Ed Kimball, thank you

I never met Ed Kimball face-to-face, and I regret that. He passed away yesterday, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Ed’s son Chris, who is a friend of BCC, was quoted by the Trib:

“Dad saw three-dimensional people,” Chris Kimball said. “He did it in serving on the parole board (which has an enhanced role because Utah uses indeterminate sentencing, where the court determines the type or degree of felony, each of which comes with a time range, and the parole board determines the actual time for the individual case). He did it in serving as a bishop. He did not categorize or label people (and in that he and my mother were opposites, so I know the difference). He saw individuals and in some cases told their story.”

This skill was particularly helpful, his son said, in the writing of Mormon history.

“My father wanted to make a difference in the world of Mormon history and biography,” Chris Kimball said, “by breaking the mold of hagiography.”

Ed’s biography of his father, Spencer Kimball, was published not long after I began my research and writing on Mormon history. Out of print, it is available on the used market and on Kindle. Reading through it and the expanded version that came on CD with the hardcover, were some of my earlier exposures to “Mormon Studies.”

In the expanded version he included details about Bruce McConkie asking Camilla to help bless Spencer before a brain surgery. I found his email address from a friend and contacted him. Ed kindly offered me a transcript of his diary entry describing the event. Kris Wright and I included it in our article on Female Ritual Healing, and it has become a frequently cited anecdote. Thank you for your generosity, Ed. You did not know me, but you gave me your faith.

Ed took the material about the revelation on the temple/priesthood restriction from the expanded edition of his biography, and published it with BYU Studies as “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood.” With the Gospel Topics Essay on Race and Priesthood, and the work of folks like Paul Reeve, it is easy to forget just how big of a challenge Ed’s article was to common narratives in church bureaucracies.

Ed had several other very important articles. I still frequently refer to “The History of LDS Temple Admission Standards,” (PDF of full issue). And his article on confession is worth checking out.

Again, thank you Ed. When the Lord shall come, and old things shall pass away, and all things become new, and we rise from the dead and shall not die after, I will stand with you before the Lord, in the holy city.


  1. I never met President Kimball. He was prophet when I was just little. However, I read his biographies and have interacted with Ed. I feel that the apple didn’t fall far from that beautiful tree.

  2. Well done J.

  3. Ed Kimball was a great, generous, helpful man. He will be greatly missed.

  4. I had a class from Ed in law school. It was my favorite class. We later corresponded extensively about his last biography on his father. Ed was a great contributor to making the world a better place, and will be missed.

  5. ron julie stapley says:

    Very nice J. a sincere and kind piece.

  6. Thanks, J. The second biography was also my intro to Mormon Studies, and the BYU Studies article has long been vitally important to me. So, here’s to the memory of a great man.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    I did a session at Sunstone with him once. Greg Prince and I took turns commenting on Lengthen Your Stride, and then Ed responded. I thought it was a great session, and I was thrilled to actually get to meet him in the flesh.

  8. Left Field says:

    I’m very sorry to hear about this. The Kimballs were in the same ward as my family in Wisconsin for a time back in the ’60s. My parents remembered them, but I was only 4-5 years old, and didn’t know them, though I might have a vague memory of their daughter who was my age. After several moves, my family ended up 10-12 years later in Mapleton, Utah where the Kimballs also lived briefly after they left Wisconsin. I got to know a couple of their children when we were in Junior High School and we kind of kept in touch through college. It’s been many years since we’ve had any contact, but I remember the family well, and I extend my sympathy.

  9. Matt Harris says:

    I met Ed several years ago at his home in Provo. We talked for several hours. He was thoughtful, helpful and extremely generous. He facilitated access to his father’s journals at the Church History Library. I will never forget him. He was a wonderful man. He will be missed.

  10. Of course, thank you. (I am that Chris Kimball referred to.)
    I want to add a small insight into Ed Kimball’s life and work that may have relevance for some of what happens at BCC and the bloggernacle more generally. Dad was in an important sense subversive. He probably would have rejected the label because of the several negative connotations, while maybe possibly acknowledging an element of truth with a smile. Others would be slow to apply the label because he was not didactic, he seldom preached or argued. Instead, he was a subversive in the sense that Socratic dialogue is subversive of things as they are. Subversive in the sense that good history is often subversive of revealed religion (I think that’s John Caputo’s observation, but don’t hold me to the reference). I think he knew it and took some private pleasure in tweaking the establishment, although the closest I can come to a quotable line is his stated pleasure in asking good questions.

