‘A courageous warrior for truth’: President Ballard celebrated by Latter-day Saint leaders, family
At his funeral Friday, President M. Russell Ballard was remembered as one of the most remarkable and dedicated missionaries of his or any era
Calling him a “courageous warrior for truth” and one of the most dedicated and remarkable missionaries of his or any other generation, Latter-day Saint leaders celebrated and mourned President M. Russell Ballard at his funeral on Friday.
“He passed from this life into the next with his testimony burning brightly,” said the First Presidency in a letter read by its first counselor, President Dallin H. Oaks. The letter also called President Ballard an “extraordinary example of a covenant-keeping disciple of Jesus Christ.”
President Ballard died Sunday, Nov. 12, at age 95 while serving as acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He had been a fixture in church leadership for nearly half a century. He served for 47 years as a general authority of the church, 38 of them as an apostle.
“As a young missionary to Great Britain, as a mission president in Toronto and as a general authority, he has traversed the globe many times, teaching and testifying of Jesus Christ and the restoration of his gospel,” the First Presidency said in its letter. “He has been a courageous warrior for truth.”
President Ballard also was a direct link to the church’s humble founding in 1830 and played a role in its ongoing global emergence across several decades.
He sometimes reminded his children, “You have the blood of prophets in your veins.” He was the great-great-grandson of Hyrum Smith, who served as assistant president of the church to his brother, Joseph Smith, the church’s founding president and prophet.
President Ballard’s great-grandfather was a church president, Joseph F. Smith. Both of his grandfathers were apostles, Hyrum Mack Smith and Melvin J. Ballard.
Church President Russell M. Nelson, 99, watched from home as the funeral service took place at the historic Tabernacle on Temple Square.
President Jeffrey R. Holland, who has succeeded President Ballard as acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, spoke about their three-decades-long friendship and spending “six years at his elbow, watching closely his leadership of that quorum.”
“He was one of the remarkable missionaries of any era in the church,” President Holland said.
President Holland said that during his own recent five-week hospital stay, “three in an unconscious journey to the doorstep of death, President Ballard called or visited me in the hospital every day of those five weeks as my life hung in the balance.”
“How do you thank a man for that?” President Holland said.
He tried to reciprocate by visiting and calling President Ballard often over the last two to three weeks of his life.
“I got to kiss President Ballard’s cheek for the last time just hours before he passed,” President Holland said.
Before the funeral began, the east door of the Tabernacle opened with a blaze of sunshine. Before President Ballard’s casket entered, 10 members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles lined up on one side of the aisle to honor him. The other side of the aisle, opposite the quorum, was lined by members of the Presidency of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishopric.
The lines formed again after the funeral to bid farewell as the casket was wheeled out under blue skies on a beautiful, temperate fall day for the cortege to the Salt Lake Cemetery.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve said “one of the highlights of my life” was working with President Ballard on missionary initiatives, including both editions of the church’s “Preach My Gospel” missionary manual.
“I believe President Ballard was the most dedicated missionary of our generation,” Elder Cook said.
He called President Ballard a mentor to each member of the quorum.
“He was a warm bridge builder with a great sense of humor and was kind to everyone,” Elder Cook said. “He was wise and tried to keep things simple. He was inclusive and invited everyone into his circle. He exhibited great character and integrity in every aspect of his life. His personal testimony of the Savior was strong and unwavering. I am eternally grateful to have been blessed by the power of his testimony.”
President Nelson is president of the church as the most senior living apostle. The next senior, President Oaks, is the president of the Quorum of the Twelve, but because he is in the First Presidency, the quorum needs an acting president. In church practice, that falls to the third most-senior apostle, which had been President Ballard.
“He was a strong leader, and has left the quorum in a great place,” Elder Cook said.
Two of President Ballard’s children spoke. They said he was always a father first and that he helped them take a lighter view of life. He used short phrases like “Cool your jets,” “Think straight” and “Keep it simple.” The latter two of those phrases, and others, are engraved on President Ballard’s headstone.
His youngest child, Craig Ballard, said his father had a remarkable ability to tackle complex issues.
“My dad was a doer,” said Craig, who was 4 years old when President Ballard became a mission president in 1974. “Two days before he passed, he was convinced he was going into the office on Monday. I’m sure he’s working even harder now, but now in an office with an unbelievable view.”
Craig concluded by saying, “Dad, you have fought a good fight. You have finished your course. You have kept the faith.”
Holly Ballard Clayton remembered her father as “a consensus builder, a problem solver, a unifier.”
“Before he passed away, he always said, ‘I have a few more things to do,’” she said.
Clayton said her father was “our broad shoulder to cry on” but used a great sense of humor to help his children and grandchildren feel loved. When she was diagnosed with cancer, President Ballard called the family together and gave her a blessing of strength, peace and healing.
He deeply missed his wife, Sister Barbara Ballard, who died five years ago. Elder Cook said that President Ballard expressed how much he missed her in nearly every meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve since then.
“We share the belief that he is together with mom again, and we will be with them again, too,” Holly Ballard Clayton said.
She concluded, “We love you, Dad. Take Mom dancing.”
President Ballard was born Oct. 8, 1928, in Salt Lake City as part of the Smith family that founded the church.
After he served as a missionary and counselor in the mission presidency in England from 1948-50, he returned home to the University of Utah, where he met Barbara Bowen. They married in the Salt Lake Temple and had seven children — Clark, Holly, Meleea, Tamara, Stacey, Brynn and Craig.
They are survived by 43 grandchildren, 105 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
President Ballard owned a car dealership and worked in business until he was called as president of the Canada Toronto Mission. He was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy while in Toronto in 1976.
He was sustained by the church as an apostle on Oct. 6, 1985, and ordained four days later. He was set apart as acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve on Jan. 14, 2018.
When he died, President Ballard was the longest-serving living general authority, due to those nine years as a General Authority Seventy.
President Ballard spoke to millions in 88 talks delivered to general conferences of the Church of Jesus Christ, beginning in 1976. Links to each talk are available here. His 23 major speeches at BYU can be found here.