The following biographical sketch "Bishop H. Burke
Peterson" By Norman R. Bowen is from The Ensign, July 1972 shortly
after Elder Peterson was called a s First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric.
Study and prayer are two key elements in the life
of H. Burke Peterson.
"I was reading my patriarchal blessing one day when
I was almost thirty years old,” the new first counselor in the Presiding
Bishopric said. “And one of the things it said was to seek to learn the
will of the Lord in all things, and then will success come.
“I had served in many capacities in the Church and
had hoped four different times to be called on a stake mission, and every
time I had been given another assignment. I had suggested a mission call
because I wanted an easy way to study the gospel. It
never came that way, so finally I decided I was going to study the
scriptures every morning of my life, and I have ever since then, for fifteen
to thirty minutes.
“This is where the difference came. It seemed like
almost instantaneously that when I decided to start to study the gospel
daily, I began to have an abundance of successful experiences. Blessings
just opened up. So when you talk about a milestone, that was really my
Bishop Peterson's charming brunette wife, Brookie,
added that the entire family has benefited from Bishop Peterson's desire
to study the scriptures.
“For years now, we've gathered in the morning—the
entire family—for family prayer and to study the scriptures. We meet at
6:15 A.M. for at least twenty minutes. Then the children are off to seminary
by 7:00,” she said.
Bishop Peterson and his wife have been blessed with
five daughters. The oldest, Gayle, 24, is now Mrs. Bill Steele, and she
and her husband have presented the Petersons with their first two grandchildren.
Sherrie, 21, has completed two years of
college, while Robin, 18, graduated this year from high school. Jana,
14, recently graduated from the eighth grade, and Keri, 6, has just completed
“We've learned one thing,” Bishop Peterson added,
“something my wife has said many times: when we give time to the children,
we should make it meaningful. Even if I have only five minutes, I can still
give concentrated attention to one of them. I often throw my arms around
our six-year-old and tell her, ‘You're the cutest, sweetest little girl,
and I love you more than any other six-year-old in the whole world.’ And
she believes that—and, of course, I believe it.
“You can do a lot of things when you feel the right
way about people. We have tried to instill a feeling of love and security
in each of our girls, and still have a lot of fun. We have discovered that
if one of us is especially happy when we are together, then the rest kind
of get the spirit of it. This is not easy, I might add. But they all contribute.
One of them, for example, once said, ‘Times are trying, Dad—why aren't
you?’ We've put that on the family bulletin board.”
The Petersons also are strong supporters of family
“We started our family home evenings more than twenty
years ago when our first daughter was two,” said Sister Peterson, “and
we've enjoyed regular family get-togethers since.”
One twist especially enjoyed by the Petersons is
the “family night fantom.” This involves preparing a surprise—a tray of
cookies, or a cake, for example—for another family and leaving it surreptitiously
on their doorstep after ringing the doorbell. The gift is anonymous, signed
only “Family Night Fantom.”
Mrs. Peterson says two other traits of her husband
especially endear him to their children. “He never puts them off, never
says he’s too busy when they have a problem,” she said. “And he never forgets
them when they are away from home. He
usually sends them short letters or cards two or three times a week,
even if the card says only ‘We love you. We miss you. Dad.’ ”
Bishop Peterson met his wife-to-be at the University
of Arizona at Tucson. She was born in Tucson, a daughter of Louis S. and
Winnafred Bellamy Cardon. The family later moved to Colorado, where her
father now serves as patriarch of the Grand
Junction Stake. She met her future husband at the institute of religion.
“My roommate pointed him out to me in church one
Sunday. I liked his looks, his general appearance, and what I heard about
him. I asked the institute director and several of my friends if I should
ask him to the girls’ Halloween dance even if I didn't know him. They all
told me no, but I asked him anyway,” she said.
Bishop Peterson added, “I felt we should be better
acquainted before we went to the dance, so I asked her to a movie first,
and that is how it started.” They became engaged two months later and were
married six months after that, on June 27, 1947, in the Arizona Temple.
Sister Peterson has been a faithful and untiring
worker in the Church, having served as a teacher in the Primary, the YWMIA,
and the Relief Society, as president of Primary and MIA, and in an MIA
stake presidency. Her major interest now is genealogy.
Despite the increasing Church responsibilities, the
Petersons have managed to continue their courtship.
“For a long time now,” she confided, “he has remembered
to put my name regularly in his appointment book for our date well ahead
of time. One night a week, at least. We enjoy doing simple things together,
like a quiet ride or a dinner, going someplace where we can talk.”
The Petersons are looking forward to moving to Bountiful,
Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, this summer and getting settled in a
new home, despite the fact that they just moved into their new Phoenix
home last December. “Leaving the new home bothered me for only half a day,”
Sister Peterson confided. “After twenty-five years in Phoenix, we'll miss
it and our families and friends, but we know we'll love Utah.”
Bishop Peterson credits his parents with setting
the example that provides much of his motivation in life. He was born in
Salt Lake City on September 19, 1923, the oldest of four sons of Harold
Antone and Juna Tye Peterson. The family lived in Phoenix, but his mother
returned to Salt Lake City for Burke’s birth so she could be with her mother.
His father is now deceased. His mother, now Mrs. Blaine Alexander, resides
After graduating from high school in Phoenix, Burke
attended Phoenix College for two years and then joined the U.S. Navy in
1942. He completed a two-year civil engineering course at the University
of Oklahoma in sixteen months and was
commissioned an ensign in the Navy Engineer Corps (Seabees). Then he
went overseas for two years, serving in the Pacific campaign: Eniwetok,
Ulithi, Guam, Okinawa, helping to build airports, dock facilities, and
roads, sometimes despite the
active opposition of the Japanese armed forces.
World War II over, he returned home in June 1946
and entered the University of Arizona to get his bachelor's degree. A little
more than a year later he had the degree—and his eternal companion. He
had planned to go on for his master's degree
and was headed for Stanford University when he received a telegram
from Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University), offering
him a teaching job while he earned his degree; having a wife now to support,
he decided to go where the job was.
After graduating from USU, he accepted a position
with the Federal Soil Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
He was sent back to Phoenix to specialize in irrigation research and remained
with the USDA for four years.
In 1952 he left the government service to take a
job with a grain storage facility in Mesa, Arizona. Then in 1955, two of
his Church colleagues asked him to join them in forming a civil engineering
firm. The three partners organized the Engineering
Corporation of America in 1955, specializing in designing highways,
structures, water systems, sewer systems, and airports, mostly for municipal
and governmental agencies.
Bishop Peterson demonstrated leadership potential
early in life. He served as president of his deacons and teachers quorums
and was an Eagle Scout and Master M Man. His first Church job was as ward
Explorer leader. He later served as ward YMMIA superintendent, stake YMMIA
superintendent, elders quorum president in two wards,
and counselor in a bishopric.
In 1959 he was called to be bishop of the Phoenix
Eighth Ward, serving for six years before being called to be president
of the Phoenix North Stake in 1965. After five years as stake president,
he was named a Regional Representative of the Twelve in 1970, working with
the Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe regions. He was serving in this position when
he was called by the First Presidency on April 6, 1972, to serve as first
counselor to Bishop Victor L. Brown in the new Presiding Bishopric.
“Burke has been especially faithful to the Church,”
Mrs. Peterson said. “He has never questioned any call or any program. His
support of the Church and its leaders has always been immediate and absolute.
I've never seen him express anything but enthusiasm about any Church program.”
Bishop Peterson's main interests are his family,
his church, and his work, single-mindedness that enables him to excel in
leadership. “My parents taught me how important the family, the Church,
and work are,” Bishop Peterson explains. “Dad was
a perfectionist—a cabinet-maker of Swedish ancestry. He felt that when
you do anything for the Lord, you don't do anything but the best.
“Dad always showed us respect for Mother. We knew
he loved us because he showed us how much he loved her. This kind of thing,
of course, goes deep. And we never left home in the morning, we four boys,
but what Father gathered us around for family prayer.”
Prayer is central to Bishop Peterson's thinking,
because he believes it is the avenue through which the individual develops
his own relationship with his Father in heaven.
“I've always thought, and I always will,” he affirms,
“that the center of this relationship to the Lord is learning to pray.
With all our problems that surround us, if we haven't learned the central
one—of talking to the Lord—we just hit and miss in solving these others.
But if we have this one, we can pick out the others and solve them.
“And so when I really want to work with people, I
plead with them to pray and try to teach them how. And I've been amazed
in my visits with people to see how many really don't know how to talk
to the Lord—really don't know how to pray.
“If I could tell youth about praying and listening,
I would first tell them to go where they could be alone with the Lord.
And then I would tell them this: When you kneel and before you start, think.
Try to get in your mind's eye whom you are praying to. Try to picture our
Father in heaven in some way. If no other way, think of the Savior, whom
we have seen pictures of, and then try to expand this to the Father. And
then, after you think of him there and you see him there, just start to
talk to him. Address him as though he were right there, and as you do that,
start talking about the things on your mind.
“Pray vocally, out loud. If you want a real treat,
when you pray, tell the Lord out loud that you love him. That makes a believer
out of you, because nobody is listening except him.
“I hope our youth can learn to wait on him. I try
to arrange my time so that when I've talked to him, I just kind of thank
him and say ‘Amen’ and kneel there and wait. When you get that warm, consuming
feeling, you know he’s there. When we can learn to do this, any problem
that crosses our path on this earth can be solved; we can get the answer
we need or the feeling that it's going to be all right.
“If you want to know what has been my prime theme
in working with others, it's that. I don't think you can really do anything
until you learn to pray.”
In 1985, Elder Peterson was called to the First Quorum
of the Seventy and named President of the Jordan River Temple. He was named
an Emeritus General Authority on October 2, 1993.
Elder H. Burke Peterson, emeritus general authority in
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and longtime counselor in
the church's Presiding Bishopric, died April 14 in his family home in Bountiful,
Utah. He was 89 years old.
Elder Peterson's death came four months after the death
of his wife of 65 years, Brookie.