He married Emma Marr McDonald. The couple had
Elder Petersen was a newspaper editor. He became
editor of the Deseret News in 1946 after working as a reporter, news editor,
and manager. He wrote editorials for the Church News, a weekly supplement,
until his death in January 1984.
He was sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
and ordained an Apostle April 20, 1944 at the age of forty-four, by President
Heber J. Grant. On June 1, 1959, Mark E. Petersen dedicated Taiwan to the
preaching of the gospel, reinvoking Elder McKay's 1921 dedication of the
entire Chinese realm. To date, Elder Petersen is the only General Authority
who has written a book on Isaiah, Isaiah for Today (Salt Lake City,
1981). His purpose was to help a nonscholarly LDS audience relate Isaiah's
prophecies to present-day events. Elder Petersen served in the Council
of the Twelve with honor and distinction until his death January 11, 1984
at Salt Lake City, Utah.
“Here and there, and now and then, God makes a giant
among men.” Such a giant among men was Elder Mark E. Petersen, a member
of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, who passed away 11 January 1984.
He personified righteousness, he
exemplified industry, he demonstrated love. How he will be missed in
Few men are given the opportunity to influence the
Church in the manner Elder Mark E. Petersen influenced it for nearly forty
years as one of the Lord’s special witnesses.
His was a pen of spiritual power. Mark Petersen combined
an insightful mind with a faith-filled heart to work wonders with his words.
His style was distinctively his own. The many years he worked as a reporter
and editor showed in the crispness of his sentences, the probing and succinct
questions which punctuated his messages, and the conclusions of his appeals
which invariably penetrated the heart of the reader and prompted a determination
to come closer to Christ.
With rare exceptions, he has written every editorial
for the Church News during its fifty-three years. This publication is now
distributed around the world. During World War II, for over four years
he personally did almost all the writing and editing for a
twelve-page monthly servicemen’s Church News.
The persuasive style of Mark Petersen’s pen is readily
identified in the widely used missionary tracts entitled Which Church Is
Right? and After Baptism, What? Who can determine the multitude of converts
to the Church who readily acknowledge the
impact for good these messages have had in their lives?
Significant and characteristic it is that the author’s
name does not appear on the pamphlet After Baptism, What? It was only through
“friendly persuasion” that the name of Mark E. Petersen appears in Which
Church Is Right? Only the thought that
many would wish to know the source of the overwhelming evidence discussed
in this message persuaded the author to depart from his traditional preference
During his service in the Council of the Twelve,
Elder Petersen has authored more than forty books, primarily on gospel
themes—one for each year he served. In addition, he, with his beloved wife
Emma Marr Petersen, coauthored a number of titles which found popular appeal
and wide distribution. To this array could be added dozens of pamphlets,
scores of articles, and hundreds of messages, all written to foster faith.
To match the persuasion of his written words, Mark
E. Petersen was endowed with a rich and resonant baritone voice with which
he proclaimed the word of God at home and abroad all the days of his life.
He was a man of courage, a man of faith, a man of ability, a man of service,
a man of love, a man of God. Indeed, Mark E. Petersen was “a man for all
His preparation came in the home of quiet, frugal,
hard-working parents, both of whom had been born in Denmark and who came
to America in the first century of the Church in compliance with the call
to come and build Zion. Mark’s father, Christian
Petersen, came as a youth with his parents; his mother, Christine Anderson,
came at age sixteen with a brother. In time, the two met, married, and
reared five children: two daughters and three sons, Mark being the youngest
son, with Christian Petersen, Jr.,
and Claude B. Petersen his brothers, and Mrs. Frank H. (Mona) Smith
(Mark’s twin) and Mrs. Cortland P. (Phoebe) Starr his two sisters.
The family lived in a humble home located across
the street from the present Welfare Square in Salt Lake City. Later, when
Mark was sixteen, the family moved to a new home built by father and sons.
His father, a carpenter and builder, worked with his boys, teaching them
skills that Mark loved throughout his life.
Mark mentioned to several of his associates in the
Twelve that he, as a boy, sang the song written by Evan Stephens, “I Am
a Mormon Boy.” He often quoted the words:
A “Mormon” boy, a “Mormon” boy,
I am a “Mormon” boy;
I might be envied by a king,
For I am a “Mormon” boy.
My father was a “Mormon” true,
And when I am a man,
I want to be like him and do
Just all the good I can.
