Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Elder LeGrand Richards’ Special Witness of Jesus Christ

[Readers desiring to obtain their own hardback copies of volume one of I Know He Lives: How 13 Special Witnesses Came to Know Jesus Christ can find copies on sale here  Softbound copies can be purchased here, on sale. An ebook (Kindle) edition is available on Amazon here, for cheap. The Amazon page also includes the Introduction and first chapter of volume one for free.]

(by Dennis B. Horne)


With all my heart and soul, I know this is the Lord’s work,

that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of the world, the head of His church,

that Joseph Smith was His prophet.


            Of Elder LeGrand Richards, President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “No one who listens to LeGrand Richards has any doubt that he knows that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet, and that the Church is true; and I think there is no more significant contribution that any man can make than to serve as a witness of the Lord with power and conviction and sincerity, and LeGrand Richards does that in a marvelous way.”[1]

            President Hinckley also averred: “His unswerving devotion to what I would call true principles, not only of the gospel but of Church government, has been, to me, a great thing. He has been an anchor, holding for consistency in doctrinal teaching and in the operation of the Church in its many programs. I think that has been a most significant thing that has come out of his long life of experience in the Church. He's seen it all from then until now. He's been an active participant for almost a century. That coupled with his reading of Church history and his capacity to remember what he reads (and his powers of retention are tremendous), has given him a background that very few men have. No one among the General Authorities has lived as long as he nor been exposed to the breadth of experiences that he has.”[2]


A Sweet but Accident-Filled Childhood

            LeGrand Richards was born on February 6, 1886. He grew up in Northern Utah, bouncing around to different homes in infancy, as his father often relocated to financially help himself and others. Eventually they settled on a farm in Toole, Utah, where his father served as stake president. LeGrand’s early years were filled with good times, hard work, and accidents, such as broken bones and a damaged hip. The hip injury hobbled him with a limp for the rest of his life. A hay wagon ran over him twice; he was rammed by a Ram repeatedly, and the list goes on. He always had his father give him priesthood blessings, which often helped to heal him.

            As a child, LeGrand’s father took him (and his siblings) to general conference for a specific reason. LeGrand recollected: “I want to tell you that I have known all of the General Authorities of this Church since the days of Wilford Woodruff, and I think I have heard all these Brethren preach. That is a good many General Authorities when you count all the members of the Twelve that there have been, and all the presidents of the Church. My father raised us in the country, out in Tooele, and there never passed a conference after we were old enough to sit still when he did not bring his boys—three of us—in to attend the general conferences. . . . My father wanted his boys to know all of the General Authorities of the Church, so he wanted us to attend all the conferences so we could hear them speak.” Elder Richards had a point to make: “I was in the Salt Lake Tabernacle when Wilford Woodruff delivered what I think was the last talk he gave before he died, that in which he told how marvelously the Spirit of the Lord had guided and directed him through the years of his life. It has been over eighty years ago, but I can remember to this day some of the things that he spoke in that conference; . . . you have heard them, but I heard him give them.”[3]


First Mission to Holland

            As a youth, Legrand acquired a burning desire to preach the gospel that never left him:


            I think of when I was a young man, before I was even ordained a deacon, I went to one of our ward meetings in the little country town where I was raised, and two missionaries reported their missions down in the Southern States. In those days they traveled without purse or scrip, and they had to sleep out many nights when they couldn’t get entertainment. I don’t know whether they said anything unusual that night or not; but if they didn’t, the Lord did something unusual for me, because when I left that meeting, I felt like I could have walked to any mission field in the world, if I just had a call. And I went home, went into my little bedroom, and got down on my knees, and asked the Lord to help me to live worthy so that when I was old enough I could go on a mission. And when the train finally left the station here in Salt Lake and I was headed for the little land of Holland, the last thing I said to my loved ones was, “This is the happiest day of my life.”

            Before I left on that mission, President Anthon H. Lund, who was then a counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, talked to us missionaries, and he said, among other things, “The people will love you. Now,” he said, “don’t get lifted up in the pride of your hearts and think that they love you because you are better than other people. They will love you because of what you bring to them.” I did not understand that then, but before I left the little land of Holland, where I spent nearly three years, I knew what President Lund meant. I went around saying good-bye to the Saints and the converts who I had brought into the Church, and I shed a thousand tears, as compared to what I shed when I told my loved ones good-bye.[4]


            In 1905 Elder Richards traveled to Holland for his first mission, where after much struggle and hard work, he learned to speak Dutch. On arrival his mission president assigned him to work in the mission office as his secretary, which bothered Elder Richards. He wanted to be laboring full-time tracting and teaching the gospel to the people. A dream from the Lord comforted him and helped him to understand that service in the mission office was also of great value. “In the dream I was keeping books for Father in his lumber and implement business, and I said I was tired of it and wanted to do ordinary work. He agreed to let me seek other employment. I came to Salt Lake and worked with a railroad maintenance crew pushing one of their little carts along the track in company with three other men. One said, ‘What have you been doing?’ ‘Keeping books,’ I answered. ‘What did you earn?’ he asked. I told him. ‘You will never earn that on this job,’ he said. ‘Anybody can push these carts, but not everyone can keep books.’”[5] A lesson was learned.

