In Memory of Elder L. Tom Perry

iuI was saddened to learn today of Elder Perry’s passing. I remember memorizing the names and faces of the Twelve Apostles as a boy. My mother had given us a mnemonic for several of them, and Elder Perry’s has always stuck with me because it was so apt, given the big, toothy grin he always sported: He is very cheery, he is Elder Perry.

A few years later, we found ourselves living in Manila, Philippines where I was now in high school and enrolled in my first year of early morning seminary with my mom as the teacher. A small group of us expat kids met in our home every morning at 5:30 before heading to the International School together. At one point we learned that Elder Perry was visiting the Manila mission. President Iba was in our branch and his kids were in our carpool. My mom, being the intrepid soul that she is, asked the president if she could perhaps get a meeting with the Apostle for her seminary class, and Elder Perry consented. So the next day, there we were, six or so of us face to face with L. Tom Perry at 5:30 a.m.. He was wide awake, thanks to the time difference between Manila and Salt Lake City. I remember three things from that conversation.
First, Elder Perry looked just like his photo. He was indeed very cheery!

Next, he told us a story about Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who sat next to him in seniority in the quorum at that time. Elder Perry said that one day they got new chairs in the council room of the Twelve, and Elder McConkie was trying his out, rocking it back and forth, putting the chair through its paces. Elder Perry was talking to someone else when he heard something odd and turned to find Elder McConkie’s boat-sized wingtip shoes kicking in the air next to him. Elder McConkie had rocked his chair too far back, and now he was inverted. I’ve always remembered that story because it humanized the apostles for me and has helped me see them as real human beings in addition to solemn witnesses and ministers of the Gospel.

Finally, Elder Perry asked each of us to think of a question to ask him. I’ve never forgotten mine, nor his response. I asked him simply if he had a favorite scripture, and if so, what was it? He replied that there were many scriptures that he loved, but there was one from the Psalms that often came first to mind, and he quoted it to us then. It is now a favorite of mine, as well, but I had never heard heard it before that morning when it was delivered to my ears in the cheery, energetic voice of Elder L. Tom Perry:

O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens….

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour….

O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!  (Psalms 8).

Do you have a fond remembrance of Elder Perry? Please feel free to share in the comments.

Comments

  1. Jennifer says:

    He visited my singles ward a couple of years ago and while shaking my hand as he was leaving he teased me about carrying a purse the size of an overnight bag :)

  2. Ebenezer Robinson says:

    Some twenty-five years ago, when I was stake clerk, he visited our Southern California stake for our December conference. One of our counsellors had previously been Perry’s counsellor in the Boston stake, so his first meeting with the stake presidency felt more like Old Home Week than a visit by a GA. He appeared not to have any particular errand for this visit, so at one point someone asked him why he was visiting our stake. His reply was, “I’m chairman of the assignment committee, and I wanted to be in Southern California in December.” Humanizing, indeed.

  3. In college after my mission I was a bit of a radical sabbatarian and had felt called to be a physician but worried about Sunday work responsibilities. I asked him what he thought, and he said that some jobs require worthy sacrifices in order to do the good associated with them: nursing, doctoring, emergency response, etc. He was very pleasant and, as you say, cheerful.

  4. Elder Perry helped dedicate the Winter Quarters Temple with President Hinckley. I remember President Hinckley waving to us with his cane as he walked by, officiating, dedicating, welcoming, blessing, administrating. But, I remember Elder Perry actually using the newly sanctified place and special occasion for a sacred purpose- the sharing of a sacred experience which would be constrained by the spirit in nearly every other time and place. It wove together the core of our faith and the history of WQ. We had heard the dedicatory prayer, but it was Elder Perry’s faith that instantly seized the dedication -offering the first miracle. I’ve since attended several temple dedications, and have not seen anything like it.

  5. Nit Grit says:

    I remember in college doing baptisms one early Saturday morning with my friend at the Salt Lake temple. As we finished, the workers announced that an apostle was coming through and we were to leave as quickly as possible. As we rushed around the corner, there stood Elder Perry. He had a big smile on his face and joked to the workers, “Are you hurrying these ladies out of here?” My friend and I laughed. He stuck out his hand and gave each of us a firm handshake and we went on our way.

  6. As a missionary in Buenos Aires he came to visit the three BA missions. After he spoke to us, he opened up the time for questions. After an odd question and a bit of silence, I decided someone needed to do something and I asked him how we could really learn to know Christ. I still think about the speed, simplicity, and the thoughtful nature of his response. He talked about three things–praying–really communicating with God, feasting on scripture, and the last and single most important was to learn to love all our sisters and brothers as did Christ. That will always be what I think of when I think of Elder Perry.

