Baptized as a child; Aaronic Priesthood as a youth; Melchizedek Priesthood as a young man
Mission to Canada 1945
Married Colleen Hinckley; four children
Regional Representative of the Twelve 1967
Assistant to the Twelve 1974-1976
Presidency of the First Quorum of Seventy 1976-1981
Ordained Apostle and sustained to the Twelve 1981
Died 2004 Salt Lake City, Utah
In one of the most stirring invitations in all recorded
scripture, Moroni entreats us to “pray unto the Father with all the energy
of heart, that ye may be filled” with what Paul and Moroni considered the
greatest of the spiritual gifts—charity: “the pure love of Christ,” the
love that Christ himself had “for the children of men.” Moroni pleads with
us to understand that this gift is worth a lifelong quest, for “whoso is
found possessed of it … it shall be well with him.”
(Moro. 7:47-48; Ether 12:34.)
In the life of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, the long and
difficult search was fulfilled. And well it should be, since “no one
can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love, having
faith, hope, and charity.” (D&C 12:8.) Giving full due to his stature
as an educator, an administrator, a writer, and a political scientist,
it is the spiritual maturing of a charitable heart that best characterizes
the course of his personal development.
In the spring of 1920, eighteen-year-old Clarence
Maxwell moved with his parents from Bozeman, Montana, to Salt Lake City,
Utah. The Maxwells were not members of the Church. On a chilly January
morning two years later, Clarence met a young man about his age named George
Flinders while the two were waiting for a trolley car. After a brief conversation,
George invited Clarence to attend “Mutual” with him that evening in the
nearby Wandamere Ward chapel. Because the “young lady” Clarence had been
dating had recently sent word “via her mother” that “she was no longer
interested in me,” as Clarence later told the story, his evenings were
free. And so he went with George to Mutual, where the M-Men group he visited
promptly elected him class secretary, “it being the first of the year [and]
they were electing officers.”
Within a month, Clarence met Emma Ash at a ward Valentine’s
Day dance and “shortly thereafter commenced going steady with her.” He
joined the Church the following June, then married Emma in the Salt Lake
Temple after another few months. Three years later, on July 6, 1926, Emma
bore a son, whom they named Neal Ash Maxwell.
Over half a century later, Clarence wondered aloud
why his parents had decided to move to Utah and why in the course of one
year they had made four moves to different homes in Salt Lake, until finally
arriving in the Wandamere Ward. His feeling that God had directed these
events “was confirmed later when our son, Neal, was told in his patriarchal
blessing, ‘Your line of descent has been prepared beforehand.’ ”
On 6 April 1974 Elder Neal A. Maxwell stood before
a general conference of the Church, newly sustained as an Assistant to
the Twelve, to express appreciation “for humble parents who both told and
showed me that the gospel and Church are true.” Last October, Elder Maxwell
again stood before the membership of the Church to be sustained as a member
of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Neal Maxwell grew up in Salt Lake City with a boy’s
usual fears and aspirations. He loved athletics and developed early skill
as a basketball player. But by the time Neal entered Granite High School,
his friends had suddenly grown enough taller that he failed to make the
basketball team. By then he had also developed a serious case of acne,
the scars of which he still carries. By nature shy and sensitive,
Neal experienced additional social discomfort during his high school years.
His family home was very modest and he raised pigs as a 4-H project. His
work with the pigs occasionally made him the object of stinging remarks
from his friends. These minor bruises to his feelings as a young man would
later help bless him with a keen sense of empathy for others.
Neal’s first experience with the world of arts and
letters did little to bolster his shaky self-confidence. His high school
English teacher gave him a D minus. When he protested, she said, “Neal,
you are capable of doing A work. Until you do, you will continue to get
D minus.” Shocked into action, he responded with an intensity that led
to A’s in English and a job as coeditor of the school paper. More significantly,
he began an adventure with “the world of words” that was to become a great
source of satisfaction to him and service to others.
After two years with the army infantry, which included
fighting in 1945 on Okinawa, Elder Maxwell served a mission to Canada.
Helping maintain his sense of realism, the Maxwell children occasionally
remind their father that on his mission he baptized two people and excommunicated
four in one branch—for a net loss of two.
