Gerry Avant: How the Lord called and qualified these General Authorities

For most of the 45 years that I worked for the Church News, I covered many of President Thomas S. Monson’s general conference addresses and speeches at devotionals and other events. I interviewed him dozens of times and had the opportunity to have many one-on-one conversations with him.

One aphorism I heard him declare many times was this: “Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies.”

With that statement in mind, I reviewed some of the articles I’ve written about General Authorities who received callings they hadn’t expected and, in some cases, for which they felt they were not qualified. I’m writing about two of them.

Several years after President Spencer W. Kimball became Church president on Dec. 30, 1973, I visited with his wife, Sister Camilla Eyring Kimball, in their home. Most of our conversation focused on her early life in Latter-day Saint colonies in Mexico, the challenges she faced as a young woman fleeing with her family at the onset of the Mexican Revolution and being sent alone to Utah to finish high school.

At one point, our conversation turned from her being the focus of my interview to President Kimball. Since my article was about her, I didn’t include in it what she said about the insecurity her husband felt upon being called on an August afternoon in 1943 to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Pres. Spencer W. Kimball with N. Eldon Tanner and Marion G. Romney.
Pres. Spencer W. Kimball with N. Eldon Tanner and Marion G. Romney.

Sister Kimball described what happened after he received a telephone call in which he was told he would be sustained at the next general conference as a member of the Twelve.

She said that he, weakened, had sat down on the floor during the telephone call. He told the person on the phone, President J. Reuben Clark Jr., that the call to the Twelve “must be some mistake.” She said her husband felt he was not qualified to receive such a calling.

She said that after the telephone call he sat — or lay — on the floor in a kind of stupor of disbelief.

Elder Kimball went on to become the 12th president of the Church, serving from Dec. 30, 1973, until his death on Nov. 5, 1985. We have a sure affirmation of what President Monson said about whom the Lord calls He qualifies.

Another example of the Lord qualifying His servants is found in the life of Elder James M. Paramore. I interviewed him shortly after his call to the First Quorum of the Seventy in April 1977. He told me he had served in more than 50 Church positions but didn’t always feel qualified. In years before his call to the Seventy, he had been a member of the general Church missionary committee, and for the seven years previous had been executive secretary to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Elder James M. Paramore speaks at general conference.
Elder James M. Paramore speaks at general conference. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

“I didn’t know how to take shorthand, and I didn’t type very well,” he told me. “I’d been back from serving as president of the Belgium Brussels Mission for about a year when I received the assignment. Can you imagine going into a Council of the Twelve meeting without the ability to do these things?”

However, Elder Paramore said he felt he had been spiritually prepared to accept the calling.

Of being called in for the interview to be the executive secretary, he said, “I know there would have been a great temptation on my part to not accept the assignment because of my fear of inadequacy.”

He accepted that assignment and was able to do the work. He trained his mind to recognize what needed to be done and developed his own form of speedwriting. “That’s a witness to me,” he said. “Where there’s commitment, the Lord will make up for any weakness.”

He had an earlier experience, as a young missionary, that the Lord qualifies His servants for their callings. He went to France on his mission.

Elder James M. Paramore with his wife, Sister Helen Paramore.
Elder James M. Paramore with his wife, Sister Helen Paramore. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

“At first, French was very hard for me to learn,” he said. “I’d never had any experience in French, and the Church had no formalized training in language skills. We just tried to learn the language the best we could; we didn’t have discussions committed to memory.

“I had been out a few months when my senior companion was called home; his mother was dying. I was left alone which, at that time, sometimes happened as a missionary waited for a new companion. We had some assignments, but I didn’t know how on earth I was going to be able to teach those people.

“I was near panic-stricken, but I prepared the best I could and went to them. The Lord magnified me that night in being able to convey to the people in their own language the materials that had been prepared. I walked out of that meeting knowing that the Lord was directing His work. I had an absolute testimony that He was there, because it wasn’t me speaking French; He was just using me to try to help those people.”

Speaking of his call to the Quorum of the Seventy, Elder Paramore said, “I still feel under the shadow of great personal concern, but I know that the Lord will magnify the individual. I have every confidence that He will be able to work through me if I’m worthy and if I’m committed to His charge.”

Elder Paramore served in the First Quorum of the Seventy from August 1977 until 1987, when he was called to the Presidency of the Seventy. He served there until 1993, when he was named emeritus General Authority. He is 92 years old.