Life History of Ralph Julius Lauper

Chapter 4

My Prophet -- My Friend

Millions who live and die are totally unaware of even the existence of a prophet. Countless others live or have died, yearning to see one even, much less to shake his hand. I was recipient to all those blessings and much, much more.

As a boy I first learned of Elder Joseph Fielding Smith by reading some of his "fire and brimstone" sermons in the "ERA" [the church magazine that had its name changed over the years and is now the Ensign] and later heard him speak at General Conference via radio as that gradually became available to us. He was also a prolific writer of books, some two dozen of them which were always widely read, because, it seems to me, most people don't choose to do much about sin but they love to both read and hear about it. On that subject he provided ample material for all.

Most of us oldsters will recall he was also Church Historian as well as Acting Patriarch to the church. He had been ordained an apostle at age 32 by his father, President Joseph F. Smith and was generally accepted as the authority on church government as well as doctrine. He was viewed also as the most austere and doleful prophet to cry repentance since Jeremiah. Upon one occasion some of us heard him actually say he would rather see one of his sons lying in a casket than to see him smoking a cigarette!

Elder Smith once told me that the second coming would most surely occur on Sunday so the Lord could catch the majority of the members of the church in company with the rest of the world's population, either golfing, picnicking, shopping or at the ball game. He had already publicly consigned that majority of church members to become, after the judgment, heirs to the title of "Sons of Perdition" and assured us that we had no idea of how many of us would fit perfectly into that group. I listened and concluded I would most surely qualify for it along with almost everyone else I knew. I felt that my mother might escape, but was concerned about how lonely she would be in a mostly-empty heaven.

Once asked him why he spoke that way and how stern the church members perceived him to be "intractable, over-critical, and a prophet of doom." I even suggested that many needed and would prefer to hear more positive and encouraging doctrine. He gave me my answer in kind but definite words as follows; "Brother Lauper, my father ordained me an Apostle. He was the Prophet and in that ordination he charged me to spend my life crying repentance to the people, and I intend to do just that to my dying day. I always (with emphasis on that word) do what the Prophet says to do." Now I'm getting ahead of my story. Let us look behind the melancholy facade presented by this legend in the present day history of the church, separate the myth of a hopeless condemner of all mankind from this great prophet as I knew him to be.

He was courteous, patient and loving with compassion. Even more surprising for some would be his great sensitivity to and tolerance of the feelings and rights of others.

I first met President Smith in 1939. I had been called to the Danish Mission and reported to the Mission Home on North State Street in Salt Lake City for two weeks training. Two such classes per month were held. About 90% of our instructors were General Authorities, including the First Presidency. The Church Office Building was about block away, as was also the Lion House where we took our meals in the cafeteria there. The home consisted of a couple or three big dormitory rooms fitted with scads of double-decker bunk beds where we slept. All of our instruction took place in a single, large classroom filled with a big desk, piano, blackboard and desk-chairs for the missionaries. There was nothing else beyond a small supply room and adjoining office used by Brother Don Colton, a retired Congressman, who with his wife lived in small quarters in one wing of the building and operated the school.

Elder Smith was one of the lecturers and it was also he who gave us the Indoctrination in the Temple Annex Assembly Room prior to our Endowment. He showed great restraint with some who slept and others who talked during a rather long lecture--he merely fixed them with baleful glares from time to time. I expected more, given what I had read and heard.

The day prior to our departure to various fields of labor we were gathered into groups of a dozen or so, in vacant rooms on the upper floor of the old Church Office Building, to be set apart as missionaries. Elder Smith was the one doing those in my group. He looked around, pointed to three of us and abruptly announced, "I will also ordain you three to the Office of Seventy."

We were not sitting on the front row nor were we sitting together. I wondered at this and when it came to my turn, I quietly asked him why he chose to do it. He answered me by saying, "The church needs a few more good Seventy. See that you honor the office and don't disappoint the Lord."

About a week later, after the entire group had toured Chicago, Washington, and New York where we all stayed at a very good hotel (the McAlpin on Broadway at 34th street just below Times Square) in the heart of Manhattan, we boarded the big ship Aquitania, of the British Cunard White Star Line, then at dock at pier 90. We pulled away, aided by tugs, on a Saturday at noon and would dock at Southampton, England, the following Friday, after a hour stop at Cherbourg, France, to allow a few passengers to debark--five or six of them.

