Elder Victor L. Brown: Humor blended with shyness

One of the most enjoyable assignments I had during my 45 years at the Church News was interviewing General Authorities, either when they were first called or when they were reassigned. All the Brethren had stories to tell: of their youth, young adult years, marriage and family, careers and callings in the Church. Quite a few related accounts that made me laugh.

I interviewed Elder Victor L. Brown shortly after he was sustained on April 7, 1985, to the First Quorum of the Seventy. He had served 24 years in the Presiding Bishopric, 13 as Presiding Bishop.

In our interview, Elder Brown described himself as being shy, a trait left over from being “alone and lonely” after his family moved from Cardston, Alberta, Canada, to Salt Lake City when he was a teenager. Despite his shyness, he had a successful 21-year career with United Airlines, which took him and his family to Denver, Colorado; Washington, D.C; and Chicago, Illinois. He was looking forward to more opportunities. Then came a telephone call to his home in Chicago requesting him to be in President David O. McKay’s office the next day at 8 a.m. He was in the prophet’s office right on time.

“When he invited me to become a General Authority as a member of the Presiding Bishopric … I knew that my duty was to the Lord,” Elder Brown said. “I didn’t hesitate to accept. But it wasn’t easy. I had worked very hard in my career to be a success, and I enjoyed what I was doing. No other enterprise could have attracted me away from that.”

Elder Brown told me he was the type person who had a hard time relaxing. “All my life, I’ve been serious — too serious — about things,” he said.

But he enjoyed humor. “I have a terrible time telling a funny story,” he said. “I mix it all up.”

However, he didn’t mix up the story he told me about a fishing trip in the Colorado Rockies with Edward Drury, then president of the Denver Colorado Stake. Elder Brown, who was first counselor in the stake presidency, and John H. Vandenberg, the other counselor who would later serve in the Presiding Bishopric, were among the several men who went on the fishing trip.

The fishing party took two boats out that day. President Drury, who was recovering from abdominal surgery, and his counselors were in one boat with one other man. “We were in the middle of the lake when it began to hail,” Elder Brown said. “Water splashed up until it looked like the lake had risen a foot. It was cold. We had a tarpaulin in the boat and wrapped it around President Drury. I did the rowing, heading toward shore as rapidly as possible. As we approached the shore where the water was relatively shallow, one of the oars hit a rock, bounced off and hit President Drury a glancing blow on the head. Fortunately, he had a felt hat on that was soaking wet; it provided a cushion so the oar didn’t hurt him.

“As we got a little closer to shore, I said, ‘I’m going to jump out and pull us in.’ Not realizing no one had heard me, I got out and gave a yank on the rope just as President Drury stood up on the back of the boat. The sudden movement caused him to fall backward into the lake, with the tarpaulin still wrapped around him. The problem was that his feet stayed in the boat. I waded around to him and, to keep him from drowning, pushed his feet out of the boat into the lake.

“I never had so many emotions go through me with such intensity. I started to laugh and cry at the same time. I felt so stupid. I could have just died. I was soaked from head to foot, as was President Drury. Everybody took this in good spirits and I was not released from the stake presidency.”

However, Elder Brown said he was never invited to go on another fishing trip with President Drury or Bishop Vandenberg.

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