Physician's formula for decision-making: analysis and prayer

Initiative balanced with humility and obedience might be an appropriate way to characterize the life of Elder Cecil O. Samuelson Jr., 53, sustained at general conference on Oct. 1 as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.

In a recent interview with him and his wife, Sharon, Elder Samuelson spoke of having approached major decisions in his life "analytically and prayerfully." Implicit in the conversation is the relationship between two scriptural concepts.The first is expressed in the scripture, "For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; . . .

butT men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness." (D&C 58:26-27.)

The other concept is reflected in Nephi's words, "And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do." (1 Ne. 4:6.)

At first glance the concepts may appear to conflict; in reality they support and complement each other, as shown by the experiences of Elder and Sister Samuelson.

For example, his decision to become a physician did not come until his mission to Scotland in 1961-63.

"I began my university training with poorly defined notions of being an engineer," he reflected.

It was 1959. The Berlin crisis was emerging, and that year, the Soviet Union had launched the Sputnik satellite, fueling fears in the United States about military aggression, and anyone "who could work a quadratic equation" was encouraged to be a scientist or engineer, he said.

He served briefly in the U.S. Army Reserve beginning in the spring of 1960, went back for a quarter at the University of Utah in the fall, then went on his mission the following January.

"It became clear, both in exploring what I wanted to do with my life and in seeing a young physician who was actually serving as a missionary in my mission that the idea developed that medicine would be a wonderful way to combine science with people-oriented service," he recalled.

The young physician was James H. Pingree. At 27, he had already finished medical school and was a practicing surgeon. As a regional representative, he has since encouraged young men to serve missions, even if they have already passed age 19. (See Church News, Jan. 19, 1991 and Nov. 21, 1992.)

Elder Samuelson became convinced it is possible, if one is disciplined, to endure the rigors of medical training and practice and be an active, productive Church member at the same time.

When he came home, he became acquainted with a young secretary, Sharon Giauque, working in the office of his father, a professor at the University of Utah.

"In those days, we shared one automobile in the family and I used to go by after classes and pick my father up," Elder Samuelson remembered. "Conveniently, he always had a few things to do in his office so I could visit with Sharon."

It is safe to say the father promoted an association between the young people.

"It is the last `arranged marriage' that I know about," Elder Samuelson quipped. "Not really, because he didn't push it that hard. But it was clear that he thought a lot of Sharon and made sure I understood he thought a lot of her. But beyond that, he left it up to us."

On Nov. 25, 1964, the couple were married in the Salt Lake Temple. For three years, Sister Samuelson, whose degree is in history education, taught elementary school. Elder Samuelson received a bachelor's degree in molecular biology in 1966, and in 1970 a master's degree in educational psychology and a medical degree, all from the University of Utah.

At Duke University in Durham, N.C., he served an internship in general internal medicine, a residency in that field and a fellowship in rheumatic and genetic diseases.

In his professional career, as in other aspects of his life, Elder Samuelson has seen the prudence of initiative balanced with flexibility.

In 1973, he had been recruited to join the faculty at Duke University. He was elders quorum president in his ward, and Sister Samuelson had a number of key responsibilities in the ward. John Dixon, dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine, contacted him about joining the faculty there. Dr. Samuelson expressed misgivings about returning to the university at that particular time.

Dr. Dixon, formerly a bishop in Ogden, Utah, said, "If you've gone about the decision-making process in the right way, then I won't bother you anymore."

His meaning was clear to the Samuelsons, who weighed the prospect carefully and then made it a matter of prayer.

As a result, he did return to the University of Utah, as an assistant professor of internal medicine in the Division of Rheumatology or Arthritis. He rose through the ranks: associate professor, then full professor of medicine; assistant dean, associate dean and twice acting dean, of the School of Medicine. He became dean of the school in 1984 and vice president for health sciences at the university in 1988.

He had not planned to go into administration, but found through service as chairman of the School of Medicine admissions committee that he enjoyed it. Similarly, his choice in 1990 to leave the university and become senior vice president of Intermountain Health Care based in Salt Lake City was unplanned.

