I heard the news this week and immediately started grieving. Even though I haven’t stayed in touch over the years, I will miss you. I loved your gentle kindness, your good humor, your deep and sincere interest in me. Though more than 20 years have passed since my last year at BYU, I still vividly recall fighting traffic on I-15 most Thursday afternoons to reach the cavernous parking deck under Temple Square, my Portuguese grammar manual tucked under one arm and O Livro de Mormon tucked under the other, marching to the elevator of the Church Administration Building to meet with you. You were often too busy to have practiced your Portuguese during the week, but during our time together you were nonetheless a most earnest student. In addition to our grammar lessons, I enjoyed reading “as escrituras” together, and I especially loved hearing the personal stories you haltingly and then more confidently told me as your Portuguese fluency improved.
Here are some of my favorite (albeit faulty) memories of our interactions:
- I remember first meeting you by the baptismal font in Mogi Mirim, Brazil, briefly exchanging testimonies after the eventful dunking of a regal, faithful, elderly sister whose fear of drowning made her baptism the most drawn-out and dicey I’d ever observed.
- A year later we passed in the hallway of the MTC and you encouraged me to make my study of Portuguese a lifelong affair, explaining that I could subscribe to Readers’ Digest in Portuguese, just as you had subscribed for so many years to the Spanish version. I did so the very same day. (Remember how hard it was to get language resources in those days?!) When you requested a Portuguese tutor from the MTC just a few months later, I imagine we both felt surprised that I was the one who happened to be selected.
- My first impression of your office was of the beautiful watercolors you had painted (and later sent us photographed versions as Christmas cards), as well as of the Wall Street Journal and Salt Lake Tribune on your desk (what is a Mormon apostle doing reading the Tribune?! 🙂 ) During one of my early visits you introduced me to Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack of “The Mission”–I still love listening to the sweet and haunting tones of “Gabriel’s Oboe”, and I remember you again.
- I recall proofreading some of your talks before you departed on assignments to Brazil. You started one with a joke: “How do you wake up every morning with a smile on your face? Go to sleep the night before with a hanger in your mouth.” I was tempted to tell you not to quit your day job.
- We read about Alma, the sons of Mosiah, Amulek, Zeezrom, Corianton. You pointed out to me, when we read Alma 49:30, that they all served missions, that they all repented and the Lord forgave them, and that he would forgive us all if we would repent. You smiled as you shared this truth.
- You told me stories of your life and family. When you were newly married you did not have much money. Your father-in-law was a senator. Your mother-in-law came to visit and you went grocery shopping together. As you were putting items on the conveyor belt, you kept insisting on paying, while inwardly hoping she would pay because your and Jeanene’s bank account was running on fumes. In the end your mother-in-law prevailed and you breathed a silent sigh of relief.
- Once you went on high council assignment to another town with Jeanene. While ironing your shirt in the motel room, you accidently left the iron on the ottoman. You and Jeanene spent the rest of the afternoon searching for an exact match at the local fabric store so that you could reupholster the furniture yourselves.
- Valentine’s came along in one of the early years when funds were short. You saved money by painting a watercolor valentine for Jeanene onto the refrigerator in your apartment. Except, to your chagrin, it wasn’t watercolor. The oil-based valentine stayed on the fridge until you moved–I can’t remember what you did then!
- Your son died as a baby. You and Jeanene were deeply concerned about his older sister, who I believe was about four at the time. You got her a beautiful doll that stretched your budget. Some time later you overheard her chatting with a little neighbor friend who was wondering how your daughter had gotten that beautiful doll. The neighbor girl’s parents, in contrast, had rebuffed her pleas. Your daughter whispered conspiratorially, “Have you tried crying?”
- When my ex-wife was struggling, you suggested I bring her up to Salt Lake to meet with you. You counseled with her for an hour and finished by giving her a blessing. Then you grabbed Elder Nelson to snap a photo of us–I guess this was before the selfie stick.
- I knew from the way that you talked about Jeanene that you loved her. I did not know that she was dying and would soon be gone. After I learned of her passing, later that year after we had moved, my heart broke for you.
My dear friend, I now wish I had made more of an effort to stay in touch. We moved across the country and I worried about imposing on your precious time. Now it is too late, though I’m hoping you are up there reading ZD (heaven couldn’t be heaven without the ZD blog, amirite? I’ve even heard rumors that God reads Lynnette to keep his theology straight).
Anyway, I wish for you to know that I treasured the time we shared, those moments when you were, to me anyway, more than an apostle–you were an ordinary person, a child of God like me, trying to find your way back home.
The way you lived, the way you loved, the way you welcomed my entire soul into your beaming and unguarded visage, is a way of being I will always cherish.
I’ve felt many times since that if Jesus Christ truly has apostles today, they would be like you. Thanks for the memories.