In retrospect, it was forging through the challenges of the unknown - on two occasions - that helped prepare Elder Richard E. Cook with the experience and the testimony necessary to fill his new calling as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy. He was sustained April 5 at general conference.

His first challenge came as a young man when he and his first wife, Clea, considered leaving the familiarity of the West for an unknown life in the eastern part of the United States.The second challenge came years later as he and his second wife, Mary, left the comforts of home to serve missions in a country struggling to establish democracy.

In both instances, the Cooks chose challenge over comfort, and as a result increased their ability to serve by learning how to deal with different cultures and countries, and by gaining a witness that the Lord is active in the affairs of the Church.

At 66, Elder Cook brings an interesting blend of international business savvy and Church leadership to his calling in the Seventy.

Elder Cook's first challenge came when he and his first wife were considering how to climb the career ladder at Ford Motor Co.

He had just graduated from Northwestern University with a master of business administration degree and had been hired by J. Edward Lundy, one of the renowned "Whiz Kids," who is credited with rescuing Ford Motor Co. from its financial troubles following World War II.

"We started in California," Elder Cook said. "We weren't eager to work in the East, but realized that advancement in the company required working at Ford's headquarters in Detroit."

For one who spent his first 11 years in rural Cedar Fort, 15 miles west of Utah Lake, he found Detroit a stark contrast.

But putting preferences aside, they accepted a transfer, and during the next 30 years, he rose in the company ranks until he retired as general assistant controller of the company in 1992.

He traveled extensively during those years and became "very comfortable in negotiation."

The secret of successful negotiation, he learned, was "to be honest, straight forward, present the case well, and to keep commitments."

While in Detroit, his first wife died of cancer in 1984, and four years later he married Mary Nielsen.

In the spring of 1994, Elder Cook's second significant challenge came when he and Sister Cook were called as a missionary couple to Mongolia, a landlocked country bordered by Siberia on the north and China on the south.

They left their home in Park City, Utah, and gave up the hugs of their grandchildren to live in a small apartment built with concrete walls and pumpkin-colored floors.

Employing the resourceful skills developed as a child in Cedar Fort, he made shelves and furniture out of packing crates, twine and wire.

For the next year, Elder Cook worked with the Mongolian government as a financial and economic consultant, while Sister Cook shared her years of experience with special education programs.

During this time, contact with government leaders was established and trust developed. These associations greatly facilitated missionary work a year later when the Mongolian mission was organized.

"We received a telephone call from President Gordon B. Hinckley at 5:30 a.m. asking if I would serve as mission president of the new Mongolia Ulaanbaatar Mission," Elder Cook said.

"My testimony grew leaps and bounds as mission president. I saw the direct intervention of the Lord on many occasions to see that the work went forward.

"In one zone conference, I listed the many different ways the Lord had intervened. Some were personal, some dealt with the elders, others concerned the growth of the Church.

"When we arrived in Mongolia, there were about 75 members. When we left in July 1996, there were about 600 members. Today, there are more than 800.

"I love missionary work; it's exhilarating. The Church has so much to offer, so much to give. A wonderful feeling comes when living in accordance with the gospel."

Elder Cook's time as mission president was a daily walk with the Lord. At times, it wasn't apparent how the Lord would resolve a challenge or where He would open an window. But miracles, small and large, became a way of life, enough so that Elder and Sister Cook would look at each other when it appeared no solution was in sight and say, "The Lord is in charge."

"Missionary work is about change," Elder Cook emphasized. "We typically associate change to be in the lives of the converts, which it is. But there is a mighty change that takes place in a missionary's life."

One of Elder Cook's fond memories is the growth in character that took place in the life of a missionary who accompanied the Cooks to Mongolia.

"He was quiet, shy, unassuming, but became a powerful missionary. It was a remarkable transformation. Members loved him. People in the city loved him. He became my assistant. He was devoted, totally involved in the work. He loved people and they could sense it. There were similar changes in the lives of all the missionaries."

The Cooks were released from their mission nearly a year ago, but their love for the Mongolians continues.

"They are gentle, generous, loving people who are unspoiled," said Sister Cook. "They take care of their families. They are independent, live simple lives on a meager income."

Elder Cook also credits the success and beauty in his life to four women, including his grandmother, who was an "impeccable housekeeper and tireless worker; his mother, Clara, who instilled her sense of commitment, motivation and natural leadership skills in her two sons; his wife, Clea, who was a wonderful mother, "completely devoted to their four children;" and Mary, his second wife, who "accepted a challenging role and established her identity in a tastefully, kind, loving and giving way."

After the death of Elder Cook's first wife, his marriage to Mary came as the result of missionary work that set a series of events into motion many years earlier.

It began in Detroit when Elder Cook baptized a young man who had been introduced to the gospel by his teenage daughters and his wife. Several years later, this young man was recommended for a mission by Elder Cook, who was then serving as bishop.

The young man returned home, got married, graduated from BYU, attended a dental school in the East, then returned to Salt Lake City where his wife served in the Relief Society presidency with Mary Nielsen, a single sister who had never married.

Elder Cook was introduced to her. A year later, Sister Cook accepted his proposal for marriage, prompting her to resign from her new appointment as an elementary school principal.

Throughout his life - in business or in the Church - forging through the unknown has been a way of life for Elder Cook. Looking back, those experiences that seemed the most challenging, were, in the end, the most rewarding, he said.

"We went to Detroit with fear, but found it was a great place to live and rear a family," he said. "We went to Mongolia with fear, but returned with a love of missionary work and the Mongolian people."

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Elder Richard E. Cook

Family: Born Sept. 7, 1930, in Pleasant Grove, Utah, to Ernest William and Clara Blackhurst Cook. Married Clea Searle Sept. 13, 1950, in the Salt Lake Temple. She died in 1984. Married Mary Nielsen in Salt Lake Temple July 16, 1988; four children, Susan (Kevin) Pinegar; Janalee (Kent) Leavitt; Sharon (Richard) Williams; Richard Wm. (Kelly) Cook, and 13 grandchildren.

Education: Bachelor of science degree from BYU in accounting, 1952; master of business administration from Northwestern University, 1957.

Military Service: Lieutenant, U.S. Navy, 1952-1956, served on destroyer USS Doyle.

Employment: Worked 35 years for Ford Motor Company in California and Detroit.

Church Service: Sustained to the Second Quorum of the Seventy April 5, 1997; president of Mongolia Ulaanbaatar Mission, 1995-1996; stake president's counselor, bishop, stake mission president; stake Young Men president; priests quorum adviser.