The Lord's blessings can be found in even life's darkest times. That was a lesson Elder S. Mark Palmer came to understand firsthand while growing up in his homeland of New Zealand.
Kenneth and Jill Palmer were sheep farmers who loved rural family life with their three young daughters. All was well. Then tragedy struck. The Palmers' baby daughter, Ann, died unexpectedly. In their grief, the young parents yearned for answers to what would become of their precious Ann and how they could ever find peace.
A few years later while their son, Mark, was very young, LDS missionaries — acting on a referral provided by a Latter-day Saint relative — contacted the Palmers. The young American missionaries brought with them the hope found in the plan of salvation: the family could be together forever including little Ann.
“My parents' hearts were softened,” said Elder Palmer, who was called April 2 as a General Authority Seventy. Despite having much still to learn about the restored gospel and its principles, Kenneth and Jill Palmer “exercised that little particle of faith” and were baptized.
Their decision to join the Church forever changed the Palmer family. Elder Palmer, 60, said his parents' lives would become defined by service and a total commitment to keeping covenants. His father would preside over a mission in Fiji. His mother served as his diligent missionary companion. Their children and grandchildren would follow their leads and serve missions of their own.
“We love the gospel and we know that every blessing we've received has come from trying to live the gospel,” said Elder Palmer.
Young Mark Palmer would accept his own mission call, serving in his native New Zealand. Missionary labor in the New Zealand Wellington Mission taught him many lessons that have served him well throughout his ecclesiastical, family and professional life. He remembers once — early in his mission — knocking on the door of a local preacher. The man answered the door with a Bible in his hand and a list of questions for the young elder. Elder Palmer struggled to answer his queries and rededicated himself to his gospel study and preparation.
“By the last six months of my mission, I felt I could talk to anyone,” he told the Church News.
He learned the power of example from his mission president, Stanford Bird, who served his missionaries with love and high expectations.
“[President Bird's] example of leadership and love has been an enormous influence in my life,” he said. “As missionaries, we simply did not want to disappoint him.”
Elder Palmer's wife, Sister Jacqueline Wood Palmer, served a mission of her own in the Spain Barcelona Mission. The work was hard in Spain and baptisms were few. But the blessings, said Sister Palmer, were abundant.
“I learned the concept of putting one foot in front of the other and to keep going,” she said. Bonds of love were built between her, the other missionaries and their investigators whenever they shared their testimonies of the gospel.
When his mission ended, Elder Palmer claimed his undergraduate degree at Auckland University and later attended Brigham Young University to pursue an MBA. On a blind date he met the returned missionary who would become his wife.
Jacqueline Wood was finishing her own studies at the University of Utah when she met the “creative and fun” Kiwi. She was impressed that he always kept his scriptures close at hand “and also the way he spoke so lovingly about his mother.”
In Jacqueline, young Mark discovered a wise, faithful companion and a fellow disciple in the gospel. “I've always felt like I am a better person whenever I'm around Jacqui,” he said.
The Palmers were married Dec. 18, 1981, in the Salt Lake Temple. They have six children and nine grandchildren.
Elder Palmer's business career would take him and his family to Texas. He is the founder and president of SMP Ventures, a real estate development company.
In 1992, the future General Authority Seventy learned lessons in balancing life's many demands while raising a growing family and working to build his company. He was also serving on the stake high council at the time. Sister Palmer's time, meanwhile, was stretched just as thin. They were raising their children in their Austin, Texas, home — including a 6-month-old baby boy.
When their stake president invited them to serve as workers in the Dallas Texas Temple they didn't know how they could handle one more duty. But they accepted the call — then prayerfully asked for the Lord's help.
Their decision to serve in the temple marked a pivotal crossroad. Making a monthly bus trip to work all day in the Dallas temple required sacrifice and careful planning. “But it blessed our lives enormously,” said Elder Palmer.
Serving in the temple, he added, prepared him spiritually for future priesthood duties. He was called to be a bishop a short time later. Temple service also made him a better husband and father.
“Going to the temple often helps you reset your priorities and be reminded of the covenants you have made.”
Elder and Sister Palmer's shared love of missionary work was further developed in 2009 when he was called to preside over the Washington Spokane Mission. They would later serve as interim mission president and wife in the Australia Sydney South Mission.
The recently called General Authority approaches his latest Church calling with his trademark mix of humility and enthusiasm. “I know this is a call to serve and a call to love people and to help them know the love of God.”
He is eager, he added, to again follow the example of service set by his parents, his mission president, his wife and his fellow General Authorities.
“We have been so blessed by other people’s service,” he said. “We are anxious to serve others.”