            His mission raced by with much success, but above all he learned to desire and appreciate the presence of the Holy Spirit in him and in his work. On March 11, 1906, he wrote, “I never felt more like speaking in my life. I was so full of the Spirit, I felt that should the floor slide from under me, I could still stand there and testify to the things of God.”[6] Having felt that sanctifying and enlightening influence, he wanted that Spirit with him always: “When I returned from my first mission, my strongest desire was that I should not lose the spirit I then had.”[7]

            LeGrand met Ina Ashton in 1908, and after a wonderful courtship, they were married by LeGrand’s father, Elder George F. Richards, on May 19, 1909, in the Salt Lake Temple. When LeGrand proposed, he told Ina how he felt under the influence of the Holy Ghost on his first mission: “I had such a wonderful experience in the mission field, I almost feel that I walked and talked with the Lord. My duty to him and his Church will have to come first. If you want second place, it is yours.’”[8] She readily took second place to the Lord and was faithful to that commitment all her life, even when it meant LeGrand would be gone for long periods of time on church business or a mission.

            The couple moved to Oregon where LeGrand worked as a bookkeeper (clerk) and began dabbling in various business ventures. They started a family and had five years of blessed married life together until drastic change came their way—something that often happened to them.


Second Mission to the Netherlands

            On August 14, 1913, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve met in their regular temple meeting. One matter of discussion was filling mission president vacancies in the missions of Europe. A portion of this meeting affected LeGrand. “President Joseph F. Smith asked Bro. George F. Richards if his son, LeGrand, was so situated that he could go and preside over the Netherlands Mission, he having been there on a previous occasion and could speak the language.

Bro. Richards answered he believed his son could fill the appointment if called. Bro. Grant moved that LeGrand Richards be called to preside over the Netherlands Mission with the privilege of taking his wife and children with him. This became the sense of the meeting by vote.”[9]

            Shortly thereafter, the First Presidency called LeGrand as President of the Netherlands Mission. Again he dived back into the missionary work he loved so much, and again he received an abundant measure of the Spirit of the Lord. “One day he was preaching with such intensity and power that he ‘felt almost carried away in the Spirit.’”[10] (In that day, all the mission presidents served under the direction of the apostle who served as the main European Mission President, though contact was often sparse. Elder Hyrum M. Smith notified President Richards of his release in June, 1916.)

            On his release as Netherlands Mission President, he was called as bishop of the Sugar House ward (1919 to 1925) in the South Salt Lake City area. It is also at this time that he began a real estate business, which became his livelihood when not on a mission. Tragedy occurred when their two-year-old daughter, born in Holland, died on November 6, 1917. LeGrand himself barely avoided death when he caught the flu in the great 1919 pandemic.


Short-term mission

            At the October 1925 general conference, the President of the Church asked for financially able men to serve as short-term missionaries, lasting about six months. LeGrand felt the Spirit prompt him to volunteer and so he did, explaining: “Then when I was in business here in Salt Lake and President Heber J. Grant called for a thousand short-term missionaries, he said: ‘Bishops and stake presidents are not exempt.’ I was then a bishop. I landed back in New Englandleft my wife and seven kiddies and my business in the hands of my brother-in-law. You dont do things like that with normal men! It takes men inspired by the Holy Spirit.”[11] LeGrand had told his stake president he would go if called, and President Grant had told the stake president, “Send him.” He began his mission in January of 1926. The mission president, Elder B. H. Roberts, told LeGrand to teach the young elders how to do missionary work, which he did for some six months in Massachusetts.

            This mission was harder for him than previous missions, and discouragement took hold as repeated rejections mounted. Then, after a particularly strong objection to his message, he had an epiphany. According to his biographer: “The light of comprehension which came at that moment illuminated his whole being. Suddenly his years of gospel study, his lifelong committing of scriptures to memory, his preaching of the word, his faithful prayers, his seeking after spiritual excellence, his giving of self, and even his present cold disappointment and struggle—all these fused together in a burst of inspired comprehension and knowing.”[12] With this supernal spiritual experience he found joy and success again in his labors.

