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Conference Center guide: Life-long legacy

One Latter-day Saint woman has found a way to continue a life-long legacy of missionary work by conducting tours at the conference center in Salt Lake City. This is typical of many older Latter-day Saints, but one thing sets LaVona Richardson, 77, apart — she flies in from Phoenix, Ariz, for her weekly shift, a feat made possible because of her earlier career with US Air.

LaVona Richardson, 77, conducts tours at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. To complete her service, she flies each week from Phoenix, Ariz., for her weekly shift. Her ability to fly is made possible by her earlier career with US Air.
LaVona Richardson, 77, conducts tours at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. To complete her service, she flies each week from Phoenix, Ariz., for her weekly shift. Her ability to fly is made possible by her earlier career with US Air. Photo: Photo by Tom Smart, Deseret News

"Sister Richardson is as spry as any one of the hosts working in the building, and, after a four-hour shift from one to five p.m., does not seem any more exhausted than the younger hosts on her shift," said Brother Earl V. Elmont, another missionary on Temple Square.

Shortly after her husband died, Sister Richardson's daughter suggested she do something to stay busy. Having already served in Mexico when she was 20, as a ward and stake missionary and two missions with her late husband – one to Indonesia and one to Nauvoo – a mission as a Temple Square tour guide seemed to be the perfect fit.

The Jake and Angie Willaims family, from Gilbert, Arizona, take a tour from Lavona Richardson, who  is 77 and flies in from Arizona once a week to conduct tours on Temple Square Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012,in Salt Lake City.
The Jake and Angie Willaims family, from Gilbert, Arizona, take a tour from Lavona Richardson, who is 77 and flies in from Arizona once a week to conduct tours on Temple Square Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012,in Salt Lake City. Photo: Photo by Tom Smart, Deseret News

"I love it," Sister Richardson said after wrapping up her 37th tour of the Conference Center.

The Jake and Angie Willaims family, from Gilbert, Arizona, take a tour from Lavona Richardson, who  is 77 and flies in from Arizona once a week to conduct tours on Temple Square Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012,in Salt Lake City.
The Jake and Angie Willaims family, from Gilbert, Arizona, take a tour from Lavona Richardson, who is 77 and flies in from Arizona once a week to conduct tours on Temple Square Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012,in Salt Lake City. Photo: Photo by Tom Smart, Deseret News

Nearly every Wednesday she flies in around 10 a.m. and flies out around 6 p.m. She keeps a log of the tours she conducts and something interesting that happens each day. On Thursdays following her tours, her grandchildren will call her to hear about their 77-year-old grandmother's experiences.

Her experiences range from the humorous to the profoundly spiritual.

"My next tour was with a couple from the State of Washington. ... The lady wanted to take pictures of everything. I didn't think I would ever finish the tour," she wrote on July 25, 2012.

Lavona Richardson is 77 and flies in from Arizona once a week to conduct tours on Temple Square Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012,in Salt Lake City.
Lavona Richardson is 77 and flies in from Arizona once a week to conduct tours on Temple Square Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012,in Salt Lake City. Photo: Photo by Tom Smart, Deseret News

On July 18, 2012, she recorded, "My third tour was with a couple who came on their motorcycles. … They looked like rough characters and said they only had a short time to take the tour," she wrote.

"The man especially was very interested and wanted to stop and read everything. … He said that it made sense that God spoke to his children in other ways than just the Bible and how the Bible had been interpreted differently by so many different religions. This was a perfect opportunity to tell them about the First Vision and about the Book of Mormon. They are ready for the truth."

Sister Richardson constantly looks for ways to start up a conversation about the gospel. On weeks when it is her turn to bring treats for the other Conference Center missionaries, she jokes that she has to keep airport security at bay so they don't steal the cookies and Rice Krispie treats from one of her two little pieces of carry-on luggage. She also engages with other passengers on the shuttle, encouraging them to come for a tour while they are in Salt Lake.

Lavona Richardson is 77 and flies in from Arizona once a week to conduct tours on Temple Square Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012,in Salt Lake City.
Lavona Richardson is 77 and flies in from Arizona once a week to conduct tours on Temple Square Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012,in Salt Lake City. Photo: Photo by Tom Smart, Deseret News

Her favorite part of being a tour guide are the people, especially those who are not members, she said, her eyes brimming with excitement.

"It's just wonderful to be able to bear testimony to them," she said.

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