  7. When I was just about to turn 19, I was up in Utah because one of my uncles was receiving an award. After the ceremony, we were all hanging out in the hotel’s spacious main lobby. The said uncle called me over to introduce me to someone. Duh, it was Tom Perry. (But you knew that by the title of this post.)

    “Devin, this is Elder Perry.”
    “Elder Perry, this is my nephew Devin. He’s getting ready to go on a mission.”

    Now, technically that was a true statement. I had my mission application paperwork and I had just gotten a haircut. But that was about it. I was still all full of teen angst and laziness. Truth be told I would not leave for Florida for another seven months. I was doing very little to prepare to get out the door, much to the constant chagrin of my parents.

    Here’s the climax of the story. When my uncle told Elder Perry that I was getting ready to go, the old man (he was already 80 then) gave me a look. He quickly sized me up and basically looked through me. Then he gave me a very skeptical look, like he knew I was doing essentially nothing. A silent “yeah right.” Perhaps it was my self-guilting or perhaps he really had that inkling. Either way, it got me on track fast.

    It would be a gross misrepresentation to say that this event alone got me to the mission field. Without my parents, good friends, the sage advice of three bishops, and the cajoling of my best friend’s mother, I probably wouldn’t have pulled it together. That said, LTP gets a statistically significant chunk of the credit. God sent me to that barren desert hellhole called Utah for a weekend to get scowled at by His servant so I could get my act together and experience two years of serving that changed the course of my family’s life forever.

    So, peace out Tom. I wish you well in your next endeavor

  8. Morgan, was that Pres. Steven Iba? Was he mission president? When was this? Many years ago he liven in my ward when I was young and served in a bishopric with my dad.

  9. I was at the Utah Symphony back in the late 80s when they used to sell cheap seats to college students in the back. Elder Perry and his wife were in the audience. He stood up at intermission to stretch his legs. He was very tall! I couldn’t tell you what his actual height is but I’m interested if anyone knows. Seemed to tower over those around him. He and his wife apparently had season tickets, according to the people next to us, and were joking and laughing with those seated by them. He wasn’t front row by any means, more like the middle. I remember having the thought that all my dates should only be at places a GA could attend. Not sure I made it but it was nice to strive for. Sorry not spiritual experience but his physical height is what I remember. Also his enthusiasm for life!

  10. I had been asked to portray the leading role in a Church musical, playing at the Special Events Center in Salt Lake City, but was concerned about rehearsing the “kiss” portion(s) of the play. I’ve never had that happen in any other production, but in this one was just conscience smitten for some reason. Elder Perry came and told of a production he’d been talked into participating in while a Stake President back east. He said, there was only one kiss in the show, at the very end, where he, portraying the father of a wayward boy who had returned, and the (stage) mother had a final kiss as the curtain came down on the show.
    He said, “I moved in, gave the kiss, and waited for the curtain to drop……….and waited and waited, and waited, then casting one eye heavenward with great fear and trepidation I noticed the curtain had become entangled on one of the lights and wasn’t coming down without a struggle. Just at that moment a shrill, loud voice came from the audience saying, “Hey! He’s kissing my Mother!”
    According to Elder Perry, the comment brought the house down………and the curtain! I’ve loved him ever since, for his self deprecating humor, and wit. He was a gem! Oh yes, and I got over my fear.

  11. My husband& I were walking near Temple square coming from JSMB prep/prayer mtg when we were on our mission. He stopped & asked us why we were not working. We explained to him that it was our T&R day (Temple & research ) I asked him if he could arrange a T&R mission for us. He smiled & was on his way .

  12. Today members took me to post op appointment who served mission in Salt Lake City. They saw Apostles all the time. They said Elder Perry was always a nice person, to everyone.

  13. BHodges says:

    The last time I saw Elder Perry was on Thursday, March 12, 2015 at the Utah State Capital. He was there as the Governor signed Senate Bill 296, the anti-discrimination bill, into law. He looked as happy as I’ve ever seen him. His smile was so natural, he couldn’t stop smiling. Later I saw him walking away through the capital surrounded by friends and I assume bodyguards. It felt so good to see him there at that moment. I will miss Elder Perry.

  14. When I was a missionary at the MTC I was able to sing with a missionary choir during the Saturday afternoon session of General Conference. As we were weaving our way out of the basement/parking garage of the Conference Center toward waiting buses, Elder Perry came out from another doorway, intercepted us, shook our hands, and thanked us for singing. He had a huge smile and was sincere. It was a special day, and I could feel his love. A few days later I was in a muddy slum in Latin America knocking on doors. Maybe he did that every conference, but it meant a great deal to me at the time, and even more now.