            In May of 1926, LeGrand attended a special mission conference held in Boston, at which President Heber J. Grant spoke, as did President B. H. Roberts. The meeting was well promoted, especially with the President of the Church speaking, but attendance was poor and this was discouraging. That night, feeling badly, LeGrand went to sleep. He recorded what he experienced: “I had a very beautiful dream last night. I dreamed that while we were met together in priesthood meeting, the Savior appeared [in a pillar of light], and immediately we began to sing ‘Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna to our Lord.’ It was a most wonderful feeling, and I awakened with the thought that, though the world doubted his coming, I had actually lived to see it. It was a sweet and beautiful climax. I do hope I will be worthy of him when he does appear, for I do know he shall come.”[13]

            LeGrand returned home in July and resumed his real estate business, where he found adequate success; enough to hire employees and buy a new larger home.


Call to serve as Stake President in Hollywood

            “I had a business with ten men and two girls working for me, and the President of the Church sent my father over to see how I would like to go to California and preside over the Hollywood Stake. I won’t take time to tell you all the details. In sixty days I’d sold my business, I’d sold my beautiful home, and moved my family down to California with no allowance to live on. I had to start all over again.”[14] So recalled Elder Richards. Because of some miscommunication and internal Hollywood Stake problems, he served first as bishop of a ward for a time, and then as stake president (from 1929 to 1933). It was while in California that his oldest son, LeGrand Jr., was killed as a result of a surfing accident; their second child to be taken from them while away from home, serving the Lord. He and Ina endured the grief of this loss for a long time. The next oldest son helped them to understand by sharing his inspired interpretation of his brother’s patriarchal blessing with them.

            After receiving promptings from the Spirit of the Lord, President Richards humorously recalled, “I said to my wife, ‘How would you like to go down south and preside over the Southern States Mission.’ She said, ‘You mustn’t think so much of yourself.’”

            Not long after, President Grant visited the stake and asked President Richards: “How would you like to go down and preside over the Southern States Mission?” His reply: “I'd be happy to go to the South if you want me as the mission president, but if you are asking me to go because you know I'm having a struggle financially and the mission president’s living allowance would help, I don't want to do it.” President Grant assured him, “I don't know another man in the Church I’d rather turn that mission over to than I would you.” “All right,” LeGrand responded, “then I'd like to go.”[15] So in 1934, he went. The great depression was hitting President Richards hard and he was barely making a living; times were very hard financially for him and most others.


Southern States Mission President

            As the Southern States Mission President from 1935 to 1937, President Richards took the place of Charles A. Callis, who had served as the mission president for almost twenty-six years but had just been called into the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. As usual, he plunged into the work, and the missionary spirit came upon him again with power. “At times, the Lord seems so near and the veil so thin.” And, “Had a lovely day reading and thinking over my work. Outlined report for mission presidents' meeting. Also planned what I might say if called to speak in general conference. In spirit and thought, I lived the day very near to the Lord.”[16] Such were some of the treasured spiritual feelings he recorded in his diary. With this mission he spent most of his time in administrative and training tasks rather than doing actual missionary work himself.


Becomes a Bishop Again

            On returning from his mission, President Richards quickly became Bishop Richards again, but serving for less than a year (1937-1938). His short tenure was not without problems. With a major portion of his ward covering the University of Utah, he quickly found it necessary to draw a distinct line of orthodoxy. His biographer wrote:


            The ward was in close proximity to the University of Utah, and because of divergent views propounded by some of its educators and other men of influence, ward unity suffered over the issue of orthodoxy versus liberalism. A common question among members was “Are you a fundamentalist?” Shortly after the new bishopric was sustained on January 23, 1938, Bishop Richards attended the Sunday School Gospel Doctrine class. There the issue was freely discussed—and, of course, not resolved before the lesson period was concluded. The teacher asked the bishop if they had his permission to continue the discussion the following Sunday. “By all means,” Bishop Richards replied, “but I should like to have the last ten or fifteen minutes to address the class.”

            The next Sunday brought a lively class discussion of such “controversial” issues as that the vision of Joseph Smith is not provable; that the Book of Mormon was not literally translated from golden plates; and that Christ was the Savior, not because he hung upon the cross but because he taught saving principles. The interchange of opinions and talk was terminated in time to allow Bishop Richards to address the class.

            “The things I have heard in these two weeks of free discussion are not Mormonism,” he told the group. “Now, as long as I am bishop of this ward, we are going to teach fundamental Mormonism in this building. That means that Joseph Smith indeed received a vision of the Father and the Son (and it is provable by personal testimony), that he did indeed translate the Book of Mormon from the golden plates which he received from the Angel Moroni.” He continued, “In that book, we read of the vision shown to Nephi by the angel, of Mary with child, of the child growing to manhood, of his choosing twelve apostles, and of his being crucified for the sins of the world. Now, that is Mormonism.”