  11. This timely tribute moved me. Thanks so much Jonathan. Kimball’s presence at MHA and his humble demeanor will be missed, as well as his unique contributions to recent Mo history. “Lengthen Your Stride” read like a page-turner novel to me. Deseret Book (the publisher) disclaimer of some of the author’s conclusions, while unheard of (at least to me) at the time, didn’t seem to bother Bro. Kimball in the least. In my opinion, he seemed to wear it like a badge of honor.

  12. christiankimball, thank you.

  13. well said J. and all

  14. ChristianKimball – Thank you for your insights. I hope he won’t mind if I try to keep his tradition alive. Smile and all. J. Stapley – Thank you for this piece. I had heard of his work but never found full references. This is a beautiful tribute.

  15. Professor Kimball was my criminal procedure law professor during my first year of law school. He was kind and practical. Once when discussing the issue of paroling convicts some of us were adamant about the degree of rehabilitation needed to grant parole. I remember him saying the candidate didn’t have to be ready for the celestial kingdom just safe in society. Seldom did he mention religion but it was obvious that he lived it.

  16. Lengthen Your Stride is on my list of top 10 books. Stride deepened my faith in our religion and revelation, while showing the human side of it all and giving me a framework for accepting that human imperfection at the highest levels of the church, and not getting too worked up about that, while giving me hope for the future. I loved the section on the revelation on the priesthood. I wept through the final chapters on President Kimball”s physical decline and suffering. These sections and the rest of the book helped me find characteristics to strive for: the attempt to commune with God, to be Holy, to understand His will, to endure. President Kimball had been a personal mentor to my father, so I loved these insights into his life on that level as well. This book was so important to me that my gratitude to Ed Kimball, who I never knew, has been immense. When I heard he had died, I felt sad for our collective loss–and such gratitude for his life and contributions. Christian, I am sorry for your loss, and you must feel such pride [the good kind!] in his life.

  17. A good, good man, who left such good, good work. His loss is a blow. But also, it’s a chance to reflect on and celebrate his solid contributions to goodness and truth.

  18. At the passing of a great and good man I knew as a law professor and a ward member, I count my interactions with him and his writings among the meaningful blessings I’ve had. Subversiveness, kindness, and good judgment were combined in Ed Kimball.

  19. Ed Kimball was counselor to my father George W. Pace when he was a stake president and BYU Religion Professor. When Bruce McConkie publically castigated my father in connection with dad’s book “What It Means to Know Christ” (Council Press), Ed was right there helping him navigate through that difficult time. He was the one that drafted the official letter / response that was published, and kept my father’s reputation intact–as much as could remain intact. Ed was a kind and intelligent soul who knew much better the inner workings of LDS Church politics amongst the hierarchy. I will always be grateful to him for that, and I have also been pleased to know his children, especially Mary who married a missionary buddy of mine. RIP, Ed.

  20. David thank you for sharing your story. I remember reading “Our Search to Know the Lord” when I was younger. The book meant a lot to me. I didn’t know the other turmoil. In one sense it breaks my heart in another it is an inspiration to me as I navigate my adjusted expectations of the church.

  21. If Christian is still reading this thread: your father’s book(s) about your grandfather provided me with some of my most powerful, convincing, and moving spiritual experiences. Reading LYS by the little airplane lamp at 2 AM on a Frontier Airlines flight from SLC to Philadelphia some 10 years ago, I wept like a child as I learned about the humble searching and probing that lead to the revelation on the Priesthood, the nearly Job-like ailments that haunted SWK’s later life, and the ceaseless way in which SWK poured out his strength in service to his fellow saints. Just as importantly, your father’s willingness to share with his readers SWK’s warts strengthened my confidence that flawed and human prophets can still loom as spiritual giants (even if very short). His willingness to embrace a prophet–and our history–with full recognition of his (and our) complicated mortality, was prescient and wise.

    Please know your father’s writing about your grandfather’s life changed my life for the good.

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