Grampa Bill's General Authority Pages
Harold B. (Bingham) Lee

1899 - 1973

  • Born 1899 Clifton, Idaho
  • Baptized as a child; Aaronic Priesthood as a youth; Melchizedek Priesthood as a young man
  • Mission to Western States, 1920-1922
  • Married Fern Lucind Tanner 1923, Salt Lake Temple; two daughters
  • Ordained Apostle and called to Twelve 1941-1972
  • Married Freda Joan Jensen 1963
  • President of the Twelve 1970-1972
  • First Counselor in First Presidency 1970-1972
  • Eleventh President of the Church 1972-1973
  • Died 1973 Salt Lake City, Utah

    Harold Bingham Lee was born March 28, 1899 at Clifton, Idaho to Samuel Marion Lee and Louisa Emiline Bingham. He started school a year earlier than was the practice in his farming community because he could already write his name and knew the alphabet. As a young boy, he was large for his age, and when his friends were ordained to the priesthood, he became a deacon also, although he was technically not quite old enough for the honor.

    Growing up on a farm in southeastern Idaho taught Harold B. Lee many valuable character traits and provided experiences from which he would draw in his later life. He wrote, "We began to do chores shortly after daybreak so we could start with the day's work by sunup.When the day's work was finished we had yet to do our evening chores, usually by the aid of a lantern."

    As a boy, young Harold mastered many tasks, wrote his older brother, S. Perry Lee. "Harold graduated from riding the derrick horse that was used to lift the huge forkful of hay onto the growing hay stack, to pitching the hay onto the wagon from the cured haycocks. He also learned to mow and rake the ripened alfalfa and other fodder grasses. He became adept at driving the four-in-hand team that hauled the lumbering wagonload of sugarbeets to the loading dock."

    As a young boy, while gaining an appreciation for hard work, young Harold learned an even more important lesson. One day he had the urge to explore an old broken-down shed, but he heard a voice warning: "Harold, don't go over there." Elder Lee later recalled: "I looked about to see who was speaking my name. My father was way up at the other end of the field. He could not see what I was doing. There was no speaker in sight. Then I realized that someone that I could not see was warning me not to go over there. What was over there, I shall never know, but I learned early that there are those beyond our sight that could talk to us."

    After attending the Church-operated Oneida Stake Academy and the Albion State Normal School, he began his teaching career at age 17 in the small, rural one-room Silver Star School near Weston, Idaho. A year later he became principal of the district school, some of whose students were older than he was.

    Harold's interests were varied. While in school he had played basketball and participated in debates. He also played the trombone and piano in dance bands in and around his community.

    He was called to the Western States Mission in 1922, where he became a Conference President.  He completed a mission in the Western States Mission, and then moved to Salt Lake City. He soon began courting Fern Lucinda Tanner, a young woman of considerable talents. After a brief courtship, they were married Nov. 14, 1923, in the Salt Lake Temple. Two daughters, Maurine and Helen, were born to them.

    While working, he completed his college education by attending summer sessions at the University of Utah and by taking extension and home study courses. He became successively principal of two schools and then district manager of a library supplies company. In 1932 he was appointed a member of the Salt Lake City Commission with responsibility for streets and public properties.

    It was in his Church callings however that he would more fully serve his fellow man. He accepted several calls in his ward and stake culminating in his call as the Stake President of the Pioneer Stake in 1930. As his members struggled against the deprivations of the Great Depression, the stake developed a series of innovative projects to produce and preserve needed food and other supplies for the destitute. President Lee was also concerned about the social and recreational needs of his stake members. The stake constructed a gymnasium, using materials from a demolished business building, and then set up a stakewide budget plan to provide wholesome Church-sponsored activities for all, regardless of their financial status.

    It was because of this background that the First Presidency in 1935 called him to an interview to discuss what might be done for the multitude of members Churchwide who were suffering from the effects of the Great Depression. At that interview, they appointed Harold B. Lee to develop the Church's welfare plan.

    He sought inspiration through prayer to fulfill their charge. "As I kneeled down, my petition was, "What kind of an organization should be set up to accomplish what the presidency has assigned?' And there came to me on that glorious morning one of the most heavenly realizations of the power of the priesthood of God. It was as though something were saying to me, "There is no new organization necessary to take care of the needs of this people. All that is necessary is to put the priesthood of God to work. There is nothing else you need as a substitute.' "

    He became the originator of a series of projects called the Church "Security Program" that, the following year, became know as the Welfare Program. During the next several years he traveled widely, counseling with local leaders concerning the implementation of the welfare program. Thus, he was already widely known and respected when he received his next significant calling.

    Elder Lee was called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on April 6, 1941. He later related a sacred experience he had during the following week:

 "It was on the day or so following conference that President Stephen L Richards, who was then chairman of the Church radio and publicity committee, approached me and said, "Brother Lee, next Sunday is Easter, and we have decided to ask you to give the Sunday night radio talk, the Easter talk, on the resurrection of the Lord.
"And then he added, "You understand now, of course, that as a member of the Council of the Twelve, you are to be one of the special witnesses of the life and mission of the Savior and of that great event.' The most verwhelming of all the things that have happened to me was to begin to realize what a call into the Council of the Twelve meant.

