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Harold B. Lee

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Harold B. Lee
Harold B. Lee2.jpg
11th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
July 7, 1972 (1972-07-07) – December 26, 1973 (1973-12-26T1899)
Predecessor Joseph Fielding Smith
Successor Spencer W. Kimball
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
January 23, 1970 (1970-01-23) – July 7, 1972 (1972-07-07)
End reason Became President of the Church
First Counselor in the First Presidency
January 23, 1970 (1970-01-23) – July 2, 1972 (1972-07-02)
Called by Joseph Fielding Smith
End reason Dissolution of First Presidency on the death of Joseph Fielding Smith
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 10, 1941 (1941-04-10) – January 23, 1970 (1970-01-23)
Called by Heber J. Grant
End reason Called as First Counselor in the First Presidency
LDS Church Apostle
April 10, 1941 (1941-04-10) – December 26, 1973 (1973-12-26T1899)
Called by Heber J. Grant
Reason Death of Reed Smoot
at end of term
L. Tom Perry ordained
Personal details
Born Harold Bingham Lee
(1899-03-28)March 28, 1899
Clifton, Idaho, United States
Died December 26, 1973(1973-12-26) (aged 74)
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Resting place Salt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′37.92″N 111°51′28.8″W / 40.7772000°N 111.858000°W / 40.7772000; -111.858000
Spouse Fern Lucinda Tanner
(1923–1962) (her death)
Freda Joan Jensen
(1963–1973) (his death)
Children 2
Signature of Harold B. Lee

Harold Bingham Lee (March 28, 1899 – December 26, 1973) was eleventh president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from July 1972 until his death in December 1973.

Early life[edit]

Lee was born in Clifton, Idaho to Samuel Lee and Louisa Emeline Bingham and was the second of six children. The Lee family lived the rural life and Lee and his siblings spent most of their youth doing farm chores. During his childhood, his mother saved him from several near-death experiences. When he was eight, he was sent to get a can of lye from the shelf and spilled the deadly product all over himself. His mother opened a vat of pickled beets and poured cup after cup of the red vinegar all over him, which neutralized the lye. When Harold was a teen, he punctured an artery on a broken bottle. His mother cleaned it, but it became badly infected. She burned a black stocking to ashes and rubbed it in the open wound and it soon healed.

Lee was fortunate to receive a good education. He finished eighth grade at a grammar school in Clifton and his parents allowed him to continue his education at Oneida Stake Academy in Preston, Idaho. Lee focused on music the first few years and played the alto, French, and baritone horns. Later, he played basketball and was a reporter for the school newspaper. He graduated in the spring of 1916.

The summer following his graduation Lee worked to receive his teaching certificate from Albion State Normal School at Albion, Idaho. After two summers of study in 1916 and 1917, Lee passed the state's fifteen-subject test to receive his second- and third-class certificates.

Lee held his first teaching position in the fall of 1916. He taught a class of 25 students, grades one to eight, in Weston, Idaho. His salary was $60 a month. When he was eighteen, he became principal of a school in Oxford, Idaho.

In September 1920, then church president Heber J. Grant called Lee on a mission to the western states, with headquarters in Denver, Colorado. He was twenty-one and served until December 1922.


While on his mission, Lee met a sister missionary from Utah, Fern Lucinda Tanner. They renewed their acquaintance when they returned from their missions and were married on November 14, 1923 in the Salt Lake Temple. Fern died in 1962 and on June 17, 1963 Lee married Freda Joan Jensen, a former mission companion's girlfriend who had never married. She died on July 1, 1981.

Service in the LDS Church[edit]

Elder Harold B. Lee in 1944

In 1930, Lee was called as president of the LDS Church's Pioneer Stake in Salt Lake City. The 1929 Great Depression in the United States left more than half of its members without jobs, which added to the challenges of leading the stake. He established a welfare program to aid members in distress that became a model emulated by the entire LDS Church. As part of the program, he helped organize the Pioneer Stake bishop's storehouse in 1932. The storehouse provided members with basic food necessities. Bishop's storehouses remain part of the church's welfare program today. In 1936, Lee became managing director of the Church Welfare Program. Although he also pursued a political career, he began full-time church service when he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1941.

From the time he became an apostle, Lee's eventual succession to the church presidency was seen as largely inevitable, as he was almost twenty years younger than any other apostle and succession to the presidency traditionally relies on length of service among the Twelve. Spencer W. Kimball and Ezra Taft Benson soon became apostles as well, followed by Mark E. Petersen in 1944, but Lee was the senior member of the new generation.

Under church president David O. McKay, Lee became the intellectual leader of the church to some extent, as McKay was ailing. During this time, Lee headed the Priesthood Correlation Committee which pioneered the worldwide coordination of church activities and materials.

Critic D. Michael Quinn speculates that it was Lee who blocked the LDS Church from rescinding the Negro doctrine in 1969, a move favored by Hugh B. Brown and other apostles. In 1969, after McKay's health failed, and some others within the church leadership thought the doctrinal basis for the exclusion of people of African ancestry from the priesthood was shaky, the remaining First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (minus Harold B. Lee, who was traveling) voted to rescind the racial exclusion policy; however, that vote was reversed when Lee returned and called for a re-vote, arguing that the policy could not be changed without a revelation.[1]

When McKay died in 1970, Joseph Fielding Smith became church president and Lee was called as First Counselor in the First Presidency. He continued to gain practical experience for what was expected to be a long presidency of his own, he being decades younger than Smith.


However, Lee's presidency proved one of the briefest in the history of the church, lasting from Smith's death in July 1972 to Lee's sudden fatal pulmonary hemorrhage in December 1973 at age 74. Lee was buried at Salt Lake City Cemetery. It was Spencer W. Kimball, exactly four years Lee's senior and seen as being in worse health, who would lead the church for the next dozen years and oversee the church's admittance of blacks to the priesthood.


The main library at Brigham Young University was named in Lee's honor after his death.

After his death, a statue of Lee was dedicated at his birthplace. Brigham Young University also honored the former church president by renaming its library after him. The 665,000-square-foot (61,800 m2) Harold B. Lee Library is one of the largest libraries in the western United States and contains 98 miles (158 km) of shelving.



  1. ^ Quinn, D. Michael (1994) The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books) p. 14


External links[edit]

Media related to Harold B. Lee at Wikimedia Commons

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints titles
Preceded by
Joseph Fielding Smith
President of the Church
July 7, 1972 – December 26, 1973
Succeeded by
Spencer W. Kimball
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
January 23, 1970 – July 7, 1972
Preceded by
Hugh B. Brown
First Counselor in the First Presidency
January 23, 1970 – July 2, 1972
Succeeded by
N. Eldon Tanner
Preceded by
Sylvester Q. Cannon
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 10, 1941 – July 7, 1972
Succeeded by
Spencer W. Kimball