(Compiled by Dennis B. Horne)
In May 1959, I went with President Joseph Fielding Smith and his wife Jessie to a stake conference in Kanab and across the border to Arizona to dedicate a small chapel.
Following a long day of meetings, we began our drive home. After we had been driving for a while, the aged President Smith said he would like to drive. I was willing, but "Aunt" Jessie, as we called her, was absolutely positive that he should not drive. She had already told me earlier that if he asked, I was to tell him no.
The two of them had quite a little debate; both were kind but very hard headed and insistent. When I could see that the debate was going nowhere, I made one of the great mistakes of my traveling experiences. I said, "Let's vote on it." Immediately, she voted that he should not drive, and he voted that he should. Which left me in the middle with the deciding vote.
I turned to the back seat and looked at the very anxious look on his face. She, on the other hand, was giving me all kinds of signals. I finally gave the following vote: "I want the two of you to know that I have tried to live the gospel and sustain the Brethren. I have had a lot of experience in the Church; and I know the worst thing I can do is tum against the priesthood. I vote that President Smith, as the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, drive if he wants to." After all, it was his car and he should be familiar with it.
Aunt Jessie showed immediate displeasure, as I pulled over and helped President Smith into the front seat. He experienced the pleasure of driving for the next five or ten minutes, which was all he wanted before returning to the back seat. However, we did not hear a single word from the upset Jessie for about fifteen minutes.
Finally, President Smith said to me, "Well, Bishop, it won't be long before Jessie starts to talk again. It's been pretty nice to have her quiet for a while, but it can't last long." That started it off, and we all began visiting once again.
[Another version of the same story:]
As people have asked me about the General Authorities, I have always said that the easiest man to travel with was President Joseph Fielding Smith. He was President of the Twelve then and very powerful but never seemed to be nervous or concerned about anything—he just took everything in stride. President Smith never asked for favors. He always let me drive the car and do exactly as I pleased. He said, "If I want to tell you, I'll tell you, but just go ahead and drive, and we'll have a good time." He was a very quiet man and did not talk much until I learned that if I asked him a question about his father, President Joseph F. Smith, he was pleased to tell me about his father. No matter how long the trip was, he would happily talk about his father who had been the President of the Church.
On one rather long trip, President Smith asked me if he could drive the car. Sister Smith tried to get me to promise ahead of time, not to let him drive because of his age. I assured him I could handle it and Sister Smith spoke up and said she could do it as well. The President again informed the two of us that he wanted to drive the car. They argued about it for a while and I finally said, "There's three of us here, let's vote on it." President Smith said, "I vote I drive." Sister Smith immediately said, "I vote you don't." At that instant I realized I was in trouble. I took a deep breath and said that I voted with President Smith. It was too late for me to vote against the president of the Twelve. Sister Smith was furious. She immediately quit talking. The President turned to me and said, "Bishop, I think we've made her mad. But, pull over and let me drive." So, I did. He only drove about 10 minutes and said that was enough and I got back in the driver’s seat and went on our way. Fifteen or twenty minutes passed and President Smith said to me, "She's still mad, but it won't be long because she can't keep from talking very long." He was right. In a few more minutes, the conversation started and she was a part of it. I learned a great lesson about voting on that occasion.
On the same trip to Kanab in May 1959 with President and Sister Smith, we arose early on a beautiful, calm Sunday morning, which happened to be Mothers' Day, to dedicate a small chapel in Moccasin, Arizona. We drove with a number of other stake leaders on twenty-nine miles of dirt road to reach the chapel, which would accommodate a small ward of only about seventy members, including twelve American Indians who lived out on the reservation.
President Smith dedicated the building at 8:00 a.m. He indicated that he did not know of another LDS chapel that had been dedicated so early in the morning. The building was packed with visitors from all over the stake, making more than two hundred percent attendance.
This little chapel had been in use for many, many years but had never been completely finished; but it was now complete enough for dedication.
In September 1961, I had the opportunity of driving President and Sister Joseph Fielding Smith to Farmington, New Mexico, in my fast, new Pontiac station wagon. At that time, there wasn't much of a speed limit outside the city limits, and we could drive much faster than we do today.
When Sister Smith got behind the wheel, I was quite impressed with her ability to drive. She drove fast and was in charge all the way. On our way home from New Mexico, as she drove over the long stretches of road, I continually looked over her shoulder from the back seat to observe the speedometer. At one time, she was up to around 95 mph. I didn't say anything; but about that time, President Smith told her, "Mama, are you obeying the speed limit?"
She looked down at the speedometer and replied, "Yes, we're right on the speed limit."
He looked over, but couldn't see very well with his aging sight. He continued, "It seemed like we were going too fast. Whatever you do, don't speed." Of course he knew she was way over the speed limit; but in his kind way, he didn't get after her.
This same dialogue took place many times; and each time, Sister Smith calmly replied, "We are doing just fine; don't worry''—even when I observed, from the back seat, that the speedometer was reading 110 mph. At that moment, I was grateful that the President of the Quorum of the Twelve was sitting in the front seat. I did suggest at that time that perhaps she should cut it back a few miles, inasmuch as we really needed to get home safely and there was no real need to speed.
As evening began to close in on us, I suggested that we stop for the night. President Smith suggested that we get at least as far as Price. When we reached there about midnight, I again intimated that perhaps we should get a hotel room so that President and Sister Smith could get some rest. He looked at me and asked, "Bishop, are you tired?" "Well," I replied, "we've had a long day with a lot of meetings, and you certainly must be tired." He continued, "Are you too tired to go home?" "Not really," I answered.
