The serendipitous moment that defined Elder David L. Buckner’s life — and led him to New York City

Sustained as a general authority during April 2024 general conference, Elder Buckner raised his family and runs his company from the same building in Manhattan

As a ski instructor working his way through law school, David L. Buckner had a most serendipitous moment with a client on a chairlift in Park City, Utah, in 1994.

“He asked, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’”

The young man’s answer was bold. “I want to own hotels. I want to live in New York City. I want to produce Broadway shows.”

David, who had just completed a dissertation on hotel branding, learned he was helping a prominent New York attorney.

The man asked David why he hadn’t moved to Manhattan and offered to make introductions.

Soon David was in New York City, meeting business leaders who had just acquired 396 hotels and needed help managing the portfolio. With a strong endorsement born of the chairlift conversation, he was offered the job.

Taking his Brigham Young University law school exams from the Columbia University library, David and his wife, Jennifer Jackson Buckner — who was from New York — moved immediately.

Sustained as a General Authority Seventy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during general conference on April 6, 2024, Elder Buckner has spent his entire career in Manhattan — running a successful consulting business, working with Broadway, teaching as a professor at Columbia University, building connections for the Church as a member of New York City’s Commission of Religious Leaders and — with his wife — raising five children in the city.

Map showing the location of Ogden, Utah.
Map showing the location of Ogden, Utah. | Church News graphic

David LaMar Buckner was born on Sept. 27, 1963, in Ogden, Utah, the youngest of E. LaMar and Melba Hale Buckner’s five children. He moved to California at age 11 when his father was called to preside over the Church’s mission in Sacramento. Away from well-established friends in Utah, he learned how to connect with those who are different and found among the missionaries “300 older brothers and sisters.” Most important, his testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ took root.

“That mission experience changed everything for me,” he said.

Elder David L. Buckner
Elder David L. Buckner | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Later he would embark on his own full-time missionary service in the Ecuador Guayaquil Mission. While serving as the branch president in Jipijapa, Ecuador, missionary work flourished. Still, during a Church picnic with some 50 members on the beach in Manta, Ecuador, an 11-year-old boy named Jeovani drowned. “He had been baptized and was to become a deacon the next Sunday.”

They had to take his body on the bus back to his parents in the village. “I’ve never felt such depth of anguish as we felt on that evening as we handed him to his parents,” recalled Elder Buckner.

As he pleaded with the Lord in the weeks and months that followed, he gained an unshakable testimony of the plan of salvation. He also witnessed the Lord’s compassion as others in the community embraced the gospel and the plan. Together they had come to understand the sacred nature of life and the power of the Lord’s grace.

He returned from his mission, attended BYU with the help and support of his four faithful siblings and worked as a teacher’s assistant in an American heritage class attended by Jennifer Jackson, one of Douglas and Joan Taylor Jackson’s eight children from Scarsdale, New York.

David was smitten with her smile, drawn to her “pure faith” and fascinated by the fact she had been raised just outside of New York City. After visiting Times Square as a child with his family, he had always wanted to live in the city.

The couple married on Aug. 30, 1990, in the Salt Lake Temple; they are the parents of five children.

Like Elder Buckner, Sister Buckner wanted to live in New York — where her childhood had felt like Camelot. “I grew up in the most incredible little ward of people who were absolute stalwart Saints,” she said. “They worked in New York City with great business opportunities to learn and grow, but their focus was No. 1 on their families.”

She remembers as a little girl listening to general conferences with ward members on a transistor radio, and later driving with her parents into the city after satellite transmission of conference became available at the Church’s Lincoln Square building. As an adult, she would see the Church come of age in the city, with taxi toppers advertising Latter-day Saint media campaigns and the Church’s display of the Nativity on the electric billboards in Times Square last November as part of the Light the World initiative.

People look over the Light The World Giving Machines unveiling on the billboards in Times Square in New York City on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

On one occasion, Sister Buckner got into an elevator in the high-rise building where she and Elder Buckner raised their family. She was with her three young sons and was pregnant. A professionally dressed woman joined them on the elevator. “She just stared.” As the woman exited a few floors later, she muttered, “Easier to start a company.”

“In that moment I knew that what I was doing in my role as a mom and in raising my family was really important,” said Sister Buckner. “And I thought, ‘I would rather be doing this than starting a company.’”

Three decades later, all five of the Buckners’ children have left home from that same building — where Elder Buckner also headquartered his business. In the city that many leave as their families grow, the Buckners were steady.

Elder Buckner’s service first as a bishop and later as stake president spanned 9/11 in 2001, the 2008 financial collapse and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. He was an Area Seventy during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Buckners learned to trust in the Lord and His ability to lead His children and His Church. They have watched as the Lord worked miracles in the area. “We have seen the Lord’s work move forward,” said Sister Buckner.

Along the way, they were also able to see the work and interfaith connections of senior Church leaders — including Elder L. Tom Perry, President Jeffrey R. Holland, Elder Quentin L. Cook and Elder D. Todd Christofferson — made in the city.

Elder Buckner came to know Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York; the Rev. A.R. Bernard, founder and senior pastor of the Christian Cultural Center; Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, New York Board of Rabbis executive vice president; and many other important members of New York’s interfaith community.

After the Commission of Religious Leaders — which includes representatives of different faith traditions who work together as a trusted voice in the city — offered Elder Buckner a seat on the council, he saw the Church’s part in interfaith collaboration in the city grow. The leaders on the commission became family to the Buckners.

“When people of faith come together with their diverse experiences and individual beliefs, they create a beautiful tapestry of texture and color for all to see and experience,” he said. “As they unite arm in arm as proponents for greater light, greater knowledge and more faith in society, that tapestry is not only filled with brilliant color, it becomes woven more tightly together in a unified fashion such that it can sustain the test of time. We may not always agree or travel the same road, but we find ourselves learning together. This makes society more civil, conversations more constructive and the human experience more inspiring.”

For example, as part of the 2023 Light the World initiative, the Church worked with the interfaith community and diverse organizations on more than 65 projects to serve close to 60,000 children and their families in the New York metro area and beyond during the Christmas season. “We brought together people who knew where the needs are and were able to gather what they had and bring to the table,” Elder Buckner said.

Now, he hopes as a general authority he will be able to continue to build relationships. “I feel a duty to bring people into the room,” said Elder Buckner. “The sign on the door of our chapels, ‘Visitors welcome,’ is not enough. People need to know the gospel is engaging.”

President M. Russell Ballard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Elder Quentin L. Cook laugh as they meet with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan in New York City on Sunday, Mar. 12, 2023. Elder David L. Buckner attended. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News


Family: Born on Sept. 27, 1963, in Ogden, Utah, to E. LaMar and Melba Hale Buckner. Married Jennifer Jackson on Aug. 30, 1990, in the Salt Lake Temple; they are the parents of five children.

Employment: A professor at Columbia University since 1998 and president of Bottom Line Training and Consulting Inc. since 1999.

Education: Received a Bachelor of Science degree in finance from Brigham Young University in 1988; a Master of Business Administration degree from Durham University in 1991; a Master of International Relations from BYU in 1995; and a Juris Doctor from BYU in 1996.

Church service: Former Area Seventy, stake president, bishop, bishopric counselor, stake Young Men president, high councilor and full-time missionary in the Ecuador Guayaquil Mission.

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