Vivian McConkie Adams is the daughter of Elder Bruce R. McConkie. This is an excerpt from a new book Fathers of Faith. Beautifully illustrated, this book contains stories about Latter-day Saint fathers, many of them well-known like President Gordon B. Hinckley, Stephen R. Covey and Jane Clayson Johnson.
I love to talk about my father, Elder Bruce R. McConkie. There is not a day that goes by that I do not thank God for his life, for the privilege of having had his association, and for the rich understanding he gave us all of earthly and eternal things. I know for a surety this sentiment applies to every one of his eight children. Could anything have been more wonderful than to have been a child in his family?
In the first place, he was smart enough to have chosen Mother, the winsome
Amelia Smith, as his eternal companion. Father adored Mother, something that was patently obvious. Each morning when he left for work, she stood on the bottom step of the hall stairs so it would be easier to kiss her husband—almost a foot taller than she— good-bye. Father was a romantic and wrote love letters to Mother, even when he was home. As a teen, I found a substantial pile of them tied up in pink ribbons in a hall linen closet. When I made the mistake of mentioning my find to them, they decided the contents were really none of our business; they took the letters out to the irrigation ditch, where they had a private marshmallow roast. Providentially, many of the other letters survived.
Father was a naturally warm and affectionate man. Whenever he saw us, regardless of location—church, street, school, store, foreign country—he cupped our faces in his hands and gave us a kiss on the forehead. That tradition continued long after we were grown and had children of our own.
When we were small he played on the floor with us and let us ride on his shoulders so we could reach the ceiling with our hands. He was the one who kept the Christmas festivities alive—perhaps to keep us out of Mother’s hair, but from our perspective he was a delightful believer. It was Father who read T’was the Night Before Christmas the year we were struck with the observation that Santa held the stump of a pipe tight in his teeth. Where was the Word of Wisdom in all this? “Does Santa smoke?” we all cried. Father made a little search through the book, and then said in the most reasonable way, “It appears to me that this poem was likely written before Santa joined the Church.” Well, of course. It was comforting to have a Father who knew things like this.
I think he liked the dinner hour especially, as it was the time when the family was gathered together. We gathered at a long kitchen table with benches on both sides.
Mother sat in the only chair at the head of the table and nearest the stove, where she was better able to serve us. During dinner we were engaged in the most appealing conversations with Dad, who sat at her side.
Dad told us to try buttermilk because, among other things, Brother Romney was partial to it. He ate peanut butter sandwiches only because President Kimball ate them (and actually liked them). Every Sunday that he was not on a stake conference assignment he asked for a supper of bread and milk. He loved it and said it was the fare of prophets—and he could name all of the prophets and general authorities who had ever eaten bread and milk. He knew not only what prophets ate, but who they ate it with and what was spoken at the table—be it at Peter’s home in Capernaum or with the Prophet Joseph Smith in Ramus, Illinois.
I could ask Dad any gospel question, and he could give a good answer. After an impressive lesson in a Sunday School class I attended as a child, I asked him if an prophet could be greater than Elijah. He talked to me about the work of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who had “done more save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.” When I asked what a prophetess was, he said, “A prophetess is a woman like your mother.”
Father taught us to go to the fountain, not to drink downstream. He told me that the Book of Mormon would begin to open up for me during my fourth time through it; this proved to be true, and was a guide I applied to anything I found difficult to study. He mentioned that when he was nineteen he had done a verse-by-verse study of the Book of Mormon and had taken a stack of notes eighteen inches high. When I asked where the notes were, he told me he had thrown them away. When I expressed a yearning to have them, he counseled, “The notes were not important. The thing that was important was the discipline it gave my mind.”
As Father researched and wrote his New Testament and Messiah series he visibly walked through Judea’s plains, witnessed the miraculous birth, observed the Lord’s ministry, was present in the upper room, witnessed His betrayal and atoning sacrifice, saw the stone rolled from the tomb, and heard the promise of return. We became heir to this witness as we gathered in the living room, family room, or at the table. I noted that in study he did not rely on what others said the gospel was; instead, he looked at the scriptures, asking what the Lord was trying to teach us in each passage.
