Episode 118: Three of President Russell M. Nelson’s children celebrate his 5 years as prophet, offering a glimpse into his role as a father
Gloria Irion, Laurie Marsh and Russell Nelson Jr. discuss the lessons learned as children from their father, President Russell M. Nelson
Episode 118: Three of President Russell M. Nelson’s children celebrate his 5 years as prophet, offering a glimpse into his role as a father
Gloria Irion, Laurie Marsh and Russell Nelson Jr. discuss the lessons learned as children from their father, President Russell M. Nelson
President Russell M. Nelson was sustained and set apart as the 17th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, in the upper room of the Salt Lake Temple. In the five years since then, he has embarked on a fast-paced global ministry — traveling to 35 nations, extending countless invitations, leading the Church through a global pandemic and overseeing the continuing restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This episode of the Church News podcast features three of President Nelson’s 10 children: Gloria Irion, Laurie Marsh and Russell Nelson Jr. They talk about President Nelson’s Church leadership and offer a unique glimpse into his role as a father, husband and teacher.
Laurie Marsh: You know, nothing that my dad does surprises me. Nothing. Everything amazes me, but nothing surprises me.
He doesn’t look for anybody’s approval, but the Lord’s.
Gloria Irion: Right!
Laurie Marsh The way he’s leading the Church is exactly an example of the way we were raised. I feel like there was a high level of love in our home. And there was a high expectation that we would be an eternal family. And we were going to be working together to see how we could get that goal accomplished. And enjoy all the blessings that Heavenly Father wants to give each and every one of us.
And really, you don’t need to be the child of Russell and Dantzel Nelson to have those blessings. We just need to be a child of God. And we all are. So we all have that exact same opportunity.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
President Russell M. Nelson was sustained and set apart as the 17th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, in the upper room of the Salt Lake Temple. Since then, he has embarked on a fast-paced global ministry, traveling to more than 35 nations, extending countless invitations, leading the Church through a global pandemic and overseeing the continued Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This episode of the Church News podcast features three of President Nelson’s 10 Children, Gloria Irion, Laurie Marsh and Russell Nelson Jr. They have agreed to talk to us about President Nelson in his role as a father.
Welcome all of you to the Church News podcast.
Gloria Irion: Thank you, Sarah.
Laurie Marsh: Thank you.
Sarah Jane Weaver: It is great to have you with us today. I’m wondering if we can just start and have each of you share one quality that you think of when you think of President Russell M. Nelson. And, Gloria, let’s start with you. And then go to Laurie and end with Russ.
Gloria Irion: As a father, he’s very loving, and, well, as the prophet to you’ve seen, just very loving, very, Christlike love for everyone.
Another word I think of is “discipline.” He’s very disciplined. And that, by no coincidence, is tied to the word disciple. So, those are words that I think describe him well.
Laurie Marsh: And for me, I think of my dad as a very optimistic person. Nothing’s ever too hard. Just have faith in the Lord, do your best and everything’s going to be okay. I often think of the Doctrine and Covenants section 6:36, “Look unto me in every thought, doubt not fear not,” and that is my dad.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: One quality I always think of about our dad is “active.” He always is going and doing things, whether we’re freshly landed on a, from an airplane, and rather than sitting in the hotel room, or sit, he likes to go out and walk, or do the dishes after a meal, or what have you. So always active, always doing something, always engaged.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I have to agree with all of you. I received the assignment in 2018 to write about your father’s global ministry. And it was fast-paced and it was hard to keep up with him, but it was also filled with so much love and beautiful moments.
I want to talk about President Nelson before he was a Church leader. He would have worked very, very, long hours in his career as a surgeon. What was it like when he came home? What was your house like, when you were children? And, Laurie, let’s have you weigh in first.
Laurie Marsh: OK. In my remembrance, I think Daddy kind of had a routine. He’d come in the door. And the first thing he would do was look for, and find, and greet my mother. That was always number one. Number two, he would look around to turn off any electrics, that were extra, you know, like the TV or more lights than he felt should be on. And then number three, we normally would wait for Daddy, to have dinner together as a family. And quite often he had callings and stuff that would take him out of the home after dinner, but sometimes he was home.
And the thing about Daddy with this routine is when he was home, he was home. I don’t remember him watching TV. I do remember him changing diapers, and reading books and helping us with homework. And when he was home, it was time for the family.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And Gloria?
Gloria Irion: Yes, I think that’s very well said. He focused on the family for sure.
