I met George I. Cannon after he was sustained to the First Quorum of the Seventy during the April 1986 general conference. One of the first things I noticed about him was his smile, which I realized over the years was an almost permanent part of his countenance.
During our interview, he shared some tips on living, which he titled “Guidelines for a Fulfilling and Happy Life from One Who Has Been There.” Some of those guidelines were:
- Have faith in and follow Jesus Christ.
- Love and listen to your spouse: have a second honeymoon at least once a year.
- Take time to teach and enjoy your children; they are a lot more important than a clean house and yard.
- Buy only that which you can afford; don’t envy others.
- Seek and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
- Be a ‘bebiggler’ and not a ‘belittler.’
- Be a helpful and a concerned neighbor.
- Listen to good music, read good books, engage in stimulating conversation.
- Be a participant, not just a spectator.
- Don’t expect perfection of anyone until you have achieved perfection yourself.
- Make a contribution to your work or an assignment you accept. Work is a blessing and not a curse.
- Be an honest person.
- Plant pansies every spring and get your hands into the soil.
- Own a popcorn popper and an ice cream freezer — or something the entire family can enjoy.
- Enjoy being alive.
Those guidelines summed up the personality and philosophy of Elder Cannon, son of George J. and Lucy Grant Cannon and a grandson of Heber J. Grant, the seventh president of the Church, and Abraham H. Cannon, who was a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles from 1889 to 1896. His great-grandfather, George Q. Cannon, served as a counselor to four Church presidents: Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow.
He said that although it was difficult for him to separate family history from Church history, he expressed a desire to “be just who I am — George I. Cannon.”
He never knew his Grandfather Cannon, who died in 1896; however, he had a close relationship with his Grandfather Grant, who lived two houses down the street. “Many people called our neighborhood ‘Grantsville’ because President Grant lived there and several of his daughters lived in adjoining homes,” he said. “I knew him very well. I guess I thought of him more as a grandfather than as the president of the Church. It wasn’t until I was on my mission that I realized the importance of his calling in the Church. He baptized me on my eighth birthday and spoke at my missionary farewell.”
Elder Cannon served in the Eastern States Mission from June 1939 to August 1941. He and a missionary companion, Elder Wayne Matkin, directed a missionary chorus that performed throughout the mission. They also helped organize and train branch choirs.
“I’ve always had a great love for music,” Elder Cannon told me. “A lot of my early activity in the Church was in the field of music,” he said. “I remember as a young lad the first time I bore my testimony I was sitting on the stand where I had participated in the music. I can still remember standing and sharing my testimony, shedding a lot of tears. I really did know the gospel was true. This testimony has grown and been a blessing to my life over the years. …
“I’ve always felt a closeness to the Lord. I don’t think I’ve ever had what you would call miraculous experiences, but one of the choicest experiences was when I was on my mission, which had been extended so I could participate in the Hill Cumorah Pageant for the third time. We held missionary meetings during the day in the Sacred Grove; I had been assigned to give a talk. I remember preparing for this talk, and when I gave it, I just felt it wasn’t me talking. I felt I was really expressing what the Lord wanted to be shared on that subject.”
After his mission, Elder Cannon resumed his studies at Brigham Young University, from which he eventually received a bachelor’s degree in business. His schooling was interrupted when he was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps on Jan. 13, 1942, after Pearl Harbor had been bombed on Dec. 7, 1941.
He served in England, Northern Africa and Italy. He and several military buddies formed a musical group that performed for servicemen’s groups and hospital units. He said he once considered becoming a professional musician. “I had a wonderful uncle, Tracy Y. Cannon, who told me that if I would rather be a musician than eat, then I should become a musician. But he said if I was concerned about both, then I should make it something I could enjoy but would not be forced to do. And it has brought me a great deal of enjoyment.”
He spent his business career working for the same company, Beneficial Life Insurance, from which he retired in 1985 as vice president of marketing. He put his career on hold when he and his wife, Isabel Hales Cannon, were called to England, where he served as president of the Central British Mission from 1955-1969. They were parents of five sons and two daughters.
He said he faced a great challenge of discouragement while serving as mission president. “I hadn’t really had a lot of trials in my life,” he told me. “But a mission president can get discouraged. One time, things weren’t moving as they should have been. I thought maybe the problem was me. Missionary work had reached a plateau.
“At the time, Elder Spencer W. Kimball, who was supervising missions, … was in London. I was in Birmingham. I telephoned and told him I was discouraged and needed to visit with him. I got on the train that night, taking one of my sons with me as a traveling companion. …
“It was late when I got to Elder Kimball’s hotel. He and I went to a little café to talk. He took a piece of paper from the menu card … and drew two circles on it and said, ‘Here we are, and here is the celestial kingdom.’ He then drew a straight line from the lower circle to the higher one and said, ‘That’s where we want to get. I don’t know how it is with the prophet (then David O. McKay), but I think this is the way all the rest of us are going to get there.’ He then drew a line that zig-zagged back and forth, and had many ups and downs in its climb. ‘As long as you’re going in that direction, it’s all right,’ Elder Kimball told me.”
Elder Cannon said, “All George Cannon needed to know was that even Elder Spencer W. Kimball had a few dips, that now and then he hit a low period. I think that helped me more than anything. The way isn’t always smooth and easy, and it’s not always straight up. We all have the low days, but as we persist in exercising our faith in the Lord and keep going, the good days will finally come.”
Elder Cannon told me that the lesson he learned in that tiny café in London was one he had repeated many times as he taught his children and others in need of encouragement.
Upon implementation of changes in the Quorums of the Seventy, Elder Cannon was assigned to the Second Quorum, in which he served from 1989-1991. He died Aug. 4, 2009, at the age of 89.