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Mothers, a midwife and boxing lessons: LDS Church leaders share memories about their mothers, wives

When LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson was a boy, going to Sunday School on Mother's Day meant handing each mother a small potted plant and listening as Melvin Watson, a blind member of the church, stood next to the piano and sang "That Wonderful Mother of Mine."

As tears flowed down Watson's face, young Tommy puzzled over why all the grown men were quietly dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs, President Monson said in his October 1973 general conference talk, "Behold Thy Mother." Then he understood.

"You see, mother was remembered," President Monson said in 1973. "Each boy, every girl, all fathers and husbands seemed to make a silent pledge: 'I will remember that wonderful mother of mine.'"

In celebration of Mother's Day and wonderful mothers everywhere, here is a small selection of anecdotes, thoughts and tributes to mothers and wives by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Rachel Grant

President Heber J. Grant's father died nine days after he was born. Rachel Grant, his widowed mother, struggled to provide for her only child as a seamstress.

According to "Teachings of the Presidents of The Church: Heber J. Grant," Rachel's brothers offered to support her if she would leave the Mormon faith, but she declined. Her dedication to the gospel left a strong impression on young Heber.

"I, of course, owe everything to my mother," said President Grant, who was the seventh president of the LDS Church. "The marvelous teachings, the faith, the integrity of my mother have been an inspiration to me."

President Monson shared this quote from President Grant in the book "Favorite Quotations from the Collection of Thomas S. Monson":

"There seems to be a power which the mother possesses in shaping the life of the child that is far superior, in my judgment, to the power of the father, and this almost without exception. A mother's love seems to be the most perfect and the most sincere, the strongest of any love we know anything about."

Sarah Smith

President George Albert Smith's father was called on a mission when George was 5 years old. The family survived thanks to Sarah Smith's frugality, hard work and determination. During this critical time, she taught George to pray and trust in the Lord.

"When I think of the influence of my mother when I was a little (boy), I am moved to reverence and tears," President Smith, the eighth LDS Church president, said in "Teachings of the Presidents of The Church: George Albert Smith." "I remember as though it were yesterday. … I knelt before her and held her hand as she taught me to pray. Thank God for those mothers who have in their hearts the spirit of the gospel and a desire to bless. I could repeat that prayer now and it is a great many years since I learned it. It gave me an assurance that I had a Heavenly Father, and let me know that He heard and answered prayer."

Jennette McKay

President David O. McKay's two older sisters died one year before his father was called on a mission to Scotland, and his mother, Jennette Evans McKay, was pregnant. Despite these circumstances, Jennette McKay encouraged her husband to accept his call.

"My mother’s beautiful example has always remained with me also — her gentleness and patience and sincerity," President McKay, the ninth LDS Church president, said in "Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay."

"I cannot think of a womanly virtue that my mother did not possess," President McKay said on another occasion. "To her children, and all others who knew her well, she was beautiful and dignified. Though high-spirited, she was even-tempered and self-possessed. … In tenderness, watchful care, loving patience, loyalty to home and to right, she seemed to me in boyhood, and she seems to me now after these years, to have been supreme."

Julina Smith

When Julina Lambson Smith gave birth to future LDS Church President Joseph Fielding Smith in 1876, she promised the Lord she "would do all in her power to help him be a credit to the Lord and his father," according to a 1972 Ensign article titled "Joseph Fielding Smith: Apostle, Prophet, Father in Israel" on

In addition to being a mother and serving as a leader in the Relief Society, Julina was a midwife. Her young son Joseph was assigned to hitch up the family mare, "Old Meg," drive the buggy and wait for his mother while she helped deliver babies. He didn't mind in the summer, but he didn't appreciate the duty at night or on cold winter days.

"Sometimes I nearly froze to death," President Smith said in the "Presidents of the Church" student manual. "I marveled that so many babies were born in the middle of the night, especially on cold winter nights."

Sarah Benson

In the book "Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography," by Sheri Dew, President Benson expressed appreciation for his mother's homemaking and culinary skills (he never forgot the day she first turned on running water from the tap and cried), her sense of humor, and her overall positive influence.

"Very seldom, if ever, did I find mother depressed," said President Benson, the 13th LDS Church president, in his biography. "And never can I remember her raising her voice, except when she called father in from the field."

He was grateful for Sarah Benson's righteous example and unwavering spiritual guidance, especially when his father was called on a mission, leaving 12-year-old Ezra to manage the farm.

"We had great spiritual moments in our home while Father was on his mission," President Benson said in the biography. "In our prayers at night, Mother prayed that Father would be successful and that he wouldn't worry about home. She prayed that our work would go well in the fields, that we'd be kind to each other. She may have wept in the privacy of her bedroom, but she never doubted Father's call. When your mother prays with such fervor, night after night, you think twice before you do something to disappoint her."

Flora Benson

President Benson's wife, Flora, was also a remarkable wife and mother. After the family moved to the Washington, D.C., area, Flora, a mother of six, helped her son Reed Benson deal with an unusual situation in his new school, according to "Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography."

When Reed and another student got into a fight at school, the gym teacher declared the two would slug it out the following week with gloves and a referee in a boxing ring. When Reed told his mother, Flora embraced the challenge by buying a book and coaching her son with a punching bag in the basement. On the day of the big fight, she fasted and prayed for Reed, the biography recounts.

"Reed felt it was his mother kneeling in prayer that pulled him through," the biography reads. "Round after round they went. Years later, Reed would say he met the real victor when he came home that night and saw his mother. 'When mother prayed for us, we knew things would be all right,' he said. He won the match."

President Benson spoke of his wife and the role of mothers in a 1981 general conference talk.

"I gratefully acknowledge the devotion, optimism, faith and loyalty of my own eternal companion, Flora," President Benson said. "She has been a constant source of insight and inspiration to the family. Her congeniality, fine sense of humor and interest in my work have made her a pleasing companion, and her unbounded patience and intelligent insight made her a most devoted mother. Gladly losing herself in service to her husband and children, she has shown a courageous determination to magnify what she knows is the divine and glorious calling of being a worthy wife and mother.

"As I look at you tonight, I feel to say, 'What choice spirits you are to be reserved as wives and mothers in Zion at this critical hour!'" he continued. "I testify to you, dear sisters, the truthfulness and eternal nature of your honored place as women."

Marjorie Pay Hinckley

Many came to know Sister Marjorie Pay Hinckley, the wife of LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, through her twinkling eyes and smile, her sense of humor, her independent spirit, and her devotion to the gospel and family. Sister Hinckley, who died in 2004, was the strength of their family, President Hinckley said in 2003.

"Since (our children) were babies they have looked to her, and she has always responded with affection, guidance, teaching, blessing their lives in every way," President Hinckley said in a talk titled "To the Women of the Church," delivered at the General Relief Society Meeting in September 2003.

The true strength of any nation, society or family stems from children being taught by their mothers, President Hinckley said in the "Presidents of the Church" student manual.

"God bless you, mothers!" President Hinckley said. "When all the victories and defeats of men’s efforts are tallied, when the dust of life’s battles begins to settle, when all for which we labor so hard in this world of conquest fades before our eyes, you will be there, you must be there, as the strength for a new generation, the ever-improving onward movement of the race. Its quality will depend on you."

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