President John Taylor, third president of the Church, traditionally invited his extensive posterity to his annual birthday celebration, a custom that continued some 90 years after his death, with family reunions held until 1977.
"We are holding such a reunion tonight," said J. Lewis Taylor, family association president, at a Nov. 6 gathering of several hundred of President Taylor's descendants, family and friends in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. The occasion was a commemoration of the 200th anniversary of President Taylor's birth in Milnthorpe, Westmoreland, England, on Nov. 1, 1808.
Invitations to the commemoration were sent to some 1,100 of President Taylor's descendants, but that is a mere "drop in the bucket" of the Taylor posterity, which today numbers into many thousands, Brother Taylor said.
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve was a featured speaker in the commemoration program, along with his wife, Barbara D. Perry, a great-great-granddaughter of President Taylor, and Duane Cardall of KSL Television, a great-great-grandson.
Elder Perry noted that President Taylor was called by the Latter-day Saints of his day "a champion of right," a legacy that has been passed on to today's descendants through several generations.
"Would he not expect that same badge of honor to be passed on to each of you?" he asked the descendants seated before him. "I challenge this family to come forth and carry out that vision that he established and that name that he was given by the saints, a 'champion of right.'"
Earlier in his address, Elder Perry said President Taylor embodied three characteristics required of a president of the Church: He was courageous, he was a good communicator and he had strong faith.
He told of an incident in which John Taylor was in Columbus, Ohio, as a missionary. A group of troublemakers had decided they would interrupt his service to tar and feather him. Knowing of their intentions, Church members tried to dissuade Elder Taylor from holding the service, but he declined to take their advice.
"Now, this Britisher selected a topic that shows his skill," Elder Perry said, "lecturing his audience about the blessings of freedom of the American Constitution, and the valor of their forefathers who fought for liberty and about the yearnings of people all over the world that want to live under the American flag. He laid the groundwork of patriotism for this people.
"Then he said quietly, 'I'm informed that some of you want to tar and feather me for my religious opinions. Is this a boon you've inherited from your fathers? Is this liberty?' Then he said, 'Gentlemen, I am ready. Come with your tar and feathers; your victim is ready. And ye shades of venerable patriarchs, gaze upon the deeds of your degenerate sons. Come, gentlemen. Come, I say. I am ready.' They sat in their seats and listened to him preach for the next three hours."
Elder Perry told of John Taylor's coming to Kirtland, Ohio, in 1837, where there was a bitter spirit of apostasy among Church members. One of them so affected was Parley P. Pratt, who as a missionary in eastern Canada had been the instrument of Brother Taylor's conversion.
John Taylor told Elder Pratt: "I now have the same testimony that you once rejoiced in. If this work was true six months ago, it is true today. If Joseph Smith was a prophet then, he is a prophet now."
Sister Perry spoke of John Taylor as a family man.
She said that in addition to being a fearless defender of the faith, devoted follower of the Prophet Joseph Smith, a founder of Church periodicals, apostle of the Lord and, finally, president of the Church, he was also "a devoted family man, a faithful and gracious husband to his wives, and beloved father and teacher to his children."
"Perhaps John Taylor met the challenges ? and they were continuous and many ? of plural marriages and multiple families as well as any of this dispensation, and he did so with a sense of equity and grace. He looked with deep love, affection and delight upon his large family and envisioned the day when he would be beside them again as priest and king in the celestial exaltation."
In a tribute to his ancestor, Brother Cardall said of the relationship between Joseph Smith and John Taylor, "Where the Savior had John the Beloved, Joseph had John the devoted."
Of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, Brother Cardall said, "Of all that could have been with Joseph, it was Hyrum the loving brother, Willard [Richards] the loyal friend and John the devoted disciple."
Wounded in the attack on the jail, John Taylor lived, "an eye- and an ear-witness to an event both terrible and magnificent," he said. "For the remainder of his life and beyond, John could testify as no other could of that fateful day."
E-mail to: [email protected]