Neal majored in political science at the University
of Utah. He then worked in Washington, D.C., as a legislative assistant
to Utah Senator Wallace F. Bennett. In 1956 he returned to the University
of Utah, where he successively worked at a wide variety of faculty and
administrative jobs, from the public relations office to Dean of Students
to Executive Vice-President. During this time, he completed his M.S. in
political science and taught enough to be selected by a group of university
students as their favorite professor.
He also served as the bishop of a student ward. In
that role, he spent many hours counseling young people struggling with
both intellectual and behavioral problems. From these experiences, Bishop
Maxwell developed a resolve to help that has since borne valuable
fruit as he has counseled LDS students and scholars to grow in spiritual
as well as intellectual maturity.
During the latter part of his University of Utah
service, Brother Maxwell worked as the university’s liaison with the Utah
legislature. This association led to his being one of the prime movers
in establishing the Utah System of Higher Education, on whose board of
regents he now serves. He also represented the university in some of its
contacts with the leadership of the Church.
By the late 1960s, Neal Maxwell had become an articulate
and effective spokesman in Utah both for higher education and for the Church.
After serving on the YMMIA General Board and as a member of the Church’s
Leadership Committee, he was called in 1967 as one of the original Regional
Representatives of the Twelve. During this time he was associated on a
number of Church and civic matters with Elder Harold B. Lee, with whom he developed a relationship of mutual trust and thorough communication.
In early 1970, President David O. McKay
passed away, bringing to an end twenty years of illustrious leadership.
During the time of President McKay’s presidency, Church membership had
nearly tripled, from about one million to about three million. Large segments
of that growth came outside the United States and among the college-age
population. Growth and internationalization had quickly emerged as the
Church’s primary challenges as the decade of the 70s began.
President Harold B.
Lee became a counselor to President Joseph
Fielding Smith and then succeeded President Smith in 1972. President
Lee was thus a leading figure in a general reexamination by the Church
of its structure and its programs in the early 1970s. The educational system
of the Church came under President Lee’s searching scrutiny as part of
that process. It was a natural time to reexamine the future of Church education:
BYU had reached its enrollment ceiling of 25,000; Ernest L. Wilkinson,
who had been serving both as president of BYU and as chancellor of the
Church School System, had reached retirement age, as had other key figures
in the educational system; the seminaries and institutes were experiencing
enormous growth; and responding to the worldwide needs for education among
Church members loomed as a gigantic task.
The response of the First Presidency was to reestablish
the position of commissioner of education, a post that in earlier years
had been held by such leaders as David O. McKay and Adam S. Bennion. In June 1970, Neal A. Maxwell was appointed commissioner, with a charge to
breathe new vitality, vision, and organizational unity into the far-flung
educational interests of the Church.
Neal Maxwell not only enjoyed the confidence of the
First Presidency and the Church Board of Education—he was also known and
respected in the Church’s educational community. As commissioner of education,
he quickly established himself as something of an interpreter between that
community and the leadership of the Church, thereby enabling a fresh surge
of confidence to flow both ways between the two groups. New leaders were
appointed within the first ten months of Commissioner Maxwell’s administration,
not only for BYU, but also for Ricks College, BYU—Hawaii, and the Church
seminaries, institutes, and schools.
After the death of President Harold B. Lee in December
1973, Commissioner Maxwell was called as an Assistant to the Twelve in
1974. In 1976, the First Presidency created an enlarged Correlation Department
at Church headquarters, which had the delicate but vital responsibility
of assisting the Council of the Twelve to coordinate and evaluate all programs
of the Church. Elder Maxwell was assigned to be the first managing director
of the new department. Shortly thereafter, he was relieved of his duties
in the Church Educational System to devote full time to ecclesiastical
matters. When the First Quorum of the Seventy was organized in October
1976, Elder Maxwell was called as one of the Quorum’s seven presidents.
He served there until his
call as a member of the Council of the Twelve in July 1981.
I was sitting in the congregation at the Tabernacle
when Elder Maxwell gave one of his first general conference talks. His
speaking style was so provocative that it left the brethren among whom
I sat visibly breathless. They were not accustomed to such phrases as “The
living of one protective principle of the gospel is better than a thousand
compensatory governmental programs—which are, so often, like ‘straightening
deck chairs on the Titanic.’ ” Or, “Hearts ‘set so much upon the things
of this world’ are hearts so set they must first be broken.”
