Mormon President Spencer W. Kimball Dead At Age 90
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Mormon Church President Spencer W. Kimball, whose 12-year ministry encompassed some of the most dramatic changes in the faith’s 155-year history, has died at the age of 90.
Kimball, the church’s ″prophet, seer and revelator″ since 1973 and one of its most energetic leaders until the infirmities of age sharply curtailed his activities, died at 10:08 p.m. Tuesday in his downtown hotel apartment, said church spokesman Don LeFevre.
Kimball’s wife, Camilla, and a nurse were with him at the Westin Hotel Utah, said LeFevre, who could provide no other details.
Presidents of the largest and wealthiest church founded in America - from founder Joseph Smith to Kimball - have served for life and are the product of an apostolic succession within the Council of the Twelve Apostles.
Within days, that body’s president and most senior member, former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ezra Taft Benson, 86, is expected to succeed Kimball after a pro-forma vote of the Twelve in the Salt Lake Temple.
Kimball, the 12th president of the 5.8 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had been weak since 1981 after his third operation in two years to drain blood and fluid from between his skull and brain. He also had undergone throat and open-heart surgery and installation of a pacemaker.
Kimball’s death came a month after his final public appearance Oct. 6 at the church’s semiannual general conference, which he did not address. In recent years Gordon B. Hinckley, second counselor in the governing First Presidency, has conducted the church’s day-to-day affairs but took pains to emphasize all important decisions bore Kimball’s imprimature.
The first counselor in the governing First Presidency, Marion G. Romney, 88, is infirm and confined to his home.
Kimball was ″a great leader with the common touch,″ said Gov. Norm Bangerter. ″I believe the example he set with his leadership will be missed greatly, not only by the church but by the community as well.″
Sen. Jake Garn, whose marriage was conducted by the Mormon leader, said Kimball’s passing was ″a great loss to millions of people around the world and a very personal loss for Kathleen and me... I don’t know that I’ve ever met a man who was more gentle or more of a sweet spirit.″
As president, Kimball allowed blacks to hold the all-male Mormon priesthood, retired elderly church leaders, added the first non-Americans to the modern church hierarchy and consolidated all Sunday church meetings into a three-hour block.
The number of temples during Kimball’s administration went from 19 to 37 and overall membership nearly doubled behind the efforts of a full-time missionary force that grew from 16,000 to around 30,000.
He stunned the Pentagon in May 1981 with a statement strongly opposing construction of the MX missile system in Utah and Nevada and proved a thorn in the side of women’s rights activists with his staunch opposition to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.
The last time Kimball personally addressed the membership at large was in a brief and halting message at a general conference on April 4, 1982.
″I bear my testimony it is true,″ he said. ″The Lord is at the helm. The church is true and all is well. God bless you, brothers and sisters.″
Kimball, who marked his 90th birthday on March 28, became president at age 78 on Dec. 31, 1973, following the sudden death of President Harold B. Lee.
Before becoming church president, Kimball served 30 years as a member of the Twelve. As president, he traveled to East Germany, Poland and Yugoslavia - the first time a Mormon president visited a communist nation.
On June 9, 1978, the church announced a change in doctrine to allow ordination of blacks of African descent to the church’s priesthood. The First Presidency said the change came in a revelation from God to Kimball, who chose not to describe it because it was too personal.
Born in Salt Lake City in 1895, the sixth of 11 children, Kimball was raised in Arizona and was managing an insurance company there when called to full-time church service in 1943. He and his wife were the parents of three sons and a daughter.