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'Company Mormon' lets light shine

Ironically, Bishop Richard C. Edgley never met a non-Mormon until he attended Church-owned BYU.

That might be surprising to someone familiar with Bishop Edgley's business dealings later in life with people of all faiths - or no faith at all.Sustained Oct. 3 as second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, Bishop Edgley became known as the "company Mormon" while working as an executive for General Mills. There were other Church members with the company at the time, but his position as a vice president made him more visible than most. He subsequently went to work for the Church, where he fit in comfortably among a sea of dedicated "company Mormons."

He was equally at home in both work environments.

Bishop Edgley's years growing up in Preston, Idaho - located in the mostly agrarian southeastern corner of the Gem State - were pleasant ones, according to the new counselor in the Bishopric.

"Those were great years," he recalled. "At the time I was growing up, Preston had a population of about 3,500. It had been as large as 6,000 people, but during World War II it decreased. It was a town where, aside from two movie theaters, you made your own entertainment."

Much of that entertainment revolved around athletics and outdoor activities such as hiking, horseback riding and fishing. Television didn't reach Preston until Bishop Edgley was a junior in high school. By that time, he had a deeply rooted habit of not watching TV. Football, basketball and track were sports wherein Richard excelled as a youth.

During this time, his father, Phenoi, was a stake president. Visiting General Authorities would stay at the Edgley home. The Edgleys lived in downtown Preston, which consisted of three square blocks. The stake president would usually find his son playing football with a gaggle of neighborhood youngsters, and on many occasions he would bring his son home from the gridiron to meet a visiting Church authority.

Bishop Edgley's father owned a dry cleaning establishment, which provided employment for the family and sometimes others, as well.

"I know how to press a pair of pants," Bishop Edgley reflected. He would often work in the shop after school and on Saturdays. During summers, he often found work thinning beets, picking potatoes or hauling hay.

"Anyone who wanted work in Preston could find employment," said Bishop Edgley. "There was always plenty of work, and most people in the community did work. I always had the dry cleaning plant to fall back on, but I didn't particularly like the work so in the summer I would work outside."

Being raised in this somewhat ideal environment, surrounded by many faithful members of the Church and with few worldly distractions, Bishop Edgley grew up with a testimony implanted from his earliest memory. "I think I always had a testimony. There was never a time I didn't have one and was not excited about the Church and what it was and what it was doing."

Bishop Edgley, the second child and only boy in a family of five children, always had strong family support from his parents and sisters.

"His four sisters spoiled him to death," said Sister Edgley, the former Pauline Nielson. "They claim he never had to wash a dish."

As Sister Edgley, who was born in Alamosa, Colo., and raised in Salt Lake City, discusses her husband's family, her depth of feeling for Bishop Edgley's parents and sisters is apparent.

"Richard's sisters brag about him and think he is wonderful," she said, with some emotion. "They have the neatest family. He had great parents. His parents have both died, but the family is still very close. "

The day Bishop Edgley was put into the Presiding Bishopric, he received a card of congratulations from his sisters with their signatures and also the names, "Mother and Dad."

Despite the overall pleasantness of Preston, Idaho, the Edgley family had its share of challenges.

Bishop Edgley was 16 and a junior in high school when his youngest sister, Marsha, contracted polio at age 6. As the fever and resulting paralysis spread through the young girl's body, the family called a special fast on her behalf. The fast was scheduled the same day as the biggest football game of the year for Preston High. The team was slated to play the much-larger Tooele (Utah) High School, a team which played that same year for the Utah state championship.

The Preston team always met for a pre-game meal. On this occasion, young Richard told his coach he wouldn't be joining the team for lunch.

"I think he immediately understood what it was all about," reflected Bishop Edgley.

Then the hungry-but-inspired young man went out and played the best game of his life as the two teams tied, 13-13. More importantly, his sister's progressing paralysis stopped. She was moved across the state to Boise for hospitalization and rehabilitation.

"She was paralyzed, and doctors told us that she would probably never walk again," said Bishop Edgley. "Following a lot of prayers, a lot of fasting, a lot of administration, and much hard work by my parents and therapists in helping her to exercise, within a year she was walking with braces."

The other children were separated from their sister that fall until Christmas, which they spent at a hotel in Boise.

"Marsha has had an enormous positive impact in our lives, as often happens in these situations," Bishop Edgley said. "She's been a great blessing to us and has three children of her own."

Following high school, Bishop Edgley left home for BYU on a football scholarship, met his first non-member of the Church, completed his freshman year and then went to work for the summer at the just-completed Jackson Lake Lodge near Jackson, Wyo. He took with him a close friend from Preston who was not too involved in the

Church, but nevertheless was a fine fellow with whom he had played a lot of football and basketball.

"I was kind of trying to work on him because he was not active, but we were close friends," Bishop Edgley said.