            The power of the bishop's office was upon him when he challenged: “Now, if any of you do not approve of fundamental Mormonism, why don't you go and organize a church of your own and teach what you want to. There are so many churches now teaching the precepts of men that one more won't matter.” He then turned to Elder Joseph F. Merrill of the Council of the Twelve, who was in attendance as a member of the ward, and said, “Now, if I have said anything of which you do not approve, please correct me while the people are here.” Elder Merrill responded, “I approve of every word you have said.”

            It was a sober class that filed out of the room. Some were jubilant. Lester F. Hewlett, who would shortly become president of the Tabernacle Choir, reported to President Grant that day that he had shed tears of gratitude that the Lord had sent them a man who could hold his own with the liberals. Some, however, were disturbed and thought the bishop to be severely orthodox. A few were angry.[17]


            In the short time he had to work with the semi-believing liberals and intellectual dissenters living in his ward, he was able to make some friends from among them and help them to feel useful in various service areas where they would not be teaching or diminishing doctrine. This course seemed to help and improve the spirit of ward meetings.


Becomes the Presiding Bishop of the Church

            In 1938, LeGrand Richards experienced the fulfillment of a sacred dream he had received near the end of his term serving as Southern States Mission President. He remembered:


            I returned from presiding over the Southern States Mission in July of 1937. I attended the April [1938] conference in the Tabernacle and I remained to greet the missionaries and their parents (the ones that had returned). . . . I went to my little real estate office and there sat President Grant and my father [George F. Richards]. Father was then a member of the Twelve. As I walked in, President Grant hung up the telephone and said, “Oh, here he is now.” I said, “This looks suspicious to see you two men sitting in my little office.” (I knew President Grant well.) He said, “It is; we are going to change the Presiding Bishopric this afternoon and we want you to be the Presiding Bishop. Who do you want for your counselors?” And I said, “Who can I have?” He said, “Any man in the Church you want. We don’t choose a man’s wife for him and we don’t choose his counselors.” I said, “How long can I have to select them?” “Oh,” he said, “We want to sustain them this afternoon.” I said, “President Grant, I can’t think that fast; you’ve taken all my thinking powers away from me.” I asked, “Am I under any obligation to keep either of the men who are there [now] that have been the counselors to Sylvester Q. Cannon?” He said, “None whatever.” I asked, “Will you make it right with them if I don’t [keep them]?” And he said he would. Then I had this thought: I said, “When you were deciding who you wanted to be the [new Presiding] Bishop, you had a list of names that were submitted by the members of the Twelve. If you felt like entrusting that list to me they would be men that the Twelve regard as having the qualifications for that particular office. I believe I could select a couple counselors.” He said, “I think that’s a good idea.” He wrote eight names on a slip of paper. Then he commented on them and father commented on them. Then I selected Marvin O. Ashton and Joseph L. Wirthlin. I asked, “How does that look to you?” He said fine. I said, “There is only one thing. This man Ashton is my wife’s half-brother. But I have never been as closely associated with him as I have been with most of these others on the list. But if we are to have [charge of] the Aaronic Priesthood of the church, he is the best boys man I know in the Church.” “It won’t make a bit of difference,” President Grant said. I asked, “Are you going to tell them?” Oh, no, we wouldn’t have told you but we had to consult you for your counselors.” I said, “President Grant, they may love the Lord, and they may love His Church, but they might feel let down to be asked to serve as my counselors; they might think that I ought to be their counselor. I would feel a lot better if you would give them an opportunity to turn it down before they are sustained before the whole church.” “Well, if you feel that way about it I’ll get in touch with them,” said President Grant.

            Bishop Ashton never did tell me what he said [to President Grant], but Brother Wirthlin said President Grant called and said, “Is this Joseph L. Wirthlin?” “Yes sir.” “This is Heber J. Grant. We are going to change the Presiding Bishopric of the Church this afternoon. We have asked LeGrand Richards to be the Bishop and we want to know if you are willing to serve as one of his counselors.” “But President Grant, there is so much involved. I have my business; I am president of my stake; could I come in and talk it over with you?” “No, there isn’t time. I have to have a little nap before the meeting. It will be all right won’t it?” Brother Wirthlin said—”What are you going to say to the President of the Church?”—an invitation like that. [He said yes.]