I had a flashback of when mother had kind of gotten a baby, usually a girl, at that point in time, to sleep, finally, at night. He would come find that baby in the crib, pick her up and nuzzle his nose in her neck, and hold her and smell her, and sing to her, and coo to her, and put her back down and then go back if it was you know, at night after the baby had been put to bed. But I do have that visual image. He just was a very calm, and patient and loving father. He really didn’t raise his voice. He was stern with us if we were rude to mom, but very, very, Christlike.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And Russ, we saved you for last, because you came at the end of the Nelson family. The Nelson’s have nine daughters, and then one son so your memories of him would be a little different. You probably came into a little more chaotic home than, than the average son.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: Maybe, yeah, maybe upon my first arrival it was a little chaotic and a lot of people coming and going, but you know as I aged up to a point where I can start remembering things and it actually was a more quiet home. I only remember four, maybe four or five, of my sisters at home at once rather than all nine or 10 of us being together. And so, like Laurie said, he’s always been very consistent throughout his whole life. And that’s been one thing that’s been true. And a constant forever is that routine of coming home and finding mother and greeting her and then having dinner together was always a great thing. And so he was always very loving and caring. And he was always teaching. And so he would try to teach me how to, from simple things like change a light bulb, to shovel the walks, or do the garbage and, you know, take care of things around the house.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And since we’re on the topic, I’m interested in knowing how your father treated your mother. I love this idea that she was the first person he looked for when he came home.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: Yeah, he treated her like royalty. And so that was always at the top of the priority list, is to treat, not only my mother, but my sisters, and all women with respect. That was always a primary point of emphasis and point of teaching throughout my whole life, even still.
Gloria Irion: He modeled so well how we are supposed to treat her, because of the way he treated her. “This is the way we treat this person,” you know. “She’s precious, and an angel mother,” as he called her. I remember him saying once, but living it always was, “The best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother.” And I just feel like “Wow, he did that so well and just exemplified that.” And I feel like we were so secure, because we knew they were secure.
I think a perfect example is, quite often on Mother’s Day he would buy her a corsage. But he would also buy us daughter’s a corsage with a note with love as a potential mother. And there’s no surprise to me that we all were so excited to be mothers, because the way he felt that position was such a calling of honor. And he honored us as women, as well, and as potential mothers.
Laurie Marsh: I just want to add to Russell’s comment about teaching opportunities, because Daddy was always looking for comments to say like, “Oh, look how beautiful your mother is.” Or always thanking her for what she was doing for our family and really noticed every little thing and taught us by example, that mother was of huge value to all of us, but number one to him.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I know your mother served for five years in the Tabernacle Choir. And that was something that when I first heard that, was a huge surprise to me. I thought, “What a commitment for a large family to make, for her to have that opportunity to go and be gone one night a week and then on Sunday mornings.” And so I’m totally interested in how that worked at your house. You have nine daughters, and your mother’s gone in the morning to perform with the choir. And so, did your father get everyone up and ready for church?
Gloria Irion: He was kind of busy with his own church callings, too. I remember vividly baths with Daddy, he would get three or four of us in the tub at a time. And you know, we’d get our hair wet and he’d squirt shampoo on each of our heads and we’d shampoo the person in front of us and he called it “The shampoo train.” And then he’d say, “About-face!” and we turn around and shampoo the person who used to be in back of us is now in front of us. And you know, he just made it fun. I don’t know if it happened a ton or if it’s just that such a fond memory that I remember that, but he was pretty hands on. You know, like we said, anytime he was home. You know, Sunday mornings, I guess. We’re pretty low maintenance, but maybe we had sisters or whatever. But—
Laurie Marsh: I was going say I think what I remember too, in those days, I’m number seven. So when mother sang in the choir, I must have been, I don’t know, 7 or 8 or something. And so I think we had a lot of stuff going on on Saturdays to prepare for Sunday. That’s what I remember. And then I also remember, Daddy coming, he was serving as our stake president of the time. So he’d leave the stake center and come and pick us up. And he would take us to church. My guess is he made sure we looked presentable. But as far as the details, my guess is, because I’m the seventh, probably one of my older sisters was really making sure that I was presentable. But—
Gloria Irion: I could probably do my own hair by them.
Laurie Marsh: Yeah. [Laughing]
But he would come and get us and drop us off, and then, I assume, go back to the stake center and resume his responsibilities as the stake president.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Now I heard your father once describe your home growing up. He said it was like a “women’s dormitory.”
Gloria Irion: It was definitely like a sorority, for sure. [Laughing]
Laurie Marsh: It really was!
Gloria Irion: We would go on dates. And I think we had as much fun after we came home from our dates as we did on the dates. Because, you know, our sisters were there, sometimes their dates would hang out after, and my mother was usually there to hear the details, or just to be with us. And so we had a blast.
We always had fun. Sometimes, it was keeping Daddy from sleeping. When we were younger, jumping from bed to bed, we had one bedroom that had five kids sleeping in, and it was right directly under their bedroom. And we were jumping from bed to bed. I mean, you can imagine we always had so much fun, and he would come down and try to get us to go to sleep. “People’s lives depend on me getting sleep, kids.” And so anyway, he tried, but we did, we always love to be together still do.
Laurie Marsh: It was a great experience. Really, I can honestly say to this day, my best friends are my sisters, and my brother, and
Gloria Irion: Our baby, baby brother
Laurie Marsh: There was always somebody to talk to, somebody to play with, play dolls with, or talk about problems or whatever. And we just loved sharing experiences with each other. And it was one of the biggest blessings of my life.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And you have nine girls, then Russ comes along. I once saw Russ’s birth announcement and it had a picture of nine girls on the front and said, “Boy, oh, boy. It’s a boy!” And, you know, I’ve also heard your father joke that, you know, you were probably three before you knew who your mother was, because there was just so much love and affection in that home.