Mark revealed that his father was his Sunday School
teacher and, a little later, the instructor of the deacons quorum of which
Mark was a member. He then confided, “I used to honor him as I sang this
song. I also remembered my Heavenly Father, and the command which the Savior
gave us to strive to become like Him. Then, as I would sing this song,
not only would I have gratitude for my earthly father but for my Heavenly
Father also, and I would sing, ‘I want to be like him and do just all the
good I can.’ ”
Our Heavenly Father must have heard that prayer,
voiced in song by Mark the boy, for he most certainly honored Mark the
Once, when Mark was about ten, Elder Heber J. Grant
of the Council of the Twelve spoke in sacrament meeting in Mark’s ward.
So impressed was young Mark by Elder Grant’s words about the Book of Mormon
and about the young boy Nephi that he took his father’s Book of Mormon
and read for himself the story of Nephi. Mark said that his deep love for
the Book of Mormon began with that experience.
During his youth, Mark served in priesthood and auxiliary
callings, helped his father build, and then became a newspaper carrier—a
harbinger of a career which took him to the pinnacle of professional journalism.
After graduation from high school, Mark entered the University of Utah
“to be an engineer. My father built homes—but he wanted to build bigger
things, and so he decided that I would be an engineer and plan the things
he would build. It was not to
be; I decided to be a teacher of English and history.”
A teacher, then, he would be—but a teacher of a different
sort. Two months after his nineteenth birthday, he set out on his first
major teaching assignment, that of a missionary to Canada, where he served
in Nova Scotia. Many years later, in August of
1960, Mark took special delight and personal pride in receiving the
assignment to preside at the creation of the first stake in Eastern Canada—the
Toronto Stake. This was the 300th stake of the Church and a benchmark for
growth. More than 94
percent of the stake membership attended the organizational meetings.
The members were pleased that a Canadian missionary had returned home for
such an historic event.
The highlight of his post-mission life was accepting
a call to serve as ward chorister. The choir accompanist was a gifted,
vivacious, dark-haired girl named Emma Marr McDonald, whose family roots
went back to Scotland.
The ward choir romance blossomed and was, said President
Gordon B. Hinckley, who was a youth in the ward
at the time, “an ideal for all of us young men and women who knew them
and observed them.”
A little over a year after he returned from his mission,
Mark and Emma Marr were married in the Salt Lake Temple, 30 August 1923,
making him, as he once observed, “an American by birth, Scandinavian by
ancestry, and Scottish by marriage.”
During this period, Mark served not only as ward
choir leader, but also as a member of the ward Sunday School superintendency.
But he was not satisfied with his life’s employment.
He worked as a bookkeeper for a period and then as a checker of railroad
cars, at one point working in Lynndyl, some ninety miles southwest of Salt
Lake City. Mark’s natural interest in people and in events of importance
to the community and world, and an inner feeling that he could work with
words, prompted him to make a change in his career.
One day, he appeared at the desk of the city editor
of the Deseret News, asking if there might be an opening. He stood there,
six feet tall, slender of build, displaying a shy smile. There was no opening.
However, this did not deter Mark. “Nearly every afternoon,” some say, twenty-three-year-old
Mark stopped to ask the same question: “Do you have an opening yet?”
Then one afternoon, about six months later, the city
editor replied differently. The young woman who had covered the Church
Office beat was leaving. The salary was $90 a month. If he wanted the job,
he could have it. It was both a joyful and a painful moment; $90 a month
was less than he made checking railroad cars. But as Elder Petersen said
later, “I wanted to be a newspaperman more than anything else in the world.”
From that modest beginning, he became a reporter,
then copy reader, news editor, managing editor, and editor. He became general
manager in 1941, and later president of the company and chairman of its
board of directors.
Among the Deseret News family, Mark E. Petersen became
a living legend. He shunned publicity even to the point of forbidding his
picture to appear in the newspaper he published. In part this was due to
his natural modesty, but also it was in keeping with a personal philosophy
which precluded using the columns for which he was responsible for his
own self-aggrandizement. He insisted that all staffers, both young and
old, call him by his given name, Mark. There was no distinction of age,
wealth, or position. All were part of Mark Petersen’s extended family.