    "During the days which followed, I locked myself in one of the rooms over in the Church Office Building, and there I read the story of the life of the Savior. As I read the events of His life, and particularly the events leading up to and of the crucifixion, and then of the resurrection, I discovered that something was happening to me. I was not just reading a story; it seemed actually as though I was living the events; and I was reading them with a reality the like of which I had never before experienced. And when, on the Sunday night following, after I had delivered my brief talk and then declared, simply, "As one of the humblest among you, I, too, know that these things are true, that Jesus died and was resurrected for the sins of the world," I was speaking from a full heart, because I had come to know that week, with a certainty which I never before had known."

    There was another dimension to Elder Lee's preparation. During the Great Depression he had learned empathy as he shared the suffering of those over whom he presided. Then, in 1962, he personally experienced deep sorrow as he lost his wife, Fern. Four years later his daughter Maureen, then the wife of Ernest J. Wilkins, died. In 1963 he married Freda Joan Jensen, an accomplished educator.

    Reflecting on the tragic experiences of losing loved ones and on the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Elder Lee concluded: "These thoughts now running through my mind begin to give greater meaning to some of the experiences in my life, things that have happened which have been difficult for me to understand. At times it seemed as though I, too, was like a rough stone rolling down from a high mountainside, being buffeted and polished, I suppose, by experiences, that I too might overcome and become a polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty."

    By 1970, he was concurrently presiding over the Quorum of the Twelve and serving as First Counselor to President Joseph Fielding Smith. What Elder Lee was being prepared for became obvious when President Joseph Fielding Smith passed away on July 2, 1972, and Elder Lee became the 11th president of the Church. At a press conference, he declared that the Church's greatest challenge was to keep up with the worldwide growth in its membership.

    President Lee declared on this occasion that his most important message to the Saints was that they should keep the commandments of God. "The safety of the Church lies in the members keeping the commandments. There is nothing more important that I could say. As they keep the commandments, blessings will come."Upon President Smith's death, he was sustained as the eleventh President of the Church in July 1972. He was the youngest serving president the Church had enjoyed in over forty years. Notwithstanding, his administration lasted only a year and a half. His sudden death on December 26, 1973, from cardiac and lung failure stunned the Church.

    President Lee's widow, Freda Joan Jensen Lee, followed him in death in 1980.


Bibliography
   Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.2, LEE, HAROLD B.
   Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.4, Appendix 1
   Prophets and Apostles of the Last Dispensation, Lawrence R. Flake, p.105
   2005 Church Almanac, p.55


Selected Discourses
Grampa Bill believes this to be the most complete listing available on the web of Harold B. Lee's talks. Please email the Grampa if you note any busted links, errors, or if you are aware of any Harold B. Lee talks not listed here but available on the web.

You will note that some are available only as text; some are available only in the MP3 format; while one is available in both text and MP3.

Talks marked with an asterisk (*) are not (to my knowledge) available anywhere else on the web. As a service, they have been copied onto this web site.
Come Boldly Unto the Throne of Grace *
Note: This is the address given by Elder Harold B. Lee in the General Conference in which he was called as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and sustained to the Council of the Twelve.
General Conference 6 April 1941  
Devotional BYU Fireside 3 October 1950 MP3
Cram For Life's Final Examination BYU Fireside 5 January 1954 MP3
By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them BYU Fireside 12 October 1954 MP3
Feet Shod with the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace BYU Fireside 9 November 1954 MP3
Faith BYU Fireside 28 June 1955 MP3
But Arise and Stand Upon Thy Feet BYU Fireside 7 February 1956 MP3
Prayer BYU Fireside 6 July 1956 MP3
Eye Hath Not Seen BYU Fireside 2 October 1956 MP3
I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked BYU Fireside 10 December 1958 MP3
Do the Right Things for the Right Reasons BYU Fireside 19 April 1961 MP3
Born of The Spirit BYU Fireside 26 June 1962 MP3
Be Ye Not Deceived BYU Fireside 4 May 1965 MP3
"The Iron Rod"
Note: This conference talk by Elder Harold B. Lee contains the famous line "A liberal in the Church is merely one who does not have a testimony."
    John W. Redelfs in his Zionsbest web site includes it as one of the 25 best talks of the latter-days.
General Conference 4 April 1971  
"May the Kingdom of God Go Forth" *
Note: This is the address given by President Harold B. Lee in the Solemn Assembly in which he was sustained as President of the Church.
General Conference October 1972  
"You Canít Have Me" New Era, March 1973, p.9  
Be Loyal to the Royal Within You BYU Fireside 11 September 1973 MP3
"Closing Remarks" *
Note: This is the last address given by President Harold B. Lee in General Conference prior to his death.
General Conference October 1974  


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