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Through the Church, he feels at home wherever he travels

The young man from Idaho Falls, Idaho, was to participate in the YMCA Centennial Conference in Paris, France, and was traveling throughout Europe as a one of Idaho's YMCA delegates. Although he knew the experience would stand in his memory as one of the greatest of his life, he was homesick.

Then — there in downtown Geneva — he heard a familiar melody.

"I could not understand the words, but the melody I recognized," he said as he sang the "Spirit of God" in French during a Church News interview. "I looked up," he continued, "and I saw this sign on this building and I recognized three words in it — Jesus Christ and Saints."

Knowing it was the meeting hall of the LDS Geneva Branch, he walked up the stairs, was greeted by missionaries and joined a group of Swiss youth participating in MIA.

"Of all the things that I had seen and done, the greatest part of my trip was, in fact, visiting that branch in Geneva, Switzerland," he recalled.

Elder Wood — who was sustained to the Second Quorum of the Seventy during April general conference — said he realized from this experience with the international Church in Geneva, Switzerland, that through the gospel, Church members can feel at home wherever they travel.

An important lesson for him as he would travel extensively throughout his life. He would, as a broadly published specialist in national security policy and international affairs, lecture at many international universities. He would represent the United States in meetings with Soviet and British officials during the Cold War. He would, as a Fulbright visiting professor, live with his family in The Netherlands. And he would, as a full-time missionary in the French mission, return to the little branch in Geneva and serve there for several months.

Born to Jack and Blanche Wood on Christmas day, 1936, Robert grew up in a family of four children, next to the funeral home that his father, a mortician, ran.

Robert spent his summers vacationing in Yellowstone Park, visiting relatives in Salt Lake City and swimming in the canals near his home. In high school he was active in drama and debate and earned money working on a turkey farm.

As the Idaho delegate to the YMCA Centennial Conference, Elder Wood spent the summer after graduation from high school traveling from Canada to the Panama Canal and across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. When he returned home, he attended Stanford University.

It was at Stanford that the young Robert Wood met Dixie Leigh Jones, who he would eventually marry in the Idaho Falls Temple. They have four daughters.

It was also at Stanford that Elder Wood became interested in international affairs, particularly European affairs. While writing an honors thesis, he came across a book, A World Restored, by Henry Kissinger. He was so interested in the book that he applied and was accepted to graduate school at Harvard University — where Kissinger taught.

He received a masters degree and doctorate from Harvard before beginning a career in academia that would ultimately lead him to serve as dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

Elder Wood said much of his success can be credited to his parents, who not only taught him to work hard but also to love the Lord. "In fact," he explained, "one of the most moving experiences of my life was with my dad."

When Elder Wood was 9 or 10 years old, his father took him to see "Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein" — a movie that he still enjoys today. After the movie the pair bought ice cream sundaes and sat on a park bench. "He said to me, 'Robert, do you know why I joined the Church?' . . . Then, at that moment, [my father] bore his testimony as to the truthfulness of the gospel."

Elder Wood said his wife has also encouraged him spiritually. In fact, before the couple married, Elder Wood's future wife inquired, "How active [in the Church] do you intend to be?"

Over the years, with the support of his wife, Elder Wood, 62, has indeed been active in the Church, serving as a Young Men president, high councilor, bishop, stake president, regional representative and an Area Authority Seventy in the Fifth Quorum of the Seventy. In fact, with family and Church responsibilities, as well as a successful career, Elder Wood doesn't have much spare time. But when he does steal a quiet moment now and then, he spends it reading, traveling with his family, going on walks with his wife, listening to old music or, on a rare occasion, swimming in the ocean. Elder Wood also loves to collect teddy bears — a hobby reminiscent of his early vacations to Yellowstone, when the bears would walk right up to humans in the park and beg for food. Elder and Sister Wood currently have more than 50 teddy bears.

Sister Wood jokes that there is one thing her husband likes to do in his spare time more than anything else: work. Throughout the years he has received numerous awards and recognitions from his professional colleagues.

Indeed, there is a lot one can say about his successful career. However, his finest, and most humbling, introduction came from an U.S. Army colonel, who said: "What I can say about Robert Wood that is more important than anything else is that he is a Latter-day Saint. I mean that in every sense of the word."

As Elder Wood, who lives in Middletown, R.I., embarks on his new assignment as a General Authority — he hopes that others will recognize that more than anything else, he is striving to be a Latter-day Saint in every sense of the word.

While he and his wife are humbled with his new calling, they are optimistic and positive about facing new challenges and sharing their strong testimonies of Christ. For they know that just as Elder Wood encountered Church members in Switzerland as a homesick recently graduated high school student, they will come in contact with Church members around the world that will make them feel at home.

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