Church scholar Truman Madsen dies

Truman Madsen, 82, a venerable Church scholar, emeritus BYU professor and former director of the BYU Jerusalem Center, died Thursday morning, May 28, at his home in Provo, Utah, following a yearlong battle with bone cancer.

A Salt Lake City native, Brother Madsen, who served as the director of the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies from 1991-93, was a professor of philosophy at BYU. He also wrote many books and was one of the editors of and a contributor to the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Mormonism and was known for his keen intellect and spiritual devotion and curiosity.

President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, reads a letter from the First Presidency to the Truman Madsen family during the funeral for Brother Madsen, who was remembered as a devout servant of God.
President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, reads a letter from the First Presidency to the Truman Madsen family during the funeral for Brother Madsen, who was remembered as a devout servant of God. Credit: Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

A lifelong Church servant, Brother Madsen served as a young man in the New England Mission and later was called as president of that mission. He also served as a bishop, stake president and stake patriarch. He is survived by his wife, Ann Nicholls Madsen, three children, a foster son, 14 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Family, friends, former students and associates filled the Provo Tabernacle June 2 for funeral services honoring Brother Madsen. Several Church leaders participated in the program, including President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, along with Elder Russell M. Nelson, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve.

President Eyring called Brother Madsen “one of the great witnesses of the prophets and the Lord Jesus Christ.” He imagined a heavenly reunion beyond the veil. “I’m absolutely sure the prophets will crowd around him.”

Truman Madsen funeral.
Truman Madsen funeral. Credit: Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Truman Madsen funeral.
Truman Madsen funeral. Credit: Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

Elder Nelson spoke of being with Brother Madsen more than a half-century ago in Boston when the late scholar was a graduate student at Harvard University. “None of us then could fully appreciate the spiritual strength that he demanded of himself on getting his doctorate at Harvard,” he said. “There, [Brother Madsen’s] unshakable conviction would have been measured against the traditional philosophy and standards of the world, yet Truman blossomed and flowered in that clenching and challenging circumstance.”

Elder Oaks’ tenure as president of BYU left with him an appreciation of Brother Madsen’s contribution to the university and the Church. “[He] influenced a generation of Latter-day Saint thinkers, was a revered teacher at BYU, was a powerful ambassador for the Church and made such superb use of the tools of the academy to show that Mormonism has good answers for the great questions of philosophy and life,” said Elder Oaks.

Another former BYU president, Elder Holland, called it a privilege to have known Brother Madsen, honoring his “magnificent life filled with faith, filled with devotion, filled with example, filled with idealism and hope, faith and charity.”

Truman Madsen funeral.
Truman Madsen funeral. Credit: Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

Elder Scott noted Brother Madsen’s efforts to help others better understand Christ’s gospel and the Prophet Joseph Smith. “I don’t know of anyone who has done more to fulfill the statement that ‘millions shall know Brother Joseph again’ than your beloved Truman,” he said.

Former BYU and professional quarterback Steve Young spoke of a life-changing meeting he had with Brother Madsen in Israel. “It was not long before he was feeding my soul and teaching me things I’d never dreamed of,” said Brother Young. “I began to feel deeply the marvelous life of the Savior.”

Family members also participated in the service, including Larry Kee Watchman, a Navajo foster son who was placed with the Madsens some 40 years ago.

“Some people have a gift, by the tone of their voice, to bring comfort to those who are in need of comforting,” he said. “My dad is such a person… with his deep, big voice.”