On Becoming A Disciple-Scholar

On Becoming a Disciple-Scholar

President Cecil O. Samuelson

It is a
great privilege to be invited to give this message. There are legions more
qualified than am I to address virtually any area of interest to the Institute.
The one possible exception is that I believe none of Elder Maxwell’s “people
projects,” of which I was one, love or appreciate him any more than I do.

If Elder Maxwell were physically with us tonight, he would
likely be somewhat uncomfortable with what I will say on at least two grounds:
The first is that I plan to speak directly about him and lessons learned from
him delivered by both precept and example. As we all know, he was a master at
deflecting attention from himself, and tonight I leave him no way to defend
himself or redirect our praise and admiration elsewhere, as would be his
reflexive behavior.

Second, my comments are not intended to be particularly scholarly,
nor will they be necessarily broadly enlightening. They have to do with things
learned by an audience of one that others might have already understood or
mastered without his influence. Nevertheless, I am determined to move ahead
with the hope that others, both with us now and those to follow, will always
feel an obligation to know something about the man Neal Maxwell personally as
well as about his remarkable intellect and intellectual curiosity, his
exemplary discipleship, and his wide-ranging leadership roles in the Kingdom.

We have Elder Bruce Hafen’s impressive biography and also Elder Maxwell’s stunning, extensive, and
comprehensive written contributions. What we won’t have, particularly after
some of us who have known him personally have moved on
ourselves, will be the firsthand memories and experiences that so enrich our
lives. It seems to me to be an almost sacred duty to find ways to transmit to
future generations of students and scholars the “touch and feel” of
the man Neal Maxwell in addition to his own incomparable scholarly and
spiritual contributions which are part of the public record.

As I begin, let me explain that for many years I felt I knew
Elder Maxwell before he really knew me. I became aware of the Maxwell family when I was about ten years of age. When our stake
boundaries were adjusted, my parents’ family, living in the same home, moved
from the East Millcreek Stake, where President Gordon B. Hinckley was serving
in the stake presidency, to the Grant Stake, where the Maxwell family resided,
though in a different ward. My mother was called to work with Sister Emma
Maxwell, Elder Maxwell’s mother, in the stake Primary. I also went from grade
school through high school with his sister Susan and knew others of his sisters
as well.

It was probably while I
was a student at Granite High School that I first became aware that Neal
Maxwell was already considered a distinguished graduate of that institution. By
then, he had begun his career as a member of the administration and faculty at
the University of Utah.

It was not long after that I began to keep an eye on Brother
Maxwell, although we did not have a personal relationship until about two
decades later. As a premedical student at the “U,” I had no classes
from him and avoided trouble sufficiently that I did not have direct
interactions with the Dean of Students. Many of my friends knew him personally
at that time, and he was greatly admired as a superb teacher, an aggressive
basketball player with very sharp elbows, and a true friend to many students.

Over the next few years, I continued to admire him from afar
with his appearances on KUED, his bigger-than-life reputation among my
associates, and with a particularly impressive talk he gave at a training
meeting for the leaders of the University of Utah student stakes in about 1968.
At that time I was serving as an elders quorum president and trying to deal
with the pressures of medical school, family, and church at the same time. I
can’t tell you much of what he said, but it did make me feel generally
comforted and encouraged to do better in all that was expected of me. For the
reasons I mentioned initially, I felt a personal connection to him even though
we had no direct interaction.

In 1970, Elder Maxwell left the University of Utah for the
last time at roughly the same time I left for the first time. I was aware of
his call as Church Commissioner of Education because even then I sensed the
utter amazement and disappointment of many at his leaving the “U”
when he clearly was so influential. My father, who was a member of the faculty
and acquainted with Brother Maxwell, commented that few of his colleagues could
appreciate how persuasive Harold B. Lee could be. Although I do not have
firsthand information to support what I will now say, I am convinced that most
of our BYU community of that day fully understood Neal Maxwell’s “offer”
to become the commissioner and were thrilled that the University of Utah’s loss
was BYU’s and the Church’s gain. For those with “eyes to see” and “ears
to hear,” this was a great lesson in obedience and submissiveness.
Interestingly to me, while Elder Maxwell taught and wrote extensively about
these principles, I never once heard him use himself as an example, although a
great example he was.

By 1974, shortly after his call as a General Authority, I
had returned to the University of Utah Medical School as a faculty member and
attending physician. He had apparently come to the hospital to give someone a
blessing, and I was coming out of the room of one of my patients. I knew who he
was and so introduced myself and congratulated him on his calling. He did not
know me, but was very gracious and thoughtful, even though he must have been in
a hurry.

We had no further personal contact for perhaps two or three
years. By then, I was serving in the leadership of the Salt Lake University
First Stake, and he responded positively to invitations to speak at various
leadership meetings, firesides, and any other occasions that we could contrive
to bring him to the campus and to our stake. He was always unfailingly kind,
gracious, thoughtful, and helpful. To merely publicize that he was coming was
also to ensure that a large crowd would be in attendance.

During the 1980s, I began to have occasions to be with Elder
Maxwell with increasing frequency in a number of ways. I’ll mention just a few.

By 1982, he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. I had
been released as a stake president and called as a regional representative. In
that responsibility, I was assigned to accompany him on two or three stake
conference assignments. He was always warm, friendly, and
asked very thought-provoking “find out” questions. He was
clearly interested in me personally and was a great teacher, although almost
always by example and obliquely rather than with direct instruction.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of being with
several of the Twelve and First Presidency in stake reorganization assignments
and subsequently have been senior on quite a few myself.
I have never seen anyone able to interview priesthood leaders with the skill
and polish of Elder Maxwell. Even with thirty or more short interviews in
succession, the questions were always tailored to the man and intended to teach
and lift, all the while obtaining the necessary information. Likewise, in
setting apart stake presidencies, mission presidents and their wives, and other
important officers, I am a repetitive witness that each blessing and every bit
of counsel was “customized” to the needs of the recipient.

Elder Maxwell’s influence was not restricted to formal or assigned
interactions. On several occasions during those very busy 1980s, he would
invite me to join him and some other friends in his office for a sack lunch and
discussion. There I sat at his feet with people like Jim Jardine,
Drew Peterson, Joe Cannon, Bud Scruggs, Bruce Hafen,
his son Cory, and others from time to time. I always came prepared to listen,
but that was never the format. He usually began by asking a question of the
group, typically being careful to include everyone during the course of the
conversation. The question might be, “What topic are you currently
studying in the scriptures?” or “How do you find studying the scriptures
to be most effective?” or “What do you feel will be the greatest
opportunities or challenges the Church will face in the next twenty years?”
As this audience could imagine, we often ventured off into politics, although
he almost never incited that drift. We just knew, whatever the issue or event,
he would have insightful things to say.

I noted quickly that he did not preach about studying the
scriptures. He just assumed that we did and with regularity and intensity. He
wasn’t directive regarding our responsibility to think and ponder about the
future of the Kingdom, but it was clear that to him this is expected of all of
us. I also noted his almost automatic ability to turn a “dumb” answer
into a profound insight as if I or one of the others had really made the
observation ourselves.

In the late 1980s, I was serving on the Missionary Health
Advisory Committee, which had been created and charged to do what we could to
enhance the health of our missionaries. Initially, our small committee made
trips around the world, although we all lived on the Wasatch Front, near Church
headquarters. The Brethren then determined that there was some advantage in
having the same physician become more familiar with a particular part of the
world to provide continuity in advice and counsel. This was before our current
practice of calling physicians and their companions to serve full-time missions
as health advisors in the missions or Areas of the Church.

I was assigned to the Areas in Asia and the Pacific and
spent a couple of weeks, two or three times a year, visiting the many missions
in that part of the world. At the same time, Elder Maxwell was also the First
Contact in the Twelve, and he graciously invited me to accompany
him and Sister Maxwell to various mission presidents’ seminars held in Korea,
Japan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. As we traveled together, we not
only became better acquainted, but I also had the special privilege of hearing
him teach at each stop. Because his mind moved so much faster than mine did, I
felt I had finally grasped much of what he was trying to teach by the fourth
time he covered a particular topic.

On one trip, he was having some serious back pain, as he did
on occasion. No one would have known it, except for the special cushion he had
to give him a little comfort as he patiently sat through many meetings and long
airplane rides. It was on one of those airplane trips between Tokyo and Manila
that I herniated a disc in my own lower back by unwisely jumping up and
twisting as I tried to help a little lady retrieve her baggage from the
overhead compartment. Given my medical background, I knew exactly what I had
done. I tried as best I could to disguise my limp and my pain, but Elder
Maxwell noticed it and was especially solicitous.

In one of the meetings the next day, I thought I had masked
my discomfort well when Elder Maxwell removed the cushion from his own back and
handed it to me with the statement, “You need this more than I do.”
On that occasion, he would not take “no” for an answer and made it
clear that it was not a matter open for discussion.