At the time I boarded the ship in New York who should I find aboard but Elder Smith, who had been assigned by President Grant to go to Europe and to tour the Missions over there in the light of the unstable political situation then existent, due to the all too apparent ambitions of Germany and to a smaller degree, Mussolini down in Italy.

The Apostle remembered me and seemed genuinely happy to see me again and promptly introduced me to his new wife. He had outlived two wives and was father to about eight children. He was then about 60 years of age. She was a few years younger than he, and a sort of legend in her own right.

There stood before me a buxom woman of medium height, but still big. She knew how to dress well and had fine clothes with which to do it. She wore lots of huge diamonds, on fingers, wrists, neck and ears and had artificially preserved red hair. She could not be called a pretty woman but she could easily be called beautiful. She was always "dressed to kill" but never overdressed. It was her personality that really got to you. Her big smile and generous laugh was the front for one of the most compassionate, sensitive and caring-about-others individuals I have met in my entire life.

Jessie Evans Smith was a rare talent. She played the piano better than just good, but her singing voice was her forte, being possessed of a big, booming, effortless yet soft, penetrating and highly-trained voice, which spurned the need for any artificial amplification such as a microphone. Which she never used, even when she was the featured soloist with the great Tabernacle Choir, reigning over all from her seat 3 rows back center section for well over a quarter-century. Jessie Evans had many times refused offers from the Metropolitan Opera Company as well as other top organizations to go east and perform at the Met and elsewhere.

She declined because, as she put it to me, "I just didn't want to get caught up in all of that. I was a spinster, you know, but my testimony meant so much to me and the spirit directed me to stay in the west, and now, after all this time, I am going on my honeymoon. I am so happy and grateful to the lord for his goodness." She had married the Lord's future Prophet. Jessie and I hit it off right from the start. She always was kind to and considerate of me and I was her #1 fan from that first moment until she died.

A few hours after sailing we ran into rough water as we entered the Gulf Stream. I always have had difficulty with motion-sickness. The next couple of days would be no exception and I took to my bunk, deathly sick, in the stateroom I shared with another Elder. Guess what? Within a couple of hours Sister Smith had learned of my plight and was seated by my bed expressing concern for my welfare. I dismissed her as quickly as I could after telling her how welcome death would be, matched only by my desire to live long enough that I might hear her sing, to "her own accompaniment on the piano in the ship's lounge". After a miserable night came the Sabbath. Both the Smiths came to call and to check on my condition. On that occasion he gave me a strong lesson in Church Government, one of the areas in which he was already widely recognized as the Church Spokesman. On one occasion at a later time, he demonstrated his devotion to the principle of submission to priesthood authority, by telling me that once his father President Joseph F. Smith, who was an Apostle at the time, engaged in a buggy race from Santa Clara, UT to St. George, UT, (a distance of 5 miles) with George Q. Cannon, a member of the First Presidency and that his father reined in his horses, threw the race and a sure win, because, "My father would never go ahead of his file leader, even in a buggy race."

He was ever the teacher and knowing somehow that I had, back in Salt Lake, been placed in charge of the group reminded me that it was Sunday and wondered if services had been planned. I assured him I had done nothing in that regard and was in no condition to do so. He then requested my permission to organize and conduct services. He promised to report back to me. His request was granted and his promise fulfilled when they both returned right after the services, he to give me a detailed report on every single aspect of the meeting including the names of all who had been involved in any way, and she to bring me both pork and beef sandwiches, plus a glass of milk she had secured from the kitchen. They were real "corkers," that pair.

The following day was smooth. I was up and about and took every opportunity to "pick-the-brains" of an Apostle for the rest of the voyage. He was patient and indulgent. I learned so much that week! I arranged some concerts in the spacious lounge for Sister Smith. Elders and many passengers attended. She even accepted requests from many which in the case of non-members frequently ran to light opera which she played and sang from memory -- beautiful!

She even cajoled "Daddy" to join her in a few duets which he later dubbed "do-its". Despite his having a fairly nice singing voice he appeared somewhat embarrassed, ill at ease, and out of place in all of this. She forced him to do it from then on and through the years he seemed to not only appear more comfortable doing it, but he even enjoyed it.