He suggested that we drive all the way home and save on lodging expenses. So we continued on, and I delivered the Smiths to their home about 3:00 a.m., after a very speedy trip. Sister Smith was a great traveler, but a speed demon if there ever was one.
I learned many things from the Brethren through my travels with them and have hundreds of stories about them and our assignments. I traveled most with Elders Lee and Moyle and Elder Stirling W. Sill. For some reason, I went quite a bit with Elder Sill who was a well-educated man, a marvelous teacher, and a very vigorous speaker who told great stories. I think he inspired me to go home and study more than any of the other Brethren as he would tell part of a story and I would need to go home and find the rest of the story in the Bible or some other book.
When it came to food, I discovered that Elder Alma Sonne, an Assistant to the Twelve, was the biggest eater and Elder Sill was second biggest. I also discovered that Elder Lee, Elder Moyle, and Sister Jesse Evans Smith (the wife of President Joseph Fielding Smith) were by far the fastest and best drivers. Sister Smith was in a class by herself when it came to speeding. She loved to drive my Pontiac cars because in those days the speed limit did not mean much, and she always exceeded the limit. On one occasion we were coming home from New Mexico. President Smith was in front with her, and I was in the back when I realized she was going over 90 miles an hour. After a few moments President Smith said, "Mama, are you living within the speed limit?" She said, "Yes, papa. I'm right on the speed limit." I looked over from the back. seat and could see that she was going well over 90 miles an hour.
One of the Brethren refused to fly in an airplane [probably Pres. J. Reuben Clark]. He always took his wife with him everywhere so they always had a train or automobile ride. When I went in a car with them, she never quit telling him how to drive and how to avoid every bump and rock on the way. One time he said to me, "Glen, I think she has now reached perfection—she is an absolute perfect pessimist." The joke among the Brethren was that she always went with him because he would rather take her with him than kiss her goodbye.
One evening I went to visit Bruce R. McConkie for a few moments, then a member of the Twelve. President Joseph Fielding Smith, Amelia McConkie's father, had been living there since his wife, "Aunt Jessie," had passed away not long before. President Lee had insisted that President Smith go with him to England for an Area Conference; and while they were gone, Bruce and the rest of the family moved all of President Smith's belongings out of the apartment and into their home, where he would still have a nice bedroom and all the facilities he needed.
When I arrived that evening, I was greeted by Amelia, who said, "Oh, thank goodness you're here! We're having trouble with Dad! All he wants to do is sit in his bedroom and read. We can't get him to come out and be part of the family. We finally insisted that he leave the room; so he's sitting in front of the TV. A lovely musical program is showing, but he refuses to look at it. He just stares blankly, upset because he can't go back to his room and be alone. Please go talk to him and see if you can get him to be a little less ornery."
Here was the President of the Church. I knew him quite well; so I went in, tapped him on the shoulder, shook hands with him, and told him that tonight I was his home teacher and had come to see if he was happy and how he was getting along.
He immediately told me, "They push me around, make me do things I don't want to do. I want to go back into my room to read. They want me to sit out here and waste my time in front of the TV."
I answered, "Well, President, I don't blame you. But you really ought to come out of the bedroom as much as you can and be with the family. It will help you and help them. They would feel a whole lot better."
He smiled and laughed a little, and said, "Well, I guess everybody is right. But it's kind of hard to be lonely."
President Smith had a sweet smile. He was a kind man, anything but difficult. But he did like his privacy and had a difficult time adjusting to living with his daughter and son-in-law and not enjoying the sweet blessings that came with having Aunt Jessie around.
Elder Delbert L. Stapley of the Twelve was also a man who liked to go fast, but because he had been born and raised in Arizona he was a little hesitant to drive on snowy roads. Once I went with him to Smithfield (north of Logan, Utah), and there was a heavy snowfall during our Sunday meetings. We checked with the highway patrol and they told me we could make it alright if we were careful. As soon as we were in the car and moving, Elder Stapley told me to slow down even though I was only going about 25 mph. I said, "Brother Stapley, I've got to check the
road a little bit to see how slippery it is." We drove in deep snow through Logan and toward Sardine Canyon, and as we started to go up the steep hills I needed to keep the car going at least 25 to 30 miles an hour in order to be able to climb up the mountain pass. He was sitting with his nose on the windshield saying, "Glen, you've got to slow down. You've got to slow down." I had quite a time convincing him that if I slowed down we would stall out and never make it. That trip up over the mountains and down into Brigham City was a difficult trip for us, but he sighed a big sigh of relief when we were back on level ground.
Marion Duff Hanks of the Seventy was an excellent driver. One night coming down out of Burley, Idaho, we entered an area with heavy fog, and for an hour or two I had my forehead on the window trying to help keep us on the highway. Elder Hanks drove well, and he was also an interesting man to visit with.
President Gordon B. Hinckley and I have taken several good trips together. The trip I remember most was when we went to a stake in the Big Horn region of Wyoming. We stayed in the home of the stake president who was a very wealthy man and lived in luxury like I had not seen before. I remember President Hinckley talking about his father on that occasion and how to raise children. He said something I have never forgotten—"The only time my father ever laid his hands upon me was to bless me." I thought that was a great thing. He had a great love for his father. I had the privilege of knowing his father and being aware of the greatness of this man and could never figure out why he was not one of the Twelve Apostles until I realized that there was only room for 12 men. He and a few other good men were never in the Twelve even though they were well qualified for any position in the Church.