(Compiled by Dennis B. Horne)
Elder Matthew Cowley, member of the Quorum of the Twelve (Part 3)
Not long ago there came into my office a man who is in his late forties. I had a nice friendly visit with Joe. We talked about a wonderful event that occurred early in his life. Forty years ago, Elder Matthew Cowley and I went to the Salt Lake County hospital to bless a little Joe who was dying with polio. He was in an area restricted for polio patients. After we had scrubbed up and put on gowns and hoods, with everything covered but our eyes, we were escorted down the long corridor of the hospital to give this little eight-year old boy a blessing. His mother had begged us to come, and before we went in she pleaded, "Don't let my little boy die."
We entered the room. His nurse shook her head as she walked away from a large iron lung that was enabling him to breathe. Before leaving the room she said, "You are too late. If you had been fifteen minutes sooner you could have helped him. A chill went through both of us. There was a question as to whether we should go ahead and bless him—but we did.
I anointed him and Brother Cowley sealed the anointing. In that blessing he was promised that he would be made well; that he would run and play and have no infirmities that would hurt him. He promised him that he would grow up to get a good education; that he would fulfill a mission; that he would be married in the temple; and that he would become a good, fine Latter-day Saint. Then we left. It was a great moment—a very tender moment.
Back in those days we blessed many people who had polio. We were among the very few who were allowed into the polio ward of the hospital. No one knew what caused polio back then. We went and we survived, and many of the polio victims did too; and so did little Joe.
We went back a week later to see how Joe was. We scrubbed up as usual and we put on om gowns, but this time we didn't have to cover om heads. The nurse said, "Now, don't walk down the corridor yet. You wait for me." She went down the corridor and soon, bursting out of the room on a dead run, was little Joe whom we had blessed the week before. He ran toward us, and when he got within about six or eight feet, he jumped up and we caught him in our arms. He said, "I know who you two guys are." We said, "Who are we?" He said, "You're the two guys who blessed me last week and made me well." We let him know that it was his Heavenly Father who had blessed him and made him well, not us.
We talked to him for a little while, and then he took us into his room and said, "My partner here is really bad. He's going to die. You give him a blessing." So, we gave that boy a blessing. Then Joe said, "Now come across the hall; I have another partner over here." He took us in to a boy about fourteen. Joe said: "Bless him. Bless him. Get him better." We talked to that boy and we blessed him.
The next week we went back and Joe said, "I don't want you to bless any more of my partners." We said, "Why not?" He said, "Well, the one that was going to die went home the next day. I've been kind of lonesome ever since." That's why he didn't want us to bless any more.
Joe was kept in the hospital for two more weeks until he could breathe without a tracheotomy. His parents took him to live in Arizona and we lost track of him. Brother Cowley died later that year.
Joe was nineteen when I next saw him and his mother in Arizona while attending a stake conference. I talked with them and urged Joe to plan on serving a mission. He said he wanted to stay in school for a while. But when I reminded him that as an eight year old his life was spared and he was promised that he would serve a mission, he agreed to go. He was sent to Argentina and fulfilled a fine mission. I had the privilege of going with him to the temple when he was married. And he called me the day their first little child was born. ·
During his recent visit to my office, it was wonderful to sit with him and reflect on the great miracle that occurred in his life. Brother Cowley has mentioned this miracle in two different talks. Thousands of audiotapes entitled, "Miracles," have found their way around the world, and this story is mentioned in them, as well as in the book Matthew Cowley Speaks.
As I sat with Joe and saw what a wonderful man he had become—a fine scout leader and faithful Latter-day Saint, I remembered the little boy with his head protruding from an iron lung, discolored, and the nurse saying, "You're too late." But, we weren't too late!
https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets?id=72831c5c-c07a-4f2f-8f62-b6e032ec9771&crate=0&index=0 (1:29:00 mins in). Elder Cowley mentions a young bishop he went to the Polio Ward with, who was Bishop Rudd.]
Just five days before Brother Cowley died, he gave a talk in his own ward. Among other things he told the following story which he had never mentioned before.