It was Mark Petersen who guided the Deseret News
into the ranks of metropolitan newspapers and who was instrumental in the
formation of the Newspaper Agency Corporation, which enhanced the quality
and increased the circulation of the
newspapers of Salt Lake City and became a model for similar agency
operations in other cities. He was a pioneer by the Webster definition:
“One who goes before,showing others the way to follow.”
Tender are the accounts of his visits to the homes
of employees. Frequently, he left behind a gift: perhaps a turkey, a carton
of apples, or an autographed book. Always he left a gift of love, an expression
of friendship, and a word of encouragement.
When a staff member was hospitalized, Mark was the
first to his bedside. When one died, it was Mark who brought comfort to
the family. Invariably he was invited to speak at the funeral service.
To the end of his life, Mark visited the homes of
retired staffers. He could be seen escorting them to musical or dramatic
events in the city. Frequently, he would take for a drive the housebound
and the ill. Ever concerned, always helpful, is it any wonder that the
name “Mark” leads all the rest as the name given to children, grandchildren,
and great-grandchildren of those who knew him and loved him at the Deseret
To perpetuate Mark’s emphasis on excellence, the
Deseret News presents to a winning staffer the Mark E. Petersen Excellence
in Writing Award at the annual gathering of company employees and their
It has been said that an organization is the lengthened
shadow of its leader. Such is the imprint of Mark Petersen on the Deseret
With Mark Petersen’s positions of responsibility
in journalism, there came appointments to civic boards, committees, and
groups. Mark served as a director of the Chamber of Commerce and the Utah
Manufacturers Association, as vice-president
of the Kiwanis Club, as president of the Bonneville Knife and Fork
Club, and as vice-president of the Newspaper Agency Corporation. He gave
freely, thoughtfully, and energetically to many good community interests.
He served on the board of trustees of Brigham Young
University (Provo, Utah) and of Weber State College (Ogden, Utah). He was
awarded an honorary doctorate from Brigham Young University in 1970 and
also received a Distinguished Service Award from the University’s Department
of Communications in 1972.
In the years at the News, the cub reporter who became
president learned to make decisions under pressure. Because there is nothing
more perishable than news, the newspaperman cannot put off what he has
to do today. In addition to a
“do-it-yourself” philosophy, Mark also learned a “do it now” necessity,
which has been an invaluable asset and has helped to make his personal
and professional accomplishments possible.
During these years, Mark served faithfully and capably
in ever more responsible positions in the Church. He was called to the
high council of the Liberty Stake in Salt Lake City while yet a very young
man, and he later served as a counselor in the stake presidency of that
stake. When he moved to another part of the city, to Highland Stake, he
was immediately called to its high council—but he began serving only after
a several months’ delay because his former stake leaders could not bear
to give him up. When the Highland Stake was divided and the Sugarhouse
Stake was organized in 1943, he was called to serve as first counselor
in the new stake presidency.
So widely recognized was he at the time of his calling
to the Council of the Twelve in 1944 that the news accounts said he had
been for some time “in great demand” as a public speaker in Church and
By this time two lovely daughters graced the home
of Elder Mark E. Petersen and his beloved Emma Marr. To them—Marian and
Peggy—as well as to their parents, this call changed the course of the
Petersen family. True it is that he continued to guide and serve at the
Deseret News for years to come. True it is also that he continued to serve
in many important civic positions. But the call to help guide and bless
the entire Church now became his life’s beacon.
The calling fit admirably the empathy, the breadth
and depth of Mark’s heart and soul. To be a member of the Quorum of the
Twelve Apostles means, among other things, to be a member of committees
that oversee important Church concerns. It means attending weekly conferences
“for the rest of your life.” As one of the Brethren once said, it means
absorbing assignments and opportunities for service that require total
commitment to the work of the Master to buoy and lift, teach and train,
lead and direct the Saints of God. It means accepting the burdens and strengthening
the hopes of the Church and its people.
To all this and more came Mark Petersen. I like the
way another member of the Twelve, Elder Richard
L. Evans, once described him:
“Mark E. Petersen, of the Council of the Twelve,
is a sincerely modest man, humble of heart, but of great courage and competence
and a capacity for work which drives him, as he in turn drives himself—ceaselessly
With the call to the Apostleship came added responsibility
and the assignment to let his voice be heard and his influence felt throughout
the entire earth. In the forty years he served in the Twelve, Mark visited
a good share of the stakes and most of the missions of the world. Wherever
he has gone his indelible impression has remained.
