Chip off the ol’ block: Elder Parmley follows in parents’ footsteps

Heat of three refining fires prepared him for service

Elder William W. Parmley knows all about the expectations that sometimes shadow children reared in homes of accomplished parents. While some may cower or collapse from the pressure, Elder Parmley thrived.

"It was wonderful growing up in the home of my parents," Elder Parmley said. "I don't remember them raising their voices. They had a wonderful marriage, and we were good kids. We didn't know how to get into trouble. We were always busy with work or studies. They expected us to succeed."

Now 67, Elder Parmley looks back on a life of rich experiences, where the heat of at least three refining experiences prepared him to serve in the Second Quorum of the Seventy.

The first experience was growing up in the home of his mother, LaVern W. Parmley, who served 23 years as Primary general president, and his father, Thomas J. Parmley, who was a revered and decorated professor of physics at the University of Utah for more than six decades.

"Mother was always busy," Elder Parmley said. "She was very smart in that she never learned to drive. She needed a ride to get anywhere. Sometimes it was her counselors, sometimes my father, who drove her. That was her time to visit because when she arrived at the office, it was hectic.

"I sometimes went to the office and to meetings with her when I was 6 or 8 years old. I think she had someone baby-sit me," he recalled.

His father, Thomas, loved teaching physics at the University of Utah. It was once postulated that all gray matter that came through his classroom door emerged brighter than when it entered.

For Thomas Parmley, life was for learning. "Television is the death of people," he said. An active reader, he would spin from book to book in his wheelchair as he rolled around like a hot-rodder.

Elder Parmley remembers returning home on different occasions as an undergraduate student at Harvard College majoring in physics. His father would begin grilling him about what he had learned.

"He'd ask a question, and I'd explain. He'd ask another, and I'd answer that. He continued until he probed in areas I didn't know. Then he'd shake his head, wondering if Ivy League schools knew how to teach physics," Elder Parmley said.

Despite the need to balance time between work and study, the young William Parmley found time to play basketball with the many boys on Douglas Street in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he lived.

With a hoop hung on every garage in the neighborhood, he spent a lot of time playing sports.

His parents' encouragement and expectation to do well prepared Elder Parmley for his second challenge: his first year at Harvard College.

"It was really hard," he said, "the hardest year of my life in terms of study. I was going against students from prep schools who were clearly a year or two ahead. It was a rocky beginning.

"Many flunked out that first year, including my roommate who was president of his high school in Dallas, Texas, and who was voted most likely to succeed. I felt I could catch my classmates if I worked hard enough. I really worked hard that first year."

Four years later, he graduated summa cum laude.

A third defining moment of Elder Parmley's faith came as a junior at Harvard. While other students spent the Sabbath studying, Elder Parmley attended Church meetings with fellow students and Church members such as Steven Covey businessman; Richard Bushman, professor; Truman Madsen, professor; Loren C. Dunn, who served as a General Authority from 1968-2000; and L. Tom Perry, now of the Quorum of the Twelve.

"Students at Harvard are very bright," Elder Parmley said, "and the pressure and the competition to do well is incredible." But while his roommates spent Sundays studying, Elder Parmley attended to Church duties.

One Sunday afternoon, prior to the current block schedule of meetings, Steven Covey organized a group of members to visit Boston Commons.

"I noticed he was carrying a folding chair when we got out of the car," Elder Parmley said. "I couldn't figure what it was for. I watched as he walked into the middle of the largest crowd of people. They were listening to some speaker off to the side. He got up on the chair and began singing, 'High on a Mountain Top.'

"Then Steve began to speak. He was a charismatic, persuasive speaker and people turned around and started listening. The setting was much like his mission in England when he preached in Hyde Park.

"After speaking for a few minutes, Steve said, 'Now, Elder Parmley will tell us about the Book of Mormon.' Without any warning and no time to gather my thoughts, I got up to speak."

Many Sunday afternoons were spent preaching from a folding chair. There were hecklers in the crowd, but others responded to their invitation to attend sacrament meeting. In time, three were baptized.

"I remember the spiritual feeling of those Sundays. The Spirit lingered through the week, usually until an organic chemistry lab mid-week," Elder Parmley mused.

After graduation, Elder Parmley served a mission in the Northwestern States. He returned to study medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, which included a year of research at the University of Utah. During this time, he became reacquainted with Shanna Lee whom he had met years earlier at her home in Houston, Texas, and was now studying at BYU. They were married after her graduation in August 1961.

For nearly 30 years, Elder Parmley served as chief of cardiology at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine where he lectured internationally and served as editor and chief of the Journal of American College of Cardiology, the most widely read cardiology journal in the world.

"I've thoroughly enjoyed these two pathways of Church and profession through life," he said.

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