When we docked at Southampton on early Friday afternoon we took the train to London's Waterloo Station where our two VIP's were met and' whisked away by Hugh B. Brown, the President of the British Mission. President Brown was Canadian by birth and later became First Counselor to President McKay. As a great and humble man with lots of ability, on that particular occasion he came off as a pretty arrogant looking snob. He had, the previous day, delivered a speech to the British House of Lords and when he appeared at the station, left one wondering if he had not changed his clothes after that important appearance. But had, instead, remained standing the entire night so as to avoid wrinkling his proper striped trousers and pants plus frock coat, vest and ruffled shirt, finished off with the top hat and cravat plus the traditional British walking stick. He had come to meet a humble and conservative-above-all-else apostle. What a Jim Dandy! What a view of how the Lord changes people when he has a mind to do it!

We remained in London for three days, at the Imperial Hotel on the edge of Russell Square in downtown London. The two block square or park was in the last stages of becoming home to several batteries of anti-aircraft guns. We toured London; some of us took in G. B. Shaw's "Pygmalion" during its first run at the Palladium. The Elders scattered to various fields of labor and all but four remained to accompany me by motor ship from Harwich, England across the North Sea to Esbjerg, Denmark, then to Mission Headquarters in Copenhagen. The Smiths, meanwhile, toured the British Isles and then moved on to the mainland. Dennis ran into them somewhere in France, where he was serving.

My Patriarchal Blessing charged me to be a preacher of righteousness, before nations, kings and rulers. Against my mentor I didn't match up at all well in that or any other category, for that matter. I did, however bear my testimony before kings while standing at a street meeting in the shadow of the Kings' Castle in Copenhagen after four weeks in the field. I hope the King was looking out the window and heard me. I was told that I had a terrific accent.

The latter part of July found me again in Esbjerg on the west coast. I had been out three months and was a Senior Companion. The Smiths arrived in the mission to make their tour there. Mark B. Garff, who later became a senior member of the Church Welfare Committee, and later still, the Chairman of the Church Building Committee, was the Mission President. Sister Gertrude Ryberg Garff was a wonderfully delightful, young woman with whom I developed a close relationship. She always said she wanted me to marry one of her sisters. I didn't but those who did got a good wife. Three of them came through Denmark on their tour of Europe. And I came to know them; they were wealthy, sharp and stunning lookers. Gertrude became, for some years, a Counselor in the General Presidency of the Relief Society.

So the Garffs brought the Smiths to Esbjerg and declared a holiday for us all to ferry out to Fan?, a small island off the coast a few miles. They were very authentic on Fan?, long hair and long dressed, cut low in front, Victorian style, wooden shoes, windmills, goats and thatched roofs. Fields of beautiful wild flowers completed the setting.

We ate lunch at a little restaurant featuring family style service and it was in that setting I was to witness, through a small incident, the forbearance, restraint, and pure unwillingness to create a scene or cause embarrassment which virtues were a very big part of the Apostles' make-up. With so many livestock and fowl on the island there were also, what else, millions of flies! Elder Smith ladled an ample serving of soup into his soup bowl. A huge black fly quickly landed ker-plunk, into his bowl and began to swim frantically about in circles, its wings audibly buzzing all the while. At this point the Elder could have, with good justification, made a scene with the already harried and over worked waitress. He quietly looked around to determine if anyone saw what was going on. I was seated next to him and watched out of the corner of my eye as he carefully took his spoon and spooned the fly out of his bowl. Once on dry land, the beast flew away and while others were calling attention to the delicious soup, calmly ate his, as I did mine, although I am confident we were both near the gagging stage. He certainly revealed a mildness I had been led to believe didn't exist.

The next meeting I had with the Smiths took place back in Copenhagen. War had broken out across the Baltic Sea in Poland, as I have noted in my memoirs. Elder Smith was midway through his tour of the Swedish Mission when President Grant rushed him back to assist our Mission President in the mass evacuation of the Elders from the missions in Europe and Scandinavia. Most of them were to go out through Copenhagen. I had been left alone in the Esbjerg District on the west coast for a time but then was also called into headquarters. The only elders left there besides me were the Mission Secretary and the other five District Presidents. Then all assembled there and awaiting passage, most difficult to obtain, what with the steady stream of elders coming through from other missions, plus the general population. I spent nearly a week there at the Mission Home.

