I chose Howard W. Hunter for my Very Important Person this week because I recently read an article about him by his son, Richard A. Hunter. I have always respected Howard W. Hunter and sustained him as an Apostle and later as the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The son told several stories about his father that made me respect him even more.
One story told by the son was his experience of finding some musical instruments – a clarinet, a saxophone, a violin, and a trumpet – in dusty boxes in the attic of the family’s home. When he asked his father about the instruments, he learned that his father had been a talented musician who had a band in high school. The band apparently was popular in Boise, Idaho, and later in Southern California. The future father was fine with the musician’s life until he married. He understood that “the demands of the entertainment world were inconsistent with the meaningful family he wanted;” he put away his instruments and went to law school to provide for his family. He never played the instruments again except for “rare family events.” Even though the father seldom played the instruments, he did not want to part with them even in his older years.
Another story told by the son was about his father caring for his mother. When the mother “was diagnosed with a chronic illness that was shutting down the arteries that fed her brain,” the father became her primary caregiver. He cared for her for thirteen years until his health began to deteriorate and “his doctor told him that Mother needed full-time care in a skilled nursing facility.” He visited her in the nursing facility every day for the last thirteen months of her life – if he was in town. When he returned from a Church assignment, no matter how tired he was from traveling, he would first go visit his wife “to bring what cheer he could.”
The thing I remember about President Hunter is the way he valued kindness. He often spoke of the need for kindness. “He spoke with the moral authority of a kind man. He was known and respected by neighbors, family, friends, clients, co-workers, and Church members as a kind man…. The ward members [in the Los Angeles, California, area] still talk about his kindness to them and to their families…. I don’t know how many acts of kindness like this Dad did. He never spoke of them to us or to anyone. Kind people usually don’t.”
The son is sometimes asked, “Do you think your father was really a prophet of God?” This question has always been easy for me to answer. I can never remember a time in my father’s personal, family, career, or Church life that would lead me to think that he was not qualified. But that is different than believing he was actually called as God’s representative to all of His children on the earth. I have come to know that he was a prophet of God, but that knowledge didn’t come from knowing him, watching his example, or being touched by what I saw him do and say. Those things help. But that knowledge was given to me as a merciful gift by the same God who called him.”