Gerry Avant: What these 2 General Authorities learned about being ‘qualified’ to serve

For the Church News issue of the week beginning May 3, I wrote about two General Authorities whose lives bore witness to a favorite saying of President Thomas S. Monson: “Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies.”

I wrote about President Spencer W. Kimball, regarding his call to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder James M. Paramore of the Quorum of the Seventy.

Examples of two others who were “qualified” to serve are found in the experiences of Elder Gerald E. Melchin and Elder Lloyd P. George, both of whom were sustained to the First Quorum of the Seventy during the October 1988 general conference.

During our conversation, Elder Melchin told me about a call he received during the 1950s that he felt he couldn’t accept because he didn’t have the required qualifications. He and his wife, Sister Evelyn Knowles Melchin, and their young family had moved from Raymond, Alberta, Canada, to Calgary, Alberta. They were called to serve as stake dance directors.

“I told one of the counselors in the stake presidency I didn’t know how to dance,” he said. However, to his wife’s surprise, he accepted the call. “I had made a commitment that I would serve in any position to which I was called. There was nothing I could do but say, ‘I will serve.’ ”

As things turned out, the Melchins were successful dance directors but only after a lot of hard work. “We went to Lethbridge for a training session,” he said. “Everyone else knew all the terms and steps and were just dancing away, and we didn’t know anything. We were lost on the dance floor. We went home, I studied the steps and Evelyn put in the rhythm for the dances. We had a wonderful time.”

Sister Evelyn Knowles Melchin and Elder Gerald E. Melchin are photographed in October 1988 just after Elder Melchin was sustained as a General Authority Seventy.
Sister Evelyn Knowles Melchin and Elder Gerald E. Melchin are photographed in October 1988 just after Elder Melchin was sustained as a General Authority Seventy. Credit: Church News archive

He later served as bishop of the Calgary 3rd Ward, president of the Calgary Alberta North Stake and president of the California Arcadia Mission, after which he served on a stake high council and as the Calgary region welfare agent.

Although he had devoted much time serving in the Church, he felt he could do more. One day in 1984, while visiting in Logan, Utah, he walked to the top of a mountain where he pondered his service in the Church. “In essence, I told the Lord I was ready to do more,” Elder Melchin told me. “Whatever He wanted me to do, wherever He wanted me to go, I was ready.”

When he returned from the mountain to his hotel room, the telephone was ringing. A call was extended for him to serve as a regional representative, a position in which he was serving at the time he was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy.

He said he knew as little about being a general authority as he had known three decades earlier about how to dance, but said he was approaching his call to the Quorum of the Seventy with faith, “literally taking one step at a time.”

Elder Melchin died June 15, 2016, at age 95.

Elder Lloyd P. George is another example of “Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies.”

Throughout his childhood and into early adulthood, he stuttered so profoundly he could not say his name. His father and mother, his brother and two sisters had never really heard him speak. He was unable to bless the sacrament, offer prayers or give talks in his ward in central Utah. Some of the most prominent speech teachers and therapists throughout the western United States had been unable to help.

He was called to serve as a full-time missionary, although he was unable to carry on a conversation or teach a lesson. However, after a few months on his mission, he began speaking without stuttering. By the time he completed his mission, he was preaching the gospel with force, giving motivating and inspiring talks and bearing a strong, clear testimony.

Elder Lloyd P. George and Sister Leola Stott George are photographed upon his call to the First Quorum of the Seventy in October 1988.
Elder Lloyd P. George and Sister Leola Stott George are photographed upon his call to the First Quorum of the Seventy in October 1988. Credit: Church News archive

Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941. Elder George was allowed to complete his mission, but he immediately entered the Army Air Corps after his release.

At Ft. McClellan Military Base in Alabama, he was close to being accepted for pilot training, having passed tests for physical fitness and intellectual ability. The only test that remained was for emotional stability.

He was stuck on the first question on a questionnaire: “Have you ever stuttered or stammered?”

Elder George told me that he answered in the affirmative. “Four of us applicants were taken into a room together. We faced four psychologists at a long table.” The applicants put their questionnaires on the table. His was the first one picked up. A psychologist looked at the answer to the first question, leveled his gaze on the young applicant and asked, “Have you ever stuttered or stammered?” The reply was an immediate, “Yes, sir.”

The psychologists questioned the other applicants and then dismissed them but kept the former stutterer in the room. One of the psychologists said, “Repeat after me: ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. …”

Although nervous, Lloyd George repeated the tongue twister without missing a single syllable. He was accepted for pilot training. Not only did he become a pilot, but also a pilot trainer.

Elder George died May 13, 1996, at age 75.