A surgeon by trade, Elder Kent F. Richards finished performing a life-saving procedure on a young man rushed to the emergency room with a ruptured appendix. Elder Richards set down his instruments, stepped back from the operating table and disrobed – first his mask, then the gown and lastly his gloves.
Elder Richards sat down at the desk in the operating room and wrote post-op orders. The anesthesiologist began the task of waking the patient up. It was mid-May.
In terms of outward appearances, the routine was so similar to what Elder Richards had done thousands of times before. But this post-op wrap up was different for Elder Richards. His call to the Second Quorum of the Seventy in April general conference necessitated retirement. After almost 32 years as a surgeon, he knew he had most likely just performed his final surgery.
"That was the last time I was on call and I wasn't taking any new patients, so I presumed that was the last one," Elder Richards said. "It was a little emotional to take off my mask and gown for the last time."
The call to be a General Authority proved a surprise for Elder Richards and his wife, Marsha, who served on the Young Women General Board from 2002-08.
"It has definitely changed [my plans]," he said. "I was not planning on retiring anytime soon. I enjoy my work and still felt like I was providing a good service to my patients."
This isn't the first time Elder Richards has prioritized a Church calling over his career. In 1998, he was called to be president of the Texas San Antonio Mission. At that time, he wasn't leaving behind just a medical practice, but a post as Senior Vice President for Intermountain Healthcare. And yet, the decision to serve was something he didn't think twice about.
"When it came time to leave to serve a mission – knowing the position would not be there when I came back – it was easy to decide. I'd already made the decision to serve the Lord as a young man, and it was never a challenge after that."
By the time Elder Richards returned from San Antonio in 2001, several years had passed since he'd been performing surgery.
"When we came back [from Texas], it had been seven years since he'd practiced," Sister Richards said. "And so he then [re-took the board examinations] and came back fully with physical, spiritual and mental courage and went forward to pick up his practice again."
Unlike his last professional sabbatical, there will be no return to medicine for Elder Richards at the completion of this calling.
"Yes, I'm fully retiring," he said. "And no, I won't return to medicine. I am very grateful to have had such a wonderful profession to prepare me for continuing service in whatever the Lord wants us to do."
The decision to pursue a career in medicine played an integral role in molding the Richards family. When Elder and Sister Richards married in 1968, he still had nearly a decade of training in front of him before he'd be a fully trained surgeon.
"I think the foundation in our family really did begin with those temple covenants and then the daily keeping of them," Sister Richards said. "Early on, we were in our home, and we had nine years before he really started to earn anything. So we had simple, wonderful beginnings. We learned, because we had to, principles of provident living and what we could do ourselves. … We just did what every good family does – you just try, and you go forward doing the simple, daily things that keep us close to Heavenly Father."
At the time he finished medical school and his residency, Elder Richards already had five sons and been serving as a bishop's counselor. The intense rigors of those years of medical training could have given him a viable excuse for putting Church service on the backburner, but in a trial-by-fire kind of way, he discovered that the Lord would sustain him in his callings.
"I came home when I was serving as an intern at the hospital, working 120 hours a week some weeks, on-call every other night, and I was the elders quorum president," Elder Richards recalled. "And it was extremely challenging for me to fulfill my calling because I was hardly ever even there.
"I had an amazing experience where after sincere prayer and fasting and attending the temple, I had a very strong understanding come to my mind on one occasion accompanied by the Spirit. It taught me that Heavenly Father knew me and that He had called me, that He would provide the way, that He would teach me, that He would sustain me. And with that experience, it was never hard for me to accept a calling."
Today Elder and Sister Richards preside over a posterity that includes eight children and 24 grandchildren. Each of those descendants inherits a rich spiritual legacy from the Richards line dating back all the way to the early days of the Church.
"We have a very strong tradition in our family," Elder Richards said. "I have personally read and transcribed the journals of my great-grandfather who was a member of the Twelve, George F. Richards, and his father Franklin D. Richards, and his uncle Willard Richards [who served in the First Presidency as a counselor to Brigham Young]. In every case, they began their service with humble hearts and with complete devotion and willingness to give service to the Lord – at great sacrifice in many cases. They gave themselves completely, and that tradition has been a guiding light in my life."
Although he will never practice medicine again, Elder Richards can continue employing various aspects of the skill set he acquired as a physician during his Church service as a General Authority.
"I feel like being a physician is really a marvelous preparation for priesthood leadership," he said, "because you're sitting one-on-one with individuals, and you're understanding by listening to what they're saying what their concerns, their problems, their needs are. The treatment's a little different, but a lot of it is really just communication and understanding and caring about where they are and what their needs are."