Although no details were given, the children of Harold G. and Carol Hillam knew something was up when their parents called them and told them to be certain and watch general conference March 30. With just a day's notice, the families came from Idaho, Iowa and California to be with their parents in Salt Lake City.
"In fact, I even had all the boys, including our sons-in-law, give me a blessing," said Elder Hillam, who was sustained during conference March 31 to the Second Quorum of the Seventy. "We really have been blessed with a neat little family."
The family's unity has not come without effort. Elder Hillam, a busy orthodontist, a former bishop's counselor, stake president, and regional representative, as well as former president of the Teton Peaks Council of the Boy Scouts of America, has always tried to put his family first.
"I remember one time when our oldest son, Rodney, decided it would be fun for the family to learn to scuba dive," Elder Hillam recalled. "I was busy and really didn't know if I could find the time, but Rodney found someone who would teach us for family home evening. It took several weeks, but we had the lessons and now are certified."
The family, which consists of seven children (five are now married) has enjoyed that sport. "We've dived in Hawaii and in Mexico, and in lots of lakes and rivers in Idaho."
It was as a small boy in Idaho that Elder Hillam gained an appreciation for families, as well as a strong testimony of the gospel. The third of five children and the oldest boy, as a youngster he felt a great deal of responsibility fall upon his shoulders when his own father, Gordon, became desperately ill.
"We had just moved to St. Anthony," related the 55-year-old Elder Hillam. "My father became almost incapacitated. They operated on him there in St. Anthony, but knew there wasn't much they could do and so they sent him to Salt Lake City, really with the idea that he would die. He ended up spending almost nine months in the hospital and it took quite a while for them to discover that he had a brain tumor."
At the time, the future General Authority was only 11, but because his mother went to Salt Lake City to be with her sick husband, he and his two older sisters assumed responsibility for the family home.
"We just kind of made ends meet," he recalled. "There was no income. The two girls had a job and I had a paper route and that was really it."
It was during this difficult time that Elder Hillam began to establish a lifelong relationship with his Heavenly Father. In prayer, he poured out his worries and fears to a loving Father and promised a lifetime of commitment and dedication.
"I made some real promises at that time," observed the 6-foot 3-inch Elder Hillam. "And it's interesting that when I received my patriarchal blessing, the patriarch seemed to know of those promises and he reminded me of some things I needed to keep in mind."
Elder Hillam's father eventually recovered and, although he died a few years later while Elder Hillam was serving a mission in Brazil, those years were precious.
"My father was an absolute miracle," Elder Hillam observed. "I was very much aware of the power of the priesthood. And it was during this time that I knew without question that the gospel was true. I knew the Savior lived. And I knew our Father heard and answered prayers."
That testimony has burned in Elder Hillam's heart as he has tried to share with others the knowledge he has gained. Missionary work has placed high on the list of his priorities. In fact, it was the "missionary spirit" that first attracted him to his future wife, Carol Rasmussen.
Just before he left on his mission, Elder Hillam spent a summer as a fishing guide at Yellowstone National Park. One morning, as he and his friends were eating breakfast, they listened to a big man relate a meeting he had just had with two young girls who "really knew the Bible and knew about their Church."
"I wondered if the girls were LDS," Elder Hillam remarked. "And I was impressed that they would have had such an influence on this man."
The next Sunday, Elder Hillam was surprised to see the aforementioned man walking into the LDS meetinghouse in front of him. He was even more surprised to see a young woman shake the man's hand, welcoming him to the Church meetings. He quickly put two and two together and walked up to her.
Let me shake your hand.' And she looked at me rather coldly and said,Why?' " Elder Hillam remembered, smiling. "I told her I was impressed with how she had shared the gospel with this man. And again, rather coldly, she said, `Well, shouldn't everyone?' "
Obviously, the cold shoulder didn't last long and the couple spent a lot of time together that summer.
Carol Rasmussen's gospel knowledge had not come easily. The summer before she had left her Salt Lake home to work in Yellowstone as a 16-year-old.
"It was a real eye-opening experience," she recalled. "I realized how blessed I was to have the gospel, but I also learned how little I knew about it. I knew it was true, but I couldn't tell anyone why. And so I decided that the next summer I would do more than just sit there like a bump on a log."
During the next year she read the Book of Mormon, learned the missionary discussions, and "just studied and learned all I could about the gospel."
The work paid off. In addition to catching the attention of her future husband, Sister Hillam's testimony influenced several people to join the Church. "It was kind of fun because they were baptized in Yellowstone Lake," she commented. "And three of those people went on to serve missions themselves."
When Elder Hillam left for his mission, his future wife went to school at BYU. The two wrote, but "I dated others," she pointed out. "And that's the way we wanted it. In fact, I was almost engaged when Harold came home, but I knew that I needed to wait and see him before I made any decision."
She waited and her other male interest soon became history. Harold Hillam and Carol Rasmussen were married June 5, 1958 - the day before she graduated from BYU with a degree in music and education.
The newlyweds moved to Chicago, where he attended Northwestern University as a dental student. He also served as a bishop's counselor at that time. "I was very busy as a dental student," he acknowledged. "But I feel strongly that you just can't not serve in the Church. Students sometimes use their schedules as an excuse not to accept callings, but the Lord will help you. He will be there." Even with heavy Church responsibilities, Elder Hillam graduated from Northwestern with honors.
After two years in Idaho Falls practicing as a dentist, the couple returned to Northwestern again so Elder Hillam could specialize in orthodontics. After receiving that degree, they again chose Idaho Falls to practice orthodontics.
Elder Hillam was serving as a stake president when he received a call to serve as mission president in Portugal. His oldest daughter, Linda, was in the Missionary Training Center with a call to the same country. "I had kidded her before, telling her that the only true gospel was taught in Brazil," Elder Hillam said. "When we found out where our assignment was, I sent her a telegram that said, `The Church is true in Portugal, too. Love, your mission president.' "
Rodney was in the training center with his parents, although he served a mission in Holland. And later, the couple's second daughter, Bonnie, served in Portugal with her father as mission president. After returning home, another son, Glenn, went to Portugal on his mission.
"We all get together and speak Portuguese sometimes," Elder Hillam observed. "Rodney's the only one who doesn't know it. It's kind of a fun thing to have a second language that almost all of us know."
Although Elder Hillam is uncertain where he will be serving in the next few years as a General Authority, he is ready and willing to give his all. That is one of his talents, according to his wife.
"You know," she reflected, "there are a lot of people out there who have the ability, but I think the Lord knows that, whatever He asks, Harold will give."
"There is never a compromise with the gospel and gospel principles," Elder Hillam declared. "Whatever the Lord asks, we will do.
"From the time my father was made well until now, there have always been those indications that the Lord is there, that He hears and answers prayers, and that miracles are happening today. The Spirit testifies that it's true and I know it. Jesus Christ lives and this is His Church."