Gloria Irion: Yeah, 10 mothers!
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: Yeah, there’s no question I was well-mothered.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Share a little more about what your father taught you about women and being raised in this home with so many women.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: One of the main things that was taught, and it wasn’t so much deliberately or explicitly expressed in this way, but again, it was mostly by example of how a mother and a father work together. And a husband and a wife work together in a family. That just like, you know, because he’s very medical, having gone through all of his years of training and surgery and, in his career and profession, just like a heart and brain work together to keep your body going, that’s how I felt like our mom and dad ran our home. They each had their specific roles, but one couldn’t operate properly without the other. There was no question he was the head of the home. But there was also no question that our mom was the heart of the home. And so the two of them working together was just a really nice example of how a husband and wife and a mother and father worked together. And so that’s probably one of the main lessons that I learned growing up about.
You know, I said a little bit earlier that I was always taught to respect women, especially our mother and my sister’s. And that was underscored in just about everything that we did from, you know, “We shouldn’t let mother, or she shouldn’t have to take out the garbage, that’s our job.” And so we would go take out the garbage, and make sure the home was in proper working order, and things like that from shoveling walks to doing dishes after the meal.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Russ, you have a huge opportunity to carry your father’s name, which also sometimes may feel heavy. Can you share with us about what it’s like to be Russell Marion Nelson Jr.?
Laurie Marsh: Besides having all of his sisters think that we’re talking to our dad when it’s really our brother!
Gloria Irion: They had an opportunity, you know, there was no ultrasound in those days, they had an opportunity nine times to consider the name Russell Marion Nelson Jr. and never considered it, never considered it until Daddy met him. As soon as he saw him, they discussed that and decided. Anyway, do you know more of the story?
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: Yeah, he ...
Gloria Irion: I know mother saw you when she was pregnant with Emily.
Laurie Marsh: No, with Sylvia.
Gloria Irion: Oh, with Sylvia
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: Yeah, that’s, that’s well-documented in, in the books. But I’ve always said it keeps me good. He wrote a letter to me, right after I was born. And in that letter, he committed that he wouldn’t do anything to besmirch our name. He committed it. So, I mean, that leaves a lot of, I guess a lot of weight. It could perceive a lot of weight on my shoulders, because how’s he going to besmirch, our name? I think if there’s any dirtying up of the name to happen, it’s going to be on my shoulders. But no, it’s been an honor. I kind of joke around that it’s kept me good, but I think it really has, because I don’t want to do anything to take away from who he is and what he’s done. But I wouldn’t say that it’s an overwhelming thought that’s always at the forefront of my mind. It’s just part of who I am and, and the way I was raised. But it really has been a big blessing, for sure.
I remember years back, I had the opportunity to be with some of the other members of the Quorum of the Twelve. And they were talking a little bit about themselves and their callings. And they said, “Oh we’re just ordinary men in extraordinary callings.” But kind of like I was saying earlier, I think, with my perspective of age, they’re a lot more than just ordinary men. And so we just try to follow their example, because they’re following the Lord’s example.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Thank you.
Now, your father graduated from medical school at age 22, first in his class. He went on to have a career as a world renowned heart surgeon, pioneering heart surgery that would actually save so many lives. So he’s brilliant. What was that like to be raised in a home, did he help with homework? Did you focus on science and math? Was there an emphasis on you choosing careers? Or did he just want you to follow any path that was what you chose? How did his studies ripple into the home? And Gloria, let’s start with you.
Gloria Irion: We knew he had notoriety, because of his research and the things that he had accomplished and always kept accomplishing. I think it’s important to note, yeah, they encouraged us to do our homework and would be happy to help if we needed it. But I really feel like their love for us was not tied to any kind of accomplishment at all. I feel like we were loved, because we were theirs. And that’s the way they’ve been with everyone that joined our family, whether it was after our sister passed away and a new mother would come in for these kids. And we just enlarge our circle of love and embrace them.
But yes, he’s very driven, and very bright, and catches on fast, but loves to be up on the latest technology. And, you know, he knew decades before I did that there was such a thing as AirDropping photos, and he taught our daughter and we didn’t even know there was such a thing. It was probably 10 years ago that he taught Katie how to AirDrop photos. So yeah, we know that he’s curious. He loves to learn. So, I thought that was a good example to always be a learner, a lifelong learner. Here he is in his 90s and always up on the latest technology with the great help that he gets. And, but yeah, I think he set a great example of, you know, studying and doing well in school. But we never felt that it was tied to their feelings for us.
Laurie Marsh: I felt like from both of my parents the importance of our education that that was stressed. And just to reinforce Gloria’s thought about, what a great example of someone who gets up every day and learns something new every day, and I’ve quite often use that, just think, “OK, this is an opportunity to learn and to grow,” rather than going, “Oh, I can’t do it again.” You know, it’s just an opportunity to learn more and serve more. And so I think that was very much an emphasis in our home.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: I always knew that I could ask my dad anything, and he would have the answer.