One summer day, after several of these trips, he called and
asked if I could stop by his office. At that time, my office was located in the
Beneficial Life Tower across South Temple from the Church Administration
Building, and I was able to go immediately. He was his typical, gracious self
and asked if I would be available for the round of mission presidents’ seminars
in the fall. I agreed that I could be if he wished. He then said, “I think
it would also be nice if Sharon could accompany us if she can.” I told him
I was sure we could arrange it. This request came as somewhat of a surprise because
such an invitation was certainly not the usual course of things for our
committee members. He told me that I shouldn’t say anything about it to the
Missionary Department and that he would arrange airline tickets, hotels, and so

Sharon and I had a wonderful time with Colleen and Elder Maxwell.
They were unfailingly kind and thoughtful throughout the trip. I’ll give one
example. The evening before we were to leave, Sharon and I were out for part of
the evening. When we returned home, our children were excited and asked us, “Guess
who visited us?” After mentioning our neighbors, their grandparents and
other relatives, the bishop, the home teachers, and others that we could think
of, they took great delight in stumping us. They then showed us a beautiful
fruit basket with a note from Elder and Sister Maxwell thanking our children
for sharing their parents with them for the next several days. These are people
who never were too busy to be thoughtful, generous, and uplifting.

The fact that Sharon was going on the trip, which was
technically out of policy, became known to some of the staff leadership in the
Missionary Department, and they were quite put out at “my” audacious
request of a member of the Twelve. I asked Elder Maxwell what I should say, and
he said, “Say nothing. I will handle it.” To this day, I do not know
what he said or did, but I received no more criticism, at least to my face.

Several years later, after I had been a General Authority
for some time, Elder Maxwell made a passing comment about “Sharon’s audition
trip.” I was puzzled and asked him to explain. He said that several of the
Brethren knew me well but none, other than Elder Ashton, felt that they knew
Sharon as well as they would like to. The trip gave him an opportunity to size
her up for himself. Since then, Sharon and I have kidded each other on occasion
about how our lives would have been very different if she had ordered wine with
her meals or told a few questionable jokes when Elder Maxwell invited her to

In my experience, Elder Maxwell was always perfect in
following the “unwritten order” of the Church and was ever proper
with even the smallest acts of courtesy and deportment. It was interesting to
see how he handled the occasional goofs of new Seventies who might come to a
meeting and inadvertently sit in the chair of one of the senior Brethren. No
one was ever embarrassed, but proper deference was always taught and modeled.

Likewise, while he always announced himself as “Neal”
on the telephone to secretaries, his protégés, and others, he was unfailing in
the respect he showed to everyone, but especially the senior Brethren. For
example, he always called President Faust “President” even though
they had been dear friends and associates for years—long before either
became a General Authority.

Many of Elder Maxwell’s classic and famous “one liners”
have been wonderfully recorded in Cory’s quote book. Some of his private
comments in small, confidential groups were also classics. Pity
that they can’t be shared widely. That is not because they were not true
or tasteful, because they always were. It is accurate to say that they were
usually memorable even when not repeatable because without
proper context or deep understanding, some of the one-liners would still be
humorous but would not teach the intended lesson and might imply criticism or
disrespect that did not exist.

I don’t believe I ever saw Elder Maxwell duck or evade a
question placed before him, but he was also very quick to say, “I don’t
know.” More than once, I can recall him deflecting the frustration or
implied criticism of one who didn’t agree with a decision made or a path followed
by saying something like, “I wonder what the First Presidency or stake
presidency knows that we don’t know?” I know of no one else who could
teach such profound lessons by merely asking seemingly simple and straightforward
questions. He sought not only to defuse uncomfortable situations but also to
share insight without preaching or condemnation even when such was more than

Over the years, Elder Maxwell’s interests and concerns
seemed to shift on matters of potentially lesser importance. I have thought
about this with great interest and reflection since my arrival at BYU and have
seen my own concerns and attitudes develop or change in ways I would never have
imagined. In the late 1980s, I became the Vice President for Health Sciences at
the University of Utah. While I still spent most of my time up on the hill at
the Medical Center, I also had an office in the Park Building, or the
University of Utah equivalent to our ASB. It was then I learned that the office
I occupied was the same one used by Neal Maxwell when he was Executive Vice

Among my many duties was the responsibility to make presentations
from time to time to the state legislature. On one occasion, I was assigned to
make the case that our appropriation should be larger than was budgeted because
of the economic multipliers our research and other activities brought to the
state. Wanting to do a good job, I attempted to study the history of these
regular struggles between the university and the legislature. In so doing, I
learned that the first and best presentation on that issue to that time had
been orchestrated and delivered by Neal Maxwell during Jim Fletcher’s
administration. Consequently, I based my approach and arguments on what he had
done and had some modest but definite success in the process.

