Inis Egan Hunter: Wife of Church president has a love of the scriptures and for music

If you're meeting Inis Egan Hunter for the first time, don't bother putting on airs to impress her. She will accept you at face value, just as you are. She might nudge you to work hard to reach lofty goals, but she won't make you feel bad if you have not achieved them yet.

Sister Hunter, wife of President Howard W. Hunter, is your basic, down-to-earth, everyday-friend type of person. She is a one-woman cheering section for just about anybody who needs someone on his or her sideline. Nothing seems to delight her more than seeing others succeed.She has one basic expectation of just about everybody she meets: "I believe people are nice and good, and I try to love them," she said during a Church News interview in the living room of her home. "I have always believed that love begets love. If you love people, they love you back."

As she has traveled with her husband on Church assignments she not only has been a support to him but also an inspiration to members in many nations. After hearing her speak in regional conferences and other Church gatherings, many members often crowd around her to shake her hand, hug her and thank her for her insightful message. Sister Hunter seems surprised at the response.

She said when she first started traveling with President Hunter, she prepared talks in advance. "I would just agonize over what I should say, and I would work and work on the talks," she said. "Then, we went to a missionary meeting. I didn't think I would be called upon to speak, so I didn't have anything prepared. All of a sudden, I heard myself being introduced as the first speaker. As I stood in front of that group, I prayed desperately that I would know what I should say. The Spirit dictated the words. Ever since then, I've just sort of formed a nucleus of what I wanted to talk about and have let the Spirit take over from there."

Scripture study, gospel knowledge and Church service form a vast pool from which she can draw in giving talks. She has had a firm testimony of the gospel since she was a young girl, she said.

"I feel faith is a blessing given to me," she declared, her green eyes practically sparkling. "We're told we're given certain gifts. I feel I was given the gift of faith - I have from the time I was a very young girl."

She was born in Thatcher, Utah, near Tremonton, in 1914 to Horace Walter and Anna Jacobsen Egan. Her family lived there only three months, and then moved to central Idaho, where her father ran a general store and post office. The family lived a short while in Soda Springs, Idaho, where her father ran a restaurant, before moving to Richmond, Utah. When Inis was 7, the family moved to Highland Park, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles, where she grew up. After marriage, she moved to Alhambra and then to La Canada, where she raised a son and two daughters.

"I have always been a happy person," Sister Hunter said. "I had a very happy childhood. I loved Primary. I would sing Primary songs at the top of my voice. I remember the teachers and some of the things they taught me. When I see Primary children today, I think, `They're getting their foundation for life.' I love hearing Primary children sing."

Sister Hunter said her father, although he did not attend Church regularly, always saw to it that the family went to Church. She and her two sisters and brother were from one of only two LDS families that had children in the local grade school. "When Saturday came, the day for Primary, I was so happy to be with the members of the Church."

Today, she is still happy to be with members of the Church. She said her favorite place to be, other than home and the temple, is in general conference or in another Church meeting. "I love to feel the spirit of the people, the energy that seems to flow from them. I just bask in it," she said.

Sister Hunter is well-known among Utah's doll hobbyists for the dolls she makes and the clothes she sews for them. She even paints their porcelain faces. She has won blue ribbons in the state fair, and has had several doll shows. But dolls are just a hobby, a temporary diversion. Her real interests run deeper and span the eternities.

She has a dual love for music and the scriptures. As a young girl, she sang at home and then, with her sister, was invited to sing in Church meetings. As she grew older, her performing venue expanded. In high school, she had a lead role in an opera and, as an adult, she sang with such groups as the Pasadena Choral Ensemble and the Southern California Mormon Choir.

She grew up loving the scriptures, and still turns to them with frequency. Opening the Doctrine and Covenants, she said, "Let me read you what is just about my favorite scripture:

" `And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of of all, which we give of him: That he lives!

" `For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father -

" `That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.' " (D&C 76:22-24 .)

Placing the book on the sofa beside her, she was quiet a moment. Then she said softly, "It always thrills me when I read that. Just think about it. Here are words by someone who has seen God!"

Sister Hunter thinks on these things, and others. During the days since June 5, when her husband was ordained and set apart as president of the Church, she has pondered her own role as the wife of the prophet.

They were married only four years ago, on April 12, 1990. They met in 1945, when her family lived in the El Sereno Ward in California, where President Hunter was the bishop. President Hunter moved to Salt Lake City in 1959, after he was called to the Council of the Twelve. His first wife, Clara May (Claire) Jeffs Hunter, died in 1983. President Hunter and Inis renewed their acquaintanceship after she began working in the Church Office Building.

"I have been catapulted a great distance," she said. "A lot of people know me from the time I was a receptionist in the main lobby of the Church Office Building. Now, they see me as the wife of the president of the Church."

She worked at Church headquarters for 13 years, beginning after she moved from California to Utah in 1968. The last few years before retiring, she worked in the lobby of the Church Office Building, serving as much as a missionary to non-LDS visitors and as an ambassador of good will to foreign tourists as she did as a receptionist. Many Church employees were impressed with how knowledgeable she was of the building and the people who worked there. Most often, she didn't need to consult any list to direct people to the departments or employees they sought.

Countless times, she encountered people who were depressed or despondent. Then known as Inis Stanton, she often became an empathetic listening post. The advice she dispensed was wise and, most often, curative.

From time to time, Church employees would telephone or visit their friend Inis at home to talk over their problems, particularly single sisters.

Over the years, she has buoyed up her friends one-on-one, giving them comfort, encouragement and hope. During the past four years, as the wife of a General Authority, she has felt impressed to give that same kind of support to members she doesn't know personally. "I tell them that I lived alone for 22 years, that I know something of what they're feeling. I tell them that what kept me going was the fact that I knew that God loved me, that He was watching over me and knew my every thought, my every need, and that I knew He would provide for me," she said.

"Sure, I was lonesome, but I read the scriptures and went to the temple every week of my life. Sometimes, I went more than once a week. Prayer kept me going. That, and knowing the Lord loved me. I came to know He was not allowing me to be single to punish me, but He was preparing me for something. I always knew that I wouldn't be left holding the bag, that something was coming to me. I just didn't know what it was."

She said she marvels at the fact she is married to the president of the Church. "There are moments when I say to myself, `You're married to the prophet! How can this be?' "

She spoke of the opportunity to serve the Lord through her husband's calling, saying she feels that in being a helpmeet to him she is serving the Church at large. "I always wanted to go on a full-time mission," she said. "But I was never called. I now have an opportunity to serve in a unique way."

Asked to share the philosophy by which she lives, she said, "I have a little plaque in my kitchen that says, `Bloom where you are planted.' I follow the philosophy that you should do your best wherever you are. Set your goals, and through diligence, faith, perseverance and patience you will gradually gravitate toward that which you righteously desire, and you will eventually reach your goal."

Everyone seems drawn to Sister Hunter, who is energetic and active at age 79. (The fact she will be 80 in August astounds a lot of people, since she looks and moves about as though she is 10-15 years younger.) On her birthday after she and President Hunter married, she opened her door to find a card on which was written: "You have captured the hearts of all the people in the ward."

Without doubt, such a sentiment is felt by members all over the world who have had the privilege of meeting Sister Inis Hunter.

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