(Compiled by Dennis B. Horne)
Elder Matthew Cowley, member of the Quorum of the Twelve (Part 1)
[Editorial Note: This material continues the reminiscences of Elder Glen L. Rudd relating to his former mission president, mentor, and close friend, Elder Matthew Cowley. Missionary Rudd had returned home to Salt Lake from New Zealand at the start of WWII, married, started a poultry business, and been called as a young bishop. President Cowley remained in New Zealand, at the First Presidency’s request, until the end of the war and then returned home at which time he was called to the apostleship. There is a little repetition in a few stories.]
The very next day Brother Cowley’s phone rang and it was President David O. McKay. He said, “Brother Cowley, this is David O. McKay and this is your official call to preside over the New Zealand Mission. We need you there in about six weeks.”
He and his wife had very little time to get ready, but they made it and got to New Zealand sometime during February 1938. They stayed for almost seven and a half years.
During Brother Cowley’s first mission (which lasted five years), he was in New Zealand during the entire time that America was at war in WWI. When he was called back in 1938 to be the mission president, New Zealand went to war in September of 1939 and all of the missionaries were called home in October of 1940. He was left alone until 1945. By that time WWII was fought and he had been in New Zealand during that entire time. Because of his two missions to New Zealand, he missed both World Wars.
When Brother Cowley returned home in September 1945, he didn’t own a car—didn’t own a home—didn’t have any insurance—didn’t have any money, everything had been spent during his years in New Zealand. He was looking for a job. He had two or three opportunities, but didn’t like them. Only three weeks after he got home, he went to October conference. The night before, President George Albert Smith called him and told him to sit on the front row in the Tabernacle and in the event that they had five minutes, they would call on him to give his testimony. If they didn’t have five minutes, they were going to call on him to offer a prayer.
I went with him to the Tabernacle. I was a bishop and had a pass, but because he didn’t have a pass, we were given quite an argument getting him in. We talked him in and he sat on the front row. After the opening prayer, President J. Reuben Clark, Jr. read off the names of all of the general authorities. There were then only eleven members of the Twelve. President George Albert Smith had just been made President of the Church which created a vacancy. When President Clark read off the eleven names, he paused, and then announced the twelfth apostle – Matthew Cowley. That was the first Brother Cowley knew about it. He had not been told and it was a surprise to him and all of the rest of us. His wife was home doing some work when the phone began to ring with people calling congratulating her. She was upset because she hadn’t been to conference. President George Albert Smith didn’t tell the Twelve until only just a few minutes before the beginning of that general conference.
With World War II, new missionaries were no longer being sent out. Our mission hadn't received any new elders for over a year, and there were only 34 missionaries left to keep the mission running. One day President Cowley received a cablegram calling the missionaries home on account of the war. European missionaries had been called home and now it was our turn. President Cowley read it to us: we had been called home.
President Cowley remained for the next five years with his wife, daughter, and little adopted Maori boy for the entire war. He was stranded, unable to leave the country. But he was the kind of person to be stranded there. He had already been there on his first mission, so on that second assignment of eight years, he had a wonderful time. On his first mission, he had been there for five years throughout the entire First World War. So altogether his two missions comprised thirteen years and he missed out on both wars.
When he finally returned home, President Cowley wondered what he would do for a living. He had been a lawyer and had practiced law for about twelve years, but he didn't have a practice to come back to. He had never made very much money and was struggling. We took him to look for a car. The war had just ended and it was very difficult to get a car. He was on waiting lists to get a car. Those of you who are older may remember how you couldn't buy anything without tickets or coupons and had to be on a waiting list to get a car. People who talked with Brother Cowley said they would get him a car, but for a while nobody could. Then one day, someone finally did, but not until after Brother Cowley had been a member of the Twelve for quite a while. Upon his return, he was forty-eight and totally broke.
It was then time for General Conference and I told Brother Cowley I would pick him up and take him. On the way, I said, "President, how are you going to get into the tabernacle? You don't have a ticket." "Well, how are you going to get in?" he asked. I replied, "I'm a bishop, and I'm going to sit with the bishops." He said, "Well, last night, President George Albert Smith called me and asked me to sit on the front row. Frequently, they have five extra minutes and call on a returned mission president to come up and bear his testimony. If there isn't any extra time, I'll probably be called on to pray. So I'm to tell the ushers that I'm supposed to sit on the front row."