He knew everything, not because he’s a know-it-all, but because he legitimately has a thirst for knowledge and learning. And he did always emphasize how important education is, but as far as career choice goes, he never pushed one way or another. He wanted that very much to be my choice and my decision based on my experiences and my own inspiration.
Gloria Irion: Skills ...
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: And so, there was a time I wanted to be a doctor and I think he was kind of proud of that. Ultimately, I ended up making a change halfway through college and went into the business world but he’s, like Laurie said, he’s still proud of who we are and who we’ve become and, for our own accomplishments. And It’s been interesting, as you know, I’ve been a parent now for a little over 25 years, how I look back now, in retrospect, how easy he made everything look. Being as smart and skilled as he is, I kind of took some of that for granted. Especially being at the younger end, I saw more mature father and parents than my siblings did. But a lot of the things that he made look easy, for me, now as a parent, with kids, ranging from 14 to 26 years old, takes a lot of effort and takes a lot of knowledge. And he’s good at it.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And Laurie, I want to share a story. We were traveling with President Nelson on his global ministry in Uruguay. And while we were there, he met with some families in this meeting before the devotional. And this little boy, he couldn’t have been 12. But he said, President Nelson, “You had to stop being a surgeon to be a prophet, was that hard for you?” You just, you just walked away from your medical career. And I’ll never forget President Nelson looked at that little boy so tenderly. And he said, “No, I, I walked through the door and I closed it behind me.” Can you share with us what you observed from that time in his life, where he leaves this career that he had prepared so much for, and turned into full-time church service?
Laurie Marsh: Sure. When Daddy was called to be an apostle, I lived in Michigan at the time. So I didn’t have a real close view of it, but I do remember asking him the same thing. I said, “How can you walk away from that that was your life? You’ve made such an impact in that world of open heart surgery.” And he says, “Quite frankly, Laurie, I haven’t had time to think about it. I just move forward and do as I’m directed.” And that was a lesson for me too. He just goes forward and learns what he needs to learn and takes all of the experience with him to help.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: He, a lot of times, even as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve has a lot of travel and a lot of comings and goings, and a question he would get asked a lot is, “How do you deal with jet lag?” And he would just say, “I don’t have time to deal with it. We just we land and that’s what time it is and we move on.” So ...
Gloria Irion: I love in Sheri Dew’s biography, she quoted Wendy, after they came home from one of the world tours. And Wendy said, “After these world tours, my husband comes home and hits the ground running and I just hit the ground.” I’ve never seen him with jet lag. I think he’s, I don’t know, mind over matter what. Yeah, he doesn’t believe in it.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, I’ve heard him say it, too. We don’t have time for that. And the rest of us are thinking, “Oh.”
Gloria Irion: My mind would like to think that, but my body’s going, “Are you kidding me?”
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: Even, a long time ago, I was 14, right after my freshman year of high school, I was the only one at home. And he had a Church assignment in England, it was the 150th anniversary of the Church in England. So we preceded that trip with our own personal trip, where we did some family history findings throughout Scandinavia. So we were gone in total for about three weeks, two weeks of our own trip, and then a week of his assignment. And I remember as a 14-year-old thinking, “Man, are we ever gonna go home?” Because we are in a different place, a different country, a different something every day, every night. And after about two weeks, I thought, “Man, I’m, I’m getting tired and I’m 14 years old.” So he’s, it’s pretty remarkable in that regard.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I never hear him use words like, “must” or “should.” It’s something that I’ve paid a lot of attention to, because we write his quotes in the Church News. You just don’t hear him say that. “You must do this.” Instead, he seems to invite us as members of the Lord’s Church to follow the commandments and then claim all the blessings that we can get from that. What was discipline like in your home growing up?
Laurie Marsh: I just think the way he’s leading the Church is exactly an example of the way we were raised. I feel like there was a high level of love in our home. And there was a high expectation that we would be an eternal family and we were going to be working together to see how we could get that goal accomplished. And I think the other thing is, we’ve talked about the consistency of my dad, and my parents consistently had family prayer. They consistently had family home evening. They consistently had family scripture reading. We were invited, with all, all their love to come and participate in that. But none of us were ever forced to come, everyone would still get together. And we knew that. And if you chose not to come, you’d be missing out on a really great opportunity to be together and do something neat. And to help make this goal of being an internal family happen. So really, by and large, we all came all the time. Occasionally, you had to miss you know, you were sick, or you know, didn’t hear your alarm or whatever. But really, we chose to come and I don’t know what their secret was that made it look so awesome to participate. But we just, out of love and not wanting to be left out. We, we participated.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: I think one of the things that both of them, and especially our dad was really good at, is teaching us why we do things, less about the “how” and more about the “why.” And so, obedience or adherence to rules, laws, whatever came with that understanding of why we were doing it. And so I know, for myself, that I didn’t want to break the rules, because I didn’t want to disappoint them. And so, yeah, he had a really good way of making very mundane and plain things feel like it was great to do and great to do together. An example I know a lot of us have shared with each other is doing taxes at the end of the year. He had this folding table that we would pull out from under a bed, and he would set it up and start taping up all these ...
