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Episode 150: Gail Miller on helping millions to ‘Know Brother Joseph Again’

Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Company, joins the Church News podcast to talk about her family’s philanthropy, her testimony of Jesus Christ and what she has learned by studying the life of Joseph Smith

On June 27 — the 179th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Carthage Jail — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published the final volume of the Joseph Smith Papers. Much of the project was made possible by Gail Miller and her late husband, Larry H. Miller. 

Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Company, joins this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about her family’s initial $10 million investment and the significant subsequent financial support they devoted to the project. “I don’t think you can read these papers without feeling like you know this man and that he sacrificed his life to bring the gospel back to the earth for all of us,” she said. “And that alone is a magnificent gift.”

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Transcript:

Gail Miller: If people really take the time to read and study about Joseph Smith, I don’t believe there’s any way they could not accept the truth of it. If they’re open-minded, if their heart’s in the right place, if they’re looking for truth, they’ll find it in the right places. And this is the right place for Joseph Smith history. The project itself will strengthen testimonies all over the world. I know my testimony has been strengthened to know that Joseph Smith is exactly who he said he was, that he testified of Christ, which is the real message that we want to get from the Joseph Smith Papers: that Christ is at the head of this Church, that Joseph is the one who brought His gospel back to the earth. And in a way, I’m a little bit sad to see the project end because I know I have been blessed along the way for having been involved with the Joseph Smith Papers.

1:03

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.

1:20 

Sarah Jane Weaver: On June 27, the 179th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Carthage Jail, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published the final volume of the Joseph Smith Papers. Celebrating the accomplishment, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “In a rather parallel way, those who opposed Joseph Smith thought that his death would be the end of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, it was just the beginning. Could I suggest to you that the real value of the Joseph Smith Papers has not even been, even in the smallest measure, fully realized?”

Before his death in 2009, Larry H. Miller; his wife, Gail Miller; and their family made substantial financial contributions to the Joseph Smith Papers. Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Company, joins this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about her family’s initial $10 million investment with significant subsequent financial support to the project, and her testimony and commitment to the Church the early Prophet restored. Gail, thank you so much for being with us today.

Joseph Smith’s first journal entry, from Nov. 27, 1832, is pictured at the Church History Library during a Church History Department event commemorating the final print volume of the Joseph Smith Papers in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 27, 2023.
Joseph Smith’s first journal entry, from Nov. 27, 1832, is pictured at the Church History Library during a Church History Department event to commemorate the final print volume of the Joseph Smith Papers in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 27, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Gail Miller: I’m happy to be here. It’s always a pleasure to talk about this project.

2:35

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I think a lot of people have heard this story, but maybe there’s some who haven’t. So as we start, can you tell us what prompted you and Larry to begin supporting the Joseph Smith Papers project in the first place?

Gail Miller: I would be happy to go over that. There’s a lot of detail that I will skip over. But a very good friend of ours had been called to be the first director of the new Kirtland Visitors’ Center. And he said he didn’t really know a lot about Kirtland history. So he asked for a crash course from the Church. When he was told to come in and get the crash course, he was told he could bring some friends if he wanted to, because it included a lot of the original documents that they would be going over with him. He invited us to come with him, and we sat in a small room in the Church offices, across from a table that was covered with original Church documents, so many that were diaries, manuscripts, songbooks, things that you don’t get to see. And we were looking at them as they were explaining them and just being awestruck by being in the presence of these valuable, sacred documents.

And as the evening wore on — the man who was in charge of giving us the history was named Ron Barney. Ron Barney had a very special way of explaining the history, and we all learned a lot about Kirtland that night — but as we left, there was a lingering thought in Larry’s mind about “This is something really special. There’s a lot to what’s going on here.” And he talked with me about it, thought about it and said, “I need to go back and talk to Ron. I need to learn more about what this is.”

So as he met with Ron again, he called and asked if he could have another meeting with him, and he said, “Ron, I’ve just had a very strong impression that there’s something I need to be doing related to a project you might be working on, but I don’t know what it is. Do you?” And Ron said, “I have no idea. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And then he started going through some things he was working on, and he said, “Might be this, but I don’t know; we’re OK there. And it might be that; I don’t know what you’d have to do with that. I really don’t know why you’re here, Larry.” And Larry said, “Well, I don’t either, but let’s think about it, and let’s meet again.” So they parted without coming to any conclusion.

And later, Larry had some other experiences related to Joseph Smith. And he said, “I know what it is. I need to go see Ron again.” So they met again, and Larry said, “Ron, I know what it is.” And Ron said, “So do I.” And that was the beginning of Larry’s involvement with the Joseph Smith Papers project. And it was in its very infancy, or at least early on, that Dean Jessee had done several writings, but they had become the foundation of the Joseph Smith Papers project. And they had started to gather more and look at a major project that would include all of Joseph Smith’s writings. And that’s how we got involved.