When we arrived at the tabernacle, he talked his way in. After the opening song and prayer, President J. Reuben Clark asked that George Albert Smith be sustained as the President of the Church and Prophet of the Lord. He next read off the names of the Twelve, including Matthew Cowley at the bottom to fill the vacancy. Matthew Cowley didn't know anything about it. It was an exciting moment. President Smith knew where he was. He was President Smith's pride and joy since he was a little boy. President Smith didn't even tell him what was going to happen; he just had him sustained. Very few apostles have been sustained that way. Sister Cowley hadn't been listening to conference at home. The phone began to ring and her friends started to congratulate her. She didn't know why; but she was a little upset because she hadn't gone to conference.
He was a little shaken up, as you can imagine. I told him to let me drive back to conference. There he gave his very first talk accepting the great calling that had come to him. For 8 ½ years, he served in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He was one of the most loved men in the Church. Since President Smith couldn't keep all his appointments, he gave most of them to Brother Cowley. He was the Prophet's best friend, and so he gave him all kinds of special assignments.
When Brother Cowley returned from his mission and became an apostle, he wanted me to travel with him. I didn't want to because of my new calling as bishop, but I did go with him on a few trips. We were together almost every single day that he was in town. He would come to my place of business and wait. Then we would go bless someone. I have no idea how many hundreds of people we administered to, but it was day after day.
In the afternoon session Elder Cowley was asked to speak, giving his “apostolic acceptance” speech, as they were often referred to. President Smith, who was conducting, accidentally called him by his father’s name, Mathias F. Cowley (who had been an apostle long before but had been removed from the Quorum), but then quickly corrected himself. You can listen to Elder Cowley’s first (inspiring) conference address by copying and pasting this link into your browser, and going to 1:43:53 minutes in: https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets?id=ab7be049-9c19-48ba-862c-9d7ae488a29d&crate=0&index=0 ]
Brother Cowley didn't know at the time he was called to be an apostle that Senator Elbert D. Thomas from Utah and a very close friend to President Harry S. Truman was working on the proposition that Matthew Cowley be called by the U.S. Government to represent the United States in the New Zealand Consulate [as Ambassador]. It would have been a great assignment for Brother Cowley and he, no doubt, would have accepted—except that the Lord had other plans. Instead, President George Albert Smith called him to be an apostle.
Brother Cowley was not the least bit interested in running for political office, but he had great respect for Senator Reed Smoot, for whom he had worked as a young man while attending law school. In Brother Cowley's last talk on 4 October 1953, he spoke mainly about prayer. When it was over, he said to me: "I would have liked to have told the Saints about the many times I went into the office of Senator Reed Smoot in Washington D.C. and found him on his knees. He was truly a great man and prayed constantly over the problems he had. If I were to mention his name in my talk and his prayerful efforts, someone would have accused me of politics."
While I was in the hospital, Elder Cowley visited me every day, sometimes for up to an hour. He seemed to have a great attraction to hospitals. Elder Albert E. Bowen spent the last months of his life in the LDS Hospital in critical condition [in a private room]. Many nights, after we were through with our normal activities and visits, Elder Cowley suggested that we go see Elder Bowen. We almost always ended our visit by giving him a special blessing.
Many times Elder Cowley came to my office [at Rudd’s poultry processing plant] and waited for up to three hours while I got through the heavy part of my work and then we went to bless people. On several occasions, while he was waiting for me, President George Albert Smith's secretary called my office trying to find Elder Cowley. She would say, "Tell him the President of the Church needs him to come to the office as soon as possible."
Many years ago I served a mission in New Zealand. The day I arrived, I had the opportunity of meeting President Matthew Cowley for the first time. During the next two years we became close friends, and during the latter part of my mission I lived in the mission home and traveled with President Cowley throughout New Zealand.
He was an excellent teacher and a most interesting person. Some years later, while he was a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, I accompanied him on two or three occasions when he was the speaker at Brigham Young University devotionals. Everyone loved to hear his stories. Even though he passed away many years ago, people in many parts of the Church are still interested in the faith-promoting stories he told.
Over and above everything else, President Cowley tried to keep the things he taught simple. In fact, he said many times that he was unable to speak very often of subjects beyond the first principles of the gospel. I remember well that he spoke about prayer, faith, and repentance. For several years he had a talk about baptism prepared, which he wanted to give in general conference, but life ran out before he gave that talk. He lived simply. He really didn’t concern himself with his own personal needs; he only wanted to bless and inspire people to live the gospel in a simple way.
