Humorous quips and practical jokes aren’t the first things that come to mind when many Latter-day Saints hear the name of Bruce R. McConkie.
Born in 1915, he was called as a General Authority in 1946, initially as a member of the First Council of the Seventy, and then served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1972 until his death in 1985. He is better known and widely respected as a scholar, particularly of the scriptures — and especially those pertaining to the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus Christ.
On several occasions, I had the opportunity to see Elder McConkie as a leading theologian who also had a keen sense of humor.
Here are some examples of his sense of humor:
Entering its sesquicentennial year in 1980, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints introduced a physical fitness awards program that encouraged members to engage in physical activities. I knew Elder McConkie walked to his office from his home in the foothills above Utah’s Capitol and walked the return trip home several days each week, and that he enjoyed running. I figured if we could show a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles engaged in some physical activity, that might encourage the general membership of the Church to find time for exercise.
Elder McConkie agreed to be photographed for my report. He wore a T-shirt that one of his sons gave him. Lettering on the back of the shirt read, “Lengthening my stride,” an adaptation of President Spencer W. Kimball’s admonition, “Lengthen your stride.” Elder McConkie put the shirt on backwards so that the motto would be seen in the photo.
John Hart, one of my Church News colleagues, was the photographer. We met up with Elder McConkie outside his home. John suggested Elder McConkie run in a wide circle so he could a get variety of shots. Elder McConkie happily complied and kept up a conversation as he ran the laps. I remember a particularly humorous quip that he took several laps to complete: “When you go home tonight — you can write in your journal — that you had a member of the Twelve — running around in circles today.”
In an interview in 1976, Elder McConkie said, “I have a keen sense of humor, actually, but it doesn’t project over the pulpit and it’s not generally known. For instance, one of the Brethren who came into the Twelve said, ‘The greatest shock of my life was to find out what Elder Bruce R. McConkie is really like.’”
Elder McConkie said: “Life surely isn’t eternally a long-faced thing. I get a great deal of enjoyment out of life and associating with people.
“There’s been a good many instances where some elaborate and extensive practical jokes have been pulled on me by Dilworth Young (a member of the First Council of the Seventy from 1945 to 1975) or someone else, that add a savor and an interest to what’s going on.”
I learned from Elder McConkie’s wife, Sister Amelia Smith McConkie, that he was an avid rock hound. They often went out into the desert and mountainous areas looking for agates, jasper, petrified wood or various kinds of rocks. When I visited their home for an interview in 1976, she showed me the tumbler he used to polish the stones, from which he would make various pieces of jewelry, such as rings, necklaces or pendants, and other items, such as bookends.
One day, I was surprised to receive a gift from Elder McConkie — an oval bloodstone that he had fashioned into a pendant.
I often think of Elder McConkie and his extensive writings about Jesus Christ, especially as the “Come Follow Me” manuals help us — individuals, families and class members — learn about Him.
Elder McConkie’s books include a set of six volumes about the Messiah and the three-volume “Doctrinal New Testament Commentary,” as well as other books. His last book, “A New Witness for the Articles of Faith,” was published a few months after his death on April 19, 1985.
In a Church News interview with David Croft in 1975, Elder McConkie said, “One of the things that I enjoy doing more than anything else is just the simple matter of studying the doctrines of the gospel and organizing them by subject and solving and analyzing doctrinal problems.”
Further, he said: “People eternally ask me questions, and they ought to figure them out themselves. I mean, I don’t have any more obligation than they do to know what the answers to these things are and they have the same sources to look to that I do.”
I doubt any of us who were present in the Tabernacle or who saw or listened to the broadcast of the 155th Annual General Conference, on April 6, 1985, will ever forget Elder McConkie’s powerful, stirring testimony of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Speaking in a trembling voice, he concluded, “I am one of His witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in His hands and in His feet and shall wet His feet with my tears. But I shall not know any better then than I know now that He is God’s Almighty Son, that He is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through His atoning blood and in no other way.”
Elder McConkie died 13 days later.