Intensity to serve developed during missionary struggles

With just a touch of gray hair above the ears, and a sense of personal calm in his demeanor, Elder D. Lee Tobler appears more the distinguished statesman than the soon-to-retire executive vice president of a major company.

Over the course of his rise in American business, he has traveled the world, met with leaders of industry, negotiated international agreements and reshaped the destiny of a major corporation.But this new 65-year-old member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy was not always so confident and self-assured.

His rearing on a farm in Nampa, Idaho, had taught him well how to work.

But it wasn't until he entered the mission field and endured the refining fires of personal challenge that he learned who he was, what he was capable of becoming, and developed an intensity to serve.

"Probably the most decisive experience that shaped my life was being called on a mission," Elder Tobler said.

Reared in Bunkerville, Nev., until he was 9, then moving with his family to a farm in Nampa, Elder Tobler "grew up in the cradle of the gospel."

His mother had served a mission and his father was his bishop. "Having been taught the gospel all my life, my seedbed was very good," he said, drawing an illustration from his love of gardening.

In 1953, he was called to the Swiss-Austrian Mission. This Idaho farm boy suddenly found himself among a people whose customs and language were totally foreign. It was deeply unsettling, leaving him to search his soul for meaning and confidence.

"In that desperation you come to realize - through prayer and deep thought - the basic understanding of yourself and your relationship with God. Once that happens, I think you are changed forever," he said. "My life has been absolutely changed since that time.

"When you go through that experience of knowing - very specifically - that you are not alone, that you have been called and have a personal relationship with the Savior, then you can go forward with His help. It's that kind of watershed experience that caused me to absolutely push myself into the work and to completely enjoy my mission.

"It was an indelible experience. I recognized, as a response to prayer, that the Savior was there. This experience grew more powerful as my mission progressed. When I came home, I was truly a transformed person. I think my parents wondered what had happened to me."

Early in his mission, strengthened by this newfound sense of self-worth, Elder Tobler was called to serve in Lucerne, a beautiful, quaint Swiss city surrounded by mountains where he and his companion were "blessed with a lot of fruit" for their labors.

"I achieved an intensity for work on my mission which has continued, and has been a part of my professional life as well as my service in the Church," he said.

One of his fond mission memories centered on the dedication and preparations of the Swiss Temple. Elder Tobler remembers President Gordon B. Hinckley, then an employee of the Church and three years prior to his call as an Assistant to the Twelve, bringing the film and lectures necessary for the temple ceremony.

President Hinckley arrived on a Friday. But when a customs agent wouldn't allow the film to enter the country without a review, he and Swiss-Austrian Mission Pres. William F. Perschon requested that the missionaries join them in fasting and prayer over the weekend that the material would be kept sacred and permitted into the country.

"We fasted and prayed that no problem would occur," Elder Tobler said. "And none did."

Come Monday morning when Presidents Hinckley and Perschon approached another customs agent who asked several questions, then permitted the materials to enter the country without review.

"I still remember that, absolutely clearly," he said.

Elder Tobler returned from his mission in May 1956. By November, he was married to Darlene Thueson, the daughter of a Nampa, Idaho, farmer, who knew something about the social downside to raising cows and pigs.

They both graduated from BYU in 1957, then moved to Chicago where Elder Tobler earned a master's degree in business administration at Northwestern University.

From there, the rise up the corporate ladder took them to New York to work for one of the world's largest oil companies, now known as Exxon. His mornings started early and his days ended late. He was called into the bishopric of the Queens Ward at a time when they had three children under age 3. He subsequently served as bishop while Sister Tobler served as ward Relief Society president.

Fourteen years and five children later, they moved to Hartford, Conn., leaving the security of a profession where he was well established to become vice president of Aetna Life and Casualty in an industry he knew little about.

There, Sister Tobler gave birth to their sixth child. Despite the demands of raising a large family, Elder and Sister Tobler were eager to build the ward - an attitude that has characterized their lives. They shared their talents as a team and were called to responsible positions in the ward. Sister Tobler was again called as Relief Society president and Elder Tobler was again called as bishop.

This pattern of service became the theme of their lives, repeated wherever they lived.

After 10 years in Hartford, the Toblers moved to Houston where he accepted another position in the oil industry and was given a significant increase in professional responsiblities. Here, he was called into the stake presidency.

After four years, it became apparent the position was not professionally good for him, and with no apparent options, he sought other opportunities. From the family standpoint, this became the second defining moment in his life.

"At age 51, after all that experience, to be at a point in life when you aren't absolutely clear what your next step should be requires total reliance on the Lord," he said. This was a soul-searching time of seeking the Lord's will and waiting on His blessings. He remembers well the strength and support his wife provided.

Three months later, Elder Tobler was named executive vice president and chief financial officer of the BF Goodrich Co. The family moved to Akron, Ohio, where four months later, he was again called into the stake presidency, then called as stake president where he served for nearly 10 years before being called as an Area Authority Seventy.

During the next 14 years, Elder Tobler was part of a team that reshaped a major American corporation. BF Goodrich went from being the tire company without a blimp, as they promoted itself in the 1980s, to becoming a specialty chemicals and aerospace company. During those years, Elder Tobler played a major role in selling off 85 percent of the companies owned by BF Goodrich and buying others, changing the nature of the company.

"Being productive takes hard work and energy. I learned a lot about that on the farm, but since then, I've been a very focused and intense worker in my profession and in my Church callings," he said.

But it's their service in the Church and rearing a family in the gospel that has brought Elder and Sister Tobler their greatest rewards.

"He was a great father," said Sister Tobler. "The children felt he loved them, even though he was sometimes gone for several weeks at a time."

Likewise, added Elder Tobler, "Sister Tobler was a great mother and wife who rendered diligent service in her callings as stake Primary and Relief Society president, and in the stake Young Women presidency and her many ward callings.

"She has been wisely there for me, always in the right way, and always at the right time," he said.

And now, with that same attitude of teamwork as he embarks on a new calling. "We're here, we're ready, and we're grateful," he said.

Additional Information

Elder D. Lee Tobler

Family: Born July 25, 1933, to Donald and Louise Shoell Tobler in Provo, Utah. Married Darlene Thueson Nov. 21, 1956, in the Salt Lake Temple. Six children: Lisa Tobler-Preece, Julianne Hernandez, Curtis, Craig, Denise Knight, and Bradley; 13 grandchildren.

Education: Earned bachelor of arts degree in finance and economics at BYU, and masters of business administration from Northwestern University.

Employment: Executive vice president and chief financial officer of BF Goodrich Co.

Church service: Area Authority Seventy; stake president and counselor; bishop; high councilor; missionary in the Swiss Austrian Mission, 1953-56.

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