Gail Miller speaks at a wooden podium about donating to the Joseph Smith Papers project
Gail Miller speaks about donating to the Joseph Smith Papers project at the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

6:05

Sarah Jane Weaver: And your philanthropy has become legendary. Many say it knows no bounds. But the question I have is — there’s a lot of people who wonder — why did you choose to donate to a project that surely the Church might have funded themselves?

Gail Miller: Well, the Church historically has always relied on its members to help support their projects, not just in this kind of thing but in the art projects they have and things that are very significant. And I think one of the reasons for that is, when you’re connected to something, personally or intimately — like we are with the Joseph Smith Papers — does a lot of things for not only the Church but for you personally, like testimony growth, commitment and opportunity to spread the gospel, to be in the workings of what’s going on and know that this is really a very, very important aspect of the Church’s ability to reach the masses. And I can be an ambassador that way.

7:17

Sarah Jane Weaver: One of the things that’s impressed me most about the project is its scholarship. It has elevated what we know about Joseph Smith and has given scholars access to it in ways that was previously ever unimagined. Why is it important for us to understand what Joseph Smith really said and what he really did?

Gail Miller: Well, needless to say, there’s always been a lot of controversy about Joseph Smith. I think the Church realized that in order for people to understand Joseph Smith, they had to have the complete history and not hide any of it or be embarrassed by any of it or feel like it wasn’t productive to put it out there. You can’t know the man until you know everything there is to know about him. And that was the aim of the Joseph Smith Papers project: to have millions who know Brother Joseph again. And that’s how they’re doing it, is by collecting all of the documents that he either wrote, or were written to him, or his close associates wrote about him, so that everything is laid out there, and people can make their own judgments based on truth.

8:34

Sarah Jane Weaver: You know, I have heard from some of the Brethren who have read every word of the project that the more you read, the better it gets. The more you understand Joseph, the more you love him. Has that been the case for you as well?

Gail Miller: Oh, absolutely. I don’t think you can read these papers without feeling like you know this man and that he sacrificed his life to bring the gospel back to the earth for all of us to be benefited by. And that alone is a magnificent gift he gave.

President Russell M. Nelson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hands a volume of the Joseph Smith Papers to someone.
President Russell M. Nelson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hands a volume of the Joseph Smith Papers at the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. The papers will publish its final two volumes in 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

9:11

Sarah Jane Weaver: When we talk about this project and its significant historical research and the quality of that research, how much influence did you and Larry have at the onset of the project?

Gail Miller: I would say quite a bit. Larry, being a businessman, was anxious to have a top-notch product come about through this effort. So when they put together their budget, I remember him coming home and saying, “They’ve told me how much they think it’s going to be, and I told them ‘double it,’ because that’s not enough. To do this right, they’re going to have to have the resources to hire the brightest, the best, the finest, those who can do the best job in research, in writing, in editing.” Everything had to be top quality.

10:04

Sarah Jane Weaver: You know, when you talk about the massive effort this is, it has taken a lot of people to bring this project to completion. What is your view about the major cast that it has taken and the work that they’ve done?

Gail Miller: You’re right; this project has taken a lot of people to bring it to life, and it’s been a 20-year-long project. So, during that time, there have been people come and leave, go on to other experiences in their work life, but always remain dedicated to this project and supportive of it. But the people who have done it have been incredibly dedicated to doing it right. During the time I’ve been involved, there have been three different people in charge of the Church History Department. So, that’s the way the Church works: You rotate your callings. But everyone has done a masterful job of making sure this project was done right.

And then, over the years, new scholars have come in, new people that have learned about the project and wanted to work on it. I’ve watched young people grow, and I’ve watched the elders lead them along, make sure things were done right. I know that the First Presidency and the Twelve have been dedicated to this project; they’ve had opportunity to read all of the volumes and done so, put their input into it, given advice. So, it’s been a monumental effort over the 20 years, and everyone who’s worked on it — I believe they would say it’s been the highlight of their career.

Larry H. Miller speaks at the International Society 16th Annual Conference held at BYU on his work with Ronald Esplin on the Joseph Smith Papers project. April 4, 2005. | Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

11:43

Sarah Jane Weaver: You started this project with Larry. He subsequently passed away. How do you think he would feel about this broad, very important work today if he could look at it?