Elder Maxwell’s public addresses and his thirteen
books on Church themes are nearly all laced with verbal imagery, metaphors,
and alliteration. These poetic devices and his sense of the well-turned
phrase often make his language closer to poetry than to prose. For instance,
“Let us have integrity and not write checks with our tongues which our
conduct cannot cash.” Consider also: “The home lies at the headwaters of
the stream of civilization and we must keep it happy and pure” rather than
putting all our efforts into reducing the “downstream pollution.” The LDS
educators who heard him will always remember his thoughtful response to
the issue of balancing one’s Church and professional interests: “The LDS
scholar has his citizenship in the Kingdom, but carries his passport into
the professional world—not the other way around.”
In his first general conference talk, Elder Maxwell
spoke of his “endless appreciation to Jesus Christ for his atonement, realizing
that included in the awful arithmetic of that atonement are my sins.” He
also reflected his early awareness of what it would mean to be a General
Authority by quoting a comment from Elder Richard
L. Evans, “who, one day on the way to another plane and another weekend
of conferences, said gently, ‘Have you ever gotten homesick on the way
to the airport?’ ”
(Ensign, May 1974, p. 112.)
In a later conference talk paying tribute to the
women of the Church, he spoke to those who “rock a sobbing child without
wondering if today’s world is passing you by, because you know you hold
tomorrow tightly in your arms.”
(Ensign, May 1978, p. 16.)
One of his conference talks was addressed to those
who “fully intend, someday, to begin to believe and/or to be active in
the Church. But not yet!” In his tender but piercing invitation, Elder
Maxwell said: “If, however, you really do not wish to commit now,” then
let me warn of the following: “Do not look too deeply into the eyes
of the pleasure-seekers about you, for if you do, you will see a certain
sadness in sensuality, and you will hear artificiality in the laughter
“Do not look too deeply, either, into the motives
of those who deny God, for you may notice their doubts of doubt. …
“Do not think too much about what you are teaching
your family, for what in you is merely casualness about Christianity may,
in your children, become hostility; for what you have not defended, your
children may reject angrily.
“Do not think, either, about the doctrine that you
are a child of God, for if you do, it will be the beginning of belonging.
“Joshua didn’t say choose you next year whom you
will serve; he spoke of ‘this day,’ while there is still daylight and before
the darkness becomes more and more normal.” (Ensign, Nov. 1974,
Elder Maxwell’s tendency to compress meaning and
feeling into compact verbal images reflects a mental quickness that expresses
itself in other ways. Ken Gardner, chairman of the Board of Regents in
the Utah higher education system, says he has never known anyone as prompt
as Neal Maxwell to return phone calls, answer letters, or follow up on
assignments. This responsiveness—combined with his judgment and his native
intelligence—have made it easy for the Regents, the Presidency of the First
Quorum of the Seventy, and other groups to look to him both as a thoughtful
leader and as a reliable colleague who does his homework.
With some of these qualities in mind, former NASA
director and former University of Utah president James Fletcher (for whom
Elder Maxwell worked several years) considers him one of the most competent
administrators he has known. In addition, even in such detail work as budgets
or the statistics in the correlation evaluation report, he retains a broad
“strategic” perspective that is awake to the broad implications of the
issue at hand. When a staff aide makes a report to him, Elder Maxwell is
usually asking questions within the first few minutes of the report about
the “bottom line” implications he detects. He is so well read and alert
that his son, Cory, cannot remember ever having surprised his father with
a question. In addition, Cory recalls as a youth he didn’t use a dictionary
very well because it was so easy to ask his dad the meaning of any word
Even though Elder Maxwell may be best known among
the general membership of the Church for his distinctive use of language,
a closer look, even at his sermons, reveals a more substantive dimension.
His conference talk addressed to inactive members carries between its eloquent
lines a sense of empathy for the inactive person that is as kind as it
is disarming. It shows that he understands them. His conference talk to
the women of the Church similarly reflects an honest sensitivity to the
questions and needs of contemporary LDS women. It shows that he understands
them. His entire experience with those in the academic community shows
not only that he understands them, but that he is open, approachable, and
neither threatening nor threatened by the most difficult concerns of both
LDS and non-LDS scholars. His experience with the political community has
also built bridges of trust and communication that make it very natural
for political leaders in both parties, in Utah and elsewhere, to know that
in Neal Maxwell they have an understanding ear.
As he talks and writes to active Church members,
Elder Maxwell’s innate sense of empathy is apparent. One of his oft-repeated
themes is to reassure “those buffeted by false insecurity.
His understanding of the very human needs of new
converts was demonstrated by a conference talk entitled “The Net Gathers
of Every Kind” (Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 14), in which he said: “If
with quiet heroism they can make their way across the border into belief,
surely we can cross a crowded foyer to extend the hand of fellowship.”
Not surprisingly, the members of Elder Maxwell’s
family have also been blessed by his sensitivity. He has always been good
to do with his children the things they hoped he would, from reading with
them to playing games and taking regular family vacations. Even with all
the children married, it is still a Maxwell family tradition to spend some
vacation time together each year. At these outings, Elder Maxwell continues
to be the family tennis champion—against what is reported to be some very
stiff competition. He also has lunch regularly with his son and sons-in-law
and participates in a longstanding gospel study group with his parents’
As a father, Neal Maxwell has understood Elder Marvin
J. Ashton’s observation that a twelve-year-old boy doesn’t so much
want you to say you love him—he just wants you to play football with him.
But in addition, one of the Maxwell children recalls the evening when her
father sat down with her for a quiet, personal talk in which Elder Maxwell
in love and simple language bore his testimony. She also recalls with some
tenderness the times her father has given her father’s blessings. Another
remembers when his father called him from a distant city to ask such perceptive
questions and to give such needed counsel that the influence of inspiration
Elder Maxwell’s family are also among his most trusted
reviewers when he needs advice on an early draft of a book or a speech.
Because of the high level of mutual trust, family members have been respectful
but straightforward in trying to help. Though they appreciate their father’s
speaking style, they do not hesitate to remind him occasionally that when
he first proposed marriage to Sister Maxwell, he used such big words and
talked so fast that she was not completely sure she understood him.
Other personal moments in Elder Maxwell’s relationships
with people illustrate the way his genuine concern for the needs of others
touches and blesses individual lives. There is the father, moved that one
of the Brethren would be anxious to put the name of a terribly sick five-year-old
on a special prayer roll; the well-educated new convert, surprised at a
special dinner in his honor at the Maxwell home; the state legislator,
worrying if he dare even broach a vexing church-and-state problem, reassured
with both candor and confidentiality that he has been heard and understood;
the talented single woman with serious professional aspirations, wondering
where she fits in a family-oriented Church, encouraged beyond her expectations
by the counsel of one who truly appreciates those who “make wise career
choices even though they cannot now have the most choice career.”
The educated may think he is approachable because
he is an educator; the new converts and those interested in social issues
may sense in him a special interest in their concerns; the political leaders
may think he understands their world because of his background in it; his
family may feel he is an unusually devoted father; and in a sense they
are all correct. But cutting through all the dimensions of Neal Maxwell’s
broad range of interests is a core quality of empathy that consistently
manifests itself, regardless of other personalities or subject matter.
With the abundant help of Heaven, he has developed the spiritual gift of
an understanding heart—the gift of charity.
One reason for Elder Maxwell’s personal sensitivity
is the example of his wife, Colleen Hinckley Maxwell. He has often said
that he “married up, spiritually.” Sister Maxwell is innately alert to
the hopes, the concerns, and the feelings of others—totally without regard
to their role or status. The Maxwells have four children, all of whom are
now married: Becky, Cory, Nancy, and Jane. One of the children remembers
that their mother’s charitable instincts were deep and constant. She is
a wonderful cook, but so often the smell of fresh bread in the kitchen
after school would come from loaves baked to be given to someone else.
Sunday dinner was seldom for the family alone, as those in need of friendship
were always invited in. “She has always championed the underdog,” says
The home in which Elder Maxwell grew up wa s blessed
with a similar atmosphere. His mother and father were always looking out
for their neighbors. After his mission, it was common for converts and
others from his mission field to be invited into the Maxwell home almost
as members of the family. Elder Maxwell describes his parents and his wife
as being among that “critical mass of decent people” who hold neighborhoods
together—“seemingly ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” One of
his sisters has also worked as a public school teacher despite being legally
blind. His admiration and appreciation for her have added to his ability
to sense others’ needs and viewpoints.
Elder Maxwell has been touched by the example of
President Spencer W. Kimball. “Part of what makes President Kimball so
special,” observes Elder Maxwell, “is that he has no idea how special he
really is.” He recalls the time President Kimball was in the hospital as
a patient, when the nurses kept having to go find him in other rooms—where
he had gone “to visit the sick.” Watching President Kimball has inspired
Elder Maxwell to spend more time consoling those confined to hospitals.
Elder Maxwell has also been stirred by President Kimball’s great sense
of selfless obligation to the Lord, His people, and His work.
He has also enjoyed the subtle humor in President
Kimball’s counsel. On one occasion, President Kimball spoke for the First
Presidency in giving a certain difficult assignment to Elder Maxwell and
to Elder James E. Faust. Elder Maxwell responded, “President Kimball—surely
you can find better men than the two of us for such a challenging task.”
With a gentle smile, President Kimball replied, “Well, while we’re looking for
two better men, would you two mind going ahead with the job?”
There is now a sense of theological significance
in the feelings that have grown inside Elder Maxwell over the years about
reaching out to others. He watches President Kimball spend and respend
his energy, somehow completely unconcerned about his own needs. He remembers
that President Harold B. Lee once recalled a spiritual experience through
which he became aware that, as an Apostle, it was his duty to learn to
love every person on the face of the earth. And then he reads 2 Nephi 31:20:
“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having
a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.” The message
is overwhelming. But for Elder Neal A. Maxwell, the message of charity
resonates into the very core of his soul. He has long nourished an inborn
sense of compassion, but now finds it everlastingly expanded by the call
of the holy Apostleship.
Neal Maxwell was not called to this sacred service
merely because of his intellect or administrative skill. These things are
helpful, but when it comes time to fill a vacancy among the Twelve, the
inquiry is of a spiritual order: “Wherefore of these men which have companied
with us … must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.
… And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all
men, shew whether … thou has chosen, that he may take part of this ministry
and apostleship.” (Acts 1:21-25.)
Several years before the present-day prophets and
Apostles had undertaken this same search to fill the vacancy in the Twelve
created by the call of Elder Gordon B. Hinckley to serve in the First Presidency,
Elder Maxwell had made clear his own priorities: “My testimony,” he wrote
in 1975, “came in three ways: early in life came the witness of the Spirit,
then the intellectual conversion, and then the experiential conversion.
… The witness of the Spirit is more sure, but the other witnesses corroborate
increasingly the relevancy of the gospel for our time.”
There have been impressive flashes along the path
of Neal Maxwell’s life. But more important is the fundamental direction
that path has taken—in the quiet shadows, the turns, the forks in the road;
in sunshine and in shade, with quick footsteps and slow—he has become a
worthy vessel to receive true charity—“this love, which he hath bestowed
upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.” (Moro. 7:48.)
After battling leukemia since 1996. Elder Maxwell passed
from this life on July 21, 2004, beloved by all who knew him and well respected
even by those who did not.
Soft strains of the prelude hymn "Each Life That Touches Ours for Good" emanated from the organ as a congregation filled the Salt Lake Tabernacle July 27 to honor Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve, whose life and words had touched and edified millions.
Elder Maxwell, 78, died July 21 after an eight-year affliction with malignant leukemia. All three members of the First Presidency spoke at the service as did President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, and Cory Hinckley Maxwell, son of Elder Maxwell and his wife, Colleen. Elders Russell M. Nelson and Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve offered prayers. The Tabernacle Choir performed "O Divine Redeemer," "Come unto Him" and "Be Still My Soul," apt summations for a man who pursued a lifelong course of discipleship.
"It is an interesting fact of history that Brother Maxwell died on the anniversary of his call to the apostleship," mused President Gordon B. Hinckley in his address. "The vacancy in the Council of the Twelve which he filled was occasioned by my call to serve as a counselor to President Spencer W. Kimball. It is a strange thing that I should be conducting his funeral service 23 years later. Such are the restless tides of death and life in man's eternal journey."
President Hinckley said he knows of no other man of whom so much good might be said.
"Elder Neal A. Maxwell: An Understanding Heart," The Ensign, February 1982, p.6
"Apostle's work continues beyond the veil," Church News Archives, July 31, 2004 2005 Church Almanac, 67
Selected Discourses and Writings
Grampa Bill believes this to be the most complete listing available free on the web of Neal A/ Maxwell's talks and articles. Please email the Grampa if you note any busted links, errors, or if you are aware of any Neal A. Maxwell talks or articles not listed here but available on the web.
You will note that some are available only as text; some are available only in an audio (ASX, MP3, or WMA) format; while still others are available in both text and audio formats.