Enjoying `every aspect of the Lord’s work,’ he devotes life to service

Jean Turley laughs when she tells of the time her husband, Richard, was doing some consulting work.

"He was working on a project at home involving some really deep mathematics," she related. "Finally, he came upstairs and said, I've got to have a break.' So he got a book and sat down to read. I thought,I've never seen him read a novel; I wonder what he's reading.' Then I noticed: for relaxation, he was reading another math book!"Avid though it is, his passion for applied mathematics and engineering takes a subordinate position to another consuming interest: the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel.

Elder Richard E. Turley Sr. was sustained April 5 to the Second Quorum of the Seventy. (The "Sr." in his name is necessary to distinguish him from his eldest son, Richard Jr., managing director of the Church Historical Department and Family History Department. The younger Turley is the author of an article on page 5 of this issue of the Church News.)

"I believe I have always known Jesus is the Christ," he said. "But I remember reading the Joseph Smith story in my late teens for the first time. The Spirit bore witness to me that this was true, and, of course that being true, everything else in the gospel is true."

As a youngster, he believed that the most intelligent man in the world was Albert Einstein. "But since I've grown older, and since I've studied the life of Christ, the scriptures, the New Testament, modern-day revelation, there's no question in my mind. The most intelligent person that ever lived on the earth is the Savior."

That impression came again to his mind as he and Sister Turley stood atop Mt. Tabor in the Holy Land some years ago and gazed on the Savior's boyhood home, the humble little town of Nazareth. It is one of many places to which they have traveled together since meeting at a ward serving University of Utah students in the 1950s.

He was a returned missionary, having grown up in El Paso, Texas, which he facetiously describes as a suburb of the Mormon colonies in Mexico. In fact, his Turley and Eyring ancestors were prominent among the colonists. Along with 16 ancestors who gathered to Utah before the coming of the railroad, they left a legacy of faith that influences the way he and his posterity regard themselves.

Thus it was that Richard was a bit standoffish when he first met Betty Jean Nickle while attending the University of Utah. He was attracted to this modeling school graduate but refrained from asking her for a date because he never saw her at church on Sunday and thought she was inactive. In truth, she and her two sisters had become such popular speakers, they were regularly visiting other sacrament meetings on Sunday to give talks. When Richard found that out, he courted her.

They were married shortly afterward, in the Salt Lake Temple, which for them has become the visual symbol of their devotion to the gospel.

Within seven years, seven children were born to the Turleys. Raising them while he was pursuing a doctorate at the University of Iowa in Ames and at the same time serving in a district presidency brought out the resourcefulness in the Turleys.

One Sunday, it was his turn to drive the district presidency to an appointment, Sister Turley related. "He went out and saw the tire was flat. Out in back, we had a swing for the kids made from a tire. He took that tire off, put it on the car, and got to the appointment and back safely. That was faith!"

The couple have sought to instill that faith in their children. "One thing their dad would always tell them is everyone can't be the prophet, everyone can't be an apostle, but everyone can live their lives like one. And those kids were raised with that."

In some ways, the parents have followed their children's example. He grew up in Fort Worth, and she in a tiny branch of the Church in Springfield, Mo. Thus, neither had the opportunity to attend Church seminary classes. So after all the Turley children had graduated from four years of seminary, the parents attended Institute together and graduated.

And having attended BYU prior to her marriage, Sister Turley returned and obtained a bachelor's degree in 1990. She coaxed him into taking her on a European tour as a graduation present, which included the opportunity to see the Passion play in Oberammergau, Germany. Some years earlier she got him to take her to Israel and Egypt as a Christmas gift.

Other than travel, "her major interest – and mine – is our family," Elder Turley said. "But I think the thing that's impressed both of us over the years is the association we've had with people of integrity, regardless of their faith. With some of them you can share the gospel and with some you can't. They have their agency. But regardless, we've maintained friendships over the years with a lot of them."

"Missionary work is one of the fun things we do," Sister Turley noted.

She told of a recent incident when he was in Mexico City with Elder Joe J. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy to reorganize a stake. The Turleys called a taxi to take them to the temple. He told the driver about the Church, then asked him to pick them up at the temple at 1 p.m. The Turleys were delayed, but asked a visitors center attendant to watch for the driver and to bring him into the center and give him a tour.

When they finally joined the driver, he was so knowledgable and enthusiastic about the things he had learned during the tour, he began to relate them to the Turleys.

"I gave him a tip for waiting so long for us," Elder Turley said. "We hope something might come from that one of these days."

He told of an experience that occurred while he was a mission president. On an airplane one day, he said to Sister Turley, "I'm so tired, Jean, I hope nobody sits next to me." But a Mexican man did, and the Spirit directed Elder Turley to tell him about the Book of Mormon, which he said was a record of the man's people.

"He was a consultant up in the mines of Cananea, in northern Mexico. I sent two sharp young missionaries who were stationed in that area up to see him." The man joined the Church and after a year, Pres. Turley was privileged to ordain him to the Melchizedek Priesthood.

"That's one example of what you can do," Elder Turley said, "but I think every aspect of the Lord's work we've enjoyed."

Through it all they have enjoyed each other. Sister Turley delights in telling humorous stories about her husband, but they are never disparaging.

"Sometimes when he would be late coming home from work, I would worry because I was afraid he had been translated," she said.

"Well, if I ever am, it's because I'm holding on to your coat tails," was his rejoinder.


Elder Richard E. Turley Sr.

Family: Born Dec. 29, 1930, in El Paso, Texas, to Edward Vernon Turley Sr. and Winifred Louise Roche Turley; married Betty Jean Nickle, April 1, 1954, in the Salt Lake Temple; seven children: Winifred Jean (Scott) Nuttal, Richard E. (Shirley) Jr., Stephanie Jane (Blair) Dowd, Teresa JoAnn (Carey) Wise, William Nickle (Joan), Jeffrey Dahlman (Susan) and David Roche (Sheri); 36 grandchildren.

Education: Bachelor's degree, University of Utah; master's degree in mechanical engineering, University of Utah; doctorate in nuclear engineering, Iowa State University in Ames; attended Texas A&M and Southern Methodist universities.

Employment: General Dynamics in Forth Worth, Texas; engineer for El Paso (Texas) Natural Gas Co.; assistant professor at University of Utah; assistant and later associate professor at Iowa State University in Ames; manager of Battelle Institute in the state of Washington; professor at University of Utah and executive director of Utah Nuclear Energy Commission; science adviser for state of Utah; executive director and later president of Utah Technology Finance Corp.

Church service: President of Mexico Hermosillo Mission, 1983-85; stake president's counselor, district president's counselor, high councilor, bishop and bishop's counselor; served mission in Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica, 1950-53.