Elder Robert E. Sackley dies serving in his native Australia

Elder Robert E. Sackley of the Second Quorum of the Seventy and first counselor in the Pacific Area presidency died Feb. 22. He was 70.

Elder Sackley and his wife, Marjorie, were on a Church assignment in the Brisbane area at the time of his death. On Sunday, Feb. 21, he fulfilled assignments at several wards in the area and that evening presided over and addressed a fireside in the Eight Mile Plains Ward meetinghouse. The fireside was attended by many of his and Sister Sackley's relatives.He was born in Lismore in northern New South Wales, and many members of his family now live in the surrounding region and a little further north in Brisbane. Sister Sackley is from Queensland, Australia.

The Sackleys made their home in Canada from 1954 until he began full-time Church service as a mission president in the Philippines in 1979. Soon after Elder and Sister Sackley returned from the Philippines in 1982, they were called to serve in the Salt Lake Temple - he as administrative assistant and she as an assistant matron. In 1983, they were called to direct the Washington Temple Visitors Center for 18 months. Immediately after that assignment, they were called to serve in the Sydney Australia Temple.

In January 1986, while in Australia, the First Presidency telephoned them and asked them to return to Canada to await another assignment. Within a few months, they were on their way to Africa, where he presided over the Nigeria Lagos Mission.

On April 2, 1988, he was sustained to the Seventy, the first Australian to be called as a General Authority. In October 1991, he returned to his homeland as a member of the Pacific Area presidency, with headquarters in Sydney.

The fireside over which he presided on Feb. 21 doubled as a family reunion since so many of Elder and Sister Sackley's relatives attended. A son and a daughter and their spouses came from Canada to see the land of their birth and meet relatives. After the fireside, Elder and Sister Sackley went to a resort town about an hour's drive south of Brisbane, where their son and daughter were staying. Elder Sackley died there in his sleep about 4 a.m. Monday, Feb. 22.

News of Elder Sackley's death came as a shock to General Authority colleagues, and friends and associates. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve was in Australia on a Church assignment when he learned of Elder Sackley's death. "He had not been sick," Elder Oaks told the Church News in a telephone interview. "He was one of the conference visitors at a regional conference here last week [Feb. 13-14T. President Howard W. Hunter presided and Elder Sackley and I were companion speakers.

"Elder Sackley was active, and fully functioning in his calling at the time of his death. He didn't have any illness; he just died in the night after a full and happy Sabbath with his family.

"Elder and Sister Sackley are deeply loved in Australia. His death was a great shock to everyone here, and has evoked an outpouring of love and messages of condolence to Sister Sackley and their family."

Elder Rulon G. Craven of the Seventy and president of the Pacific Area said: "In the last week, Elder Sackley participated with great vigor in regional conferences of the Church in Sydney. There was no sign that he would not be with us for very much longer.

"And yet, it could not have been more fitting that he finished his sojourn in this life virtually where he started it. It was a blessing that members of his family were with him at the time."

Elder Sackley was born Dec. 17, 1922, to Cecil James and Mary Duncan Sackley.

During World War II, he served in the Australian commando forces and was attached to the Northern New Guinea 5th Commando Squadron. He and 10 others were ambushed on New Guinea in the Solomon Islands on Christmas Day 1944. More than half his patrol was killed. Then 22, he was severely wounded. For hours he struggled to get to safety, but every time he moved, an enemy gunner fired at him.

About mid-afternoon, he heard someone whisper: "Lay still until dark, and then roll into the river. Keep yourself afloat. We've got fellows who will catch you about 100 yards downstream."

He was 30 miles behind enemy lines. After he was fished out of the river, he was carried on a litter for six days by New Guinea tribesmen to an American encampment. He was transported to a hospital in Queensland, Australia. In addition to the serious wounds he sustained in the ambush, he also suffered from malaria.

In an interview for the April 6, 1988, Church News, Elder Sackley said: "In the eternal perspective, that ambush was about the best thing that had happened to me up to that point. Had I not been injured, I would not have met my wife. And had I not met her, I doubt I would have learned of the gospel."

While recovering in the hospital, he met Marjorie Orth, a Church member who had gone to the hospital with a friend to visit an LDS serviceman. "We became friends and she invited me to go to Church, so one Sunday I got a pass from the hospital and went," Elder Sackley said in the interview shortly after he was called as a General Authority.

He was baptized June 16, 1946, and devoted the rest of his life to serving in the Church. "I made up my mind that I just wanted to be an active member," he said. He married Marjorie Orth on March 26, 1947.

Their desire to go to the temple led them to Canada. They first planned to go to the temple in Hawaii, but they could not afford the round-trip passage by boat. They realized he would need to work a year in Hawaii to earn enough money for them to return to Australia. Since few jobs were available in Hawaii, they decided to go to the Salt Lake Temple. However, there was a waiting list for Australians to get work permits in the United States. They decided to go to the Alberta Temple in Canada.

After they went to the temple, they settled in Cardston and he began working as an accountant for a national wholesale grocery company. When the company wanted to transfer him to Medicine Hat - 150 miles away - he declined to take the position, explaining he had a desire to do genealogy and temple work. "I didn't come halfway across the world to move away from something we've dreamed of doing for years," he told the company's president. He went to work as business administrator for a school district in Cardston.

He stayed with the school district 25 years. Ironically, he spent the last years of his working career in Medicine Hat. When he was offered a position as vice president of administration of a government college, the Sackley family - which had grown to two daughters and three sons - decided he should accept the offer; they felt they could do more missionary work in Medicine Hat than in Cardston.

He was serving as a bishop when he was offered the position of college president. Feeling the position would interfe with his responsibilities as a bishop, he declined. The college's board of directors drafted him to serve as the institution's president for five years. He had a contract on his desk to sign for another five-year-term when, in December 1978, he received a telephone call from President Spencer W. Kimball and President N. Eldon Tanner of the First Presidency to open a mission in Quezon City, Philippines. He spent the rest of his life in full-time Church service.

In the Church News interview after he was called as a new General Authority, Elder Sackley said: "The Church has motivated our entire life together." That motivation was reflected in a letter he wrote to the ministry of education when, in 1982, an inquiry was made to see if he would consider returning to his career in education. His response was: "If we have anything left in life, we give it to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to which we owe our allegiance."

Memorial services for Elder Sackley were held in Brisbane Feb. 22 and in Sydney Feb. 23. Funeral services and burial were scheduled to be in Salt Lake City Feb. 27.

At the memorial service in Sydney, Elder Oaks said of Elder Sackley: "We could pay him no greater tribute than to affirm that he was a great missionary and a man utterly fearless in preaching the life and works of his Lord and Master, Jesus Christ."

Elder Sackley was sustained April 2, 1988, to the First Quorum of the Seventy and to the Second Quorum of the Seventy April 1, 1989. He was second counselor in the presidency of the North America Southeast Area from Aug. 15, 1988-Nov. 1, 1988; at that same time, he was also a managing director of the Missionary Department. He served as second counselor in the United Kingdom/Ireland/Africa Area presidency from Nov. 1, 1988, until Oct. 1, 1990, at which time he was assigned as first counselor in the Africa Area when that area was created with headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa. - Gerry Avant

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed