The impression Sister Porter received after her husband’s death that continues to carry her

One morning in late November 2016, Sister Susan H. Porter’s husband, Elder Bruce D. Porter, woke up in their home in Moscow, Russia, feeling short of breath. Elder Porter was presiding over the Europe East Area as a General Authority Seventy at the time. 

Doctors determined he had pneumonia. That night, his health took a turn for the worse and he was placed in an induced coma. Though she was surprised by this and what occurred in the ensuing weeks, “I never had the feeling he would pass away,” Sister Porter recalled. 

They had conquered hard circumstances before. Fifteen years prior, a doctor told her Elder Porter wouldn’t leave the hospital, and a week later, he walked out in good health. As this miracle and others were brought to her mind, “I think that was the Lord protecting me,” she said. 

For the next 12 days, Sister Porter traveled to and from the hospital to be by her husband’s side in the intensive care unit. Though she was alone in the evenings — and more than 5,000 miles away from family — she never felt lonely. 

Preparations were made to return to the United States to receive further medical care. Elder Porter spent two weeks in a Utah hospital before he died at home on Dec. 28, 2016, surrounded by his family.

A few days later Sister Porter received an impression that has continued to carry her through her grief: “Do not dwell on what you have lost. Remember the miracles.”

Among those miracles were Elder Porter being able to seal all four of their children in the temple and enjoy the love of 12 grandchildren. Later on she would realize that the peace she felt and the sense she wasn’t alone were also miracles. 

Elder Porter, who had battled kidney failure for nearly 15 years, taught during the April 2013 general conference: “We need not fear the future, nor falter in hope and good cheer, because God is with us. … 

“Trials may come, and we may not understand everything that happens to us or around us. But if we humbly, quietly trust in the Lord, He will give us strength and guidance in every challenge we face. When our only desire is to please Him, we will be blessed with a deep inner peace.”

Eight years later, in April 2021 general conference, Sister Porter was sustained as first counselor in the Primary general presidency. In the weeks since her call, Sister Porter has also testified of the Lord’s help in times of need.

Sister Susan H. Porter, first counselor in the Primary general presidency, speaks on finding peace and comfort in the Savior during her remarks at BYU Women's Conference on April 29, 2021. The conference was live streamed from the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.
Sister Susan H. Porter, first counselor in the Primary general presidency, speaks on finding peace and comfort in the Savior during her remarks at BYU Women’s Conference on April 29, 2021. The conference was live streamed from the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah. Credit: Ryan Campbell, BYU Photo

“During those times, I bear my witness that God, our Heavenly Father, is with us,” she said during BYU Women’s Conference on April 29. “Even when we can’t feel His presence, He is there.”

Susan Elizabeth Holland Porter was born July 31, 1955, in Ponca City, Oklahoma, to Hans J. and Charlene Coleman Holland. 

Growing up in a small Latter-day Saint branch in the green rolling hills of western New York, Sister Porter was usually the only member of the Church at her school, other than her siblings. 

“My daily friends were of all faiths or no faith,” she said. “My father was not a member of the Church. My mother was a very strong member. And the Church was our family.”

Her father’s profession as a research chemist influenced Sister Porter’s interest in math and science. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Brigham Young University. 

In a BYU religion class taught by Bruce C. Hafen, who was later called as a General Authority Seventy, Sister Porter met her future husband. Elder and Sister Porter were married on Feb. 2, 1977, in the Washington D.C. Temple.  

Shortly after their marriage, Sister Porter began working as a lab assistant at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology while Elder Porter attended graduate school. 

Riding the bus to work on her first day, her mind was consumed with thoughts of inadequacy.  “What if I’m not good enough?” she thought as she reflected on the fact that everyone in the lab had more education and experience than she did. Then a feeling came: “Even if you fall short, there is someone who loves you.”

Reflecting on this experience and what President Russell M. Nelson taught the women of the Church in the October 2020 general conference about creating places of security, Sister Porter said she hopes Primary can be a place of security where children feel the love of Heavenly Father and the Savior Jesus Christ. 

“If Jesus were with them now, He would take them one by one, and bless them, and pray for them, just as He did for the Nephite children long ago,” she said, referencing 3 Nephi 17:21. “I hope each child will pray for Heavenly Father’s help and ask to see His loving hand in their own life.”

