A Day with Camilla Kimball
By Carolyn Allen
Author’s Note: As the delightful and inspiring experiences with General Authorities have been shared over the past several weeks here at Meridian, I couldn’t keep this special experience to myself any longer! Although you may think that this article deviates from my usual theme of healthy living, follow the subtitles to the end of the article where they become some very helpful principles for healthy eating and a happy life. I’ve made a PDF mini-poster of these points that can be printed out when you CLICK HERE or paste https://www.mymiracletea.com/html/meridian_camilla_kimball.html into your browser. If anyone from the old BYU 108th ward during the spring of 1976 was present at this very special luncheon, I’d love to hear from you! [email protected]
As a senior at BYU in 1976, I was blessed to serve as the Relief Society President for my student Ward. As the end of the school year approached, my counselors and I started to plan a closing social luncheon. We brainstormed together and agreed that a speaker from the Relief Society General Board, or maybe a General Authority’s wife, would make the day. When one of my counselor’s suggested Sister Freda Jensen Lee, the widow of President Harold B. Lee, we all got very excited and I said I’d get to work on contacting her.
The Journey of a 1,000 Miles Begins with the First Step
I telephoned the Relief Society offices in Salt Lake. They were pleasant, but unsure about how to reach her, and suggested I call the First Presidency’s office. They gave me the phone number and I quickly called. After explaining who I was and what we were hoping to do, the receptionist cheerfully said, “Oh, I don’t know how you’d reach Sister Lee. Why don’t you just have Sister Kimball come? She’s really good at this type of thing and is much easier to contact.”
The prophet’s wife at our luncheon?! Delighted and surprised, I replied, “Do you really think she’d come?”
“Oh, sure! If she can, she will!”
“Well, how do I go about inviting her?”
“Just write a letter; send it here. I’ll give it to President Kimball to take home!” she said.
That very hour I wrote a nice invitation on pretty stationary, introducing myself and sharing my great love for Relief Society and my desire to create a memorable experience for my dear BYU ward sisters. I offered to provide transportation if necessary.
Keep Things to Yourself
My counselors and I agreed not to say anything to anybody until we heard from her.
A couple of weeks later, I was thrilled to receive a lovely letter, apologizing for the delay because they’d been traveling, but confirming that she would be delighted to come, checking on the time for pick-up, providing an address, and in a cute P.S. added that since she was now in her 80’s and no longer driving, she’d take us up on our offer for a ride.
I was ecstatic and quickly called my counselors to rejoice! Later that evening my bishop dropped by the house on some unrelated ward matters and I excitedly shared our plans. Bishop Robert Peters was a kind and very tender man, as quick to laugh out loud as he was to shed a tear. We all adored him.
I was quite surprised at his unusual response: total silence and his face got very pale. He quietly said “Please don’t tell anyone about this. I need to make some phone calls and will get back to you.” This was so uncharacteristic that I knew there was a big problem.
The next day he called and said there was to be a meeting with the stake presidency early on the following Sunday morning at 7:00 a.m. I was to come alone. When I asked what was wrong, he said that there were some scheduling issues that he wished I’d checked with him on before inviting her.
On Sunday morning, I walked to the building on campus and found the room. It was a large, dark room with no windows, and very quiet as I entered. At the end of a very long oak conference table was the entire stake presidency, looking very serious. Bruce Hafen, now of the Seventy, was one of the counselors. The stake Relief Society president, one of the key people in the Women’s Affairs office on campus and my bishop were also there. They were courteous, but there were definitely no warm fuzzies floating around.
There’s Always a Way, Things Always Work Out
After a prayer, they got right to the point: Unwittingly, the secretary at the First Presidency’s office, President Kimball, Sister Kimball and I had quietly sailed past the extensive protocol involved with having a prominent Church member speak at BYU. I was to have cleared things on many levels, starting with my bishop, ascending through the administration of BYU, then up to Salt Lake and Church Offices before ever sending an invitation. That I had managed to do so successfully without anyone’s approval or knowledge was an embarrassing situation for many. The stake Relief Society president reported that the BYU Women’s Office had been trying to get Sister Kimball to come to speak to the female students at BYU for several years, but that she had politely turned them down every time. She was very upset to think that the Prophet’s wife was finally coming, but would speak to such a very small group.
