Life of Elder Ladd has been filled with harmony, kindness

Kindness - both given and received - is a defining characteristic in the life of Elder W. Don Ladd, who was sustained April 2 as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy.

It was the kindness of a caring bishop reaching out to a non-member young man that led to Don Ladd's joining the Church at age 19. In turn, attributes of being a pleasant peacemaker and consensus builder have helped Elder Ladd succeed in the often-contentious world of government management and liaison work in Washington, D.C., and in all other areas of his life.And it was those related traits of gentleness and courtesy that attracted his wife, the former Ruth Lynne Pearson, to him when they met in Washington in 1962.

"He was the most polite person I had ever met," recalled Sister Ladd of their introduction at a Church fireside 32 years ago. "He was so comfortable and easy to be around. I told him that one of the things I liked was that when we were together, the occasional periods of silence were comfortable. A lot of times when you first meet somebody, you are always worried about what to talk about next and are somewhat nervous. I never felt that with him."

When asked what first attracted him to his wife, Elder Ladd smiled and quickly replied, "Her big, brown eyes." He also recounted other attributes that he had found endearing, including her deep commitment to the gospel and her LDS pioneer heritage. In fact, Elder Ladd said he, as one who grew up a non-member in the rural South (Florida), still has great respect for the blessings of having a Mormon pioneer legacy in any family.

While Elder Ladd lacks the Mormon Pioneer ancestry of Sister Ladd, whose descendants include such people as Lydia Knight, Lorenzo D. Young, John R. Young and others, his ancestors were nevertheless pioneers in their own right. His mother's side of the family includes some of Florida's earliest Church members, dating back to the late 1800s. Elder Ladd's mother was LDS, and young Don did attend Church off and on as a child, going to Primary and, later, MIA activities. His father was Southern Baptist.

"My dad was a great man," reflected Elder Ladd. "He seldom attended his church and was a member mostly because that's what his parents and grandparents were. But he never prohibited or discouraged us from participating in the LDS Church. Mother was relatively active in the Church, though we didn't attend all the time."

Elder Ladd attributes much of his harmonious personal nature to his father, who, in the words of his son, "could not abide dissension. He loved things that were harmonious, and I guess I do, too. I picked that up from him. I go out of my way to avoid contention."

While the young man was growing up in a pleasant home environment and participating casually in Church activities, a caring bishop, the late Woodrow W. Tilton of the Palatka (Fla.) Ward, took a special interest in the 15-year-old and helped him become "really active," going out of his way to involve him in a variety of Church activities.

Recalled Elder Ladd: "More than pulling me into activities, he sort of became a father figure and friend and took me on business trips with him. He was a cattle rancher, and when I say business trips, I'm talking about day trips of 20 or 30 miles, which was a big trip in those days. We would spend the day, and he would teach and train and talk to me about how to do things related and unrelated to the Church. That gave me the feeling that I was special, important, and that he was taking a special interest in me. It was through his influence that I became really involved in the Church and began to gain a testimony.

"During this time in Florida there were not enough young people in the Church for Scout troops or many other activities, and this one-on-one relationship made the difference."

As his testimony blossomed and activity increased, so did Elder Ladd's desire to be baptized. His father had told him previously that young Don needed to wait until he was an adult to make the decision. But when he was 19 and readying to leave for the University of Florida, Elder Ladd again approached the subject with his father. He said, "Dad, I'm leaving home now for all practical purposes; how about it?"

He was baptized before leaving for college. Later his three brothers also joined the Church.

While at the University of Florida studying chemical engineering in the early 1950s, Elder Ladd would regularly return home on weekends to see his family and earn money for school. He was called into the bishopric in his home ward and also called as a stake missionary in his university ward, serving faithfully on both fronts.

Elder Ladd's missionary companion at the time was Albert Pearson, a University of Florida professor. Of no particular concern to either of the pair at the time was the fact that Brother Pearson was Ruth Pearson's uncle - the same Ruth Pearson who would, nearly 10 years later, become Ruth Pearson Ladd.

Shortly before he was due to complete his degree in chemical engineering, Elder Ladd was drafted and entered the military. He spent most of his three-year stint as a special agent in a counter-intelligence unit, serving along the border of Germany and Czechoslovakia.

While in Germany, Elder Ladd was called as president of a servicemen's branch at age 25. One of his counselors was an Air Force major, who was able to arrange for the entire branch membership - all of whom were military personnel - to fly to the dedication of the London Temple in 1958, where President David O. McKay presided. "That was certainly a highlight for me as a young fellow of 25 and a branch president," recalled Elder Ladd.

Upon completing his military service, Elder Ladd returned to Florida and contemplated returning to school. His circumstances also dictated that he needed to work. Fortunately, Bishop Tilton, who had been there 10 years previously to reach out to Elder Ladd as a teenager, again intervened and proved to be a blessing. The bishop was active in politics, serving as chairman of the county commission. He introduced Elder Ladd to their congressman, who had just lost his administrative assistant.

