Like many others, I was sad to hear of the passing of Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. My children were sad, too, but recognized that a 92-year-old man—especially a man as good as him—was probably well prepared to make his way to heaven. I don’t dare to pretend that I have any connection with Elder Perry that is more special than anyone else’s, but I’ve studied carefully the lives of the apostles as I’ve taught Living Prophets for the last few years and I have grown to love each one. They feel like family because I learn so much from them and admire their lives and their teachings; they hold a place in my heart because the things I’ve learned from them are a part of who I am becoming and what I know to be true.
Hundreds of people have posted their own experiences of meeting Elder Perry or shaking his hand, and they all witness of his kindness and encouragement. Elder Perry happens to be the only apostle I have spent some time with in person, and I had a couple experiences that are pretty unique. Namely, 1) we made chili together and he teased me for breaking his cheese slicer (In fact, he said, “Watch out for this girl. She doesn’t even know how to cut the cheese.”), and 2) he set me up with my first kiss (True story. It didn’t end well, but I don’t fault him.). He was tall, happy, kind, and welcoming.
I have a couple favorite recent Elder Perry moments that show his unabashed energy and enthusiasm. First, when he was announced as a speaker in the October 2012 general conference, he popped up out of his seat like a jack-in-the-box. Elder Ballard spoke after him and started out his comments by saying, “Elder Perry, I think you must be the youngest ninety year old in the whole church!” Then, at the end of the April 2014 general conference, this legitimate fist bump was a true classic.
When Elder Perry was called as an apostle, he tried to figure out what in the world he could offer in this calling. He concluded that there were maybe three gifts he could bring: enthusiasm, a talent for organization, and his experience away from the center of the Church. The world has been blessed by all three and many more. Only eight months after that call, his wife Virginia passed away. I’ve often thought of this statement he made a year later when he paid her tribute in the April 1975 conference:
“… It’s been one of the least productive years of my life. … There’s no way that you can compensate for that balance of a companion aiding you in the assignment you’re given.”
I have reflected on this quite a bit as a guide for the kind of spouse I hope to be. The world would expect a man with ties of wife, children, and family to be “trapped,” and probably less able to accomplish as much as he would without those kinds of burdens and obligations. Yet, Elder Perry testified of the strength and power that came into his life because of a good marriage and family. He chose to use many of his general conference talks to testify of the need for and power of family.
Despite all these great teachings, he stated on several occasions that he would much rather shake hands than give sermons. Elder Perry loved people. And many of us love him back. He has built our testimony of Jesus Christ, and shown us an example of how to love. This story he tells about his time as a Marine in Japan is one of my very favorites, along with his testimony of the power of living a life based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. (side note: this would make a great family home evening lesson.)
I know that Elder L. Tom Perry was called of God as an apostle. He was prepared to be a witness of Christ in our days, and when he spoke to us, we heard the the words of God (D&C 1:38). He has helped me to know the Savior better and taught me how to obey Him and quality for blessings—both now and in eternity. Thank you, Elder Perry, for your life, your lessons, and your testimony. And God bless his family for sharing him with the Church and with the world.