excerpt – An Abundant Life

The Memoirs of Hugh B. BrownEDITOR’S INTRODUCTION

President Hugh B. Brown, my grandfather and a General Authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1953 until his death in 1975, had an intuitive sense of history. For some, such as early twentieth-century Mormon historian and church leader Brigham H. Roberts, whom Grandfather greatly admired and respected, this expressed itself in chronicling and interpreting the past. For others, like Grandfather, this sense of the historic surfaced in their appreciation of the need for future generations to understand the present.

In early 1969—stimulated by the previous year’s hard-fought U. S. presidential election (Grandfather’s candidate, Hubert H. Humphrey, lost), the tragic assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War—Grandfather and I were one day discussing the portent of these and other events for the future, particularly the future of the Mormon church to which Grandfather had dedicated his life. Perhaps believing that his time was short (he was eighty-seven years old and suffering from Parkinson’s syndrome), Grandfather asked that I attempt to write his biography. I enthusiastically agreed.

Using my even—then—antique reel-to-reel tape recorder, we began an oral history of Grandfather’s life. These taping sessions extended through 1969 and most of 1970. Almost all of our taping sessions were conducted in his office. I prepared my questions beforehand, after sketching his life in outline. I tried to encourage Grandfather’s chronological narration of his life, but periodically I would probe more analytically, hoping that he would elaborate on people and events important to his story and to our understanding of ourselves and our institutions. We proceeded, in other words, both horizontally and vertically, topically as well as chronologically.


Grandfather was a master storyteller, so much so, in fact, that I sometimes had to remind him gently to return to the subject at hand, especially when he would almost automatically begin to recount some of his best-known speeches. At these times, I would suggest, with a little needling, that the “horsefeathers are getting a bit deep” and that we should probably retrace that particular period of time or those specific events once more, this time “for real.” He would invariably respond with a deep chuckle and a loving flicker of the eye that said, “You nailed me again, Eddie.”

Despite the stories, Grandfather told the truth—as he remembered and believed it. He knew the purpose of the taping: that the results, in one form or another, would one day be published. He felt, like B. H. Roberts before him, that we Mormons have nothing to fear, individually and as a people, if we tell the truth.

Even so, I am sure that many intimate stories remained untold. All of us must make such a decision: what to reveal and what to keep within us. The material he chose to share with me, however, with the intent of publication, is presented in what follows. This was his request and my obligation. Grandfather loved and believed in his church as whole-heartedly as any person, and I doubt that any part of these memoirs will prove embarrassing, unless one believes that a different set of ethical principles applies to ecclesiastical office than to other institutions or to the context of individual lives. Grandfather did not believe in such a double standard and neither do I.

Some days found Grandfather more alert than others. Occasionally the effects of Parkinson’s syndrome prevented our accomplishing much. If I was unsatisfied with our results, we would try again, going over the same material later.

Our taping extended over eighteen months. After completing the taping and gathering other original materials, I received an appointment in 1970-71 that took me to the United Nations in New York City and to the arms control negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland, as a United Nations Visiting Scholar. Fearing that Grandfather might not live much longer, and realizing that his presence would be invaluable to his biographer, I suggested to Grandfather that Mormon historians Richard D. Poll and Eugene E. Campbell be approached to write his biography. He agreed and to our good fortune both men said yes. I turned over to them my transcription of the tape recordings and the other materials I had gathered. They accomplished the real work of researching and writing a full, admirable biography, which was published in 1975 as Hugh B. Brown: His Life and Thought (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft). While information culled from the oral history occurs throughout this biography, I believe that Grandfather’s own first-person reminiscences are valuable in their own right.

In what follows, Grandfather’s memoirs appear almost exactly as they were dictated to me in 1969 and 1970. Some passages have been rearranged into a more chronological order, but in other instances his nostalgic detours are left unchanged. The memoirs have been edited for grammar and usage; no attempt has been made to censor any of Grandfather’s candid, refreshing observations. An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown is composed almost entirely of the interviews I conducted with him, although occasionally relevant letters, blessings, speeches, other interviews, and diary entries are silently introduced into the narrative.

My debt to others is deep. Charles Manley Brown, Mary Brown Firmage, and Zola Brown Hodson generously shared with me documents and photographs in their possession, as well as their own thoughts and reminiscences of their father. The family of former Mormon church president Spencer W. Kimball kindly agreed to the inclusion of President Kimball’s remarks delivered at Grandfather’s funeral as a foreword. At Signature Books, I appreciate the help and encouragement of Gary J. Bergera, Ron Priddis, Connie Disney, Susan Staker, Jani Fleet, and Brent Corcoran. My thanks, also, to Kedric A. Bassett for preparing the index.

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In editing Grandfather’s writings for publication more than a decade ago, I was forced to make some difficult decisions. Grandfather had agreed to be interviewed and knew that a biography might one day result. Though old, he nevertheless hoped to participate in final editorial decisions. As it turned out, he passed before such decisions were made.

Still omitted in this second edition are certain portions relating to intimate family matters. I have, however, reconsidered earlier judgments, particularly regarding incidents of LDS church government and procedure, including the infallibility of church pronouncement—a notion opposed by Grandfather as being at once laughable and subversive of serious ecclesiastical practice. The idea that revelation occurs out of the blue—without serious study, conflicting opinions, and heated debate—is believed by many. These few new additions reveal that real human beings of diverse backgrounds bring their own individuality to the important issues of the day. Most such issues, as one might suspect, are addressed as political and social changes in the larger community make it apparent that such accommodation must be done. And the influence of God is sought throughout in making these decisions as dialogue leads to changes in policy, teaching, and doctrine. By now, the major protagonists in these events are dead. Personal hurts can be avoided, and additional insights into church practice and history are now possible. Finally, I have retained a number of anachronistic utterances of Grandfather, particularly relating to the role of women in marriage and in church government.

I knew my grandfather intimately and loved and admired him enormously. I have no doubt that his profound Pauline appreciation of the relative insignificance of the lines that divide us based on race, ethnicity, economic status, nationality, politics, and a particular ancestry, when contrasted with our common humanity in God s image, would have carried over in a new era of sexual revolution and exciting new insights into a deeper appreciation of the role of women in society and in the church. But the reality is that Grandfather died just as the prophetic voices of the women’s movement were beginning to be heard, at least in our relatively isolated mountain-encircled valley. Like Paul himself, Grandfather died before that refreshing revelation, perhaps the most important event since the Reformation, reached us. Therefore, I have resisted the impulse to “clean up” his presumptions and the language he used to reflect them. His vibrant Pauline spirit nevertheless shines through. I would only hope that some slender portion of my own thoughts might in twenty or fifty years “ring true,” as I believe his words still do.