A little child who lives on B Street [Salt Lake City Avenues area] was hit by an automobile, down in American Fork. For seven months that child lay on that bed up there at home. It never spoke; it was unconscious, had to be fed intravenously. I was speaking down in the old Granite Tabernacle, for a Japanese girl's farewell. The girl was a hairdresser, and the mother of this child was one of her clients. So after the meeting, she came up and said to me, "I wonder if you would have time to come up and bless my little girl?" I said, "Yes, I would be glad to; where do you live?" She told me, and I said, "That's not far from where I live." So the next day we went up. I called a young bishop [Glen Rudd] and away we went. We went up there and saw this child. Now, I believe if I hadn't been among the natives down in the islands, I wouldn't have had a bit of faith. There was that child helpless, all crippled up, and after that I went up once in a great while, once or twice I went fasting. One day I picked up the telephone at home, and the mother said to me, "Just wait a minute." So I waited there a minute, and I heard a little voice say, "This is so and so." And it was that little girl. Last summer she was baptized, and she asked me if I would baptize her. So I went down to the Tabernacle and baptized the little girl. Now she is going to school; her vision isn't perfect yet, but it is coming back. She is walking, and she is playing; she is talking, and she is singing. Now to me that was just as miraculous as raising the dead.
And so God does work through us brethren if we are simple enough to let him, if we don't try to rationalize all these things. Of course we need medical science. All wisdom I think, comes from God. The Spirit of Christ permeates the universe, and all of these things are part of God's great program. We should appreciate them; we should use them. But on the other hand, medical science sometimes has to lay the burden down, and there's always a Power that can pick it up. God wants it that way. And so, my brothers and sisters, let's be a little more simple in our faith. A little more simple in our living, and we don't need to have a lot of money, a lot of wealth. We don't need luxuries. Many of the most unhappy people in the world are people who have everything they want.
For fifteen 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 was the mission president. He always had a positive and happy disposition and 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. He always joked and pointed out the humor in everyday events in our lives. I think this was a most important part of his personality—his great ability to see the interesting, the exciting, and the humorous in every event of life. He didn't seem to ever become greatly depressed.
Even with his call to the apostleship, and helping to carry the heavy load of the Church, President Cowley never became weighed down with problems. He did show concern for individual people and their problems in life. He had respect for other people's abilities and earnestly worked with them to help them solve their personal problems. He served well as an Apostle and he was never happier than when he was out blessing people who were sick or who had other problems. However, I began to see a change in him late in 1953.
President Cowley was his normal, carefree self up to the October 1953 general conference. He mentioned to me two or three different subjects he might speak about during the conference. He had always wanted to give a talk on baptism. He evidently had some great thoughts that had never been expressed about this important principle. 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 talk on another subject. It turned out to be his farewell address. When the conference was over, I noticed something had happened to him. He still had his sense of humor but there had been a decided change. He said to me that he didn't think he was going to live very long. During the next while, we had quite a number of discussions about life and how long men ought to really live.
Through the balance of October and all of November, he mentioned that he was not going to live long. He had often said to me that he did not want to become an old man. I think one reason he blessed 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. Many times we went to visit Brother Albert E. Bowen as he was slowly dying. Sometimes late at night after we had been somewhere, Brother Cowley would suggest that we go to the hospital to visit Brother Bowen and comfort him. Brother Cowley was touched by those who suffered the difficulties of growing old.
Brother Cowley began telling me things he had never told me before. During November he had developed a kidney problem and missed a stake conference or two, but by Thanksgiving Day he said his doctor told him he was now in real good shape. Brother Cowley then said that there were some things the doctor didn't know. He told me again that he didn't think he would live very long. But even when saying this he wasn't discouraged or depressed.
Brother Cowley had to go to Logan on the third of December to be in a panel discussion at the university. Even though I was extremely busy at work, I didn't want him to drive up there alone. So I took the day off and drove him to Logan.
As we travelled he told me about his boyhood and a lot of experiences he had. We talked a lot about our mutual friends in New Zealand who had passed away. Then all at once he said, very matter-of-factly, 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 probably just a little tired and needed to rest. He disagreed. He said he wanted to share something that was very sacred and he started to tell me but changed his mind. "Oh, I better not," he said. He did this a couple of times. I had the feeling that he knew something or had some kind of a manifestation or other great spiritual experience. But because of its sacredness he declined to tell.
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 a rear booth. There were hardly any people in the restaurant that night. We stayed for at least three hours. At about 11:30, the manager came and asked us to go home so he could close up. Brother Cowley told me that night that he knew that he was going to die and convinced me that he knew what he was talking about. He said, "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." He said, "When I go to bed at night now, I look around the house, give my wife a little extra kiss, say my prayers, and get into bed and then go to sleep. "I know the exact time that I will pass away." I said to him, "If I knew I was going to die some night I don't believe I could go to sleep." Then he responded, "Oh yes you would. You know as well as I do that life is eternal. If I go to bed and pass away in my sleep, then when I wake up on the other side, I'11 do what whoever 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 worry about. I told him how nervous I would be and he said, "Well if you knew what I knew you wouldn't be nervous." He said, "It's fine with me, I'm happy. I think this is the way it ought to be."