Gloria Irion: Spreadsheets. It was the only time I saw him turn on the TV. Yeah, he might watch a bowl game and we were just ...
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: Spreadsheets ...
Gloria Irion: It was the only time I saw him turn on the TV. Yeah, he might watch a bowl game on New Year’s day.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: And we were just, and we would just love to help him and doing taxes. That doesn’t sound like fun at all now as an adult, but somehow he made it seem like it was something that obviously, it needed to be done. But something that we just did together and had fun doing together.
Sarah Jane Weaver: What are some of the other things you did I know as a family you like to ski? Were there other things that you did on a regular basis that you enjoyed doing together?
Gloria Irion: Well, we always did, like almost everyone else, I’m sure, did fun summer trips, whether we rented a cabin up at Brighton or, you know, went to the beach in California or drove up to Canada. So we would spend time together on a family trip. But I also remember, I guess I have the perspective for being one of the older ones, but like on a Saturday morning, if we got our chores done, Daddy could take us to … swim or to ice skate or the Salt Lake Country Club to swim or Salt Lake swimming and tennis club or, you know, he would take us on an outing if we got our stuff done and at least took a few mess-makers out of the house for a few hours so mom could try to catch up. But yeah, he would take us places.
I remember to when he had business trips, I’m not sure how long this lasted, but I remember quite a few times, he would take one or two of us along when he had to go give a paper somewhere or something. And so that was one-on-one time with him, or one-on-two, if there was someone else with you. But it was fun to feel like you were on a date with your Daddy and got to spend some time with him. That was fun.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: So much of our activities had to do with just being together, whether it was, you know, very early on, we would have monthly family parties, Christmas traditions, we could almost dictate the whole month of December by the traditions that we would do day by day and week by week. But so much of it was just about being together and taking the time to strengthen those relationships. And that always meant a lot. And summer trips to places, whether, if we went in the car or however we got there, again, it was more about being together and strengthening those relationships with each other.
Gloria Irion: You know, I just had a thought about what an important thing music was in our home. They both played the piano and the organ. Mother was a beautiful singer. And so we love to sing together. And we all got to choose other instruments. I think most of us took piano lessons and then got to choose another instrument, but music was really big. It was a real love of my parents. It was part of how they met, too, that musical up at the “U.” But yeah, music was something we love to do together.
Laurie Marsh: And a lot of it was just going to each other’s performances and doing things together as a family and decorating the Christmas tree to Handel’s “Messiah.” So music really was a huge part of the things that we would do together.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And for our listeners who haven’t heard the story of how they met, will you share that with us, Gloria?
Gloria Irion: Sure. Daddy was able to participate in the school musical up at the University of Utah his freshman year. And the director approached him as he was, in his sophomore year, to invite him to come back and participate. And he just said, “Wow, my pre-med studies are pretty rigorous. And I, I’m not sure I’ll have time for that.” And he said, “Well, why don’t you just come to a rehearsal and see what you think and, you know, just kind of come and check it out.” So he comes, and he looks on the stage at the female lead role, and it was Dansel White, and he decided he would participate.
Sarah Jane Weaver: He committed pretty fast?
Laurie Marsh: Yeah, he committed pretty fast. And that’s how they met, I think the play was called “Hayfoot Strawfoot.” So that was, we liked that play and love that story. He made time for it.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I want to talk about, you know, you had this very tight-knit family that enjoyed being together and cherished the connections you had with each other. And as later in life, your father lost both your mother and then two of his daughters to cancer. Can you talk a little bit about those times when the focus of your family had to be eternal?
Gloria Irion: I think he took those, you know, those circumstances happen so seldom, that I feel like he really tried to take those opportunities to teach us and to help us focus on the eternal, like you, like you said. We were serving in Nauvoo when the sister just older than I am, passed away, Wendy, that was just before they went to Paradise, California. But I know he spent a lot of time with her and with their family and tried to be supportive. And if Norm [Norman A. Maxfield, the husband of President Nelson’s late daughter, Wendy Maxfield] needed him for anything, he would come. I know he was aching it was tough for him to. But I think his outward focus was a good example to us, too.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: I remember the night when our mom passed away. Of course, we were all in tears and trying to deal with that. And as the evening was winding down, it was time for us to go and go back to our homes. And I just kind of said, “What do you, what do you want us to do now?” Asking from a point of, “How can we help you? What can we do for you?” And he just said, “Just go home and be with your, your children and love them and teach them.” And so that right there was to me a good window into the eternities of how we just keep going. And it was a nice reinforcement of, you know, “Don’t worry about him. He’s going to be fine.” What we need to do is focus on our little ones and continue to teach them and bring them up.