Gail Miller: He said before he died, “We can’t stop. We have to stay involved with this.” So, I know he’d be pleased that we were able to continue, even during the downturn in the economy, that we’ve maintained our effort in giving to this project. I think he would be very pleased. It was an important project in his life as well.

12:17

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I want to talk about how much has changed in your life personally since the inception of this project, because you were single for a season. What is it like to be single after having such a fulfilling, happy marriage?

Gail Miller: Well, a lot has changed in my life. And I often look at that period of time with gratitude, because my life’s always been very, very busy as a support to Larry and his career, raising a family of five children plus a grandson, being active in the Church — there’s really no lull in my life. However, that three years where I was single was a period for me to find myself, to be able to unencumber my life from Larry’s and find out who I was personally, rather than just a companion in a partnership. So, it was an adventure for me; it was something I needed to do. 

But then I realized life is not meant to be lived alone, and having a companion is very, very important. My new husband — we’ve been married 11 years now — was a friend for a long time. So, he knew both Larry and me in our ward. I knew his wife; she died about a year and a half after Larry. And having that companionship to support my efforts, and he’s done it really remarkably and helped me move forward in the things that I’ve done. So, it’s been a good time. 

My life is very different today. I’m fully engaged in a lot of different things. The children are grown and gone, doing their own things, so I’m now involved in the business full time. I’m involved in community efforts, civic efforts, I do a lot of volunteer work, so there’s still never a lull in my life.

Gail Miller speaks at a press conference announcing the sale of the Utah Jazz to Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. | Melissa Majchrzak

14:12

Sarah Jane Weaver: And not only did you have changes personally, but the business took on a new shape as you sold the major interest in the Utah Jazz. What was that shift like?

Gail Miller: Very hard. Really hard. Selling something that you’ve been involved with for 35 years takes a lot of thought and meditation and conversation and prayer and trepidation. There are a lot of things that go into departing from a lifestyle that you’re used to and a responsibility that you’ve taken very seriously for a long, long time. But we felt good about it. We discussed it as a family; we decided it was the right time and the right decision and the right buyer, so everything came together at the right time.

14:59

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, what sustained you through all of these decisions and changes?

Gail Miller: Well, foundation is the thing that sustains me. I was on a podcast once where they asked me who was the most influential person in my life, and my answer immediately was Jesus Christ. That is the person that I’ve founded my life on. And that is what sustains me, is knowing I have an unshakable foundation that gives me the strength to do the things I need to do and not be affected in a worldly way by the experiences I’ve had. It makes all the difference when you can continue to look at things in an eternal perspective rather than a worldly perspective. Because that’s where we’re going; we’re not building up for this life, we’re building up for an eternal life. And that’s what keeps me going.

15:55

Sarah Jane Weaver: How have you sustained and built your faith over the years?

Gail Miller: Oh, I think just like we all do; we do jobs in the Church, we testify, we count our blessings, we interact with people who strengthen us. I think giving is one of the ways that I’ve sustained my faith. I think you cannot give without learning to love the people that you’re serving. And love is the essence of life, to me. So, I think that’s how I’ve learned to sustain myself.

16:30

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, what’s next for you and all of the enterprises that you oversee?

Gail Miller: We all come to a time in our life where we need to step back and we need to let the next generation take a more active role, and I’ve done that. My kids are well positioned to be able to go forward and carry on in my absence. I am still involved as an adviser and the owner, but they’re doing a great job, and they’re guiding us into new areas that we’ve never done before. We’re now in healthcare, we’re in major real estate development, we’re in a lot of investments. So, there’s a bright horizon out there. There’s a lot of change coming. There are a lot of opportunities; Larry used to say, “There is so much opportunity out there, you can’t take advantage of it all.” And we’re finding that; that we could do a variety of things that would keep us busy for a long, long time that would be exciting and dynamic and give us growth in our company.

A group of women standing in a circle, laughing and sharing a conversation.
Gail Miller talks with Days of 47 Royalty Queen Katie Ann Powell, Second Attendant Kianna Behunin and First Attendant Holly Biesinger, after speaking at the SUPer DUPer day devotional at This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 17, 2023. President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints was also in attendance. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

17:33

Sarah Jane Weaver: And earlier this summer, you gave a talk on pioneers. We covered it in the Church News. I thought it was so sweet. But in there, you talked about how “everyone has a story,” and how “our stories connect us with each other,” and they can bridge the past and the future. Can you elaborate a little bit on that? Why is it important that we should understand our heritage?

Gail Miller: I think understanding our heritage gives us strength to move forward, especially if we have a heritage where people had to do hard things to live and to grow and to develop. Those hardships help us see that we’re not alone, and if they could do it, we could do it. And it’s not going to get easier in this life. So, building on our past helps us look to the future and learn to do the hard things that are coming. Well, what I love about looking at your heritage is the connections that you gain, the people that went before you that are part of you. Every person that came before you left something for you to build on and affected who you are.

