Engineer forsook career for full-time service to God and His Church

A nuclear engineer by profession, Elder Richard G. Scott became a full-time minister of Jesus Christ and His gospel.

A graduate of George Washington University in mechanical engineering with post-graduate work in nuclear engineering at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Elder Scott served on the immediate staff of famous U.S. Naval Admiral Hyman Rickover from 1953 to 1965. His civilian role on the admiral’s staff was to direct the development of nuclear fuel for a wide variety of naval and land-based power plants.

In an interview conducted by Sheri Dew and presented on the Mormon Channel of the Church Internet site, Elder Scott discussed his experience working with Admiral Rickover.

“He was the father of the nuclear navy,” Elder Scott said. “He was not an engineer. He understood hardly anything about the technical aspect, but he was a genius in putting together the right organizations to get things done.”

It was while he was working for the admiral that Elder Scott’s call came to preside over the Argentina North Mission for the Church.

“We were in the middle of some testing of new concepts, and I knew if I told him about my call before I told him the results of those concepts, he would be upset, But I felt it was the only thing to do.”

True to the prediction, the admiral was upset.

“He threw things from his desk around the room. I think it was a surprise to him that someone in a key part of a very important program would be called to other service. His immediate reaction was, ‘You can’t leave for a year.’ I explained to him that this call came from one that I recognize as a prophet of God, and I felt I needed to.”

The admiral said, “If you can’t stay for a year, then you’re through now; I don’t want to talk to you again.”

Richard Scott replied, “Unless you bar me from the facility, I’m going to come in and turn my work over to someone else.”

Later, he asked for and received an appointment with the admiral and, in an effort to help him understand, presented him with a copy of the Book of Mormon, saying, “I thoroughly enjoy what I’m doing here, but a prophet of the Lord has asked me to preside over one of the missions of the Church.”

Admiral Rickover then said, “When you finish your mission, come back; I want you to work for me.”

Richard Gordon Scott died Tuesday, Sept. 22. He was 86.

Elder Scott was born Nov. 27, 1928, in Pocatello, Idaho, to Kenneth Leroy and Mary Whittle Scott, who took him to Washington D.C., at age 5, where the father served with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, later becoming an Assistant Secretary of Agriculture under U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, who was also a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the Time.

Elder Benson would influence the father of Elder Scott to join the Church. He would eventually be called to be a sealer in the Washington D.C. Temple.

On July 16, 1953, the year he went to work for Admiral Rickover, Elder Scott married Jeanene Watkins in the Manti Utah Temple.

After his service as mission president, Elder Scott never returned to work for Admiral Rickover but worked as a private consultant for nuclear power companies. Meanwhile, he served as a regional representative in the Uruguay, Paraguay, North and South Carolina, Virginia and Washington D.C. regions, eventually being called as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy on April 2, 1977.

He would serve in the Presidency of the Seventy from October 1, 1983, until being called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on Oct. 1, 1988.

Elder Scott was deeply in love with his wife, who died May 15, 1995. He never remarried.

In response to a question in the Mormon Channel interview, he said, “I didn’t lose her. She’s on the other side of the veil. We’ve been sealed in that holy ordinance of the temple and will be together forever. And at critical times in my life, when I need help, I can feel impressions come through the veil in such a real way that I just thank Jeanen.”

Elder Scott said he was influenced in his choice of career as an engineer by his father, who taught him and his brother Gerald to work with their hands using power tools.

Later in life, that creativity was channeled into art. In late 2010, 15 of his paintings were displayed in Deseret Book’s downtown Salt Lake City store.

In an interview with the Church News on that occasion, Elder Scott said that about 50 years earlier he and Sister Scott went to visit a friend who was a commercial artist specializing in watercolors.

“It was fascinating to me,” he said. "I decided I wanted to try that. I did, and I was not very successful. Then I heard of an art teacher who was coming to town. I took four lessons from him, which equipped me with greatly improved skills and an understanding about art.”

He said his avocation had opened his eyes to the beauty around him. “For me, painting clears my mind. I think we discover we’re capable of things we’ve never dreamed of.”

Elder Scott was fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and once said that knowing those two languages plus English gave him the capability to speak to 86 percent of the active members of the Church in their own tongue.

Prior to general conference, he would pre-record his sermon in Spanish and Portuguese so that speakers of those languages tuning in to the live broadcast could hear his message in their languages as he delivered it in English.

“I get responses from all over the world of gratitude,” he said. “Instead of listening to a translator, they hear in a voice they recognize the message. They seem to appreciate that.”

He also was adept in the delivery of his conference sermons, of looking directly into the lens of whichever television camera was transmitting his image at any given moment, conveying to the viewer a feeling of caring and intimacy.

He became known for his sensitive treatment in his general conference sermons of difficult subjects such as sexual immorality and abuse.

In an April 2000 conference address, he spoke on the sanctity of womanhood.

“Satan … well knows women are the compassionate, self-sacrificing, loving power that binds together the human race,” he said. “He would focus their interests solely on their physical attributes and rob them of their exalting roles as wives and mothers. He has convinced many of the lie that they’re third-class citizens in the kingdom of God. That falsehood has led some to trade their divinely given femininity for male coarseness.”

The saving power of the Atonement of Christ was a frequent subject of Elder Scott’s messages.

In October 2013, he said, “The joyful news for anyone who desires to be rid of the consequences of past poor choices is that the Lord sees weaknesses differently than He does rebellion. Whereas the Lord warns that unrepented rebellion will bring punishment, when the Lord speaks of weaknesses, it is always with mercy.”

At the conclusion of his Mormon Channel interview, he said, “Someday, we may find out the millions of times we’ve been protected and watched over that we’re not even conscious of. In my prayers, I try to acknowledge to the Lord the guidance and blessings I receive, even the countless ways that I don’t recognize but realize are there. It is not hard to trust our Father in Heaven and His holy Son Jesus Christ when we recognize what They do for us and how deeply They love each one of us.”

Elder Scott always bore a fervent testimony of Jesus Christ. In one of this last public addresses, during the April 2014 general conference, Elder Scott said, “There is no doctrine more fundamental to our work than the Atonement of Jesus Christ. At every appropriate opportunity, testify of the Savior and of the power of His Atoning sacrifice. Use scriptures that teach of Him and why He is the perfect pattern for everyone in life. You will need to study diligently. Do not become so absorbed with trivial things that you miss learning the doctrine and teachings of the Lord. With a solid, personal doctrinal foundation, you will be a powerful source for sharing vital truths with others who desperately need them.”

Elder Scott’s funeral will be Monday, Sept. 28, at 11 a.m. in the Tabernacle on Temple Square.

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