To make things even worse, I had scheduled it without permission during the week before finals when extracurricular student activities were to be extremely limited to allow for studying.
No one knew what to do. Alternative dates would not work because the semester was ending. The stake Relief Society President was adamant that it could not be so exclusive. Someone else wanted to consult with President Dallin H. Oaks, who was then President of BYU.
Finally one of the Stake Presidency said, “Well, you’ll just have to write her to cancel this and apologize for the inconvenience.”
Take Heart and Speak Up
My little heart was pounding, but I said a prayer and then said to them all:
“I’m so sorry to have caused this embarrassment, but I think she said she’d come because she really wants to – it’s clear she’s turned things down before and knows how to decline invitations. Maybe a small group sounds manageable and fun, and a chance to return to BYU where she was a student, in a very controlled, limited setting. I don’t see how we can un-invite the Prophet’s wife to something she really wants to do! They sacrifice so much for us!”
I think they were a little surprised with my courage to speak up, but they all nodded their heads in agreement. And at last someone said – “Well, it’s a luncheon on a Saturday afternoon. It’s not an all-day deal. We should be able to schedule that if you agree to keep it very simple to allow time for studies. And how about it the stake Relief Society president, her counselors and her board come as additional guests, and we just keep the event very, very quiet.”
Everyone agreed that was the only thing to do, and I left, humbled and grateful that everything was going to be OK.
Keep it Simple – Just Keep Moving
The sisters in my Ward, of course, were tickled, and a small, special committee planed a very simple luncheon where several members of the Elders Quorum would be the waiters in white shirts and bow ties.
The night before the big day, I was so excited and nervous that I barely slept. It was one strange dream after another, including one where, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans I looked at my watch and saw that it was 4:00 PM. I had missed the luncheon! And where in the world was Sister Kimball? I went looking for her on campus and found her sitting in a booth at the Cougar Eat, in a little pink suit with a corsage, just patiently waiting for me. She looked up at me and said, “Did I make a mistake about when you were picking me up?” I woke up with a start, and never did go back to sleep.
At last our special day arrived. Our Relief Society secretary had a car, and off we went. The address Sister Kimball had given us was in a very pleasant neighborhood in Salt Lake. Nothing showy or unusual. Just a nice brick house on a pretty street with well kept yards.
Sitting in the driveway, we were unsure as to who should go to the door and knock, but before we had a chance, the front door opened and out she came! She looked adorable in a red suit with pearls. She hopped in the car before we had a chance to even get out for her, and cheerfully announced, “Hi girls! I’m Sister Kimball! What are your names?”
With that she was off to the races. People think that I talk a lot and have too many stories, but I have a secret: Camilla Kimball had a gift for conversation and story-telling that would win her first prize in any competition. From the very first second, with just one little question, she told us everything we wanted to know about her youth and girlhood growing up in Mexico and her parents. She told us all about being a student at BYU and how unhappy she was that first year.
Out of Small Things Proceedeth that Which is Great
She told us all the details about meeting President Kimball and their courtship, how one afternoon on his first visit to see her, he had come to visit after school (she was a teacher), and he simply stayed and stayed and stayed. He had supper with the family. She had a date for the evening, and when the date arrived, she awkwardly asked if Spencer would like to come too. He agreed that he would, and tagged along! Later her original date left her at the dance – that was understandable! — and Spencer took her home.
When one of my counselors asked what it was like to marry a prophet, she sighed, then laughed and said,
“Oh, girls! Girls! On my wedding morning, I looked in the mirror and said, ‘Camilla, is this what you really want to do?’ You must remember that he was just a returned missionary – and a very short one at that!” They were married in her home, since the Arizona, Mesa temple had not been built and the Salt Lake Temple was too far away.
