While serving as U.S. ambassador to Sweden, Gregory J. Newell helped thaw a chilly relationship between the two countries. But it was largely the influence of his family that melted the hearts of countless Swedes and attracted widespread positive attention to the Church.
Newell, his wife, Candilyn, and their five children recently returned to the Washington, D.C., area after three and a half years in Stockholm. The former ambassador left his post to accept the position of president and chief executive officer of a worldwide business advisory firm, Dow, Lohnes and Albertson International, a subsidiary of one of Washington's oldest and largest law firms.Before leaving Sweden, the diplomat received rave reviews from both conservative and liberal newspapers for his political work. And he and his family were "the greatest missionaries we've ever had here," according to President Max M. Kimball of the Swedish Stockholm Mission.
Pres. Kimball said he knew of 250 newspaper articles on the Newells - all favorable toward the Church - written during their stay. Another 3,500 articles dealt solely with Newell's political efforts. Sweden's largest morning paper said of the ambassador: "The present ambassador to Sweden, Gregory Newell, is considered to be the most successful ever in that position. His talks with the late prime ministerT Olof Palme considerably contributed to the improvement of relations between Sweden and the U.S."
Another Scandinavian publication, Expressen, credited Newell with improving "relations that had been deeply frozen since the Vietnam War."
According to Pres. Kimball, that political success helped soften attitudes toward the Church as well.
"Missionary success has increased dramatically in Sweden," the president noted, "and I think a lot of the things that have happened can be credited to the Newells' membership in the Church. Brother Newell was not only a great statesman and outstanding representative of the United States - he helped bring relations between Sweden and the U.S. closer than they have been in years - but as the respect for the United States increased, the respect for the Church and the missionaries also grew. And his wife and children have had as much influence for good as he has. We set up firesides throughout Sweden at all the large cities at which he and his wife and children would sing. Afterward, I would invite the non-member guests to listen to a gospel message about the family. It was very successful."
The Newells also made countless other friends in Sweden by hosting 24,000 guests at their embassy residence and through their government travels. Before leaving the country, the Newells bade farewell through two public concerts.
The first was conducted May 28 at the new meetinghouse at the temple site in Stockholm. A standing-room-only audience included 26 foreign ambassadors, Swedish government officials and Church members.
A second performance, geared more toward the public in general, received extensive radio, newspaper and magazine coverage. There the Newell children performed for members of the Swedish royal family, leading members of the Swedish business and industrial community, actors and actresses and others.
Both concerts featured the singing of the ambassador and the five Newell children, ages 3 through 10, accompanied by Sister Newell on the piano. An accomplished pianist, Sister Newell also performed piano solos as part of the family concerts and on her own.
From 40-year-old Greg Newell's point of view, the missionary experiences resulted from living the gospel as a family and being true to the principles and practices of the Church. That, coupled with many opportunities to share the family's musical talents, resulted in a wealth of positive publicity.
"While there is an absence of definable, traditional family values in modern Swedish society, we found a persistent interest in our family lifestyle," Newell explained. "And it was always framed in the terms of our Mormon faith. The two were always linked together, which happens to be just, because that's where we learned it.
"While we shared through our lives the family values we have learned through the gospel, we benefited greatly from elements of Swedish society regarding respect and reverence for the earth, for the care of it and the husbanding of its resources. Young Swedish children know to walk alongside plants or flowers, that they are not to be picked, but to be left for others to enjoy."
According to Newell, the people of Sweden also set fine examples in other areas.
"The Swedes also are a very honest people in dealing with each other. They are a trustworthy people in their business affairs.
"And so it underscores the age-old wisdom that we can all learn from one another. We came away from our experience with the Swedish people with a commitment for them and a love for them that is deeply held, the same love and commitment I hold for the people of France and Belgium, where I served my mission."
Sister Newell said life in the political fast lane was exciting, but also demanding. And she found that nothing could replace the basic gospel principles that focus on the family.
"The first year was extremely challenging because of the difference in lifestyle and the demands on the family personally and professionally," she explained. "We had to make adjustments. I tried to keep my emphasis on home and family management, and was not as involved in the social things as I might have been otherwise.
"After the first year and a half, Gregory established himself politically, and Church leaders asked if we could begin the family concerts. We were continually blessed in our performances, and many times we felt the influence of our Heavenly Father helping our efforts. As a consequence, people were very receptive. The good feelings were brought about by more than just the efforts of our family. We were promoting the gospel and cause of the Church and were helped in doing so."
The fruits of the Newells' missionary efforts in Sweden extended beyond the grave. While there they met Hulda Morin, an 81-year-old distant cousin whose grandfather cared for Brother Newell's great-great-grandmother before she immigrated to Illinois in 1870.
Through that connection, subsequent press awareness and with assistance from the Immigrant Institute in Vexjo, the Newells were able to trace their family history back to 1536 and complete their genealogical work.
"Some of the most cherished work we did in Sweden was taking my wife and bishop to the temple, where I baptized them for 644 of our Swedish ancestors spanning back 13 generations," Brother Newell said. "After baptizing the 644th, I exclaimed to the temple president, `We have just added a full ward in the spirit world.' "
The missionary influence of the Newells in Sweden is probably summed up by an experience the ambassador had shortly before leaving the country. As was the pattern, he boarded an airplane first with his security detail and took his seat. As the other passengers walked on, one woman stopped, looked him straight in the eye and said, "I know who you are. You are the family ambassador."