This biographical sketch is adapted from "Elder David B. Haight" .
It appeared in the Ensign, Oct. 1976, p.5
It is reassuring to know someone who has lived
Jesus’ commandment to become wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.
(See Matt. 10:16.) There is a tendency for highly competent people not
to be full of benevolence, a tendency for people of high accomplishment
not to be teachable. One of the stimulating traits of Elder David B. Haight,
the newest member of the Twelve, is that as a man of great competency and
accomplishment, he is also a man full of benevolence, a man who is teachable.
He is efficient, but has an unhurried manner. He
is dedicated to his work, but never agitated. He has an incisive mind,
but listens to others’ ideas. Many administrators may try to use old skills
in new situations, but he learns and grows with each new assignment. His
closest associates have said that he was so well prepared when he was called
to the Twelve that he did not need to break stride.
What has enabled Elder Haight to become as he is?
Those who know him well agree on this point: he is able to forget himself
and to throw everything into the task at hand. After he had been a stake
president for twelve years and then a mission president in Scotland, he
was teaching the priests quorum in the California Palo Alto Ward when one
of his former missionaries visited him. “He was enjoying every minute of
the assignment,” the missionary recalled. “He seemed as happy in this calling
as I have ever seen him.”
Sister Haight says that he has never taken a calling
with less than full seriousness. “He was as thrilled when, as an assistant
in the Sunday School superintendency many years ago, he helped the attendance
increase from thirty-five to seventy-five percent, as with any achievement
he has had since.” In the course of his Church career, this capacity for
self-forgetfulness has become an ability to serve the Lord “with full purpose
of heart” (D&C 18:27) and in so serving to give, as President Kimball
said of him, all of his life, all of his efforts, even all of his thoughts.
What the Lord wants when he “requireth the heart and a willing mind” (D&C
64:34), Elder David Haight has given. And he has given it, a friend has
observed, without reservation: “From his first call to Church service,
he never looked back, never regretted, never dragged his feet. He went
into it all the way.”
But it is misleading to speak of Elder Haight alone
in this connection. He feels that his forebears and his wife, Ruby, are
largely responsible for making him what he has become. His paternal grandfather,
Horton David Haight, was a pioneer of pioneers. Seven times he crossed
the plains to help immigrants; and he helped colonize southern Idaho and
organize a stake here. Elder Haight’s grandmother, Louisa Leavitt
Haight, was a counselor in the original Primary. His father, Hector Haight,
was a pioneer of culture and commerce in Oakley, Idaho, and for many years
a bishop there. David saw him in his roles of state senator, banker,
and bishop as a solver of people’s problems. David’s mother was the former
Clara Tuttle of Tooele, Utah. Her parents too were pioneers; they
settled in Tooele and helped build up the Church there (her father, Norton
Ray Tuttle, was Tooele’s first bishop). His mother taught him the lessons
of the gospel. He once said that he might have tried smoking like other
boys, but he never did because it would have hurt his mother.
There were eight children in the family, but they
were never all together in mortality. When David was six, his three-year-old
brother passed away; and when he was nine, his father, a sister, and a
brother all died within a year. Two years later his mother fell seriously
ill and remained so for many years. David and his sister Helen were the
oldest children living at home, and they managed the household. Helen did
all of the indoor work, including cooking and canning—she even took a year
off school when matters were particularly difficult. David fed and milked
the cows; took care of the chickens; planted, irrigated, and harvested
the large garden; stored the produce for the winter; kept up the yard;
and did the shopping. When their mother’s condition was serious, Helen
and David, along with a younger brother, Ludwig, spent sleepless nights
Although life was more work than play, there was
recreation—he loved the swimming hole. Once he rescued a small girl from
drowning in the canal. He had an Irish Setter, “King Tut,” that he loved;
he read with his family stirring pioneer stories of his own immediate ancestors;
he kept a chart in his room on his scouting progress; he won a prize—the
first scout uniform in Oakley—for having the cleanest yard in town; he
played the violin and organized a high school dance orchestra. When he
was twelve, he decided to try out the family Ford, but since he hadn’t
learned how to work the brake, he had to drive it around the block until
it ran out of gas.
It was after he had worked his way through college,
first at Albion State Normal School in Idaho and then at Utah State University,
that David met Ruby Olson. The minute he saw her he was so taken with her
that he tried, and failed, to get his date to introduce him to her. They
met when she applied for a job at a department store where he was interviewing
college girls for summer positions. Not surprisingly, he hired her. He
immediately asked her to have lunch, and that is how their courtship began.
Her closest friends say that she has always been
an unassuming and spiritual person. Elder Haight sees her as the anchor
of their home during the early years when he was spending much time in
business, often traveling. Their daughter, Karen, recalls, “She never criticized
Daddy, but always encouraged him. She used to say, ‘Don’t ever criticize
your husband as long as he is in the service of the Lord.’ Friends wondered
whether she felt neglected; ‘Her husband is always working in business
or in the Church,’ they would say. But her answer was that a woman could
have no greater joy than a husband lost in the service of the Lord; and
she never complained. She wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
This remarkable woman, his children, and his heritage
were in the forefront of David Haight’s mind during an ominous night over
the Pacific in 1943. He had made an impressive career for himself, rising
by his midthirties to a position of top management in Montgomery Ward,
then one of the largest retail chains in the United States. The Haights’
three children, Bruce, Robert, and Karen, had come into their family by
this time, and he adored them. He had accepted a commission in the Navy,
where he was to help design the logistics by which the fleets of the Pacific
were supplied during the war. (A naval historian has observed that the
United States’ secret weapon in the Pacific campaign was the efficiency
with which the materiel flowed into the battle zones.) One night he left
from San Francisco aboard an old Boeing clipper plane for a high-level
conference in Hawaii. He was assigned to sleep in the tail of the plane.
“I was where I could see the starboard engine through the window. It was
spewing so much fire that I thought the plane was on fire, which caused
me great concern. I wondered about my family, whether I would see them
again. As I lay awake through the night I prayed long. I made a commitment
to the Lord that if I got out of the war alive and back with my family,
the Church would always come first in my life. I shall always remember
that long, sleepless night. Before then it seemed to me that I didn’t have
my priorities in proper order. That night I reappraised my life and recommitted
myself to the Lord.”
In spite of the recognitions that came to him, he
kept those priorities straight. “A few years ago my wife and I sat in a
little room in the Los Angeles Temple,” he said in a recent talk. “Our
children were there—two with their eternal companions and the third kneeling
at the altar, holding the hand of his wife to be.” There had been times
in his boyhood when he had fancied himself a baseball hero, hitting a home
run to win the seventh and decisive game of the World Series, and thinking
that this would be the great moment of his life. “As I looked around that
room,” he said, “I thought, ‘David, you had your priorities all mixed up.
Being a hero in a worldly event isn’t the great moment of life. The great
moment is here, because all I have that is really important is in this
room. All of my children are committed to the Church.”
After the war, he received an important assignment
in a large business organization and took the family to Chicago. The impressions
he made on people in the business world by themselves add up to a sizable
story. Then in 1949 he was assigned to the San Francisco Bay area and returned
to Palo Alto, where they had lived before the war. He served in a bishopric
and then as an alternate member of the high council. It was from this position
that he was called to be the stake president. At that time, he gave up
his career with Montgomery Ward and acquired a retail business in Palo
"He was no narrow specialist as a stake president,”
Elder Thomas S. Monson of the Council
of the Twelve recalls. “All phases of Church government—priesthood quorums,
welfare, building construction, bishops’ training, genealogy, and so on—prospered
under his leadership. You could rely on him.” For twelve years he served
in this capacity and also became a community leader—president of the chamber
of commerce and of the Downtown Merchants Association; a member of the
boards of many corporations and civic agencies, including the Boy Scouts,
the Red Cross, the YMCA, the Palo Alto-Stanford Hospital and the Channing
House Retirement Center; and finally mayor of Palo Alto and a governor
of the San Francisco Bay Area Council of Mayors. He gave up all of this
when in 1963 President David O. McKay
called him to preside over what was then the Scottish Mission.
That mission demonstrated Elder Haight’s capacity to mold himself to
the demands of a new assignment. Like many of his generation, he had not
as a young man served a mission; and he discerned that he was unprepared
in other ways. “I had been an administrator and trainer,” he recalls. “My
scriptural study and contemplation had always been directed to the task
immediately at hand—a stake conference message, a training seminar, etc.
In the mission field I needed to add an important dimension—I needed to
rise early, shut out the things of the world, study the scriptures systematically
and with a prayerful heart, and give myself to meditation in an effort
to understand the Lord and the scriptures. How was I going to teach 200
missionaries to rely on the Lord? I knew I had to go to work. It brought
about a great change in my life.” He was fifty-seven years old, but as
anxious to learn as a little child.
He seems always to have been this way. Elder Boyd
K. Packer, a fellow member of the Council of the Twelve, paid this
tribute to him when Elder Haight was an Assistant to the Twelve: “He never
brings a problem asking for solution; he brings a suggested decision asking
for ratification.” “How did you learn that principle of administration?”
someone asked him. “I don’t
know,” he answered. “I have always thought about the person up ahead
of me. How would he want me to do it? He would prefer to have me plow the
ground and then bring him some alternative courses of action, rather than
have to replow it himself.”
Following his mission, Elder Haight seemed to increase
in this enterprising teachability as he proceeded from assignment to assignment—in
spite of the fact that he was passing the age at which some men retire.
He became director of development at BYU in 1966, served on the former
Church missionary committee and then as a Regional Representative of the
Twelve, and was sustained an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve in
April 1970. Among his assignments as an Assistant, he helped to supervise
some of the South American and Mexican missions, was appointed managing
director of the Church’s leadership committee, which was largely responsible
for the Bishops’ Training and Self-Help Guide, managing director of Teacher
Development, and managing director of Military Relations. When these functions
were consolidated in the Melchizedek Priesthood Department, Elder Haight
was made its managing director. Through all of this he responded with the
resilience of a young man. The Church was lengthening its stride, concentrating
more on priesthood principles than on the programs that were emphasized
when he was a stake president; nevertheless, he put himself in the vanguard
of those responding to the prophet’s voice. “There is urgency in this work,”
he says. “We must find ways to respond to the prophet’s challenge to stretch
ourselves for the task.”
“It has been inspirational to see my husband’s growth
in his prayers,” Sister Haight has said. “When he went on his mission they
increased in intensity. When he was called to be an Assistant to the Twelve,
I would listen to him pray and be amazed at how he would plead with the
Lord, wanting to do his work with his Spirit and wanting to do it in the
way that he would have it done. I’m the only one who gets to hear these
ever more fervent prayers. It is a great blessing to me.”
Perhaps it is because he is free from self-concern
that Elder Haight always remains composed. When he left the mayor’s position,
a Palo Alto Times editorial said of him, “Haight will be a hard man to
replace at the city’s helm. [He] has presided over some of the hottest
controversies in the city’s history. In the squabbles surrounding these
issues, Haight was one of the leading voices for compromise rather than
bitterness, for light rather than heat.” “I can’t understand your husband,”
one onlooker said. “He sits there with friction on both sides and keeps
cool. He sits there calmly and solves the problem in the way it should
be solved.” “He is quiet-spoken, even-keeled, never depressed, never unsteady,”
Elder Packer has observed. “He has yet to lose his temper, even a little,”
said Elder Monson, “and I have worked closely with him in very tense situations
Where there is conflict, none of the parties feels threatened or misused
with him in charge. He can pull differing views together and achieve consensus.”
Elder Haight’s mission secretary was asked what kind
of manager he is in a crisis. “He was so organized,” she responded, “that
I can’t remember a real crisis.” “If there were crises,” a mission assistant
said, “I think he and the Lord must have worked them out ahead of time.
He could be forceful, but he was never uncontrolled.”
The serenity of the Haights runs deep. They are walking
refutations of the popular idea that religious people are unfulfilled in
this life and consequently have a need to believe in an afterworld. “I
have never met a person more comfortable in the universe—more easy in the
harness—than David Haight,” said a university administrator after getting
to know him; “or one who more enjoys being alive.” “David and Ruby were
great for sitting around the fire,” recall Lund and Laura Johnson, two
of their lifetime friends. “They would prepare a barbecue for friends,
and afterward we would talk under the stars. They have that capacity for
relishing the present moment—they never ruin it by looking forward at what’s
about to happen or backward at what’s past.” “Daddy would often have only
a short time with the children,” says Robert, “but it was always quality,
fun time. He gives all of himself to you—you never get the feeling that
he’s thinking about something else.”
In California the family pastime was backpacking
in the High Sierras. “After the gospel and the family,” say the Johnsons,
who accompanied the Haights on some of those vacations, “David and Ruby
love their friends and the mountains best.” Elder Haight takes his grandchildren
to the mountain cabin, teaches them how to fish, cooks pork and beans and
hot dogs, tells them stories about Daniel Boone and Kickapoo Dan, and slides
off the cabin roof into the snow bank with them.
“He’s one of the most interesting conversationalists
you could ever meet,” observes Elder James
A. Cullimore, [former] Assistant to the Council of the Twelve; “the
kind of person you like to be around.” “He gets away to be with his family,”
says James M. Paramore, executive secretary of the Twelve, “but also, I
think, to meditate and to think things through. He gets things in perspective.
I think that’s why he is so at ease and unpretentious.”
There is a soft-spoken boldness in Elder Haight.
He approaches people with a sincere interest in them. He told a stewardess
on a plane who noticed his tie tac displaying the London Temple that if
she would accept the missionaries she could be married in one of the temples,
which would change her life. And she knew when he said it that, whatever
he was talking about, it was noble and dignified. She joined the Church
and Elder Haight performed her marriage in the temple.
Scotland was the scene of a success involving Elder
Haight, one that illustrates his confident and dignified way of spreading
the truth about the Church. When he first got there, Scottish ministers
were telling their congregations, “Don’t let these crewcut salesmen into
your homes; they’re here to steal away your daughters; they don’t believe
in Christ.” Every time a report of one of those sermons appeared in the
paper, Elder Haight had a news release prepared. It would say, in effect,
“David B. Haight, President of the Scottish Mission of The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints, states that the comments made by the Reverend
_______ of the _______ Church regarding the Mormons are untrue.” And then
would follow, in matter-of-fact terms, a point-by-point refutation of the
minister’s errors. These news releases were usually printed immediately.
“We took a positive approach to the problem,” Elder Haight remembers, “and
the charges soon came to an end.”
Another product of Elder Haight’s self-forgetful
dedication is his ability to blend efficiency with concern for people.
His one-time superior in business, William Rose, recalls that “he accomplished
everything through people. He valued what they had to give, and because
of that and his example, they were inspired to do their utmost for him.”
“He delegates a great deal,” says a former missionary assistant, “and though
he doesn’t look over your shoulder as you do your work, you know he will
always require an accounting from you.” “He never presides over a meeting
with an idea in mind that he wants rubber-stamped,” observes Elder Neal
A. Maxwell, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve; “he’s a listening leader
who is genuinely interested in your concerns and perspective. That is why
he can insist, in his quiet and courteous way, that everyone face the issues
and meet the problems head-on. He helps people to understand that they
can deal successfully with the issues if they’ll face them. He draws people;
he does not drive them.” Says Brother Paramore, “He never depreciates what
anyone has to offer, but at the same time he’s never overwhelmed by an
unexamined tide of opinion. He wants to study the facts, and in every assignment
is prepared. He wants to think everything out in his mind before making
a decision.” “Even on his way to officiate for an important occasion,”
says a lifelong friend, “people would stop him with their problems and
he would talk with them as if he had all the time in the world. You’re
never aware of his efficiency; you never feel that he’s hurried.”
The concern for people is not a mere administrative
technique. When Elder Haight and William Rose were conferring in Chicago,
they learned that Rose’s seven-year-old daughter had fallen seriously ill
in New York. She passed away before Rose arrived at home. “Dave Haight
was right there with us the next day, helping us through that difficult
period,” Rose remembers. “I’ll never forget that. He would do the same
today if I needed him.” Brother Rose is a member of the Church now—“and
without a doubt,” he says, “the greatest influence was Dave’s example.”
The record of people he and Sister Haight have quietly
helped may never be known; certainly Brother and Sister Haight do not speak
of it. Before there was a Stanford Branch, their Palo Alto home was a spiritual
survival center for Mormon students. “There are many young people all over
the country who were preserved in righteousness by the sanctuary of the
Haight home,” says Elder Marion D. Hanks, Assistant to the Council of the
Twelve. “They ate there, read there, even slept there, for the door was
always open to them. President Haight would invite people to come in and
talk with the students from early evening until midnight. He was fighting
for their lives.”
In the Scottish Mission a rebellious elder had decided to go home. President
Haight said, “I feel we have let you down. I’d like to know what it is
that is troubling you.” The elder talked out his problems for a long time.
Then there were tears in his eyes. President Haight told the missionary
that he could see how difficult things had been for him. And he forgave
him of all the mistakes he had made. Finally he said, “Elder, I feel impressed
to give you a very special assignment. There is an area up in the mission
to which we haven’t sent missionaries before. A woman has written wanting
to learn of the gospel. I want you to take a new missionary there. You’ll
be there without supervision and will report directly to me. I want you
to go because I trust you.” The elder reported that he became thoroughly
mixed up. “I can’t do it; I’m not worthy.” And President Haight said, “I
know you feel that way, but I trust you.” And then, said the elder, a change
came over him; he never knew that anyone could love him that much. As he
walked away from that interview he said to the mission staff, “I would
do anything for that man.” And from that time on, he did.
Listening to those closest to Elder Haight, one realizes
that it is for the Master’s sake that he has learned to lose himself. Elder
Haight spoke to the Church in the 1976 April general conference for the
first time as an apostle. (He was called to the Twelve on January 9, 1976.)
He had spoken many times from the Tabernacle pulpit, but now he spoke with
a special, compelling authority. This is a response from a Church member
who listened to conference over the radio. “If you read his sermon you
might think it was a talk that any thoughtful person could give. But in
the way he said it, you knew that what he said was sacred to him. He quoted
the words of a hymn, ‘I need thee; O I need thee! O bless me now my Savior;
I come to thee.’ He was coming to the Lord. He was devoting everything.
In terms of his own life, he showed me what it means to come to the
Lord by consecrating all your energy and even all your thoughts in
The preceeding sketch was written in 1976 on the occasion of Elder Haight's call to the Holy Apostleship.
Elder Haight died July 31, 2005, just 10 days after the death of another member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Neal A. Maxwell.
"Was his passing unexpected?" President Gordon B. Hinckley asked while speaking at the funeral of Elder David B. Haight, who lived longer than any apostle in this dispensation. President Hinckley then answered, "No, when one is almost 98 years of age you know that the end can be imminent. But oh, how we shall miss him. How we will miss his sound judgment, his wise and convincing observations. How we will miss his quick humor, and most of all his stirring testimony."