The drive back down to Provo was much too short as she chatted away, with us listening and squeezing in a question here and there. Many of the stories she shared that day were later printed in the book “Camilla” published by Deseret Book in 1980.
Go Back and Correct Things
She had covered much of her early life on the ride up, but in the short time to tell her life story, there were important details that had gotten omitted: After visiting the ladies room when we arrived on campus, she rushed out to find me and earnestly implored: “I forgot to tell you that we were later married in the Salt Lake Temple! That’s a very important part! We traveled to Salt Lake as soon as we could!”
Food is Not as Important as You Think
The luncheon itself was, indeed, very simple, but nice, in a big sunny room at one of the buildings on campus. I honestly don’t remember what we ate, because the event and the guest were so much more important than anything else. The stake Relief Society president was beside herself to be sitting next to Sister Kimball at the head table, with her counselor and board sitting nearby. Our Elder’s quorum were charming as they served us formally for this very special occasion.
Her talk was short and sweet – no longer than 15-20 minutes. To be honest, I don’t remember much about it, other than how sharp, vivacious and intelligent she was and how much I wanted to be just like her when I reached my 80’s. Afterwards, she graciously allowed us all to take pictures with her. (Sadly, I do not have any of those photos now.) And it was time to take her home.
The ride back was just as loaded with fun stories as the ride up. One in particular that I don’t think is in the book:
Feelings Buried Alive Never Die
When she and President Kimball were married, there was only money for a small, simple wedding band. Many years later, when he was established as a leader in business, the Church and their community, she still was wearing this tiny wedding band. One day while shopping at the Kress Five and Dime, she found a “lovely”, rather gaudy glass diamond ring for 25 cents. She laughed and bought it as a joke. Later that evening, she wore it to a special dinner were President Kimball was the guest of honor. She made a special point to use her hand often, and as people joked and admired it, it became the most delightful part of the evening. “Oh, Camilla! You got your ring!” “Yes,” she’d reply. Isn’t it gorgeous?”
The next morning, President Kimball did not go to work as usual. When she asked him if he was ill, he said, “Of course not! But we’ve got something special to do!” That very morning they went to a jewelry store where he bought her a pretty diamond ring to wear with her wedding band. She held up her hand and showed it to us.
Go The Extra Mile
When we finally got back to the house, well after 3:00 p.m.., I was sure she’d be exhausted and when I offered to walk her to the door, she took us all by surprise and said, “But don’t you all want to come in and see the museum???? That’s what I call it now that we have so many things from so many people from all over the world!”
Imagine! We were being invited into the Prophet’s home! We all quickly scrambled out of the car, and went in to their lovely, though unpretentious, home. President Kimball was traveling, so she was alone, although her deaf sister was living with them. We did not meet her.
Appearances Are Not As Important As They Seem
“Oh, my goodness!” She exclaimed when we walked in, “You’ll have to forgive me. We’ve been traveling to the South Seas and I haven’t had time to clean or put everything away!” There were some open boxes and some heavy, thick dust on the leaves of a houseplant that she started flicking it with a Kleenex from her purse. She laughed, so we did too.
Keep Your Hands Busy
There was a pretty piano, with the sheet music “I Love You Truly,” and I remembered that President Kimball could play the piano and sing. How fun that it was a love song that was clearly what he’d played last at the piano. As we looked about, there were beautiful needlepoint covers on every chair, including the seats of the dining room table. When I admired them she said, “Well, you have to do something with all those hours waiting at airports and for meetings your husband is attending to end!”
In one corner of the living room was a beautiful upholstered chair that had been passed down to each Prophet from, I believe, Brigham Young. It had been in every Prophet’s home!
Keep On Learning and Stay Busy
She shared that she had taken a class every year of their married life. She didn’t care if it was a college or a community class, or what the topic was. She just loved to learn! That year she was taking a geology class, and several fascinating, beautiful cut rocks were on the fireplace mantle. When I asked about a common pebble among them, she said, “Oh! That’s from my grandson! I’d told him I like rocks, so he found it for me! He said it’s special, and since it’s from him, it is!” The same thing emerged from a lovely collection of ornate collector style spoons from around the world. Among the shiny, intricate ones was bunged-up red plastic one with some sequins that a granddaughter had made. In the midst of painted china and exquisite bells was one made out of an egg carton with a feather, also a gift from a grandchild. That she would display these treasures from her grandchildren amongst the treasures from the world told us volumes about what really matters in life.