Gloria Irion: I remember him coming over, we would have him over for a meal or something after mother had passed away. Russel said they’d each had their roles and cooking wasn’t one of his. So sometimes a couple of us would show up at his door with dinner or something. But we, we had him come over for dinner. And part of, I think, his processing his grief was like playing the piano. And he would go over and start to play “Schindler’s List,” and I’d be in there in the kitchen, just crying my eyes out, because it’s such a passionate song. But in a way, it was comforting, to me, to see the level of grief that he was experiencing. I knew he loved her and he missed her. And even so, he was going to do what he was called on to do and I knew he loved her and was grieving. When she passed, it wasn’t “OK, well, we’ve got this eternal perspective and let’s move on.” I don’t want that to come across. I think he used it as a teaching moment for us to help us and comfort us. But there was a deep level of grief all three times and very apparent, helped us navigate it too
Laurie Marsh: I think for me, too, I just have, as we’ve gone through those times that are more difficult, I’ve just held on the example of my parents. I think the Church is very well aware that they kind of had a motto when they got married to “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and everything else will be added on to it.” And you go through these hard and difficult times and when you see your dad be vulnerable and lose these loved ones, it’s hard. It’s really hard. But I love the idea that what’s important is, we all go through trials, right? That’s why we’re here, but they don’t need to be a trial of our faith. We can lean on our faith and use our faith and have our faith in Jesus Christ help us go through those trials, and we’ll come out better for it, because if we seek first our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, everything else will be added on to it. And it takes time, you know, we can’t have everything, right that very minute. But as I’ve watched Daddy go through those times. And they’re difficult times for us. I’ve been so grateful for the teachings that our parents have given us about the importance of being centered in Jesus Christ.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I think for so many Latter-day Saints, that sort of hit us when we were reading your father’s gratitude message that he gave a few years ago when he’s asking all of us, in the midst of this pandemic, to give thanks. And then in what felt like a very vulnerable moment. He talks about losing his wife to a heart attack after having spent his whole career studying and treating and operating on the heart.
Gloria Irion: I thought it was really a blessing. Usually on a weekend, Daddy would be gone, you know, at some stake conference or something else. And it was a Saturday night when Mother passed. And she had just finished the laundry, and he was carrying the basket up with her, you know, and they sat down on the sofa to watch the BYU game. And then they switch over to the Utah basketball game. They love to watch sports. And they were sitting on the sofa together holding hands. And she just kind of slumped over. And you know, he was there with her. He did what he needed to do, he knew. I mean, we were all so grateful, including him, that it wasn’t a day or so before someone found her. He was there. He knew everything that could have been done was done. He had a confirmation right then that this was a blessing that she went in a twinkling of an eye, basically, and kind of had to start accepting that. So the fact that it was her heart, everything that could have been done to help her was done. And I think that was a blessing to have him home.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And, you know, when you think about the influence of women in his life, it’s hard not to also think about Sister Wendy Watson Nelson, who he married after your mother’s death. What have you observed from their relationship?
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: Right after our mom passed away, that was the first time in my life that I’d ever seen him visibly sad, or not the cheerful countenance that he usually had for that year plus, after our mom’s passing. And we had the privilege of having Wendy Watson as a neighbor before their marriage. And so after they were married, they lived in her home for a little bit. And so I saw him the Sunday after they came back from their honeymoon. And his countenance was back up. He was happy. The visible sadness was gone. Just like that. She’s been a marvelous companion for him since day one, I believe. And so, well, his health and strength is due in large part to her efforts and all the things that she does, in ways to support him that we don’t know the half of, I’m sure.
Laurie Marsh: I tell people all the time, I said I think we owe Wendy Nelson and the Lord for His longevity and his ability to continue to serve in his capacity right now. And I acknowledge that we love Wendy. She, like my mother, is a very Christ-centered person. And I think she’s a great sounding board for Daddy and plays a critical role.
Gloria Irion: I agree. She’s very strong. She has this, this spirit of Elijah with her she’s just so aware and, you know, just so focused on the temple and temple work and just such a great example. And she’s always a cheerleader for Daddy in front of us, for sure. She kind of validates our testimony of his being the prophet called for this time, you know. She’s a good one, such a blessing to our family.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And since 1984, when your father was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, you have had to share him with millions of Latter-day Saints across the globe. Is that hard?
Laurie Marsh: I don’t think so. I think really, like I say, I’m seventh, so I’m a younger perspective. But my dad’s always been well-known, well-known renowned heart surgeon or stake president, or general Sunday School president. He’s always had a lot of responsibilities. And so really, that part is not different. And we’ve had the blessing. At least I can say this, from my perspective, I know that my dad loves me. And I know that he’s there for me, I know, even as busy as he is, right now, I know that he’s either a phone call, or a text or an email away from me whenever I need him. And he’s helped me and loved me all these years. And I’ve watched him help and love a lot of people along the way. So for me, it’s not been anything different.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: Yeah, it’s been fun to kind of contrast and compare the way his teachings and ministry happens worldwide now, to the way it was done in our home when we were young, when I was young. And so a lot of these adjustments that the Church has gone through over these past five years or so — it’s been interesting, for me having been, I was 12 years old when he was called to be in the Quorum of the Twelve. And so a lot of his column dinner table comments and conversations that we’ve had, I see them now coming through in some of these adjustments, in these teachings, that this isn’t a church for the people here in Utah or Idaho or Arizona or the United States. It is a worldwide church and it is the Church of Jesus Christ and it’s for everyone. And so it’s been really neat to see that come through.