President Spencer W. Kimball was a man of good humor. He loved to hear a good story. He commented several times that the funniest story he had ever heard in his life was the one I had told him about Brother Cowley and a deep freezer. This is the story:
Brother Paul Pehrson owned Pehrson Hardware in the Sugarhouse area of Salt Lake City. He was prosperous and a fine Latter-day Saint. Brother Cowley and I would drop in his store frequently to do some shopping or visiting. Every time we went into the store, Brother Cowley would go over to the freezers that were on sale at the back of the store. Brother Cowley didn't seem to notice the other appliances, just the deep freezers. I began to realize that he really wanted one.
After we had been to the store about five times, and Brother Pehrson had watched Brother Cowley opening and closing the freezer doors, he called me one day at work and asked, "Bishop, does Brother Cowley really want a deep freezer?" I replied, "We both know he would like to have one; he seems to be fascinated with them. But I don't think he needs one, and I know they can't afford one." Brother Pehrson said to me. "I've had a good year. I've made more money than I have made ever before, and it wouldn't hurt me to give him a deep freezer. But I am reluctant to do it because I don't want to embarrass him in any way." I told Paul that it would be difficult to embarrass Brother Cowley. He always appreciated it when someone gave him something. But I don't think he would ever expect to get such a valuable gift as a deep freezer. Brother Pehrson asked me how he should approach Brother Cowley. I said,
"Just call him on the phone and say, "Brother Cowley, you've been in the store several times and I have an idea you would like to have a deep freezer." He will then tell you it is true. Then you can say to him, "I would like to give you a freezer if it is alright."
Brother Pehrson called Brother Cowley and said, "Brother Cowley, I don't want to embarrass you or make you feel funny, but I wonder if it would be alright if I gave you a nice new deep freezer." Instead of Brother Cowley saying something like, "I'd love to have it," or "thanks," his immediate answer was, "full or empty?"
Brother Cowley did get the freezer—an empty one. However, some of his missionaries helped him fill it and he enjoyed it throughout the balance of his life.
Brother Pehrson got more unexpected and unsolicited advertising from this gesture than anything else he could have done. Brother Cowley let everyone know where they should go for their hardware and appliances.
One day Brother Cowley and I were walking down Main Street in Salt Lake City. We got down a block or so when he said, “Let’s stop in this place and get a good cold drink.” At the very back of this tall building, about fifty or sixty steps, was a little confectionary place where you could buy cigars, cigarettes, candy, and drinks. It was a narrow entrance and we walked to the back. Brother Cowley said, “We want two ice cold Coca Colas.”
The clerk took the cap off of the Coke and handed it over to Brother Cowley and he handed it to me. The clerk grabbed the other Coke, but before he could remove the cap Brother Cowley said, “I’ve changed my mind. I think I’ll have an Orange Crush.”
There I am standing holding a Coca Cola in an uptown office building and he is drinking an Orange Crush!
He had planned this all out in advance just to pull a trick on me. We were standing there drinking and all of a sudden he says, “Don’t turn around! Don’t turn around! Here comes Harold B. Lee!” I did turn around and it wasn’t Brother Lee, but just typical Matthew Cowley….
On one wonderful occasion, Matthew Cowley insisted, against my protest, that I go with him to the office of J. Reuben Clark, Jr., then a member of the First Presidency, to receive some final instructions before leaving on an extended trip to the Islands. We were, at that time, on our way to the railroad station.
When we arrived at President Clark's office, he shook our hands and said to Brother Cowley, "Now kid, don't forget Rule 6."
When Brother Cowley asked what Rule 6 was, President Clark replied, "Don't take yourself too darn seriously."
I smiled, and Brother Cowley inquired as to what the other five rules were. "There aren't any," President Clark replied.
Then Brother Cowley received some very detailed instructions about not flying in airplanes any more than he had to. (President Clark was very opposed to air travel at that time.) He also received instructions on how to eat as he traveled among the natives in other countries and particularly warned him against eating uncooked foods and overeating the fruits. He was urged to get plenty of sleep and take care of himself.
It was interesting to be in the presence of these two great men and listen to President Clark give a younger apostle some good fatherly advice about his many journeys out into the far places of the globe. He was one of the greatest teachers of his time.
[Editorial Note: Those interested in gaining a further understanding and appreciation of President J. Reuben Clark, whom so many members of the Quorum of the Twelve thought so highly of, might watch some of his general conference messages; copy and paste link into browser: