He radiates warmth. He listens attentively. He speaks
sincerely. Nobody listening to Elder Robert L. Backman sharing his testimony
or talking about his family would ever guess that social situations were
once agonizingly uncomfortable for him.
He spent most of his teen years in South Africa where
his father, LeGrand P. Backman, was serving as mission president, and came
back to Salt Lake for his senior year of high school. He’d attended only
boys’ schools and “couldn’t look a girl in the face without blushing, couldn’t dance, couldn’t play American sports, and couldn’t drive a car. It was the most miserable year in my life.”
His call to the Northern States Mission “transformed
my life. It made me realize that I was a child of God and had great potential.”
Another important experience was his service in the
army during World War II. When he arrived for basic training, he was grouped
with five returned missionaries, one of them his own beloved companion
with whom he had served for eighteen months.
One highlight from his army years was organizing
an Easter service as “a group leader without a group” in a combat zone
east of Manila. “We didn’t know if anyone would be there, but the trucks
started pulling in and about fifty men arrived. They were still wearing
battle fatigues. They stacked their rifles as they came in. The building
we were in had been bombed, and the command post was attacked while we
were there, but we didn’t pay any attention. We sat on our helmets and
served the sacrament in our mess gear from a table made of ammunition boxes,
and the Spirit was there.”
As a law student with two young children after the
war, he planned to concentrate on studies first; but the first day he rode
the bus to class, he shared a seat with the bishop and was the deacon’s
quorum adviser by the time he got off. He has also served as president
of the Northwestern States Mission, as the only general president of the
Aaronic Priesthood MIA, and as sealer in the temple, a calling he still
holds. “I’ve performed marriages for many of my missionaries and three
of my own daughters, and I guess that’s just about the most glorious experience
a man can have in this life—to bind forever.”
His most recent assignments have been as a Regional
Representative, first for the Sacramento and Sacramento North regions,
then for the Cottonwood and Murray regions, and then—on the Friday before
conference—he was assigned to the newly created Holladay Region. He held
that calling less than twenty-four hours—possibly the shortest term of
service on record.
When the call came from President [Spencer
W.]Kimball’s office “three sleepless weeks ago,” he told his wife,
“I’ve received another one of those scary phone calls” and they went in,
“hoping” for another mission call since they’d so enjoyed their first assignment.
“It was a very sweet experience,” he says soberly. “At the end of that
interview with President Kimball, I was ready to go anywhere.”
An equally sweet experience came when he and his
wife Virginia shared the calling with their seven daughters and their husbands
afterwards. “All of them, in tears, expressed their love and support,”
he said tenderly. Then he grinned, “And some of
them said they’d been expecting it. They’re great kids!”
Family closeness is a family tradition for the Backmans.
He and his father belong to the same law firm, “and it’s the thrill of
my life to see him come in the door each morning. I just love to be associated
Four of their daughters live in Salt Lake: Judith
Marsh, Bonnie Price, Patricia Cox, and Barbara, still at home. The others
are Louise Checketts, Bear River City; Rebecca Champneys, Sandy; and Virginia
Backman, Bethesda, Maryland.
Born 22 March 1922 in Salt Lake City, Brother Backman
has served two terms in the Utah House of Representatives.
On October 6, 1985 Elder Backman was called into the
Presidency of the Seventy as one of the seven Presidents. He seved therein
until August 15, 1992 when he was released. Then in October of the same
year, he was granted emeritus status.