            When we were set apart in the temple, I was very thrilled because, shortly before I left the Southern States Mission, I had a dream that I met President Grant on the street in Salt Lake and he said, “LeGrand, come in my office. I have a special blessing for you. I went and had that blessing. When I awakened I couldn’t remember a thing he had said. All I could remember was how I felt and how thrilled I was. But when he set me apart as the Presiding Bishop of the Church, to preside over all of the temporal affairs and the Aaronic Priesthood, then I figured that was the special blessing he had for me. And it wouldn’t have been right for me to have remembered it until it actually came to me.[18]


            We also have President Heber J. Grant’s account of calling LeGrand as the Presiding Bishop of the Church, which includes more detail. President Grant recorded:


            Invited all the apostles to attend a meeting in the Presidency’s office. . . . We agreed to meet a few minutes before ten o’clock and ask the brethren to give me a list of names, one or more; their choice for Presiding Bishop. At this latter meeting we agreed on LeGrand Richards. . . . All of the brethren present voted for LeGrand Richards.

            After the forenoon meeting, with LeGrand’s father, I called at LeGrand’s office and interviewed him and asked him to name his own counselors. Told him I felt that a man should have the privilege as a bishop or president of a stake to choose his own counselors. He asked me to name his counselors. I declined and said that a bishop and stake president ought to have the privilege to name his own counselors; that it was like choosing a wife. He said that he thought Brother David A. Smith and Brother John Wells [the former counselors] would feel very bad. I said you must not take into account how they will feel, you can pick the men with whom you can work best. He asked me again to name them. I said, No, but I would write down some names that had been recommenced in our meeting this morning, and after writing them down, he said his choice for first counselor would be Marvin O. Ashton, unless there was an objection on account of his being his brother-in-law. I told him there was no objection whatever. He afterwards chose Brother Joseph L. Wirthlin for his second counselor, and then I told him he had chosen the two men whom the brethren were most in favor of having.[19]


            In 1942 Bishop Richards suffered a severe heart attack that nearly killed him, and that did force him into bed to heal and convalesce. At a critical moment when it was thought Bishop Richards might die, he was blessed by Elder Harold B. Lee, who related that, “In a brief moment, when my hands were on the head of Brother Richards, I knew that the Lord loved him and that he was going to live. The certainty of that was as sure to me as it is today that he was spared for a great and glorious mission.”[20] Bishop Richards later told President J. Reuben Clark that he thought seeing others working while not being able to himself was his definition of hell.

            While serving as Presiding Bishop, LeGrand decided to use notes and outlines he had created and used on his last mission to write a book that would assist in missionary work. Thus was born one of the best-selling and most important (non-scriptural) books in the Church for the 20th century. Regarding A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Elder Richards said:


            That’s the greatest missionary book the Church has got except the Book of Mormon. They sell more of it than any book they have except the Book of Mormon. At the present time they have distributed about two million copies; they distribute from fifty to a hundred thousand copies a year; have done for the last five years here out of Salt Lake and there is a printing plant over in England where they publish for all of the British Isles, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and then it’s published in eighteen different languages in other nations. I had written an outline for my missionaries down in the South called “The Message of Mormonism.” I had that mimeographed and gave them each a copy and when I came home I got so many requests for that I said to myself—Why don’t I develop those outlines the way I would present them if I were going into a home one night a week for six months and that’s what brought the Marvelous Work and a Wonder into existence.[21]


            Elder Richards took great pride in talking about how influential his book became in helping bring people into the Church of Jesus Christ. He also refused a royalty, wanting the price to be as low as possible.


Call to the Apostleship

            Bishop Richards briefly shared the story of his call as a special witness: “At the close of the morning session of April conference, in 1952, Brother Moyle came up to me and said that ‘President McKay would like to meet you at his office.’ So I came over here [to the Church Administration Building] to President McKay’s office. I went in and he told me that they had decided to appoint me to fill the vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve. Of course I wept and he wept and we hugged each other. I was sustained that afternoon in the conference meeting in the Tabernacle. Then, that afternoon I was ordained to be an apostle. {I was] given the [apostolic] charge, [and was told] that that [calling] would come first in my life in everything; anything else had to come in second.”[22]

            In his acceptance address in the last session, he testified: “I truly love the work more than anything else in this world, and I know it is true. I could live better without the limbs of my body than I could without the testimony of the Holy Ghost and the Spirit of the Lord.”[23]. . . And, “Like Nephi of old said, He [the Lord] hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh. (See 2 Nephi 4:21.) I feel sorry for Latter-day Saints if they have never felt that power, and that blessing, unto almost the consumption of their flesh.”[24]

            Of his call and ordination, he later noted:


            During the summer months, the vacation period, I had to spend a few weeks at home with a little ailment. It gave me an opportunity to read a few books, and I read my patriarchal blessing and the blessings that I received from presidents of the Church when I was set apart as mission president twice; when I was set apart as the Presiding Bishop of the Church; and last of all when President David O. McKay, assisted by his counselors and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve, laid his hands upon my head twenty-four years ago last April in the holy temple and ordained me an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.

            In the blessing, President McKay gave me a charge that I should be a witness of Him, and that I should bear witness of His divine calling and the divine calling of His prophet Joseph Smith and of the truths of the restored gospel. And my, the joy I have had in these 24 1/2 years trying to respond and be obedient to the charge that President McKay gave me upon that occasion. I have had great joy and happiness therein.[25]


Speaking by the Power of the Holy Ghost

            To speak and teach by the power of the Holy Ghost would seem to have been Elder Richards’  spiritual gift. He often commented on how he felt when preaching the gospel: “When I was a young boy in a little country town, I can remember our Sunday School teacher giving us the words of John the Baptist, when he said that he baptized with water for the forgiveness of sins but he said: “One mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” (Luke 3:16.) I couldn’t imagine what that fire meant when I was a boy but I have lived long enough to know. I have been lifted beyond my own natural abilities under the influence and power of the Spirit of the Lord as I have borne witness of the truth of this gospel upon many occasions until it is a part of my very being, and I would like to give you that testimony. . . .”[26] Again, “When I was appointed a member of the Twelve, I said from this pulpit that I would rather have my children enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost than any other person or individual in this world; and I feel the same today, for them and for me, and for all of you,”[27]

            He bore his special witness by the power of the Holy Spirit: “I express my love for my Father in heaven and for his great love that gave us his Only Begotten Son, and for his great atoning sacrifice, and for the great honor and privilege that has been mine through the years to represent him as one of his ambassadors of eternal truth, to be a witness to his divinity. I do testify to you today that I know that Christ lives, that he is the Redeemer of the world, and that he has given us his church through restoration in this dispensation through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and a pattern of life to live by through his gospel that will bring us joy and happiness in this life and exaltation through the worlds to come.”[28]

            Further: “With all my heart and soul, I know this is the Lord’s work, that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of the world, the head of His church, that Joseph Smith was His prophet, for the establishment of His kingdom here upon this earth in the latter days to prepare the way for His second coming.”[29]

            In 1978, not long before President Kimball received the revelation on the priesthood, Elder Richards was blessed with a special spiritual experience while meeting with his brethren in the temple:


            The . . . experience occurred in the Salt Lake Temple on May 4, 1978, at a meeting of the General Authorities. It is told in part by Elder Boyd K. Packer, upon whom it had a profound effect. Testimonies had been borne, Elder Richards first and then each taking his turn. Later, Brother Richards asked to speak. Elder Packer quotes him: “Brethren, I have something to tell you. A little while ago, I saw a man seated above the organ there and he looked just like that.” (He gestured toward President Wilford Woodruff's portrait which hangs in the room.) He then added, “I saw him just as clearly as I see any of you Brethren.”

            Of the experience, Elder Richards said: “He was dressed in a white suit and was seated in an armchair. I thought at the time that the reason I was privileged to see him was probably that I was the only one there who had ever seen President Woodruff while he was upon the earth. I had heard him dedicate the Salt Lake Temple and I had heard him give his last sermon in the Salt Lake Tabernacle before he died. I thought it wonderful that the Lord could project, without mechanical means, the likeness of a man long since dead.” As Elder Packer says of Brother Richards, “He links us back. Here is a man who rubbed shoulders with those who stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith.”[30]


            Some have thought this appearance of President Woodruff to Elder Richards to be a prelude to the revelation on the priesthood, since President Woodruff was also involved with issuing a manifesto (D&C Official Declaration 1) that drastically altered church practice.

            In his final years, in one of his last great talks to the saints, Elder Richards declared: “When I first became a missionary, I never met anybody who believed in a personal God. My, what a joy to realize that Christ gave his life for us, and took upon him the sins of the worldas Paul said: As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Cor. 15:22)and to know that his Father is as real as my father, and that they have revealed themselves as two glorified personages in this dispensation, after centuries of darkness, unto the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Lord had him in waiting thousands of years ago, according to the Book of Mormon, for his day and time to come, to bring men to a knowledge of the truth and to bring forth his truth among the people of this world. These are great truths, and many more can be taught.”[31]

            And finally: “Remember the words of Peter, that we have a more sure word of prophecy and that we do well to take heed. I want to bear you my testimony here that this is the work of God the Eternal Father. As I stand here as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I bear you my witness that the prophecies of Malachi that I have referred to have been fulfilled in the restoration of the gospel at the hands of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the holy prophets who have succeeded him at the head of this church, even to our present prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball, whom I honor with all my heart, as I do all my brethren of the General Authorities.”[32]

            Elder LeGrand Richards died in 1983, beloved by the whole Church. Elder David B. Haight used part of his remarks to a gathering at BYU that year as a tender eulogy for his beloved friend and associate in the Quorum of the Twelve, saying:


            A few days ago we buried a very special witness of our Lord. Elder LeGrand Richards taught Jew and Gentile, to their convincing, that Jesus is the Christ. He told it in a manner that touched hearts with a spiritual piercing—perhaps a piercing unmatched in modern times. He taught with a love, a sincerity, a depth of conviction, a knowledge of the scriptures, the lessons of life, in a way unmatched in today’s world. Brother LeGrand was always ready with his affirmation of what the Spirit had born to his soul as truth. His unapologetic emphasis on revealed truths in an age of intellectual skepticism, his awareness of divine moral commands,

and his never changing dynamic method reached a generation whose very existence sometimes had turned bitter. He was able to deeply influence a world where at times it seems as if it might have lost its soul. What a great example. . . .

            Brother Richards, when he was the Presiding Bishop, had an open-door policy while serving as the Bishop. No one who desired audience with him or his counselors would ever be denied a hearing. His office door remained always open. The widow, the harassed business man, the youth with his problem, the immigrant, always received a kind word and assistance from Bishop LeGrand Richards. A lesson for all of us. The faith-promoting events in the devotion of LeGrand Richards probably would have had great appeal to the New Testament writer Luke and perhaps others as they would have worked on in compiling the acts of the Apostles. As we watched his final years and then days, the powerful ring of conviction never changed. In the temple only a few days before his passing we heard his teaching reach new heights of commitment.

            At the beginning of Elder Richards’ first mission in Holland, he was assigned to work in the mission office, but he felt the urgent need to learn the language, to learn Dutch, and was often hampered because of his lack of proficiency. So he pushed his office work to get it out of the way as fast as he could so he could study Dutch. The spirit of his mission rested mightily upon him. He wrote, “I was so anxious to preach the gospel that I found myself arising before 5 am. to study Dutch and to get my office work done so I could go out tracting.” Day after day he recorded that he distributed 50 or 90 or 100 tracts a day and his return calls to gather them yielded  many gospel conversations, though his Dutch was halting and incomplete. But the kind of effort he was expending, as a part-time missionary because of his office work, far out-shadowed the other missionaries who were working full-time—because of his great spirit and desire to serve the Lord. While serving as the Presiding Bishop of the church and convalescing from a heart attack he met with the First Presidency and he said to them, “I found out what hell is like.” “What is it, Bishop?” asked President J. Reuben Clark. “To see the other men working and not being able to myself.” He added, “If there is any truth in the words of that song, ‘there is sweet, sweet rest in heaven,’ then I’m going to be asked to be routed in the other direction.”

            On April 23, 1979, when he was taken to the hospital, there to remain in critical condition for nearly a month, his obituary was written and the First Presidency and the Twelve were informed that it was only a matter of hours before he would be gone. And this was recorded in our temple meeting minutes as we talked about him. The following week in the meeting of the Twelve, Elder Richards said, “I read in the minutes where you received word of my imminent demise—but I fooled you didn’t I.” At the April conference following Brother Richards release from the hospital, President Spencer W. Kimball announced at the first session of conference that all the General Authorities were there except LeGrand Richards. A stir went through the audience because they had noticed that Elder LeGrand Richards had been helped into his seat unnoticed by President Kimball. He was sitting there in full view of the congregation; a blanket over his knees with his oxygen and a broad smile on his face. President Kimball turned and saw his beloved associate and delightfully corrected his previous announcement. The people loved the incident.

            He just asked Brother Benson to hold his cane as he stood at the pulpit because he couldn’t read his notes and he couldn’t use the teleprompter. He said, “Brother Benson, hit me on the leg with my cane when my time is up.” And that great message would come forth.

            During his last few days he commented to President Kimball, “that it really doesn’t matter which side of the veil I work on because I’m ready any time the Lord wants me. But I guess the Lord hasn’t decided where to use me, but He’ll let me know when He finds a place for me.” After President Kimball learned of the death of LeGrand Richards, he said, “I guess the Lord found a place for him on the right side of the veil.”

