(Compiled by Dennis B. Horne)
For 15 years I had the privilege and opportunity of being extremely close to President Matthew Cowley. I first met him in 1938 when I arrived in the New Zealand mission. He always had a positive and happy disposition. He rarely got angry. He had the ability to accept life and to adjust to all situations. He had the greatest sense of humor of any person I ever met. I think the most important part of his personality was his great ability to see interesting, exciting, humorous aspects of every occurrence of his life. He did not have the ability to allow himself to get depressed. However, in the last two or three months of his life, I saw a great change come over him. He always joked and pointed out to me and others the humor in the normal events that took place in our lives.
Even with his great call to the apostleship, he continued to carry the heavy loads of the Church, but never to feel weighed down with the problems of the whole Church. He still worried about individual people and their concerns in life. He would rather bless the sick sister than solve some of the pressing problems that weighed heavily upon the Brethren. He had respect for other men’s ability and earnestly worked toward helping individuals solve some of their personal problems.
Up until October conference of 1953 he lived in his rather normal, happy fashion, but something happened to President Cowley during the conference. He had a rather light hearted spirit about him and had humorously talked about two or three different subjects he might speak about during conference. He always wanted to give a talk on baptism. He evidently had some great thoughts that had never been expressed about the principle of baptism. As conference approached, he told me two or three times, “I believe I’ll say what I want to say about baptism this time.” And so, I was somewhat surprised when he delivered a different talk. It was his old theme song and as I read it now, I think it was a farewell address. When the conference was over, he still had his sense of humor, but there had been a decided change in him. He told me he didn’t think he’d live long and we had quite a number of discussions about life and how long men ought to really live.
In the next two months, that is through the balance of October and all of November, on almost every occasion that we were together, he talked about not living to be an old man. He told me many times that he had never had a desire to be an old man. I think one reason he blessed the old people so much was he had a great sympathy for them and their struggles. I know President Clark’s advanced age with its many problems seemed to worry President Cowley. We went many times to visit Brother Albert E. Bowen as he slowly died by inches. Sometimes, late at night after we had been places, he would say, “Let’s go into the hospital.” We would go up to the room where Brother Bowen was and stand by his side and comfort him. When we came out, Brother Cowley was always touched by the difficulties men had to grow old and die.
As we talked and went about our usual vies together, he began to tell me things he had never told me before. During November he had a little kidney problem and missed a conference or two, but on Thanksgiving he told me that Dr. Maurice J. Taylor told him he was in real good shape. He said the doctor had given him an examination and told him he had no problems. He said to me, “But there are some things that he doesn’t know.” As he recovered from his little kidney problem, I sensed a sadness that I had never seen before and yet it was a kind of happy sadness. He was anything but depressed, and as we talked he told me that he didn’t think he would live very long.
He had to go to Logan to appear on a panel discussion at the University. I was extremely busy in my business. It was turkey time and during November and December we were tied to the business. However, I didn’t want him to go to Logan alone, and so on the third of December I took the day off and drove him to Logan. As we drove up, he told me about his boyhood and lots of experiences he had as a youngster. We talked a lot about our friends in New Zealand who had passed away and others that we had known who had gone to the other side. He told me very bluntly, very openly, that he and the Lord had arrived at a decision about his future and that he would not be living much longer. I argued with him and told him he was maybe a little tired and needed to rest, but he said he wasn’t tired and he didn’t need to rest.
He said he wanted to tell me something that was very sacred and once or twice he started to tell me. Each time after he alerted me that he wanted to tell me something, he changed his mind and said, “O, I better not.” I had a feeling that he knew something or had had some kind of a manifestation or a great spiritual experience, but because of the sacredness of it he declined to tell me the whole story.
I am thoroughly convinced that sometime during the October conference he had a special spiritual experience where his future was made known. He was totally at ease when he talked about passing away and going to the other side.
As we returned from Logan, we talked all the way about taking care of last-minute things for him. As we got to Salt Lake he said, “Let’s not go home; let’s go get a bowl of soup.” So we went to a Chinese restaurant and sat in the back booth. There were hardly any people in
the restaurant that night. We stayed and stayed for at least three hours. About 11:30 the manager came and asked us if he could do anything for us and let us know that he wanted to close up, then in a nice way he asked us if we could leave. It was almost midnight when I took him home. He told me that night he knew that he was going to die and he convinced me that he knew what he was talking about. Up to that day, I had been arguing with him and telling him he wasn’t going to, but there were so many details of things he wanted me to know that he thoroughly convinced me. He said to me, “When I go to bed now, I know that I’m going to die one of these mornings soon. I’m not going to die until after I have had a good night’s sleep.” He said, “I’m not going to the other side all tired out. When I go to bed at night now, I look around the house, take one good look, give my wife a little extra kiss, say my prayers, and get into bed and then go to sleep.” He said, “I know the exact time that I will pass away.”
I said to him, “Tumuaki, if I knew I was going to die some night I don’t believe I could go to sleep.”
Then he said, “Oh yes you would. You know as well as I do that life is eternal. If I go to bed and go to sleep and pass away in my sleep, then when I wake up on the other side, I’ll do what whomever is in charge tells me to do. If I wake up and I’m still here, then I’ll do what President McKay tells me to do here, so what difference does it make. Life is eternal.”