"And if somebody had asked me, Do you expect to be a General Authority?' I would have said,Of course not.' "

That one cannot always foresee the course the Lord has in mind is illustrated in the way the Samuelson family came to be. Soon after eldest son Cecil O. III was born on Dec. 10, 1967, Sister Samuelson experienced physical challenges in bearing more children. Second son, Scott, was born Feb. 27, 1973, but thereafter, additional pregnancies appeared impossible.

"We had each come from families of five children, and we sort of assumed that children would come whenever you put in the order for them," he said. "But we were not distraught."

Then, unexpectedly, the parents learned of a set of twins in Guatemala, a boy and a girl, available for adoption.

"Over the course of a few days, we went about the process right, that is, analytically and prayerfully, and came to the decision that those twins were destined for our family," Elder Samuelson said. "They were born on Feb. 26, 1977, and we had them home the last week of April 1977.

"So we've had them since they were infants. The twins, Benjamin and Rebecca, are Kekchi Mayan Indians and, we think, pure descendants of father Lehi."

Four years later, long after the Samuelsons had given up any thoughts of having additional children, they found out Sister Samuelson was expecting. Their youngest, Sara, was born Dec. 16, 1981, just after both parents had turned 40.

"So we got our five children and are grateful for them," Elder Samuelson reflected, "but much like this [General Authority] assignment and some other things that have happened to us, much different than what we had planned or thought would happen." Sister Samuelson said her husband is a loving father who has always been willing, when not away from home, to help with the children. The family enjoys taking their boat to Lake Powell in southeastern Utah, playing tennis, going on trips and going out to eat together. She praises his kindness, particularly to his patients, some of whom have expressed regret that he can no longer be their physician.

"Sharon displays a unique combination of supportiveness, loyalty and independence," Elder Samuelson said of his wife. "She has always been absolutely supportive of me, but brutally honest about both her feelings and my deficiencies."

Both are omnivorous readers, a passion they developed when they were young.

And, like President Howard W. Hunter, Elder Samuelson is a musician who played in dance bands and enjoyed jazz when he was young, but for whom the avocation lost its appeal long ago.

"Last Christmas, Sharon and the kids surprised me by getting my old saxophone completely refurbished; I've played it one time since," he said.

Elder Samuelson, who has been president of a university stake and branch president of a student ward, stresses the importance of an eternal perspective in charting the course of one's life.

"Sometimes our young returned missionaries feel they ought to go into medicine, and it's a good career if the Lord ratifies the decision. But it's very competitive. What if they don't get in? That can be very traumatic.

"I absolutely believe we can do a lot of worthwhile things, any of which would be pleasing to the Lord as long as we're honorable, keeping our covenants, making a contribution to society and taking care of our families. Sometimes we dwell too much on whether we should become a sales person or an attorney or a teacher or physician or bricklayer or plumber. All of those things are honorable, and I think the Lord honors us with the privilege of making some of those decisions as long as we're steadfast in keeping our commitments."


Elder Cecil O. Samuelson Jr.

Family: Born Aug. 1, 1941, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Cecil O. and Janet Mitchell Samuelson. Married Sharon Giauque Nov. 25, 1964, in the Salt Lake Temple. Parents of five children: Cecil O. III, 26; Scott, 21; Benjamin, 17; Rebecca, 17; Sara, 12.

Education: Three degrees from University of Utah: bachelor's in molecular biology and genetics, 1966; master's in educational psychology, 1970; medical, 1970. Internship and residency at Duke University, 1970-73.

Employment: Assistant professor, associate professor, full professor of medicine at University of Utah, 1970-84; assistant dean, associate dean, acting dean at University of Utah School of Medicine, 1977-84; dean of School of Medicine, 1984-88; vice president of health sciences at University of Utah, 1988-1990; senior vice president of Intermountain Health Care, 1990-present.

Church Service: Mission to Scotland, 1961-63; elders quorum president, high councilor, stake executive secretary, branch president, stake president's counselor, stake president, regional representative, gospel doctrine teacher, deacon's quorum adviser, teacher's quorum adviser, high priests group leader, member of general Church missionary health advisory committee.

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