Elder Helvecio Martins, 75, died May 14 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, of heart problems.
Elder Martins served in the Second Quorum of the Seventy from March 31, 1990, to Sept. 30, 1995, serving in the Brazil Area presidency. He was the first General Authority of African descent.
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Seventy, president of the Brazil South Area, said:
"Elder Helvecio Martins was a living example of Alma 13:3: 'called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God.' Within five days of meeting the missionaries in 1972, Brother Martins was at the Church, helping and cleaning, serving in whatever way he could. Once he believed something was right, he had a steel determination to hold firm and never let go.
"Elder Martins' courage and determination continued to the end of his life. Just this past January, he graduated from law school at age 74. Asked to give a commencement address at graduation, Elder Martins stirred the faculty and students with a passionate plea of how the law must protect the interests of the traditional family. His talk ended with him receiving an extended standing ovation from those in attendance. His powerful witness of the Savior and of the Restoration was heard to the very end of his life. Each week as the gospel doctrine teacher in Sunday School, he raised his voice in testimony of those things he knew to be true."
His was a story of rags to riches through personal accomplishment in education and industry. He dropped out of school at age 12 to help his family in dire financial circumstances, but continued his education when he could, eventually graduating from high school at age 26. He later graduated from Rio de Janeiro State University and took post-graduate courses.
He was an assistant professor at Rio de Janeiro State University, a financial management controller for Petrobras, S.A., and a financial director of one of its subsidiaries, Liderbras, S.A.
The Martins family, including his wife, Ruda Tourinho de Assis Martins, and their four children, joined the Church in 1972. His first question to the missionaries was, "Are you racist?" The missionaries taught the Martins family. The entire family was baptized together, including son Marcus, now Religion Department Chairman at BYU-Hawaii, who, after the revelation on the priesthood, postponed marriage to serve a full-time mission.
At the time of his calling as a General Authority, Elder Martins was president of the Brazil Fortaleza Mission. He served as a counselor to two stake presidents and as a bishop. He also served as regional public communications director and as branch, district, ward and stake Sunday School president.
The "kingdom of God on earth is for all of God's children," he said. "The requirement of a calling is not skin color, or the size of your bank account, but your personal honor and integrity and your desire to serve."
He also commented, "Long before I received the priesthood, I could feel His power in the bosom of my family. . . . I know with absolute certainty that the power I have today is the power of God."