            We will miss the familiar scene of seeing Elder LeGrand Richards at the Salt Lake airport with a heavy briefcase in one hand and his cane in the other limping along in a fast pace towards his plane. When people would offer to carry his briefcase his reply would be, “Oh I can carry it, it keeps me young.” When someone asked, “Are you in pain?” he replied, “Yes, but no more than I can stand.” We were being taught by a great man what it means to labor with all your heart, might, mind and strength. We were taught what it means to be valiant; valiant to the end. If we carefully study the life of LeGrand Richards we will learn what he did with the talents that the Lord blessed him with. We will learn what can be accomplished by a happy, positive disposition; learn how people’s lives can be changed by helping them change their attitude of mind and learn to have an unwavering faith in the goodness of our Lord and in His eternal plan of salvation. We would then find the secret of how he blessed their lives and lifted up their hearts to teach them to want to do better. If we would exemplify his life we would also become ‘a marvelous work and a wonder.’[33]


[1] Lucille C. Tate, LeGrand Richards: Beloved Apostle (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982), 307. Some of the general biographical information (without references) about LeGrand Richards related in this chapter comes from this fine biography.

[2] Tate, LeGrand Richards, 297.

[3] LeGrand Richards, “‘Earth’s Crammed with Heaven’: Reminiscences,” BYU Speeches, October 11, 1977.

[4] “The Joy of Serving a Mission,” Ensign, November 1978.

[5] Tate, LeGrand Richards, 38.

[6] Tate, LeGrand Richards, 44.

[8] Tate, LeGrand Richards, 56; see also video recording, “LeGrand Richards: The Man and His Missions,” 1983; produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; transcription excerpt made by the author. The quotation from the Tate biography is probably taken from what Elder Richards said in this interview.

[9] Journal History of the Church, August 14, 1913.

[10] Tate, LeGrand Richards, 89-90.

[11] “The Gift of the Holy Ghost,” Ensign, November 1979.

[13] Tate, LeGrand Richards, 137; brackets in original quote; author note indicates they are a clarification given by Elder Richards in an interview.

[14] “The Gift of the Holy Ghost,” Ensign, November 1979.

[15] Tate, LeGrand Richards, 163-64.

[16] Tate, LeGrand Richards, 182.

[17] Tate, LeGrand Richards, 191-92.

[18] Video interview, “LeGrand Richards: The Man and His Missions,” 1983. Bishop Richards wrote about receiving this same dream in his book Just to Illustrate: “Shortly before my release from presiding over the Southern States Mission, I dreamed that I met President Grant on the street in Salt Lake. He invited me to his office telling me that he had a special blessing for me. Accordingly, I went to his office and he gave me a blessing. When I awakened I could not remember what he had said. All I could remember was how thrilled I was at receiving his blessing.

                “Within a year from that time, in the Salt Lake Temple, President Grant placed his hands upon my head and set me apart as the Presiding Bishop of the Church. I realized that this was the special blessing I had dreamed he had for me, but it would not have been proper for me to be able to remember what it was until it actually found its fulfillment” (LeGrand Richards, Just to Illustrate [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1961], 90).

[19] Heber J. Grant diary, April 6, 1938.

[20] Conference Report, April 1952, 126.

[21] Video interview, “LeGrand Richards: The Man and His Missions,” 1983. This book was required to pass through the internal reading committee of the general authorities before it could be approved for publication. Regarding this process, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith recorded: “I was in session with Elders Harold B. Lee, Marion G. Romney and Bishop Legrand Richards. The first two brethren and I are the members of the publication committee. Bishop Richards has written a book on gospel principles which he desires to have published for the benefit of missionaries. Each member of the committee went over the manuscript separately and then made a report on the findings. This report contained many suggestions and corrections in the doctrine of this treatise. It took us four hours to consider these matters with the Bishop, some of our conclusions not pleasing him, some of which he felt were vital to his story. In most instances, after considerable discussion we convinced him, but in others he was not convinced, but in our united judgment he was in error” (Joseph Fielding Smith diary, July 18, 1949).

[22] Video interview, “LeGrand Richards: The Man and His Missions,” 1983.

[23] Conference Report, April 1952, 113.

[24] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] “In the Mountain of the Lord’s House,” Ensign, May 1971.

[29] “The Simplicity in Christ,” Ensign, November 1976.

[30] Tate, LeGrand Richards, 291-92.

[31] “What the Gospel Teaches,” Ensign, May 1982.

[32] “The Second Coming of Christ,” Ensign, May 1978.

[33] David B. Haight, “Our Faith is Centered on the Living Christ,” Sydney B. Sperry Symposium Address, Brigham Young University, January 29, 1983; BYU Speeches, transcript excerpt made by author.


1 comment:

  1. Elder Richards was the temple sealer for my parents in the Salt Lake Temple; so he has a special place in my heart. Thank you for this much appreciated article.