"He hired me, and I went to Washington with him in 1959 as his administrative assistant," said Elder Ladd. "I've been in Washington ever since."

It was in Washington that Elder Ladd met his wife in the summer of 1962.

Sister Ladd was born in Heber City, Utah, to Oswald Levi Pearson and June Villate Young Pearson and grew up in the Salt Lake City area as the youngest of three girls. Her father taught math and science in junior high school and was a high school principal. Her mother had passed away a year and a half before Sister Ladd graduated from the University of Utah in child development in the spring of 1962.

"We had never traveled much as a family, and I was feeling a little adventurous and unsettled somewhat due to my mother's death, so I got a summer job with Sen. Wallace F. Bennett and went there with two friends," she said. "I lived in a third-floor apartment in an old home. Don and I met at a fireside held at Don's apartment. His cousin lived next door, and I used to ride to Church with her. She always told us that the Ladd boys would never be interested in western girls, but only in girls from the South.

"Don was the YMMIA superintendent. I was helping with a Mutual party, and we got to know each other a little bit. We started dating, and then I had to return home at the end of the summer because I had committed to teach at a demonstration nursery school at the University of Utah. Don proposed to me before I left to go home."

Sister Ladd returned home to tell her family she wanted to marry this young man none of them had met. "My dad didn't really oppose it, but he reminded me I had this obligation to teach for a year and needed to follow through with that," she said.

While she and the family were trying to work things out, Ruth's Uncle Albert traveled to Salt Lake City for general conference in October. This was the same uncle who 10 years before was a stake missionary companion with new convert Don Ladd in Florida. He was in 1962 a stake president and university professor in Michigan.

When Sister Ladd's father picked up her uncle at the train depot, her dad told the uncle that his daughter wanted to marry a young man from Florida, Don Ladd.

"Uncle Albert told Dad that he was a fine young man, not to worry," she said.

Noted Elder Ladd, "I had no problems from that moment on."

The couple married in the Logan Temple that December. They were able to resolve the teaching issue, with someone else filling the nursery school job, and they returned to Washington, where they have lived since. They currently live in the Potomac South Ward, Washington D.C. Stake.

The Ladds have loved life in the nation's capital. After serving seven years as a congressional administrative assistant, Elder Ladd began work in the office of the Secretary of Agriculture. He was the liaison between the secretary's office, Congress and the White House, serving 15 years for several secretaries from both political parties, a rarity in such a politicized environment. He continues his work in government today as vice president of government affairs for Marriott International.

"I've spent my entire career in government, politics," he said. "It's always been avoiding confrontation, finding the areas of cooperation and working together. I guess a bottom line to all of this is that with all of that exposure to government, I've never become cynical about it. Sure, you can point to the occasional bad example, and there are those. But by and large, there are a lot of great men and women who are giving wonderful public service in government.

"The challenge, though, is to understand government bureaucracy and how to make the system work, instead of fighting all the time. Progress is made when people work together and figure out a way to get the job done. It's a great system; we just have to understand how to make it work."

Besides career government involvement, the Ladds have participated in various aspects of community service and have worked to cultivate their own hobbies and talents. Elder Ladd has been very active in Scouting, serving in local, regional and national Boy Scouts of America positions. Both he and Sister Ladd have a love of ballet, theater, classical music, reading and baseball. Most, if not all, of those interests are shared by their children.

Elder Ladd believes that Church members have myriad opportunities to make contributions in a variety of ways, without waiting for specific direction on every point.

"I think our leaders have always tried to get us as members of the Church to be active in civic and community affairs locally, without being directed," he said. "It takes nothing but the Spirit of the Lord to help us know what's right and wrong, what's a moral issue, and what we should be doing that's right. Then we just need to jump in and do it."


Elder W. Don Ladd

Family: Born July 14, 1933, in San Mateo, Fla., to Joseph Donald Ladd and Phyllis Rose Anderson Ladd. Married Ruth Lynne Pearson Dec. 20, 1962, in the Logan (Utah) Temple. Parents of four children: Joseph, 30; Dana, 28; Christopher, 26; and Kimberly, 20.

Education/military: Studied chemical engineering four years at University of Florida, 1952-56; counter-intelligence agent in U.S. Army, 1956-59.

Employment: Vice president of government affairs for Marriott International, 1982-present; assistant to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, 1967-82; administrative assistant to U.S. congressman, 1959-67.

Church Service: Regional representative, stake president, stake president's counselor, bishop, branch president, elders quorum president, stake missionary, quorum and class instructor; chairman of Washington, D.C., Public Affairs Advisory Committee, 1973-94.

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