loves people but hasn't tended to show them much about himself and his experiences. Searching for the humanness in his life has been an exciting assignment."