Famous Latter-day Saints

What Helped a Young Russell Nelson Realize the Gospel Was Missing from His Life


The following article previously ran on LDS Living earlier this year and is being shared as part of an article series that will highlight the life and teachings of President Russell M. Nelson. Beginning at his birthday week and leading up to general conference, LDS Living will focus on the insights and life lessons we can learn from the Lord's prophet on the earth today. 

The distance underground from the Church Administration Building to the Salt Lake Temple isn’t far—perhaps a few hundred yards. But for men in their 80s and 90s who at times deal with the physical limitations induced by age, the distance is farther than some have felt able to walk. Golf carts have been the answer, with a line of them available to whisk the Brethren over to the temple each Thursday morning for the weekly meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, and then waiting to bring them back at the conclusion of the meeting followed by their lunch together. A team from Church Security always handles the transportation.

The second week President Nelson presided over the meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in the temple, the security officers waiting with a line of carts afterward saw something they had never seen before. President Nelson emerged from the temple walking with both of his counselors, and every member of the Twelve walking behind them—15 prophets, seers, and revelators walking back from the temple to the Church Administration Building. “For the first time in anyone’s memory,” said Alan Parker, an officer with Church Security, “the carts came back empty.” If the Church’s 93-year-old president could walk, everyone could walk.

From boyhood to manhood, this is only one of many surprising and inspiring stories found in the history of a respected surgeon, devoted father and husband, and dedicated servant of the Lord.

A Streetcar Ride to Deseret Book

All eight of Russell Nelson’s great-grandparents joined the Church in Europe and immigrated to the United States during the early part of the 19th century, when gathering to Zion was the aim of most European converts. They all ended up in the small central Utah town of Ephraim. “Each of these stalwart souls sacrificed everything to come to Zion,” President Nelson later said. During subsequent generations, however, not all of his ancestors remained faithful, and as a result, Russell and his siblings—Marjory, Enid, and Robert—were not raised in a gospel-centered home. 



Nonetheless, Russell adored his parents, Marion Clavar Nelson and Floss Edna Anderson Nelson. “My mother and father were just so wonderful,” he said. “Every night was family home evening. Daddy may have been smoking a cigar, but it was family home evening nonetheless.”

The second of four children and the eldest son, Russell flourished in the happy home life his parents provided for him and his two sisters and brother. They spent lots of time together, enjoyed summer vacations as a family, went on frequent outings, and were fully engaged in each other’s lives. When  Russell ran for student-body office in junior high, he asked his father to help him with his campaign speech. Marion was happy to take a look at his son’s draft, but “Daddy wouldn’t lift a pencil until I’d made the effort,” Russell said.

The family didn’t attend church together, but his mother taught him how to pray and, for some reason, saw that he attended meetings— though his siblings usually didn’t. Russell wasn’t above skipping out from time to time to play football with friends in a nearby lot, but he went to church enough to begin to understand that, as much as he loved his family, he was missing something.

One day he jumped on the streetcar and went downtown to the Deseret Book store. When a kind sales clerk greeted him, Russell asked if she could help him find a book he could read about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I wanted to know about the Church because my family didn’t give me that,” he explained. “One of the salesladies took me by the hand and began to teach me. I don’t remember what book she gave me, but she helped me. I loved learning about the gospel.”

Read more inspiring and incredible stories from President Russell M. Nelson’s life as  a surgeon, husband, father, apostle, and prophet in Sheri Dew’s brand-new book, Insights from a Prophet’s Life: Russell M. Nelson. Find it at Deseret Book stores or on deseretbook.com.

All images are from Insights from a Prophet's Life: Russell M. Nelson

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