At thirty-five thousand feet, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf gained a perspective of the vastness, the glory, and the diversity of the earth. His career as a pilot for Lufthansa Airlines afforded him that perspective and an appreciation for the beauty of God's handiwork. “I see how beautiful the deserts and the jungles and the
seas are,” he said in an interview with the Ensign. “Even after ten long hours in a cockpit, I am amazed at the sunrise. I marvel at the world’s different cultures.
Everyone is different, and yet we are the same.”
Dieter Friedrich Uchtdorf was born November 6, 1940 in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia to Karl Albert Uchtdorf, a German customs official and his wife, Hilde Else Opeltt. Germany was an economic basket case following World War II and it was while waiting in a food line that the young Dieter and his grandmother were introduced to the Gospel by a member of the Church. The family joined the Church when Dieter was six years old. Teachings of the Gospel helped the family cope with the devastation that surrounded them. "One of the things I appreciated very much as a youngster was the saying, 'If the Lord is with you, who can be against you?'" Elder Uchtdorf said in a interview with the Church News. "It gave me strength to go ahead in dificult times."
Though times may have been dificult, young Dieter did persevere... as a member of the Church, as a student, and in his career. As a young man, Dieter joined the Luftwaffe (the German Air Force) and received cadet training and earned his wings as a fighter pilot at Phoenix, Arizona in 1962. After leaving the Luftwaffe, he attended airline pilot schhol and graduated in 1965. He also attended Business Administration School in Cologne, Germany and the International Management Institute in Lausanne, Switzerland. He pursued a career as an airline pilot, flying for Lufthansa Airlines beginning in 1970. He quickly moved into management positions, serving as head of cockpit crews, then director of inflight services, and as head of Lufthansa's airline pilot school. After a stint as the check and training captain for Boeing 747s, he became Senior Vice President for flight operations and Chief Pilot for the airline.
As a lad growing up in post-war Germany, Dieter was faced with decisions on how to order his life. Crediting good leaders, Dieter stayed close to the Gospel and attended his assigned meetings regularly. It was while attending MIA as a thirteen year old priesthood bearer, that Dieter first met the girl, Harriet Reich, who would later become his wife. "I always loved her," he recalled. "I fell for her from the very beginning, even as a Deacon. She was a very beautiful girl. She still is." As a Deacon, Dieter often had the opportunity to pass the Sacrament to Harriet.
If it was love at first sight for Dieter, the same cannot be said for Harriet. Though they enjoyed learning to dance together, it was not until after he had completed his military duty and came back to Germany to begin his airline pilot training that she began to appreciate that he might be the right man. They were married December 14, 1962 in the Swiss Temple and have two children.
The Uchtdorfs have witnessed near miraculous events in their native Germany. Rising from the ashes of World War II, Germany became an economic powerhouse. And as Germany's economic engine grew more powerful, so also was the growth of the Church. "Years ago, President [Thomas S.]Monson came to Germany and dedicated the land again and blessed it. That was when the wall was still up. It was a terrible situation in East Germany. I thought that Germany would be reunited at some time but I thought that it would be my great-great-granchildren who would see it. But after President Monson's blessing, things changed quickly. We had a temple built in East Germany. The political situation changed completely, and the wall fell down. You can take the blessing and check all the things President Monson said and they've all been fulfilled."
At this writing, Germany hosts two temples and the Church is strong, stable, and growing therein. Elder Uchtdorf and Harriet have played no small role in this remarkable growth. He has served as a Young Men's President, in an Elder's Quorum Presidency, as a Stake Missionary, a Stake High Councilor, a Stake Mission President, Vice-Chairman of the Frankfurt Temple Committee, and twice as a Stake President. In April of 1994, after nine years as President of the Mannheim Germany Stake, he was given a five-year call to enter the ranks of the General Authorities as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy. He would serve but two of those five years before being called into the First Quorum of the Seventy on April 6, 1996. Then in 2002 he was named to the Presidency of the Seventy. As a Seventy Elder Uchtdorf served in area presidencies in Europe and the United States. He said he has had other assignments, as well, that have taken him and his wife to such places as Colombia, Ecuador, New Zealand, Tahiti and Russia. The call as a President of the Seventy would last but two years before he was released from the Seventy and called to join the ranks of the Apostles.
On February 4, 2008, following the death of Gordon B. Hinckley, and the ascension to the Presidency of Thomas S. Monson, Elder Uchtdorf was called as Second Counselor in the First Presidency. He continues to serve at this writing.