Gloria Irion: I think it’s kind of fun for people to get to see him in the light other than just twice a year at the podium, you know. They get to see him the way we know him. And he’s more personable. They can feel that he loves them and it’s not so distant.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I love as we’re talking about this as your father’s children, who was first a very prominent and renowned surgeon, then an apostle and then the prophet. Yet your family has a reputation of not expecting to be treated any different than any other Latter-day Saints. What did your parents do to create that feeling in your family?
Laurie Marsh: Really, we have extraordinary parents, but we are a normal family. You know, we talk about the things that are positive and the things that my parents did great. But are we perfect? Absolutely not. So I think the takeaway for me in that, is, you know, our number one job is just to try to learn how to become an eternal family and enjoy all the blessings that Heavenly Father wants to give each and every one of us. And really, you don’t need to be the child of Russell and Dantzel Nelson to have those blessings. We just need to be a child of God and we all are. So we all have that exact same opportunity.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Is there anything about your father’s service as President of the Church that surprised you or that caught your attention?
Laurie Marsh: You know, nothing that my dad does surprises me, nothing. Everything amazes me, but nothing surprises me. He doesn’t look for anybody’s approval, but the Lord’s right.
Gloria Irion: Right, yeah, it was funny. I kind of watched him deflect some praise that someone was directing toward him. And he said, “Oh, no, I’m just good at taking instruction. It wasn’t me. I’m just taking instruction and do it.”
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: Yeah, Laurie mentioned it earlier that when Mother and Daddy were married, they made their motto, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” And that’s what he’s encouraging all of us to do now is put the Lord first in our lives and let Him prevail and we’ll be blessed. So that’s not surprising, but it’s been neat to see.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And when I think about your father’s ministry as president of the Church, it’s sort of compartmentalized for me. First his kind of fast-paced travel around the world 35 nations in about 19 months. And then we experienced the pandemic and there was great effort to make sure that President Nelson stayed well. During that time. How did you keep close as a family?
Gloria Irion: We were so grateful for the technology that’s available. You know, we do a lot of Zoom calls. And that’s less great than his wonderful hugs, but we get to see FaceTime, Daddy gets to see FaceTime for people that are across the country, our missionaries in the world, you know, some of the family members that are missionaries every once in a while, they’ll get to tune in on these calls. And so that’s been a neat thing. We’re so grateful for that technology that allows us to do that. And see each other as a family be together kind of remotely. But yeah, it’s less than, less than ideal, but in a lot of ways, there are some advantages to the Zoom calls too.
Laurie Marsh: I think, to Daddy gets some credit for trying to keep everybody together. He still, to this day, who knows the number of our members in our family, I don’t know, off the top of my head.
Gloria Irion: There’s about 150 great-grands, 57 grands.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: 217 total, I think was the last number I knew.
Laurie Marsh: But Daddy still will hand-write a birthday card and mail it to every single member of the family and Christmas and wedding anniversaries. He never misses them, never. And we have a couple of things in place. We still have our family newsletter that everybody contributes once a month a little article. And so that way we can kind of keep up on what he’s doing and he can read what we’re doing. So even though we’re not physically together, we’re still very emotionally attached.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m so glad you mentioned technology. We were at the Washington D.C. Temple rededication. And I had the chance to interview him and I said, “Well, this is the first time you’ve been out and out among the Saints since the COVID pandemic.” And he did not like that question. He said, “I never left them.” And, and then you look back. And of course, it’s true. Here he is giving countless messages, reaching out via technology, thinking about members in very, very specific ways. I love the fact that just this year before conflict broke out between Russia and Ukraine in Eastern Europe, he had given a message and directed it to all the Saints in Europe, and told him that the future was bright for the Church in Europe. And so he does seem to always know what to do at the right time and that has become a hallmark of his ministry. Is there something that you have learned from observing his Church leadership?
Gloria Irion: I think he is open to hearing counsel. I also feel like if somebody’s got a job to do, let them do it and I think he’s a good cheerleader. I think he counsels well with others. I think he’s good at making decisions and moving forward.
Laurie Marsh: I have to mention, because to me, it’s his biggest life is his focus on the Savior. I have felt during his leadership, the importance of living our lives focused on the Savior and that that should be our number one priority, no matter what we’re doing. And just to rely on that faith at all times and do what you can to build that faith, be it read the scriptures, or make sure you’re praying sincerely or reading general conference talks. Or I happened to be serving a mission during most of his time so far, and “Preach My Gospel” was another one that helped build my faith. And I just feel like he’s just made it very clear of the importance of having Christ be the center of my life.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: One thing I’ve learned, hearing from others, other General Authorities as we happen to bump into them, and even down into my own life is, watching him allow priesthood holders exercise their keys. A good example is you see all of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles each having their own opportunities to dedicate temples. They’re exercising their keys. In my personal life, I got called to be a bishop a few years back and he ordained me to the office of bishop in Melchizedek priesthood, but he let the stake president of that stake, set me apart as a bishop in that stake, letting him exercise his keys. So, that’s been a neat thing for me to experience and learn over the last few years.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I think that’s a really beautiful thing. And it actually goes along with what we’re talking about when we asked him about his decision to let members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, dedicated temples. He said, “Well, it’s like being a father. You get more joy from letting other people have that experience than you do from having that experience yourself.” And I thought that was such a beautiful sentiment. I’m interested if there is one moment or one memory that each of you can share about your father that can help us just get to know him just a little bit better.
