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Sister Donna Smith Packer, wife of the late President Boyd K. Packer, dies at age 94

Sister Donna Smith Packer, wife of the late President Boyd K. Packer, dies at age 94

Sister Donna Edith Smith Packer, wife of the late President Boyd K. Packer who served as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, died Saturday, March 5, 2022, at 10:25 p.m. from causes incident to age. She was 94. 

Sister Packer will be remembered for her love of family history work, her treasured role as a wife, mother and grandmother and for her dedication to the gospel.

Born to William W. and Nellie Jordan Smith, Donna was the oldest child of four and grew up in a household of boys.

Raised in a home where “patterns of cheerful optimism and basic goodness of the spirit” were taught, Sister Packer was influenced by her parents, as well as many other family members. Her parents were faithful in their Church callings, honoring the great sacrifices their ancestors had previously made for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because she was a shy girl, her mother put her in violin lessons in an effort to help young Donna be able to share a talent and possibly overcome her shyness (“Boyd K. Packer,” by Lucile Tate, p. 96). Her musical training paid off, as she went on to be able to speak or play in front of people — something that would be of great benefit in Church callings and assignments throughout her life.

As a youth she participated in baptisms for the dead, and from her experiences in sacred temple work she gained a love for family history and temple service.

Before Donna could even talk, her grandfather Rasmus Julius Smith said to a family member that he knew “someone in our family will work with prophets.”

Recognizing that he didn’t know exactly how or when it would all work out, he said to his granddaughter, Nelda, “Now I do not know who it will be, whether it will come through the priesthood line or whether it will come through one of the girls. This promise could be fulfilled through you, or perhaps through your new little cousin, Donna” (“Boyd K. Packer,” p. 80).

Although her grandfather died when she was only 2, his words — along with a treasured photo of the baby girl in a bonnet sitting on his lap — had a special place in her life story.

She married Boyd K. Packer on July 28, 1947, and he served for more than 50 years as a general authority and served with seven prophets. He died July 3, 2015, at the age of 90.

Boyd and Donna Packer were married in the Logan Utah Temple on July 28, 1947.

Boyd and Donna Packer were married in the Logan Utah Temple on July 28, 1947.

Credit: Packer family photo provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Donna graduated from Box Elder High School and earned a degree from Weber College in elementary education.

In a video shown at the dedication of the Boyd K. and Donna S. Packer Center in Ogden, Utah, one of their sons, David Packer, told of his parents’ meeting at Weber College, noting that his mother was on a music scholarship, played the violin, was president of the pep club, a sorority member and lettered in women’s basketball.

“She was involved with many activities on campus, both educationally and socially,” he said. “It was an enriching experience to broaden her horizons to see things she had not experienced previously.”

Boyd Packer watched as she was crowned “Peach Days Queen” in Brigham City. Then, he was asked to speak in a Sunday evening sacrament meeting by a distant cousin. It was the ward Donna and her family attended, with her father serving as a counselor in the bishopric.

“When Boyd was introduced and came to the pulpit he was prompted to speak on obedience,” the biography says. “He then urged Church members to willingly respond to calls that came to them. Donna Smith, who was dating several young men, one rather seriously, listened intently to Boyd Packer. She thought, ‘Now, this is the type of man I would wish to marry.’”

Their first date — to a dance — started what would become a lifetime together and close to 70 years of marriage. “Her lack of affectation strongly appealed to him, as did her ready smile, her thoughtfulness, and her uncomplaining nature,” it reads in his biography. “He had a sure eye for beauty and an innate taste for goodness. In Donna he found beauty and goodness in a perfect blend” (p. 72).

Both Donna and Boyd knew they wanted to have a large family. Donna’s dream of a dozen children almost came true; they had 10 children.

They raised their family on 2.5 acres of land in the Salt Lake Valley, where they had a large garden — including both ornamental plants and vegetables —  and animals — including chickens, rabbits, dogs and horses.

The Boyd and Donna Packer family in 1961.

The Boyd and Donna Packer family in 1961.

Credit: Packer family photo provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Known for her love of family history, Sister Packer made searching out her ancestors a top priority, making time for genealogy amid the busyness of supporting her husband and running a home while raising a large family.

Her children saw their mother working — oftentimes amid their toys — on family history.

“I remember playing with Matchbox cars out on the floor as a young boy, and my mother would be nearby with her papers out,” said Eldon Packer, the Packers’ youngest child. “She always had her eye on me but would be working on genealogy as I played.”

Eldon also said he remembered learning much about his genealogy during car rides to visit family.

“We used to drive back and forth from Brigham City to Salt Lake, which was quite a ways, and on the way back she would tell me stories of the ancestors,” he said. “I’d sit on the front seat and put my head on her lap and she would tell me those stories.”

Sister Packer would also often tell stories from family history as she and the children were picking in the raspberry patch.

Feature on President Boyd K. Packer on his 85th birthday. He and his wife, Donna pose in their back yard. Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009.

Feature on President Boyd K. Packer on his 85th birthday. He and his wife, Donna pose in their back yard. Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009.

Credit: Scott Winterton, Deseret News

In 1988, Sister Packer published a 467-page book, “On Footings from the Past: The Packers in England,” which she researched as she accompanied President Packer on Church assignments to the British Isles.

“That’s the influence now that’s going down multiple generations,” the Packers’ eldest son, Elder Allan F. Packer, an emeritus general authority, said in an interview in 2017. “I think that has instilled in the family and the children the interest to know their ancestors. They understand they have the culture and the heritage. … They have that feeling, and it changes their decisions.”

In 1973, Sister Packer received Ricks College’s Exemplary Woman of the Year Award from the Associated Women Students, then described as an “old-fashioned” wife and mother who enjoys managing a home and rearing a family.

On May 8, 2013, Weber State University named a community outreach center after President and Sister Packer. The Boyd K. and Donna S. Packer Center for Family and Community Education helps administer and support eight education programs that strengthen the community and families.

In his last general conference address, President Packer paid a special tribute to his wife. “Sister Donna Smith Packer and I have been side by side in marriage for nearly 70 years. When it comes to my wife, the mother of our children, I am without words. The feeling is so deep and the gratitude so powerful that I am left almost without expression. The greatest reward we have received in this life, and the life to come, is our children and our grandchildren. Toward the end of our mortal days together, I am grateful for each moment I am with her side by side and for the promise the Lord has given that there will be no end.”

Sister Packer’s funeral will be at 11 a.m. Monday, March 14, at 1535 Creek Road, Cottonwood Heights, Utah.

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