He emphasized the fact that I knew it as well as he knew it and that there was nothing to be nervous about. I told him how nervous I would be and he said, “Well, if you knew what I knew you wouldn’t be nervous. Its fine with me, I’m happy. I think this is the way it ought to be.”
He then told me he had one or two regrets and the biggest of all was that he didn’t have a lot of money to leave his family and that he didn’t have enough to help Jewell get a house. He had been greatly concerned about her and the struggles of married people. I told him “Tumuaki, it will do her and Val a lot of good to get their own house, so don’t worry about it.” He agreed that that was true.
He had had one severe critic who very unjustly said things about him. This had bothered me much more than him. On two or three occasions, I had asked permission to straighten this person out, but he never would allow that. However, on this last day that we were together for such a long time, he said, “When I’m gone, if you ever hear any more criticism from this individual, you go ahead and straighten it out.” Fortunately, I never heard any more and that problem just dissolved. [Editorial note: the only time I ever saw Elder Rudd annoyed or bothered was when I happened to show him a Sunstone magazine article written by Richard Poll that said he (Poll) didn’t really think Elder Cowley had been involved with so many wonderful miracles. Poll, not understanding how miracles work, or the nature of mighty faith, thought there should be evidence or proofs before he could believe. It was offensive to Brother Rudd that his testimony and witness and that of Elder Cowley was not considered solid and factual by some. I don’t know if Poll is the same critic Brother Rudd had in mind or not.]
President Cowley told me that he did not know which morning, the exact day, that he would die on, but he said to me, “You know what time I wake up every day.” I said, “Yes.” “Well,” he said, “that’s when I will pass away or that’s when I’ll go….” He said, “I’m going to get a good sleep and then at the time I generally wake up I will wake up and then I will take a great big deep breath and turn over and just quietly drift away. There won’t be any pain or suffering or any difficulty and that’s just the way I’ve always wanted it. It’s all arranged and I’m looking forward to it.” And that’s exactly the way he died.
Most all of the General Authorities went to Los Angeles for the laying of the temple cornerstone. He had had a great time going down and they had had a lovely experience on the Saturday morning of that big event. That night he was in the hotel in Los Angeles and had a good night’s sleep. At the usual wakeup time, he turned over and took a big deep breath and then never breathed again.
He said to me, “One of these mornings she will call you (meaning Sister Cowley), and will tell you that it’s happened.” He said, “Now don’t get all upset and go to pieces; it’s just the way it ought to be.” He told me very bluntly that he and the Lord had arrived at the decision which he felt calm and good about. On Sunday morning, December 13th, just ten days after he had been very specific and given very many details about his passing, it all came true. He went to the other side without any great distress or suffering. Somehow or other, as I have looked back on it over these many, many years, I have wished he had told me about the special spiritual experience, but I presume it was better that he had not. The one thing above everything else was his testimony of the fact that life goes on and that we serve here and there and it doesn’t make much difference which side we are on, there’s plenty to do and there’s someone in charge, and that he was thoroughly at ease in following the direction of whomever was in charge of him and his activities.
President Cowley didn’t want his wife to know that he knew he was going to pass away. He was certain in his mind that he did not want to distress her, but he went out of his way to tell me enough things so that I was thoroughly convinced that it was going to happen sometime. I guess my great desire to see him live on and on kept me from getting too excited. When the moment came for him to leave, I was not surprised, but then I realized more than ever before of the closeness that he had reached with the Lord and how true it is that the Love lives and is in control of everything that goes on in our lives.
During the 15 years we were real close friends, he was constantly strengthening my testimony. I think one of the greatest testimonies of my entire life is the one that came as a result of his being warned or being prepared to die, knowing that it was just the way he really wanted it.
On the day that he and Sister Cowley left to go to California on his last trip, he called me and wanted me to come and see him. I was extremely busy that day and told him I could get off work in time to take him to the train which I most generally did. He said, “No, I don’t want you to take me to the train today.” I said, "Well, you’ve got to go and I can come and get you, but I can’t come and spend much time.” He then told me that Jewell was going to come and take him to the train, but that he had to see me. He almost insisted that I leave work. It was a strange kind of request. He generally could wait and understand my busyness in my work. I talked to him a couple of times during the morning and finally went up to the apartment where we talked for a couple of hours.
He was all packed and ready to go and about one hour before Jewell was to come, he got more nervous than I had seen him for a long time. He kept wondering where she was and why she didn’t come. I told him, “Don’t worry about it if she doesn’t come, I can run you to the train.” But he didn’t want that and kept looking out the front window. He asked me at least a half dozen times to be sure and be at the train depot when he got home. I told him I would do that. This was not unusual because I had been in the habit of meeting him during the past few years as he traveled as one of the Twelve. In fact, it became our usual pattern that when he came home on the train, I almost always met him and we then went to breakfast.
On this last day he had nervousness, an anxiety, that I didn’t understand until three days later. He wanted to spend as much time with me as possible. There were a few final things to talk about. He insisted that Jewell take him to the depot and that I be there when he came home. With all this, I still didn’t realize that this was to be the last time I would be with him.
When I heard the news that he had passed away, only then did I understand that last afternoon with him. I then understood his nervousness and his desire to have Jewell take him to the train and for me to meet him when he came home.
Over the years, I have reviewed in my mind many, many times little things he mentioned and said, and I have thought what a great experience it was for me to be close to such a great man who lived so close to the Lord that he and the Lord were able to arrive at a calm agreement when he would conclude his life’s activities. Few men have had that privilege.