Traveling to the ends of the earth for the Church

On a whim, back in November 1958, Edwin H. Burgoyne stepped into a tiny, new travel agency and inquired about part-time work.

The agency was Murdock Travel, which then consisted of a manager and two secretaries, and it handled all the Church travel.

Brother Burgoyne's inquiry was rewarded with a part-time job, a connection that has since taken him 2.5 million miles in 42 years. He has accompanied Church leaders from President David O. McKay to President Gordon B. Hinckley on flights all across the globe. He's survived failed engines, lost brakes, fog, bomb threats, civil turmoil and earthquakes, not to mention canceled flights and changed gates.

Brother Burgoyne, who worked his way through college as a ticket agent for United Airlines, brought a needed level of airline expertise to those in the office accustomed to booking trains and ships. He came to an office created as the fare for airlines became cheaper than voyages and berths, and the commission for airline tickets made the agency self-supporting.

After he had worked there for a while and demonstrated several ways of saving time in dealing with the airlines, he was asked by the Brethren to make the job a career. Originally, he planned to return to US Steel when a strike there ended, and "where the money was better."

He agreed to stay at Murdock Travel, but to have some non-Church clients, he started a commercial side of the agency, sponsoring tours out of Denver and Phoenix. The first three years were very busy.

"We started work at 7 a.m., went home for supper at 6 p.m., and came back and worked until 11 p.m.," he said. "We didn't dare take a vacation for fear that things would fall apart."

Before long, he began booking flights for the General Authorities and the commercial side fell to others.

Among those he arranged air travel for was President David O. McKay.

"When he was older, and we had those old propeller airplanes, we had to roll his wheelchair into a box about the size of a desk with four-foot high walls, lift him with a forklift to the airplane door, and then we'd wheel him inside."

He was soon assigned to travel with the First Presidency, and in that duty was away more than he was home. One year, the office manager informed him that he'd been out of the office 183 days, plus weekends.

One of the well-traveled presidents was President Spencer W. Kimball, who each year used to have six or seven long trips for area conferences. Organizing these was, at times, very difficult.

"I have made it a point to stay up with the changing technology," he said. "There have been many times when we have been traveling with airlines somewhere in the world, and the agents at the counters didn't know how to do the things I knew could be done. To be able to tell them how to do it, or to use their computers, has been a real advantage."

However, he said, some circumstances were beyond human expertise.

"Many, many times when we've needed to do things, to get to an area where the flights were sold out, I know very well that if it had been anything but the Lord's work, we never would have been able to get the space or make the connections," said Brother Burgoyne.

In later years, he assisted Elder and then President Howard W. Hunter, who was confined to a wheelchair. When Elder Hunter, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, first became wheelchairbound, he stopped traveling.

"He was like a different man when he realized that he could travel again," said Brother Burgoyne, who accompanied him for several years.

"There are not many people who have picked up a Church president, put him in a wheelchair, then put him in a seat in the airplane, and later helped him get ready for bed," he said.

"The Brethren are like our own brothers. They are kind and appreciative."

In more recent years, the airline industry changed and the Church set up a travel department. At that time, Brother Burgoyne was asked to be part of the new department.

And the use of a private airplane, made available through the generosity of a Church member, has simplified travel for the president of the Church while at the same time, tripled the number of places he can visit compared with commercial airline schedules, said Brother Burgoyne. He looks back on his career with deep feeling.

"I have made good friends in many countries around the world. When I think of them, I get a lump in my throat and often a tear in my eye because I know we are all God's children, and I feel just as much at home with them, wherever they are, as I do right in Salt Lake City," he said.

Brother Burgoyne is retiring May 18. His wife of 47 years, Joan, died in 1998, shortly after returning home from accompanying him on a trip to England.

In 1999, he married Rayma Stevens, and they will begin his retirement by serving in the California Santa Rosa Mission.

At this departure, however, there will be no confirming of schedules, no check-in at the gate, no thundering engines and no takeoff. Just the quiet revving of an automobile motor as it taxis down a very long runway.

John L. Hart's e-mail: [email protected]