During working hours I several times accompanied President Garff and Elder Smith down to the piers where the apostle and I mostly stood back, watched and listened, as President Garff wrestled and haggled with the shipping lines in his efforts to secure bookings. He was a bombastic, take-charge guy and was ultimately successful mostly because of his forceful and overpowering personality. Brother Smith discounted any possible use he might be in this situation. He didn't try to throw his weight around because of his authority. He said President Garff was doing a wonderful job and wondered why President Grant wanted him to stay there while saying, "I'm not doing anything here. Sister Smith at least understands some of the language. She's much smarter and learns faster than I". He was a humble man. No false pride or self aggrandizement.

At night it was my opportunity to sit many hours alone and sometimes in company with others, at the feet of that great scholar to be instructed in Church Government, Doctrine and Church History. I loved it and learned a great deal. I was booked to sail on a converted freighter which I learned had been outfitted in its holds with triple-tiered bunks. I boarded the ship with both chagrin and misgivings at that, but was guiltily-pleased to learn that Sister Smith had wrangled one of four available staterooms on board for me and two other elders because, "Elder Lauper gets so sick." I thanked her for her kindness when she and her husband came aboard to wish me Bon Voyage. I was clearly her pet.

The Smith's stayed on for awhile and then came out not too long before the key was turned on the lock in Copenhagen and all other mission home doors worldwide, excepting the U.S. and, I believe, Canada. I felt sure my unusual but cherished association with the Smiths was now over when who should I meet and again visit with in the Tennessee East District, of the East Central States Mission where I had been reassigned, but the Smiths? They were touring the mission. It was during this particular visit when I learned of his no-nonsense approach to gospel questions. He always disliked speculation and more than a few times I would see him grab one of the Standard Works and say, as he read from it, "Lets see what the Lord has to say about it". So I knew better but still blurted out before that large group of elders, during a mission-wide conference of missionaries a question.

"Will you please tell us, Elder Smith, the location of the lost tribes?" I may have caused him to turn a phrase which I had never known him to use before in either his speeches or his writings. Shortly thereafter I began to see it,' beginning with his monthly, "Gospel Questions Answered" page in the Era. His answer was rapid, "They are lost Elder Lauper. If we knew where they were then they wouldn't be lost, would they? Until now no prophet has told us of their whereabouts." I had received yet another lesson to engage my brain before starting my motor-mouth.

Toward the end of my mission I was serving as District President in East Kentucky. The Mission President informed me that a General Authority was coming and wanted to hold a series of conferences. We called them "one night stands". The G.A. would be, of, course, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith and his wife (by now I had come to expect this). The President also said the Smiths would be in the six districts of the mission for 21 days. For some reason I had been granted five of those days and to send him a copy of the itinerary, but to not plan an agenda. I soon learned why, there was to be no agenda!

On five successive nights in the five places we held meetings. I conducted, with Elder Smith seated beside me indicating what we should do as the meeting progressed. Somewhere along in the meeting he would decide what he wanted to talk about that night, would lean over, whisper it to me, and tell me to get up, speak on that subject for 15 minutes and lay the groundwork for his sermon to follow. He did this for five nights in a row without a comment one way or other as to his feelings about what must have been a pretty sorry effort on my part. After the last, however, he was kind and lavish in his comments to me, telling how he appreciated the conferences and my contributions. I was worn out.

I gained a small measure of revenge the next morning as they prepared to leave Lexington, KY and return to Louisville. Here we were, in the heart of the Blue Grass and Tobacco country. I had a few days before that pointed out to the apostle that the tithes paid on the tobacco farmers dollar seemed always to be as readily accepted as that which came from the dairy farmer and would surely buy as many Primary Songbooks. He only sniffed at that. Most of the good saints in the south grew and sold tobacco.

As I neared the Mission President's car in which they were riding, to tell the Smiths goodbye, I saw that horror of horrors the inevitable had happened! The Wells family, of Lexington, were stalwart LDS. They also respected the crop which provided them with a better than average "good life". Being good, naive and guileless folks and wanting to express both love and appreciation to the Smiths for their visit they came to the hotel that morning and presented the G.A. and his wife with a beautiful potted plant. You guessed it! There standing on the floor between them in the back seat and reaching almost to the ceiling, stood a beautiful rich, green, broadleaf tobacco plant (they are pretty). I immediately seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and raved about just how lush that plant was, and that I could only imagine how nice that would look when replanted beneath his first floor window at the Church Office Building. She was laughing hilariously at all of this, allowing that "Daddy" didn't dare offend those good people. She also stated that she wouldn't allow him to do it, even had he wanted to.