Laurie Marsh: Oh, there are so many I don’t even know. I mean, I can remember having so many fun experiences. And when he was teaching me how to water ski, or having very, very spiritual experiences on the mountain, when we were skiing. But I think a great impact on me is what Gloria shared, I think the fact that he has honored me, every Mother’s Day my whole entire life, speaks volumes of the importance of family and the importance of eternal relationships. And I think that’s something that I treasure.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: Oh, I don’t know, I’ve got a couple of funny stories, but I don’t know.
Sarah Jane Weaver: We’ll take any stories.
Laurie Marsh: Daddy’s funny.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: He is. We, one time, I had gotten all the Christmas decorations out of the attic. And we’re talking, boxes and boxes, because mother love to decorate the house for Christmas. But we got the outdoor lights out and we were getting ready to put them up on the outside of the house. And imagine — in your mind’s eye — the cardboard box just packed full of Christmas lights, strings and strings of Christmas lights. And these are the kind of the old school Christmas lights, the glass bulbs, the thick gauge cables. And we go to pull this massive wire out of the box and the whole bundle of wires comes out in the shape of a box. And we try to unwind it and we try to untangle it and he kind of just stops for a second, exasperated and looks up at me goes, “This reminds me of fishing with your sisters.”
Gloria Irion: Oh, right. Fishing. You know, we were all really close in age, and he’d spend his whole time untangling our lines, because we would throw them wherever. Poor guy. I think we taught him patience and long-suffering.
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: But and then, you know, another, since we’re talking about fishing, a related memory to that is he would, you know after we would clean the fish out. And I think this is why I loved anatomy and wanted to be a doctor for a good long while. He took the lens out of the fish’s eye out and said, “Look, this is the lens” and held it up over a newspaper that was right nearby and showed how it kind of magnified the print on the newspaper. And so he always just took even simple moments like that, to teach and to show how things worked. And, more importantly, to underscore the Lord’s hand and God’s creations and how divinely created all of this is and all of our bodies, how they are so intricately designed by our Heavenly Father, that there’s no other way we could have come to be had it not been for the divine hand of the Creator. And so all those little experiences add up to neat memories of him as a father and a teacher, but also of how God’s hand is in everything.
Gloria Irion: My addition to that is when he taught me how to get the lenses out of the fish eyes. And I had quite a collection, so I thought, “What would Mother love, a string of these for a necklace.” So I got a needle and thread and strung those beautiful pearly looking things together for my mother and gave it to her. Almost a fishy-smelling string of pearls.
Sarah Jane Weaver: We have a tradition at the Church News podcast. And I actually lament reaching this point in the podcast, because I could hear you guys talk about your father all day long. And I think that’s a sentiment that is shared by all of our listeners, as well. We’re so grateful that you would share him with us so that he could teach us so much about the Savior Jesus Christ. But we have a tradition at the Church’s podcast and that is we always end with the same question. It’s, “What do you know now?” And we always give our guests the last word. So today, we will go in reverse order from age and start with Russ and go to Laurie and end with Gloria and have each of you answer the question: What do you know now that you’ve learned from President Russell M. Nelson?
Russell M. Nelson Jr.: That’s kind of like coming home from your mission and they say, “How was your mission?” How do you sum up two years in a sentence? How do you sum up a lifetime of being taught. But I would say, I know that a key part of life is to learn and to grow, and to love — love one another, love the Lord and enjoy the blessings that come from Him as we keep our covenants.
Laurie Marsh: I think I have probably learned from President Nelson the importance of my relationship with my Savior and how that can help with everything that we do that’s full of joy, or not full of joy, in our life. And I think I have learned from my own, personal experiences, that God calls prophets to lead and guide us while we’re on this earth. And that if we can be obedient, and make and keep our covenants, we’ll be able to live eternally as a family with Heavenly Father again. And I know that Daddy has been called to be the prophet in these times. And I’ve had many experiences over the last five years that confirm that, and I am eternally grateful. Don’t know what I did in the pre-life, but I’m grateful every day to be the daughter of Russell and Dantzel Nelson.
Gloria Irion: It’s been wonderful to have. I mean, we have a firsthand experience and perspective in watching someone be prepared. I think the world at large has seen that he’s been preserved, but to see the preparation that has happened, and to hear from him about receiving instruction, receiving guidance, following that guidance, is such a testimony to me about the prophet and the Lord communicating with the Church through the prophet and communicating with the world. But, you know, to witness his preparation and preservation and the ongoing revelation and guidance that he is given. And to see him follow that, like he said, follow instruction, has been a really remarkable thing to see and witness, so close. And we, every one of us, has such a strong testimony, that he’s here for such a time. And so is his wife and my mother had an amazing role in that, as well. But, yeah, we have strong testimonies and gratitude that the Lord has blessed us with prophets, to have that guidance in our lives.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.