Elder and Sister Porter raised their family in Massachusetts, Virginia and Germany before moving to Provo, Utah, when Elder Porter was hired as a professor at BYU in 1993. 

“We told our children: ‘We’ve moved so much. This is where we’ll stay.’ And less than two years later, Bruce was called into the Seventy and we were on a plane to Frankfurt,” Sister Porter said with a smile. Even though it would be their oldest son’s third high school, each of their children received blessings from experiences they had in Germany.

“I hope each child will pray for Heavenly Father’s help and ask to see His loving hand in their own life.”

About two years into his assignment as a counselor in the Europe East Area presidency, Elder Porter’s kidneys failed and the family returned home to Utah. Sister Porter supported him while he was on dialysis from 1997 to 2010 — what she described as “a sacred opportunity.” 

Elder Porter continued to serve as a general authority at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City and had two kidney transplants that failed. A third kidney, donated by their oldest son, enabled Elder Porter to serve as president of the Europe East Area, in Moscow, beginning in August 2014. 

Sister Porter looks back on the opportunity to serve in the Europe East Area — twice — with appreciation for what she learned from the Saints there. 

“They’re a very spiritual people,” Sister Porter said. “They love the temple. … They have been through a lot as a people, a lot of hardship in their history, but they resonate with the gospel. I was very humbled to be in their presence and see their strength and faith.”

As a widow, Sister Porter knows what it feels like to walk into a chapel alone, scanning around for a place to sit amid the families gathered together on pews. 

She offered two thoughts of counsel for single members: “One is, focus on the fact that the greatest family of all is the family of God. Every single person you see is your brother or your sister.” Ask the question, “What love can I offer?”

Second, “be proactive.” When the “Come, Follow Me” integrated curriculum began, Sister Porter opened the ward list and identified every woman who was single and didn’t have young children in her home. That year they gathered monthly to discuss the scriptures and share their insights from “Come, Follow Me.”

Before the pandemic, Sister Porter and other sisters who attended church alone sat together in the chapel on Sundays. “I thought we had the most fun row in the whole chapel. Everybody knew that was our row,” she said. 

Recognizing the many Latter-day Saints around the world who have lost family members and friends and are suffering from grief, Sister Porter said: “Our loved ones who have passed on are just as interested in us and in our families as they were when they were here. Now they can serve us in different ways. …

“When my children have challenges, when I have challenges, I pray for the Spirit to bless us, and I also pray that Bruce will be able to minister to me or to them in whatever way he can, through the veil. And I know, I’ve had witnesses that that does happen.”

The Primary general presidency as of April 2021 are President Camille N. Johnson, center; Sister Susan H. Porter, first counselor, left; and Sister Amy Wright, second counselor.
The Primary general presidency as of April 2021 are President Camille N. Johnson, center; Sister Susan H. Porter, first counselor, left; and Sister Amy Wright, second counselor. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

At the time of her call to the Primary general presidency, Sister Porter had been serving on the Relief Society general advisory council since 2017. She has also served as a stake Relief Society presidency counselor and ward Relief Society president. 

Though she hasn’t had many callings in Primary, she loved the opportunity to teach the gospel to children through music while serving as the Primary chorister. Sister Porter has also seen how her experience in Relief Society will be advantageous in her new role in Primary. 

“Relief Society sisters are the mothers, grandmothers, aunts and neighbors of Primary children,” she said. “As we help women strengthen their testimonies of Heavenly Father and increase their love of the Lord and His Church, they will be better prepared to help lead children to the Savior.”

Biographical information

Family: Born July 31, 1955, in Ponca City, Oklahoma, to Hans J. and Charlene Coleman Holland. Married Bruce D. Porter on Feb. 2, 1977, in the Washington D.C. Temple. They have four children. 

Education: Earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Brigham Young University in 1976. 

Employment: Worked as a lab assistant at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a part-time math teacher at a private school, and a piano teacher. Volunteered with various community organizations.

Church service: Relief Society general advisory council, stake Relief Society presidency counselor, ward Relief Society president, ward Young Women president, Gospel Doctrine teacher, Primary music leader.