A life shaped by service — Elder Robert L. Backman dies at age 100

Elder Robert L. Backman, who served as a general authority from 1978-92. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
A photo of Elder Robert L. Backman and his wife, Sister Virginia Pickett Backman, with several of their grandchildren at the time of his call to the Seventy in 1978. Credit: Church News archives
From left, Elder Richard G. Hinckley, Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone, Elder Robert K. Dellenbach, Tim Fenton, Joan Fenton, Elder Robert L. Backman, Charles W. Dahlquist and Floyd Hatch participate in ceremonial groundbreaking at the site of the future Thomas S. Monson Lodge at the Hinckley Scout Ranch. Credit: Courtesy Elder Robert K. Dellenb
President Thomas S. Monson — holding a decorative stick emblazoned with Scouting’s merit badges — stands with, from left, Elder Robert K. Dellenbach, Elder Robert L. Backman, Elder Jack H Goaslind Jr., Brother Dean R. Burgess, Elder Vaughn J Featherstone, Credit: August Miller, Deseret News

Elder Robert LeGrand Backman, an emeritus general authority, died Friday, June 3, 2022, in Holladay, Utah. He was 100 years old.

When he was called by President Spencer W. Kimball in 1978 to the First Quorum of the Seventy, President Kimball asked if Elder Backman and his wife needed time to think it over as it would mean he would need to leave behind his law practice for full-time Church service. 

Elder Backman replied: “We don’t need any time, President. We made up our minds long ago to do anything we were asked.”

Through the years, he responded affirmatively to many opportunities to serve. He served as a General Authority Seventy from 1978 to 1992, including seven years in the Presidency of the Seventy. His general Church service also involved a term as president of the Aaronic Priesthood-MIA from 1972 to 1974 and as Young Men general president from 1979 to 1985. He also presided over the Northwestern States Mission with his wife, Sister Virginia Pickett Backman, from 1966 to 1969 and served as a regional representative and temple sealer. 

In an Ensign article at the time of his call to the Seventy, he said of his service as a sealer, “I’ve performed marriages for many of my missionaries and three of my own daughters, and I guess that’s just about the most glorious experience a man can have in this life — to bind forever.”

Prior to full-time Church service, he practiced law for 29 years and served in the Utah Legislature from 1971 to 1975 and as vice president of the Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He was also president of the Utah Land Title Association and of the Salt Lake Executive Association. 

Considering his long list of Church and public service and accomplishments, no one would guess he was once terribly shy. Born March 22, 1922, to LeGrand P. and Edith Price Backman, he spent much of his youth in South Africa, where his parents were leaders of the South African Mission. Returning to Salt Lake City his senior year of high school, he found social interactions “agonizingly uncomfortable.” 

His call to the Northern States Mission as a full-time missionary “transformed my life. It made me realize that I was a child of God and had great potential,” he said.

He carried that testimony with him as he was drafted into the Army during World War II and served in New Guinea, the Philippines and Japan. 

In his Church News biography in 1978, Elder Backman recalled organizing an Easter service in a combat zone on the island of Luzon.

They set up a sacrament meeting in a bombed-out building and used empty shell casings as vases for wildflowers. The sacrament table was made of old ammunition boxes. Grime-covered soldiers in battle fatigues stacked their rifles at the door and sat on their helmets.

“We had one of the greatest spiritual feasts I’ve ever enjoyed,” Elder Backman recalled.

After the war, with a wife and two young daughters, he enrolled in the University of Utah Law School, graduating in 1949. He and his wife raised seven daughters and are grandparents to many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, whom he referred to as “our wealth.”

Robert and Janet Backman
Robert and Janet Backman

Virginia Backman, 75, died June 4, 1999. Elder Backman married Janet Woodbury, and they served as the president and matron of the Jordan River Utah Temple from 2005 to 2008.

Elder Backman spoke several times during general conference and in Church devotionals. During his final conference address, in October 1992, he said, “Every blessing I have in my life, everything I hold dear and precious in my heart, I can trace to my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to my love of the Lord, to my testimony of his divine gospel, and to the responses I have made to the opportunities for service.”

Funeral services are pending.

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