While this was going on, the poor man was mumbling, "Oh Pshaw" and off they drove, with him huddled against the far window, distancing himself as far as possible from the dreaded and infernal weed. The other Elders and I agreed that it would be "bombs away" with that plant at the first bridge they crossed over. Yes, he was slowly mellowing.

My mission over and with me in the army our contacts were nil for a few years. Then back from overseas and working as an instructor pilot in Sioux City, one day I hitched a ride out to Salt Lake City with a couple of friends who were going on some kind of Air Force business. I was anxious to recharge my batteries. I visited the old mission home for a few minutes then went to the Church Office Building to see my old friend. We spent about three quarters of an hour talking about lots of things but mostly about flying. I was surprised to find he was greatly interested in flying, loved to fly and wished that he could pilot a plane. He had a real zest for life. After the war Elder Smith became an honorary member of the Utah Air National Guard and went on frequent training flights with members of the unit. I recall one time in the early 50's when he came to fill his conference assignment in Oakland, in a jet fighter plane, piloted by the Commander of the Guard, Col. Chasteen Wynn.

While there we also spoke of his work as Church Historian and the official church reaction to Anti-Mormon literature. Inasmuch as he was the official, I wanted to know what, if anything, he did regarding it. He replied that he read all of the anti books etc that he could get his hands on and placed a copy of each in the church library. Time wouldn't allow me to accept his gracious offer to take me to the archives and show me. He did say that he had most recently read a book by a rabid anti-Mormon. He said the book was "a rather weird collection of lies." He had written that author a short letter (very short) on official church stationary. The full content of the letter was: "Dear Sir, Pjatt" and he signed it Joseph Fielding Smith, Church Historian. The word pjatt is Scandinavian for 'hogwash', 'rubbish', etc. He had a good sense of humor.

Along about 1947 or 48 I was then serving on the High Council of the St. George, Utah Stake. Harold S. Snow was both Stake President and Temple President. The temple was closed for a time for slight renovations. Of course I was not surprised when Elder Smith and Jessie arrived to make a tour of inspection. Nor was I surprised that Jane and I were invited to join the two couples on the tour. We took David, about 3 years of age, along with us. Elder Smith had fun with the little boy and took his hand on the walk from the street into the temple. Suddenly, when we arrived at the front desk, he was all business as he briefly studied the little boy and concluded that it would be all right to take him inside, since he was a covenant child. He then insisted upon showing his own recommend to a flustered Brother Reynolds, the Security Guard at the desk. That poor soul had wanted him to pass in without challenge. The apostle showed once again his reverence for procedure and propriety. Once inside he again became David's buddy throughout the tour and showed no impatience even when the lad slipped away and took an available hammer to a neat little pile of fresh lumber in the Celestial Room, of all places!

I once asked Elder Smith how a Bishops call was handled. As he outlined it to me, the following is the sequence in 99%' of the calls made. The President of the Church brings into the weekly meeting (Thursday) of the 1st Presidency and Council of the Twelve in the temple. He first wants to hear comments from anyone who knows the nominee. In a surprisingly large number of cases someone either knows him or about him. Lacking this source of information, the Prophet must rely on the feelings of the Stake President and his own inspiration to decide if the call should be extended. Having resolved the issue in the affirmative, the second and only question he asks is, "What about the man's wife?"

When I was called to be a Bishop early in January 1971 I was ordained by Harold B. Lee, then 1st Counselor in the First Presidency. He was to later become President. In light of all the foregoing, it seems only right to me that the signature beneath the letter of call bore the name PRESIDENT JOSEPH FIELDING SMITH, along with his counselors.

It would be hard to imagine more meetings and association with a General Authority to be enjoyed by an ordinary lay member whether by accident or design. That great servant of the Lord increased my testimony. Through the years the Smiths blessed the lives of both Jane and I. Our children benefited from doctrine and principles learned first hand from a prophet and retaught to them. He passed away at age 94. Jessie had passed away a couple of years before. They were a truly noble couple. He is gone, but I still have all that he gave to me over a period of 35-40 years. He is ever my prophet -- my friend! - Finis

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