For two glorious weeks in 1960 Mark and Emma Marr
toured the Canadian Mission at the time I served as president. My wife
Frances and I felt their inspiring presence as the four of us met with
missionaries and members throughout the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
After every meeting, investigators came forward to announce that the words
of Elder Petersen and the spirit he reflected had persuaded them to “come
unto Christ” and be baptized. The members rejoiced, the missionaries prospered,
and the work moved forward with enthusiasm. The words of Oliver Cowdery
best describe this mission tour made by Elder and Sister Petersen: “These
were days never to be forgotten.”
Above all, his calling as an Apostle of the Lord
sealed his powerful trust in God with a certainty that was inspiring. Once,
a government leader in a country distant from the United States heard Elder
Petersen speak and said, “That man has inner
authority—the kind of which I have never seen before. If I were a Christian,
I would say God saved him for a special time and a special work.”
Those who heard Elder Mark E. Petersen’s voice and
those who read his words could readily see that here was a fearless defender
and testifier of truth, intelligent in thought, radiant and warm in personality,
succinct and powerful in expression, unwavering and unflinching in commitment
and belief. He could teach, persuade, warn, explain, and encourage. He
was a most able exponent of Church doctrines and programs. His was an ability
to make complex things simple and easily understood, often through the
use of questions to identify a specific point for discussion.
Yet, with all of his faith, commitment, and energy,
he was, as President Ezra Taft Benson has said,
“one of the most kind, considerate, and gracious men I have known.” Graciousness
was truly a dominant characteristic of Mark Petersen. From it flowed his
refinement, his appreciation for education, for art, and particularly for
Easy it is to see why so many who knew him well loved
him so dearly. He was, as a fellow member of the Twelve said, “a fair judge,
a tireless worker,” and “a compassionate comforter of the sorrowing, a
champion of those who have earnestly
repented of mistakes, a persistent pursuer of the facts.” Another said,
“I have never known Mark to do a cheap or shoddy or mean thing.” He was
a man of full integrity, firm loyalty, personal courage, and great faith.
His personal teaching style often involved using
the chalkboard or having the congregation recite aloud with him a song
or scripture. We of the Twelve were privileged to participate in other
memorable teaching and sacred experiences. Told at
his funeral were several accounts of his being voice in prayer on occasion
for the Brethren at our regular Thursday meeting, particularly one time
when President Spencer W. Kimball was not well
and not present.
Elder Petersen’s crystal clear faith and pleading
soul sought in our behalf a blessing upon the President, and it was as
if a “conduit opened to the heavens.” We knew that our prayer and our faith
had been recognized. How completely natural that our
spokesman on that occasion would be Elder Mark E. Petersen, such a
giant of unshakable faith. He was one who would say, “If a miracle is needed,
then shall we not ask if our Father will provide the miracle?” He often
helped raise our faith to new heights.
I loved, respected, and admired Mark Petersen for
these and many other traits and for his life of devotion to truth and to
duty. These are seen as old virtues by many in our time, but they are virtues
ever so dear to our Father in Heaven. As age crept up on him (could one
really think of Mark’s energetic nature controlled by age?), sickness and
attendant complications did what age alone could not. Even so, with gallant
vigor he carried on until the end.
He is now with his dear Emma Marr, his companion
who died in 1975 and with whom he created one of the greatest loving husband
and wife relationships I have ever seen. They were equally yoked in faith
and commitment and in their love of family, of music, and of the songs
of Zion which they sang together again and again.
In his acceptance message at the time he was called
to the Twelve, Mark said: “I know that God lives. I know that Jesus is
the Christ and the son of God. I shall take great pleasure in declaring
His word for the remainder of my life.
“I am thankful for my testimony of the divinity of
the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I love him. I know that his testimony,
for which he died, is true.
“I willingly and gladly, although most humbly, accept
this great call which has come to me. … I love the work. I shall give it
my full strength and all the talent which God may give to me.
“I know that without the help of the Lord I am powerless
to do any good in His ministry; but I know that if I live righteously,
He will be with me.”
As his fellow quorum member, I declare to all: Mark
E. Petersen accepted his call, he loved the work, he gave it his full strength
and all his abundant talent.
We have been a blessed people to have had him for
nearly forty years as one of our prophets, seers, and revelators. He was
a “giant” here. We miss him. He is a “giant” there. They welcome him. Our
beloved Mark has gone home.