When he was called to the Council of the Twelve in October 1972, President Harold B. Lee reported that he had taken the matter to the Lord—and the revelation came so rapidly “I could not write it down.” Father, who had served in the First Quorum of Seventy for twenty-six years, had already received a witness that he would be called to the Twelve. Mother recalled that for the two weeks prior to his sustaining, the house seemed filled with angels and the sweetest spirit prevailed. She felt there were those from the other side of the veil who had come to “check them out.”
Dad was greatly humbled by his call. He prayed for a new heart and spirit, and found comfort in promises given of the Lord to Saul after he was called to lead the nation of Israel: “The spirit of the Lord will come upon thee . . . [thou] shalt be turned into another man. . . . And it was so . . . God gave him another heart” (1 Sam. 10:6, 9).
I do not know how a man could have worked harder than Dad did. As a member of the Scriptures Publication Committee, he supervised all text and reference matters and wrote the chapter headings and summaries for the 1979 LDS edition of the Bible as well as the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price.
He initiated the inclusion of Joseph Smith’s vision of the celestial kingdom and Joseph F. Smith’s vision of the redemption of the dead as Sections 137 and 138 in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Elder Boyd K. Packer said of this work that “If ever there was a man raised up unto a very purpose, if ever a man was prepared against a certain need—it was Bruce R.
McConkie. It had to do with the scriptures.”
When Dad was blessed at age nineteen by his father, Oscar W. McConkie, prior to his mission to the Eastern States, his father declared that “your calling is an especial calling. . . . The day will come . . . that all men who know you will look to you for counsel and a witness of truth. Your wisdom shall be great, extending beyond the bounds of earth.” These words were repeatedly filled as he wrote, taught, and served in his various callings. He was the recipient of much personal revelation that came because of his love for the word of the Lord and his obedience to it.
During his last round with the cancer that took his life, he told Mother that he loved her more than ever. He wrote all of us children that he thanked God “for the love and peace and unity that prevailed in our family circle.” My brother Joseph once asked Dad what true greatness was. His immediate response was, “True greatness is found only in the family.” When he was called to the Twelve he wrote his children that our greatest joy would be to “live together everlastingly as a family unit in eternity. There neither is nor can be anything greater than this. The greatest position that any [man] can hold in the
Church is to be a worthy father in Israel.” He emphasized that the calling of father was eternal, while all other callings would in time pass away. “All positions in the Church are temporary except that of eternal father and eternal mother in the eternal family unit.”
His final testimony, given in April Conference of 1985, was a culminating witness of the Lord and of his own life and work. He spoke of the Atonement, his body ravaged, but his words sure, “I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears. But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes through his atoning blood and in no other way.” Shortly after conference Elder Packer came to bless him, and he talked of the preaching and apostolic work Father would yet do on the other side of the veil.
I had not yet turned three when Mother, Father, Joseph, and I visited our grandfather, Joseph Fielding Smith. While he and Father talked in the dining room of grandfather’s house, I sat in a little rocker in the living room and powerfully sensed that I was listening to two servants of the Lord. I recall the timbre of the witness I had at that young age, and I still feel that golden spirit.
On occasion someone suggests to us that we grew up in a home where the gospel was imposed upon us. Such an idea is met by each one of us with astonished incredulity.
What we had was a great feast laid before us and a father and mother who, in the joy of the gospel, bade us come to the table. We all partook of that gift born of the Spirit that
Paul tells us “passeth all understanding.” Thank you, beloved Father and dearest Mother; it was exquisite and fully satisfying.
Bruce R. McConkie was a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy for twenty-six years and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve from 1972 until his death in 1985.
During his service as a general authority, he wrote the chapter headings of the Church’s most recent editions of the standard works. He was called to active-duty military service during World War II, and served in military intelligence at Fort Douglas for the duration of the war; he received the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory
Medal and at discharge held the rank of lieutenant colonel, one of the youngest in Army Intelligence to hold that rank. He received a bachelor of arts and juris doctor from the University of Utah. With his wife, he served as president of the Southern Australian
Mission. He authored a number of doctrinal works, including Doctrines of Salvation
(three volumes), Mormon Doctrine, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary (three volumes), The Promised Messiah, The Mortal Messiah (four volumes), The Millennial
Messiah, and A New Witness for the Articles of Faith.