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President Boyd K. Packer: The Artistry of an Apostle

SALT LAKE CITY — 

The title of the 2004 exhibit at the Museum of Church History and Art was “Lifework of an Amateur Artist,” but one walking through the displays showing intricately carved sculptures of birds and flowers glimpsed something much more. The lifelike woodcarvings and paintings revealed a man, in President Boyd K. Packer, with a deep respect for nature and an understanding of God’s creations.

It’s often said that art is the window to the soul, and so it is with the artistry of President Boyd K. Packer, who was an apostle and senior leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He once said the creative process allowed him to not only pay tribute to the beauty of nature but also “carve out inspiration for sermons” and solutions to problems. President Packer drew spiritual inspiration figuratively and quite literally from the world around him.

Friend Theodore Tuttle said, “You didn’t really get to know him until you walked through a forest with him.”

President Packer was born September 10, 1924, the 10th of 11 children, in Brigham City, Utah. His love of art was fostered early by his Danish mother, who used to cover the floor with newsprint and encourage him to draw. This childhood diversion soon proved vital when he contracted polio at age 5 and was confined to a bed for weeks. During his recovery, art became an outlet.

Through that experience, President Packer said he learned what was important in life. “Sometimes in my growing years I thought we were poor,” he wrote in a short life history. “I later learned that that was not true. We just didn’t have any money. We were always rich in the things most significant in our lives.”

As a young man, President Packer served as a United States bomber pilot during World War II in the Pacific Theater. While in the military, he devoted his time to studying the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon, which members of the Church believe is a sacred record bearing a second witness, with the Bible, of Jesus Christ. He was instrumental in bringing Tatsui Sato into the Church, a man whose later work in translation helped many Japanese members read the Book of Mormon and other scriptures and Church materials in their own language.

“I think that probably his interest in teaching came from his experience in the military,” his son, Elder Allan Packer of the Seventy, said.

The conclusion of the war brought President Packer home to Brigham City, where Donna Smith took notice of the young soldier speaking in her congregation. “I couldn’t say I knew he was the one,” said Donna. “But I knew he was the kind of person I wanted to marry.” And marry him she did on July 28, 1947.

Their small farm south of Salt Lake City was a menagerie of horses, cows, chickens, ducks, birds and dogs and became the perfect playground for their 10 children — seven boys and three girls.

“I think in some ways it is easier to raise a large family. It depends upon what you want to accomplish,” President Packer said. “We’ve learned that extra material benefits per child are offset when children learn thrift, to make do, to make and build something.”

“I was the master of making lists of things that had to be done,” Donna recalls. “We all learned to work together to get things accomplished.”

“We determined certain rules in our home,” she explained, “but we also taught the children that Heavenly Father had rules that we needed to live by in order to be happy and go back to live with him.”

Elder Allan Packer related that President Packer had given his secretary the instructions to always put his family through when they called his office, even if President Packer was in an important meeting. “And that's what we experienced if we needed to, even just to say hi," Elder Allan Packer said.

Their lives together were always laced with President Packer’s wry sense of humor. Donna recalled several years ago when he returned from an assignment in Idaho and reported, “While I was up in Idaho, I found a rope.” “That’s nice,” she replied, a little puzzled. Then he added, “There was a horse tied to the other end of it.” That led to a construction of a corral and much delight on the part of the children.

“Home is the center of the gospel — and my life,” said President Packer. “Of all the places in the world — and I’ve seen some interesting and enticing ones — I’d rather be home than anywhere else.”

In spiritual matters and in the home, Elder Allan Packer said his parents were one: "If you see Dad, you see Mom. If you see Mom, you see Dad. They’re together; they're unified. They influenced each other, especially, of course, in the home."

That sentiment has served the Packers well over the years, as their living descendants now number more than 100.

Despite the obvious challenges of managing a sizable family, President Packer aggressively pursued his education. He received an associate degree from Weber Junior College in 1948 and a bachelor’s degree from Utah State University in Logan in 1949. He would later receive a master’s degree from Utah State University in 1953 and a doctor of education degree from Brigham Young University in 1962.

His passion for teaching resulted in a position with the Church Educational System. He later was appointed an assistant administrator of seminaries and institutes, with responsibility for religion instruction curriculum for youth in high school and colleges.

Theodore Tuttle once described President Packer’s skill in teaching this way: “He has the capacity to translate an ethereal verbal concept to an understandable activity in everyday life. ... You will soon discover that what is explained so clearly and obviously was neither clear nor obvious before he explained it.”

“He worked hard from the time he started as a teacher to learn how to teach,” Elder Allan Packer said, “first by learning and understanding how the Savior taught. He knew it was important so he didn't shy away. He felt the responsibility to teach.”

Ordained an apostle on April 9, 1970, President Packer transferred his educational concern for individual students in a classroom to a focus on the education and welfare of millions of members of the Church. Church leader Elder D. Todd Christofferson said President Packer was “a man tutored, tested and seasoned in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose disciple and witness he is. He labored in the Spirit. He waited upon the Lord.”

As the longest-serving member of the present Quorum of the Twelve, President Packer was known for what fellow apostle Elder Russell M. Nelson called his “deep comprehension” of the scriptures.

Such comprehension perhaps came from the same skills used to create his works of art — attention to detail, reverence for nature and the ways of God. He once said, “It seems to me that there is a great power in the Church — in all of us — that is untapped because we are always setting about to do things in our way, when the Lord’s way would accomplish much greater returns.”

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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