As I was researching for that talk — and I learned a lot about some of my ancestors and the things they did, like a 10-year-old girl walking 1,000 miles across the plains — I naturally think, “Could I have done that? Would I have been strong enough to make that trip? And if I were, what would I have done when I got there? Would I have helped build up the kingdom, or would I have sat down and said, ‘that’s enough’?” So, it gives us introspection in our own lives about “What did I learn from those who went before me that can make me a better person?”

19:29

Sarah Jane Weaver: And as we’re talking about connections — and I think that the work that was done for Joseph Smith Papers helped so many people connect to Joseph Smith and other early leaders of the Church — I have some stats here: 1,306 journal entries, 643 letters, 155 revelations, 18,882 pages, and almost 7.5 million words. Oh, and as a nod to the scholarly importance of the project, 49,687 footnotes.

Gail Miller: Sometimes the footnotes are greater than the text. But they’re very, very important. And sometimes there are footnotes on footnotes. So it’s a very intricate publication. You didn’t even mention all the lawsuits he was involved in that distracted him from daily life, where he had to defend himself and still keep going with the Church. So he had a very, very difficult life in a lot of ways. But I think my testimony of Joseph is he knew what he was about, and he knew the importance of it, and that’s what kept him going, because he saw it as an eternal perspective, the way we should. And that is what helps me keep going.

Gail Miller poses for a photo with her husband Kim Wilson, and President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints, prior to her speaking at the SUPer DUPer day devotional at This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 17, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

20:58

Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, I think so many of us don’t know everything about history. And so sometimes, people will even question the Church because they don’t understand the history, or they only know a small segment of that history. Do you think that this project has strengthened faith?

Gail Miller: I would hope that would be the outcome of it. If people really take the time to read and study about Joseph Smith, I don’t believe there’s any way they could not accept the truth of it. If they’re open-minded, if their heart’s in the right place, if they’re looking for truth, they’ll find it in the right places. And this is the right place for Joseph Smith history to develop testimonies.

21:47

Sarah Jane Weaver: When you talk about contributing so significantly to this project, how has that impacted your feelings and your testimony of the Prophet?

Gail Miller: I don’t think there’s a correlation between donating and testimony. I think the correlation is between truth and testimony. I have been blessed with a lot, and I don’t consider any of it mine. Everything I have has come as a result of membership in this Church and the feeling that I have about where it came from. And in a way, I’m a little bit sad to see the project end because I know I have been blessed along the way for having been involved with the Joseph Smith Papers. So, donating has been a privilege. Being strengthened is a blessing.

22:44

Sarah Jane Weaver: You talked about what’s next for your company. What’s next for you personally?

Gail Miller: Well, I hope someday to retire. I hope to be able to travel with my husband. We’re planning a trip this summer that will take us away for three and a half weeks, which we’ve never done before. So, we’ll see how that goes. I think having the freedom to do things that I want to when I want to, without a tight schedule or a schedule that I don’t have a lot of control over. So, control is one thing I look forward to; control over my own life.

23:22

Sarah Jane Weaver: And we have a tradition at the Church News podcast, where we always end each episode with the same question, and we always give our guests the last word and the opportunity to bear their testimony of the Church. And the question is “What do you know now?” And so, what do you know now that you didn’t know before beginning this effort with the Joseph Smith Papers? And how has that strengthened your testimony?

Richard E. Turley Jr., with white-gloved hands, holds an old book open to a blank page on the left and a page with cursive handwriting on the right.
Richard E. Turley Jr, former assistant church historian, holds a document that belonged to Joseph Smith while discussing the Joseph Smith Papers project on Dec. 1, 2008. | Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Gail Miller: I think what I know now that I didn’t know before being involved with the Joseph Smith Papers project is that the dedication of so many people who’ve worked on this project strengthens my testimony by seeing their testimonies and the dedication that they have been able to provide to bring this project to life. I think the project itself will strengthen testimonies all over the world.

I know my testimony has been strengthened to know that Joseph Smith is exactly who he said he was, that he testified of Christ, which is the real message that we want to get from the Joseph Smith Papers: that Christ is at the head of this Church, that Joseph is the one who brought His gospel back to the earth so that people can understand Him and live according to His teachings. I just have a testimony that it is one eternal round, that it all comes together and that it’s very important that we each find our own way.

25:19

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, rate and review this podcast so it can be accessible to more people. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests; 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 channels or with other news and updates of the Church on TheChurchNews.com.

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