Enjoy Your Neighbors
There was a knock at the door and a neighbor and her little boy came over with some flowers that they’d picked for her. She was so darling with them that you knew she was just a fun neighbor who loved everyone.
Angels Fly Because They Take Themselves Lightly
As we made our way to the basement, there were all kinds of things to see and even more for her to tell us about. My favorites, however, was the Pet Rock, another gift from her grandkids. (For those too young to remember this rage, it was a very popular gag-gift with a rock being treated like a pet or a person, with a cute cage, name, etc.) Inside the cage with the pet rock was another, much smaller rock. I asked about it and she said, “Oh, I thought it would be funny to tell my grandkids that the Pet Rock had had a baby!” I thought it was remarkable that someone in their 80’s was following a fad that had tickled a much-younger general population.
My second favorite thing in the basement was a big stack of oil paintings that were resting against a wall. With a twinkle in her eye, she said, “Everyone’s an artist! Everyone wants to paint the Prophet!” They were portraits of the prophet painted by loving, though not especially artistic Church members. She flipped through them and asked us what we thought. As they got progressively worse, she smiled and said how lovely it is to work on our talents, but . and then she propped up a picture that was really remarkable bad, “This one wins the prize!”
At last, it really was time to go. I felt that we must have worn her out, but I genuinely believe that if we’d lingered another five minutes, she would have invited us for supper and told us even more!
After sending her a thank you note, she actually wrote me back, thanking me for the fun day! And later when I got married, she sent a copy of President Kimball’s Book The Miracle of Forgiveness, with our wedding announcement glued inside the front cover.
In Summary: A Healthy, Happy Life!
Looking back on this event over 35 years ago, with the perspective of a middle-aged adult, I’m amazed that something as delightful as this could ever have happened. Perhaps, it was so that I would have a good story to tell that may make your health eating choices more enjoyable for the next little while:
Dream Big: Yes, it IS possible to create health and make changes at any age
The Journey of a 1,000 Miles Begins with the First Step: Every healthy choice matters and they all add up
Keep Things To Yourself: When making life-style changes it’s often wises to do it privately, involving just a trusted few and Heavenly Father. Your results will be seen by all soon enough!
There’s Always a Way: Optimism always pays off
Take Heart and Speak Up: When eating out, speak up! Dressings on the sides! Ask the waiter to put half the meal in a container to take home before it leaves the kitchen.
Extend Yourself: No one but YOU can create health. It will not come out to greet you.
Keep it Simple: The healthiest food is that which has the least preparation.
Out of Small Things Proceedeth that Which is Great: enough said!
Go Back and Correct Things: After over-indulging, eat less the next day, drink extra water, exercise more.
Food Is Not As Important As You Think: Find something to do rather than something to eat
Feelings Buried Alive Never Die: Recognize your needs and prayerfully, creatively find a way to address them. Camilla wanted a ring. What do you want or need? Turning to food is not an answer as it solves only one problem: that of being hungry, don’t expect it to do anything more than fill your stomach.
Go The Extra Mile: Just get started with exercising or a walk: promise yourself 10-15 minutes. It’ll feel so good that you’ll want to continue
Appearances Are Not As Important As They Seem: Who cares what you look like? Just get out there and exercise!
Keep Your Hands Busy: A craft or project is the best way ever to stay out of the kitchen.
Keep On Learning: It’s much better to fill our minds than to fill our stomachs.
Have Fun With Your Neighbors: Food is only food, it is not a friend who can make you laugh, brighten your day or give you an opportunity to serve
Angels Fly Because They Take Themselves Lightly: Although health is a priority, keep it in its place and don’t make your eating plan an trial or a burden for those around you.
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