A large, colorful dedication ceremony for the new facility was planned. A large group of dignitaries was expected, including Church President David O. McKay.

Bishop Edgley smiled as he recalled the event: "I knew they were going to have a big reception for all of these people, and I also knew through my work that they planned on spending a good deal on alcohol. I figured that President McKay wasn't going to be at the cocktail party, and I thought, `If I could just get my friend to talk to President McKay, maybe it would make a difference in his life.'

"So while the group was having its cocktail party, I got some information from one of the employees as to what room President McKay was staying in, which he probably wasn't supposed to give me, but I told him I really wanted to know. My friend and I then plodded up the stairs and knocked on the door of President McKay's room.

"He came to the door and opened it. He had been napping, and it was clear we had awakened him. He invited us in, was very cordial and visited with us for a few minutes. As we left, we started down the hallway and he shut his door. We walked about 20 yards down the hall when, all of the sudden, his door opened and he came out and said, `Boys, remember who you are.' Then he went back into his room. I've never forgotten the abrupt opening of the door and his words."

Bishop Edgley said the event didn't seem to have an immediate profound impact on his friend, though he has since returned to activity and is a "great member of the Church."

Bishop and Sister Edgley met at BYU and subsequently married. "I thought he was a spiritual giant, and that's what attracted me to him," Sister Edgley mused. "He also ran around with a great group of friends. I loved his family, and I loved his ideals and goals in life.

After the Edgleys left Provo and completed graduate schooling in business in Indiana, Bishop Edgley started his career with General Mills. The family moved around some as their six children were born, living in Minneapolis, Minn.; Toronto, Ontario; Lynnfield, Mass.; and back to Minneapolis. When Bishop Edgley left the company to work for the Church 12 years ago, the family moved to Centerville, north of Salt Lake City, a community the couple says is a "great place to live with good people."

Through his business career, Bishop Edgley had many opportunities to share his beliefs as a Church member.

On one occasion, General Mills acquired a company in France, run by a man whose first name was Michelle. "Very quickly, he became the wine connoisseur of many of General Mills executives.

"I took my first trip to France, had never met Michelle, and didn't think he knew who I was. I got off the plane and he met me and said, `Dick, tonight we're going to have dinner with a few of our people in office in a nice restaurant in Paris; I think you'll like it. But before we do that, there are some people coming to my home who I'd like you to meet, and we'll have some drinks.'

"I got to his home and was surprised to see that he had prepared every kind of soft drink in the world for me. I had by far the greatest selection of drinks, and I didn't even know he knew I was a Mormon, but somebody had prepped him."

Later that night at dinner at an elegant restaurant in Paris, the Frenchman went through the ceremony of selecting the wine.

"He made the selection and started around the table, pouring each person a glass. He came to my glass and I said, No, Michelle, I won't have any wine.' He was absolutely dumbstruck. He was silent for a full 30 seconds and said,Dick, not even wine?'

"I said, `No, Michelle, not even wine. I'll just have water.'

"He was silent for a few more seconds and said earnestly, `You must be the finest connoisseur of water in the world.'

"He had never considered wine to be an alcoholic beverage."

When Bishop Edgley left General Mills, the company had a dinner in his honor. Walking into the dinner, the chairman of the board said, "We've tried to make this just the way we think you would like it."

There was a social hour with no alcohol, just juices and soft drinks.

"When it came time for dinner, the chairman stood up and said to everybody there, `Some of you probably noticed that this dinner was a little bit different than what we're used to at General Mills. I kind of like it; we may see some more like this."

One of the gifts presented Bishop Edgley on that occasion was a large, framed picture of the Salt Lake Temple.

"I have a lot of great memories of those people," Bishop Edgley concluded, "but I've never regretted my decision to leave and work for the Church. That's been a great blessing for us. We're humbled by this new responsibility."


(Chart)

  • Family: Born Feb. 6, 1936, in Preston, Idaho, to Phenoi and Ona Crockett Edgley; married Pauline Nielson Aug. 12, 1960, in the Salt Lake Temple; parents of six children: Stacey (Edgley) Fiala, 29; Vickie (Edgley) Heiner, 28; Christine, 25; Melanie, 24; Steven Richard, 19; Mark, 16; six grandchildren.
  • Education: Bachelor's degree in political science from BYU, master of business administration degree from Indiana University.
  • Employment: Managing director of Church's Finance and Records Department; vice president at General Mills; a director of Deseret Mutual Benefit Association, Proprietary Holding Co., Deseret Trust Co. of California, Deseret Trust Co. of Utah, and several other firms.
  • Church service: Bishop, stake president, high councilor, Young Men president, priests quorum adviser, Explorer adviser, missionary (Eastern States Mission, 1956-58), Sunday School teacher.

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