Elder Gordon T. Watts is accomplished at making wooden rocking horses – so much so that he has several back orders from family and friends.
"But I don't think he's going to get to them," muses his wife, Connie, who makes manes of yarn for the horses. Elder Watts, 63, called to the Second Quorum of the Seventy and sustained in general conference April 4, is so absorbed in the work of the Lord, he hardly has time for rocking horses or his other passion, gardening.He has been known to spend 10 minutes between Saturday Church meetings mowing the lawn in his suit. (The job has to be done just so to accommodate his perfectionist taste.) But these days instead of tending lawns, flowers and shrubs, he spends virtually all his time nurturing souls.
In fact, it has been three years since the Wattses have seen their immaculate yard in Dallas, Texas. He has been serving as president of the Philippines Quezon City Mission, an assignment that ends July 1.
Callings as mission president and now as a General Authority are the latest in a sequence of service that has included positions as a regional representative, stake president and bishop. Through it all, the couple have raised two sons and two daughters, whom Sister Watts honors by putting a twist on Nephi's phrasing: "We were blessed with goodly children."
She added: "They've spent a great deal of time without their father; he walked up on the stand in 1967 and has been there ever since. But though they didn't have him with them in the congregation, they knew he was up on the stand, and that's been a great example to them. We feel that through Church service, you bless your family with spiritual experiences even when you can't always bless them with your presence."
Among those experiences was living in the Cleveland Ohio Stake, which included Kirtland, one of the settings for the Restoration. Sustained as stake president in October 1978, he was in office when President Ezra Taft Benson, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve, broke ground for the first meetinghouse in Kirtland since the Prophet Joseph Smith left. On that occasion, President Benson met and offered a prayer with stake leaders in the Kirtland Temple, having received permission from the RLDS Church, which owns the temple.
"When I was stake president we were trying our best to build up the Church in the Cleveland area generally and Kirtland in particular, asking the members to remain there to help build it," Elder Watts recalled. "Right at that time, my company, Ford Motor, asked me to move to Dallas, Texas. I was a little reluctant, because I had been telling the Saints to stay in Ohio and the Lord would bless them."
On a trip to Dallas, he stayed with Dan and Barbara Fix, whom he had known in Cleveland and helped bring into the Church. In the solitude of their bedroom, he asked the Lord in fervent prayer about the contemplated move and received a strong prompting. "I called Connie, and said: `We have our answer. We're coming to Texas. That's where the Lord wants us.' "
Even so, he was still distraught on the day he was released as stake president, having served only 21/2 years. After setting apart the new president, Elder Boyd K. Packer, the member of the Quorum of the Twelve who was officiating, said, "Pres. Watts, I feel you need a blessing too."
After giving the blessing, the apostle looked at him and said: "You don't think you're being moved because the Ford Motor Co. needs you in Texas, do you? The Lord needs you there, so go."
Soon he was called as a stake high councilor and later as president of the Lewisville Texas Stake, in which office he served for 81/2 years.
It was while he was on the high council that the couple came to know Tim and Candy Galetka. Word had spread in the neighborhood that the Wattses were Mormons, and people were warned not to build on the lot next to them. Tim had done so reluctantly, but his attitude was softened, among other things, by how well the Wattses' yard was kept.
The day came when the stake was to hold a missionary-oriented event called "What Makes Mormons Run." It featured President Spencer W. Kimball, Elder Paul H. Dunn and the Osmonds. Brother Watts waited until late to comply with the stake president's general request to invite a non-member friend to the meeting, but he decided to invite his next door neighbor. With his daughter accompanying him, he went to the Galetkas' door. The response was so positive, that he was heartened and encouraged enough to go down the entire row of houses, inviting people to the event. Ultimately, a bus was rented to transport all the people who accepted the invitation. The Galetkas and another neighbor joined the Church as a result of this contact.
Such experiences have given the Wattses an affinity for missionary work and an appreciation for the good that older missionary couples in particular can accomplish.
In fact, he has a novel suggestion: Young couples beginning married life should start a mission savings fund for themselves as well as their children. Then, as the children and especially the sons grow, they will observe the example of mom and dad saving for a mission in later life and perhaps be more motivated to serve missions themselves.
Sister Watts cited a scripture she said has been something of a motto for the Quezon City mission. Though she didn't say so, it seems to apply to Elder and Sister Watts themselves. Found in Matt. 19:29, it says that those who put aside other concerns for the sake of Christ's name "shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life."
"What a tremendous life we've had," Elder Watts exclaimed. He mentioned his birth in the same rock house in South Weber, Utah, where three previous generations of the family had been born and where his mother still lives.
His father, who delivered Gordon as a baby because the family doctor could not arrive in time, taught him to work on the family farm, setting an example of perfectionism. He speaks reverently of his mother, who he said supported him in all he did.
"I think my mother made the statement about me: `I brought him as far as I could, and then Connie took it from there,' " Elder Watts said. "I couldn't have chosen a better companion."
For her part, Sister Watts said her husband was already General Authority material by the time she married him. Together, they now can fill that potential.
Elder Gordon T. Watts
Family: Born Feb. 23, 1935, in South Weber, Utah, to Elwood Taylor and Edna Davis Watts. Married Connie Welling of Fielding, Utah, Sept. 19, 1963, in the Logan Utah Temple. Four children: Brandon, Cameron (Cami) Watts Walters, Troy, Heidi Watts Dixon; five grandchildren.
Education: Attended Weber College; received bachelor's degree in education and business administration from Utah State University.
Military service: Six months active duty with U.S. Army; service in the Army Reserve for 51/2 years.
Employment: Retired Jan. 1, 1995, from 31-year career with Ford Motor Co., where he served as western regional sales manager for the Glass Division, and before that in sales and marketing in Colorado, Southern California, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Texas. Also, sales consultant for BT Systems, a Texas computer firm.
Church service: President of Philippines Quezon City Mission, 1995-98; former regional representative, stake president and counselor, bishop; missionary to Hawaii, 1958-60.