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Elder Richard G. Scott: The Mind of a Scientist, the Soul of an Apostle of God 

Elder Richard G. Scott never settled for just seeing the electric light cast from a lamp, hearing the roar of a car engine or feeling the smooth, gentle curve of a decorative vase; he wanted to know how each was created and the workings of all its bits and parts. Even as a child he operated power tools and, with encouragement from his parents, learned to take things apart, see how they worked, make repairs and build them all over again. Elder Scott recalled, “I remember once we put in an exhaust manifold on our car and put in a whistle from the caboose of a freight train, so every now and then you could get a very nice shrill whistle out of it.”

It’s no wonder Elder Scott became a man of science, distinguishing himself in the field of nuclear physics. Yet he was best known for being a modern-day apostle of God, one who learned to understand the workings of the Spirit even more than those of the most complex machines. To him there was no conflict between religion and science, but a perfect harmony that further strengthened his testimony of a Supreme Being. “Science is completely compatible with the teachings of why we’re here. And while there are some things that I don’t fully understand, I know I will. ... I just marvel at how the scientific approach has allowed us to understand a lot of things about Father in Heaven’s universe and His work and people that are complementary to the religious principles.”

Elder Scott was born November 7, 1928, in Pocatello, Idaho, to Kenneth Leroy and Mary Whittle Scott. Elder Scott described his father as a “tower of integrity” and his mother as a “close friend.” His was the home where neighborhood friends found a sense of belonging and often gathered for parties or to watch his father, who stayed “on the cutting edge of things,” demonstrate the latest newfangled device.

Although his parents taught him correct principles and values, Elder Scott did not attend church regularly as a child. “While there were no influences in the home which were adverse to Church membership or growth,” he said, “it just wasn’t a high priority until later in life when both mother and dad became very active.”

As Richard grew, so did his curiosity, and he began to have strong feelings that something was seriously lacking in his life. Despite all he had learned about the physical workings of the world around him, he knew there had to be more. He found that “something more” as a teenager on a Forest Service job in Idaho cutting down diseased trees in the Caribou National Forest. There he met a group of young men who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and rediscovered his family’s faith. Local priesthood leaders made arrangements for Elder Scott to be ordained a priest, and later that year he toured the newly completed Idaho Falls Temple, where he had a profound religious experience. “I think one of the very strongest spiritual experiences I had at that time in my life was when I went through the temple. I remember very, very clearly feeling a special spirit within that temple.”

Elder Scott continued his personal religious studies while he completed his education, graduating from George Washington University with a degree in mechanical engineering. It was there he met Jeanene Watkins, a modern dance major who Elder Scott said “captivated me since the first moment I met her.” He had plans for marriage and a career, but Jeanene encouraged him to serve a mission for the Church. “That decision thoroughly changed my life and laid the foundation ... for a marvelous experience in life together.”

Elder Scott’s mission to Uruguay became the next course in his studies of the workings of the Spirit. “When I went into the mission field,” he said, “I thought I had a testimony; but I soon found that it was a very thinly woven skeleton.” His testimony increased when he asked the Lord to “help me be an instrument to help other people. When I would pray for others and the things they needed in their lives, then I would feel impressions to make changes or additions in my own life. It’s easier, I think, for one to be inspired or know what to do for another than for himself or herself — and with that inspiration always comes feedback for your own growth.”

Though he had been told that going on a mission would be detrimental to his career, after his mission Elder Scott was hired from a large field of candidates by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover to work on the design of the nuclear reactor for the Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine.

Even though Elder Scott’s job often took him away from home, his bond with his wife and children remained strong through nightly phone calls. The Scotts relied on this bond to draw closer to each other and their Heavenly Father when they experienced the deaths of two children, a daughter just before birth and a two-year-old son in heart surgery six weeks later. But Elder Scott said some of his sweetest family memories were from the adoption of four additional children as a result of that hardship.

“The truth is,” Elder Scott said, “that when people make sacrifices to raise children, when they work together to build a home, the enduring joy is so much more profound and beautiful than any of the temporary things for which people give family up for.”

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who served as a young missionary under Richard G. Scott, said, “I can't imagine anyone treating his wife better than Elder Scott treated Jeanene. It was, for me, and is, still, an ideal. I think his love for her is legendary — and hers the same, during their lifetime. He was always willing to sacrifice for her happiness, and it was clear to me that his happiness was found in her happiness.”

After years of Church service that included serving as mission president, as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder Scott was sustained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on October 1, 1988. As an apostle, he helped govern a worldwide Church of more than 15 million members whose organization is a restoration of Christ's ancient church. Shortly after his call, Elder Scott, the soft-spoken scientist, humbly spoke to members of the Church about his new lifelong responsibility: “It is understandable that when one has received a call and been conveyed a trust that will completely change his life forever, feelings would be sensitive and emotions very near the surface. As I have struggled to begin to understand this sacred assignment and all that it implies, I have spent much time pouring out the feelings of my heart to our beloved Father in Heaven. I have pled that He would guide me and strengthen me that I may serve Him and His Beloved Son as well as I am able.”

Elder Scott spent his life in the pursuit of truth. He had the mind of a scientist but the soul of an apostle of God. He bore testimony that while scientific truths are relative, God’s truths are absolute and will ultimately bring joy to those who follow them. “I think [with] a life centered in truth, with values that are held and kept, and a recognition that we are not all alone, we can receive guidance from the Lord through the Holy Ghost. That is the core of happiness.”

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.

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