In life, few knew William Edwin Erickson.
A worker for Salt Lake City's street department, he had poor eyesight and other serious physical challenges. He never drove a car, never looked like everyone else, and never made much money.
But today, because he saved what he made and generously left it to help others, William Edwin Erickson's name will be remembered by many as a humble man who "lived a life of service and charity."
President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency; Bishop Keith B. McMullin, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric; members of the General Primary Presidency; and Primary Children's Medical Center executives gathered Dec. 21 to pay tribute to Brother Erickson, who died Feb. 21, 2005, at the age of 95.
He left half his sizeable life savings to Primary Children's Medical Center, to help children with vision problems, and the other half to the Church's missionary fund to help others serve the mission he was not physically able to serve, explained President Monson.
"What an altruistic man we honor today," said President Monson at a reception held at Primary Children's Medical Center on Salt Lake City's east bench. "What makes it good is that he gave all he had."
Because Brother Erickson and President Monson grew up in the same ward, President Monson was able to reminisce about a friend he had always known. He said Brother Erickson was a hard worker who loved little children. He was a proud member of the Mormon Battalion, volunteered weekly at Welfare Square, and ate breakfast at the same local restaurant daily. He liked to talk politics and was so frugal that in recent years he put on "his last new shirt, purchased when Harry Truman was (U.S.) president."
Still he had his share of challenges. "He has had many of the maladies people could have in life," President Monson said. "People would scorn him, thinking he was a vagrant."
Yet, friends like President Monson helped him along. One of President Monson's favorite memories of his friend occurred on Thanksgiving several years ago, when Brother Erickson held one of President Monson's great-granddaughters. The "little blonde girl" blew her great-grandfather's friend a kiss, bringing tears to Brother Erickson's eyes. Upon seeing the scene President Monson thought, "and a little child shall lead them."
Bishop McMullin called the day a culminating event for many whose lives "intertwined with Brother Erickson's." He was a "humble, gentle, and generous benefactor," Bishop McMullin said. "To me, Brother Erickson was a man who experienced hardships and overcame them."
Those closest to him, Bishop McMullin continued, knew Brother Erickson was not an outgoing person. But "when he could reach out to others he did. He set a wonderful example and was a tremendous influence for good on the earth."
Joseph Mott, Primary Children's Medical Center chief operating officer, said it is fitting for a man to leave all he had to the Church and the hospital, especially considering the two organizations' long history.
The hospital was founded in 1911 by the Church. In 1975, the Church created a not-for-profit entity, Intermountain Heath Care, and gifted the Primary Children's Medical Center to it. However, today the Church still participates with the hospital, including its annual Pennies-by-the-Inch fund-raising campaign.
During the event, President Monson recalled, as a child, placing pennies in a small replica hospital/bank in his ward building.
Jake Garn, former U.S. Senator and co-chairman of the Primary Children's Medical Center Foundation, helped President Monson unveil a plaque with pictures of Brother Erickson (one in a familiar red cap to keep out the cold, the other in his Mormon Battalion uniform) that will hang in the hospital. An additional plaque bearing Brother Erickson's name will stand as part of the hospital's "building block" donor display in its main entry.
So a man not well-known in life will be remembered for what he saved and gave away after death. A gift and life, President Monson said, fitting the "royal welcome" that awaited him on the other side.
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