President Cowley told me that he did not know which morning—the exact day, that he would die. But he said to me, "You know what time I wake up every day?" I said, "Yes." Well he said, "Before I pass away, I'm going to get a good night's sleep and then at the time I generally wake up I will take a big deep breath, turn over, and just quietly drift away. There won't be any pain or suffering or any other difficulty and that's just the way I've always wanted it to be. It's all arranged and I'm looking forward to it." And that's exactly the way he died.
Over the years, I have reviewed in my mind many, many times the things he mentioned. I have thought what a great experience it was for me to be so close to a man who lived so close to the Lord that he and the Lord were able to arrive at a calm agreement when and how he would conclude his life's activities. I think few men have had that privilege.
Matthew Cowley died in California, December 13, 1953, at the time of the laying of the cornerstone of the Los Angeles Temple. His body was brought back to Salt Lake City on a Tuesday morning. A group of New Zealand missionaries were there to meet the train. Sometime later I went up to the Cowley’s home. As I entered the front door, I noted in the front room a meeting being held with Sister Cowley. Elders Spencer W. Kimball, Harold B. Lee, and Joseph Fielding Smith were there. When they saw me, they called for me to come in and join them. They wondered if I might have a copy of what Brother Cowley had suggested for his funeral service. They were reluctant to put anything together without knowing what he wanted. I said that Brother Cowley definitely did not want to plan his own service.
Elder Kimball, as chairman of this small committee, told me that they had been appointed to arrange his funeral. At this point, they were suggesting that President McKay speak, as well as President J. Reuben Clark, Jr. They asked me if I thought Brother Cowley would have liked anyone else to talk. I said, "I think he would like to have President Joseph Fielding Smith talk. He had great love for President Smith and he would have wanted the president of his priesthood quorum to speak. President Smith very humbly and sweetly said, "If you think Matt would like me to talk, I would be glad to do so, but I will not speak very long."
Then Elder Kimball kindly said, "We are a little reluctant to ask, but we think it would be nice if you would talk. We are hesitant to ask you, because it may be too hard, because of your close relationship, but it would be good if one of his missionaries spoke to represent all of his missionaries and also the people of the islands." He also said that it would be good if there would be a speaker other than the General Authorities. After a moment I told him, though it would be difficult, I would appreciate the opportunity. I also said I thought President Cowley would appreciate it. Therefore, the funeral arrangements were concluded and it was held on Wednesday in the Tabernacle.
I was asked by the funeral planning committee if Brother Cowley would like to have anyone else speak in addition to Presidents Clark and McKay. I recalled a conversation I had with Elder Cowley much earlier when we were discussing the Brethren's kindness. He told me that the kindest, most understanding apostle of all was President Joseph Fielding Smith. To the general church membership, he was known to be a little sharp and direct at the pulpit, but they didn't know the "real" President Smith.
I had asked Brother Cowley, "What about President So and So? He's thought of as the kindest man in the Church." And he replied, "I don't want to argue, I just want to tell you that Joseph Fielding Smith is the one man I would want to be my judge if I should get into any kind of trouble. He would be the most understanding, lenient, and merciful; I would choose him above all the others.
Elder Cowley rarely did anything without getting advice or counsel from this great man who presided over him in the priesthood. So when I was asked by the committee about another speaker, I suggested President Joseph Fielding Smith who was right there. He promptly accepted. The Brethren then asked me to speak.
As I have said, Matthew Cowley was an unusual man, simple, uncomplicated, ordinary, and wonderful. He was not the greatest man I have known, nor the smartest, best organized, or the best leader or hardest worker. He did a lot of wonderful things in a Polynesian Island [easy-going] style. But of all the men I have ever known, I have never known one with more faith.
https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets?id=9b959acb-7e04-47f5-8318-63ea6d8cac25&crate=0&index=0 (23:15 mins in; Elder McConkie follows Elder Cowley)
https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets?id=0e190e2c-994b-46ee-9e9a-38a55a71b33d&crate=0&index=0 (1:36:00 mins in; for those interested, Elder McConkie is at 1:04:55)
https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets?id=4e1ce112-7e7b-4658-86b1-8f2aa70049b9&crate=0&index=0 (Elder Cowley speaks some Maori language in this talk.)