4 General Authorities found perspective in disappointments

In one-on-one conversations, four General Authorities told me about their youthful aspirations and disappointments, mainly in the field of athletics, and how life eventually put things in perspective. Here are their accounts.

Elder David B. Haight

Elder Haight told me that while he was growing up in the small town of Oakley, Idaho, he thought the great moment in his life would be to become a professional baseball player.

“I would dream of playing for the New York Yankees,” said Elder Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “We would be in the World Series. The games would be 3 and 3. Now the seventh game — the deciding game — the ninth inning, score tied. And guess who would get up to bat?

“I would knock the ball out of Yankee Stadium; it would become lost in the parking lot. I would be the hero of the World Series.”

As years passed, his interests shifted from baseball to family and the gospel. His visualization of what makes a “great moment” also changed.

“One day I sat in a little white room in the Los Angeles Temple. My wife was there by my side,” said Elder Haight, then 79 years old. “We had one son and his wife there, along with our daughter and her husband. Our other son was kneeling at the altar holding the hand of the young lady he was about to marry.

“As I looked around the room, I thought, ‘David, you had your priorities out of order. Some athletic achievement or being the hero of some worldly event isn’t the great moment of life.’ I knew then the great moment of my life was there because all I had that was really important was in that room” (Church News, Nov. 24, 1985).

Elder J. Richard Clarke

Elder Clarke had served eight and a half years in the Presiding Bishopric when he was called as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1985. He coached his ward’s Young Men softball team even after he was called as a General Authority. Often, he went to the office early and juggled a busy schedule to be at games. Perhaps one reason he was willing to go the extra mile on the softball field with a group of boys was his memory of a coach who had helped him set the course of his life.

As a young man in Rexburg, Idaho, he aspired to be a basketball player. “I reached an athletic crisis in my sophomore year of high school,” Elder Clarke said. “My coach told me I would never be a basketball player, that I was too slow. I had such a low self-image.

“Then another coach, Brick Parkinson, came in. He taught us the fundamentals. I don’t think we had a scrimmage as a team until the Wednesday before the first game of the season, which was on a Friday night. He spent all the time on fundamentals, teaching us how to pass, shoot, pivot. We wondered if we would ever get to play. But we did, and we won the game. We won the district championship my last two years in school.”

He went on to play college basketball. Elder Clarke said that when he was in high school, he thought he was just learning to play the game. But as he grew older he realized he was learning how to succeed, not only on the court but in life also.

“That coach taught me if you’re willing to pay the heavy price of discipline and hard work, and if you take time to learn the fundamentals, you will succeed.”

Elder Robert D. Hales

Previously a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Elder Hales was sustained as the Presiding Bishop of the Church during the April 1985 general conference. I interviewed him a few weeks later to talk about his new calling. He later served in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

One of our topics of conversation was his love of athletics. As a young man growing up in Great Neck, New York, he played baseball and basketball with friends on high school teams, and as a young adult he played some semi-professional baseball in industrial leagues. His greatest hurt and disappointment as a youth, he said, was that he could not become a professional player.

“The great people who help us in life are the ones who are the most honest,” he said. “I wanted to pitch for the New York Yankees. Anything less than that wouldn’t do. On one occasion, after the scouts had looked at me, my coach, Art Smith, who pitched for the Chicago White Sox, said, ‘You can go on and do very well in the minor leagues, but you’ll never be a first-rate major league pitcher because you aren’t strong enough and you’re not fast enough.’ ”

Elder Hales went to the University of Utah, thinking about what his coach had said while he played on the university’s baseball team. “I hurt my arm during spring training in Arizona, and I never recovered,” Elder Hales said, hastily adding he did not want to give the impression that his injured arm was an excuse for not making it into the majors.

“My coach was right. I wasn’t good enough. … You have to have a balance of your physical skills, mental ability and strength. You have to realize that very few will make it at what will be a world-class level in any professional endeavor. That’s tough to tell a young man who has his heart set on a career as a professional athlete or corporate president, but failure or disappointment will come in life, and we have to learn how to overcome it” (Church News, June 30, 1985).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell

Elder Maxwell had served as an Assistant to the Twelve and in the Presidency of the Seventy before he was called to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1981 at the age of 55.

By the time of his death, at age 78, on July 21, 2004, he had written 35 books.

He began writing during junior high and high school as a balm for the hurts and disappointments of adolescence. “I was short, had acne and raised pigs,” Elder Maxwell told me during an interview in 1985.

“My goal was to play on an all-state basketball team in high school, but I was cut from the squad well before varsity days. That was my first experience with failure.”

He told me how he handled that disappointment: “I went home and fed the pigs. Life, in those years, was a close-run thing economically. … We lived on a semi-farm in the Mill Creek area of Salt Lake County. I worked two or three nights a week at a brickyard. While I might have felt sorry for myself, work was a good part of my life, and it was a blessing to me.

“At that time, the world of words opened to me. I began poking around at trying to write. That was an interesting time for me to get a chance to develop a little more empathy.” (Church News, Jan. 19, 1986).