ST. GEORGE — Rulon T. Jeffs, spiritual leader and president of the 10,000-member Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, died Sunday at Dixie Regional Medical Center. He was 92.
Mr. Jeffs was considered a prophet by members of the FLDS church, who practice polygamy and live in the twin border cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. Another group of members lives in Creston Valley, a Canadian community near the Idaho border.
Mr. Jeffs is rumored to have from 19 to 75 wives and dozens of children, according to the Associated Press.
Mr. Jeffs' death, although not unexpected, was "a shock" in some ways, said Hildale Mayor Dan Barlow.
"He was a gentle man and much loved by his people," Barlow said Monday morning. "I've known him ever since I was very young and have always respected him as a godly man."
Born Dec. 6, 1909, in Salt Lake City, Mr. Jeffs was a graduate of LDS Business College and was an accountant by trade. He retired in 1984 and moved to Hildale in 1998 in order to be closer to the majority of church members, a press release said.
According to the press release issued by the church's attorney, Rod Parker, Mr. Jeffs first became affiliated with the FLDS church in the late 1930s when the religious association was known as the Priesthood Work. Mr. Jeffs was appointed a member of the organization's priesthood council in the 1940s and was instrumental in the formation of the United Effort Plan, which still exists today.
Mr. Jeffs was appointed president of the church in 1986 after the death of his predecessor, Leroy S. Johnson. At the time, said Barlow, the church's new leader promised "we won't change the program, we'll just keep on going."
A successor to Mr. Jeffs has not been announced. "We'll just have to wait and see (who the new leader will be). That will take some time," said Barlow, adding Rulon Jeff's son, Warren, who is first president of the FLDS church, and acting bishop Fred Jessop are in charge until the issue is decided.
Mr. Jeffs' funeral is scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday at the L.S. Johnson Meetinghouse in Colorado City. Burial will be at the Isaac Carling Memorial Park.