He learned sitting at the feet of prophets

Elder Watson served decades as secretary to the First Presidency

Some members of the Church may have seen F. Michael Watson on a street, in a crowded airport or other public place and thought that they knew him. His face might have seemed familiar but they were unable to place where they had seen him, or determine if they had met. Then, as the Church Statistical Report was read during the annual general conference, those mystified members could identify the familiar face.

Reading that report to the worldwide membership of the Church has been one of his many duties as Secretary to the First Presidency since 1986.

For the past 38 years, he has served among the Brethren, first as Assistant Secretary to the Quorum of the Twelve, then as Secretary to that quorum, and as Assistant Secretary to the First Presidency before he was appointed Secretary to the First Presidency.

During general conference, on April 5, 2008, he was sustained to the First Quorum of the Seventy.

Having spent his working life among the Brethren, Elder Watson brings unique experiences to his new calling as a General Authority. He has been an eye witness to the growth and progress of the Church for nearly four decades.

Asked what were some of the highlights of his years as Secretary to the First Presidency, Elder Watson pointed to a frame holding seven photographs. "Right there," he said, "all seven of those Brethren." The photos are of prophets he has served during his tenure in the Office of the First Presidency, beginning with President Joseph Fielding Smith, and continuing with President Harold B. Lee, President Spencer W. Kimball, President Ezra Taft Benson, President Howard W. Hunter, President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson.

"To be able on a daily basis to work with the Brethren through the years has been a highlight."

Sometimes, Latter-day Saints, employ a rather poetic term, "sitting at the feet of the prophet," as they try to describe having been in the presence of a Church President. In Elder Watson's case, the term is more literal than literary.

On a credenza in his office in the Church Administration Building is a plaque presented to Elder Watson. It features lines from, "Stand Tall," by Lowell Edward Brown, which applies to Elder Watson's years spent "In the Presence of Prophets." The plaque states:

As I consider the integrity of the men

With whom I work,

I marvel that I move in such a crowd.

For their faith, moral strength, and spirituality

Dwarf any of these traits which I possess.

During the years he has served at Church headquarters, he has been present at the sustaining of each of the General Authorities in office today, except President Monson and President Boyd K. Packer (who were already serving when he began his work in 1970). He has witnessed the mantle of the prophet passing from one Church President to another.

The uniqueness of his position, he explained, is having seen the sacred responsibilities given the Brethren and in recording sacred minutes for the annals of Church history. With his responsibilities came a high level of confidentiality.

Elder Watson spoke of the close bond he has had with the Church Presidents and their counselors with whom he has served.

How, one might ask, did F. Michael Watson get from humble beginnings to serving on a daily basis with apostles, prophets, seers and revelators?

Sister Watson provided an eloquent answer:

"He was born in the small town of Spring City, Sanpete County, Utah, and lived on a farm. His parents would get him up at 5 a.m. to help care for the animals. He also learned to play the piano, never knowing that one day he would play the organ in the Salt Lake Temple for the prophets of God.

"In high school he served as seminary president. He also found himself in shorthand and typing classes; he was one of a very few young men in the class with all girls. He became proficient in these skills, never knowing that one day he would take the minutes of the Church for the prophets of God.

"He served in the Northeast British Mission where President Grant S. Thorn called him as financial secretary and then mission secretary. He learned to follow through on assignments, never knowing that one day he would be the secretary to the prophets of God.

"He served in the United States Army for three years, one year in the Republic of South Vietnam, concluding his military service at First Army headquarters, Fort Meade, Md. During this period he served as secretary to colonels and generals. He learned to pay attention to detail, never knowing that one day he would serve the greatest generals that would ever walk the earth, even the prophets of God."

Michael Watson and Jolene Mann met when they were students at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah. "He had a strong testimony, and that was important to me," she said.

Elder Watson added, "And she had a strong testimony, which was important to me."

They were married in the Salt Lake Temple on Sept. 3,1965. They are parents of five daughters and seven sons, and have 36 grandchildren. One daughter, Stephanie, passed away two years ago.

Now Elder Watson embarks on a new field of service. In August, Elder and Sister Watson will move to Johannesburg, South Africa, where he will serve as second counselor in the Africa Southeast Area presidency.

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