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Elder Haight serves to unprecedented age

He becomes first apostle to reach 97 years old

Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve, on Sept. 2, reached a milestone no other acting General Authority has achieved in the latter-day Church — he celebrated his 97th birthday.

Sharing the momentous day with him and his wife, Ruby, were several General Authorities during a reception in the Church Administration and many members of his family who called on him at his Salt Lake City home during the afternoon. Wishing Elder Haight a happy birthday at the Church reception were President Gordon B. Hinckley and his counselors, President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust, members of the Quorum of the Twelve and others.

Though enduring the physical frailties of his years, Elder Haight cheerfully expressed satisfaction on his birthday at having reached the milestone he eagerly anticipated since spending his previous birthday at his childhood home in Oakley, Idaho. At that time, he informed the Church News during an interview that if he made it to his next birthday, he would be the oldest apostle in this dispensation. (See Church News, Sept. 7, 2002.)

Previously, Elder LeGrand Richards and President David O. McKay served into their 97th years, but neither reached his 97th birthday. On August 8, Elder Haight passed Elder Richards as the oldest actively serving General Authority. President McKay passed away just a few days past the age of 96 years, four months.

Elder Joseph Anderson lived the longest among General Authorities; however, he was not serving when he died at age 102 in 1992. He was called as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1970 and sustained to the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1976. He was named emeritus General Authority in 1978 at age 89.

Sitting in an easy chair in the living room of his home, and surrounded by children and grandchildren, and their spouses as well as many of his great-grandchildren, Elder Haight smiled peacefully and said, "It really is a wonderful day."

A steady stream of family members of all ages gathered around him for photos, to wish him happy birthday, to sing to him (with him singing along), and to hug and kiss him.

Sister Haight also beamed throughout the celebration. As General Authorities gathered around her and her husband in the Church Administration Building, she expressed her priorities, declaring with delight, "All my children are here!" Later, she informed the Church News that she and her husband also break the marriage record among General Authorities as their 73rd anniversary was just two days away, on Sept. 4.

She said that earlier in the day she had commented, " 'We're blessed beyond measure.' President Hinckley was standing right by me and he said, 'Indeed you are.' If you want to feel humble, have the prophet come out just to say hello to you like he did for us today." She also noted that she and President Hinckley are about the same age.

Elder Haight was born to Hector C. and Clara Tuttle Haight in Oakley, Idaho, on Sept. 2, 1906. He and Sister Haight have three children — Bruce, Robert and Karen, 18 grandchildren and 78 great-grandchildren.

Elder Jon Huntsman Sr., an Area Authority Seventy, spoke fondly of Elder Haight, his father-in-law, during a Church News interview. "I moved into his stake when I was 12. He was my stake president. Ten years after I met him, I married his daughter, Karen. All my life he's been an inspiration. I watched him on the stake high council in Palo Alto, then as stake president, through his Church career. He has always been one who builds, lifts and inspires others. People often ask, 'How did Jon Huntsman build a business and find success in life?' No one knows that my secret weapon and premier cheerleader was Elder Haight. He was always saying, 'I know you can. I know you can. I know you can.' I owe him more than I can ever tell you. We have a very close and very tender relationship."

Elder Huntsman said Elder Haight recently was hospitalized with a serious bacterial infection but was doing better, is beginning to return to his Church office, and on Sunday, Sept. 7, plans to be the first 97-year-old General Authority to preside over a stake conference as together they visit a stake in Salt Lake City.

During the family gathering, Robert Haight talked about his father's stay in the hospital. "On one of my visits, I told him I would go out and get him some real food, but he said, 'We don't need physical food, we need spiritual food,' and he began to preach the gospel."

Still speaking about the hospital, Robert said that Elder Haight sang his favorite hymn, "Have I Done Any Good in the World Today," and when President Hinckley and President Monson came for a visit, they joined in the singing.

The preaching and singing have now gone on for a record number of years, and counting.

E-mail: ghill@desnews.com