Also speaking at a funeral for one of their fellow apostles for the second time in nine days were President Hinckley's counselors, President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust, and President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve. Speaking on behalf of the family were Elder Haight's son Robert P. Haight and son-in-law, Elder Jon M. Huntsman Sr., an Area Authority Seventy.
In his address, President Hinckley gave perspective to the intimate and personal relationship he had with Elder David B. Haight as he described the "deep and somber feeling of loneliness" he felt at Elder Haight's passing.
"He was the eldest among us, and I felt I had an older brother to whom I could look. Now he is gone. I am left as the oldest by seven years among the Brethren. . . .
"I feel I have walked much with death in recent times. It has been an interesting and sanctifying experience," President Hinckley continued. "It has brought a new perspective on life. Somehow there comes an added dimension to Alma's phrase, 'the great plan of happiness.' "
President Hinckley recounted his association with Elder Haight during a crucial time in Elder Haight's life.
"In the early Sunday evening of Jan. 16, 1989," President Hinckley said, "I returned from a conference in Portland, Ore. The phone rang as I stepped in my home. It was a nurse at the LDS Hospital emergency room who said the paramedics had just brought him in. He was unconscious. I told her I would come. . . .
"(David) Sayer (of Church security) anointed him and I sealed the anointing. I do not remember all I said, but I felt impressed to bless him that his life would be spared, that he had work yet to do."
President Hinckley described how the doctors soon arrived and diagnosed a very serious aortic aneurism, saying that emergency surgery was required.
Four months later, in May, Elder Haight rejoined his brethren for their weekly meeting in the temple. President Hinckley said, "I hope that I am not stepping beyond the bounds of propriety in repeating a few of his words as they were recorded on that occasion. Said he: 'I am here as the result of the faith and your prayers in my behalf and the blessing of the Lord.
" 'I am grateful for the blessing I received from President Hinckley. I did not know about it until later as I had lapsed into unconsciousness. . . . I had the feeling of being in the presence of holy personages. I talked to them and pleaded with them. I was taught by vision or inspiration or revelation as a result of my pleadings,' " continued President Hinckley, quoting Elder Haight, who described scenes from the Savior's life, including the suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane.
President Hinckley said of Elder Haight's illness and experience, "That traumatic and remarkable event occurred 15 years ago. How marvelous has been his influence, how wonderful his work during those 15 years. He has traveled widely over the earth."
Turning his thoughts to Elder Haight's wife, Ruby, he said, "They have been a remarkable pair. Both lost their fathers when they were children. Each was reared by a mother of great faith and who made great sacrifices."
President Hinckley continued, "While David's testimony of this work was rock solid, there was nothing of self-righteousness or arrogance about the man. He recognized that each of the human family is a child of God, and that we are therefore all brothers and sisters. . . .
"David Haight was an apostle. He knew his place and his unique responsibility as one who testifies of the living reality of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was a disciple of the Master, inviting others to walk with him in the footsteps of the Redeemer of mankind. . . .
"And so David, my dear older brother and wise and kind and gentle friend, farewell for a season. May the Father of us all keep us strong in living in such a way that we who have known your association here may be worthy of that association in the life beyond."
Six months after the death of her beloved husband, Ruby Olson Haight followed him to the grave. President Gordon B. Hinckley and his counselors in the First Presidency — President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust — spoke at the funeral, as did Sister Haight's children — D. Bruce Haight Jr., Robert P. Haight and Karen Huntsman.
Granddaughters Christena Huntsman Durham, Kathleen Huntsman Huffman and Jennifer Huntsman Parkin, stood at the pulpit together and shared personal experiences that portrayed their feelings about Sister Haight and her character. Several dozen of Elder and Sister Haight's great-grandchildren sang "Lord, I would Follow Thee," and great-granddaughter Mary Anne Huntsman played "Beautiful Savior" on the piano accompanied by violinist Melissa Shipp.