I confess that I was quite pleased with this outcome and
reported it to Elder Maxwell when I next saw him. To my surprise, he seemed
almost disinterested, although he was his usual warm and thoughtful self. He
offered his commendation and congratulations, but I realized then that he had
really moved on and his mind was focused on bigger and more significant issues.
I had heard him talk about the hierarchy of truths previously and how not all
of them were created to be equal. Likewise, he taught me that not all honorable
activities and endeavors have equal significance for those who really aspire to
putting the Kingdom first.

I’m still trying to learn to apply that lesson as I find
myself frequently dealing with matters that seem to have great proximal significance
and yet virtually no importance in the real big picture. He not only spoke and
wrote frequently about the importance of listening to the Spirit to know “things
as they really are, and of things as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13),
but Neal Maxwell also taught this principle by his own example.

During roughly the same time period, I encountered a dilemma
in my professional life that seemed very significant and without easy answers.
I understood my alternatives, but each had seemingly major positives and
negatives. Because I had received some pointed, unsolicited counsel from
President Marion G. Romney some years before that potentially impacted the
decision I needed to make, I thought it wise to seek some further and timely
counsel from Brother Maxwell and another member of the Twelve. Not wanting to
appear to shop for opinions among the Brethren, but knowing that these two apostles
would have insights both general and specific, I asked to see them together,
and they graciously agreed to visit with me.

As I outlined what I thought my dilemma was, they both
listened carefully. The first member of the Twelve asked very insightful questions
and then offered some wise counsel. All through the initial several minutes of
our meeting, Elder Maxwell was silent. After his colleague had finished, I
turned to him and expected his usual, profound solution to my problem. For what
seemed to be a long interval, he said nothing until finally, with some feeling,
he said, “Above all else, you must protect your integrity.” That was
all. I waited for more, but he pushed back his chair and we all stood and the
meeting was over. He was gracious and thoughtful as always, but I frankly left
a little disappointed.

It was only in the hours and days following the meeting that
it came to me with significant clarity that Elder Maxwell had done me a great
favor. He was not willing to take away my moral agency even though at the time
I would have gladly surrendered it to him. Further, by giving me the direct and
clear counsel to protect my integrity, my course of action became crystal
clear. The vexing complications I had spent so much time worrying about became
secondary details that were more easily dealt with when I realized what was
really important.

While I have never been quick enough to catch all that Elder
Maxwell taught, in retrospect his seemingly incidental commentary was always
instructive. Just two brief examples.

Once, as a member of the
Church Public Affairs Committee, I had been asked to handle a slightly
complicated and potentially tender situation. I did my best, but in making my
report, I expressed my concern that I could have handled the matter better in
some respects while confessing that I didn’t know what more I could have done.
Elder Maxwell simply said, “I think you did just what President Tanner
would have done.” That was a high compliment. It reminded me yet again
that President Tanner was courageous and reeked with integrity, and we have a
responsibility to go and do likewise. Elder Maxwell’s simple sentence conveyed
more meaning important to me than would have a long series of adulatory, but
nonspecific, comments of praise.

Just over four years ago, when I had not
yet been informed by President Hinckley of my BYU appointment, I was
having a bowl of soup with Elder Maxwell. We visited informally about a number
of items when seemingly out of the blue, he said to
me, “You handle stress well, don’t you.” It wasn’t a question; it was
a statement. I replied that I hoped so. I waited for more light to be shed, but
he quickly changed the subject. It was only a few days later and after a brief
stop in President Hinckley’s office that I thought I then understood what he
was driving at.

After these many years, I had learned clearly that Elder
Maxwell was always ultracareful never to betray a
confidence or speak about confidential matters inappropriately. He was
especially punctilious about never getting ahead of the First Presidency in any
way on any matter. Nevertheless, knowing President Hinckley’s style and his confidence
in Elder Maxwell’s judgment, I am confident without any affirmative data that
he had his role in my current assignment.

My appointment to come to BYU in 2003 came as a complete
surprise, but in retrospect I could have seen Elder Maxwell’s fingerprints on
my career for a long time. Not that I assign to him the blame for what has been
inflicted on BYU, but I do recognize his efforts to advance my career and
broaden my experiences. Let me share just one among many opportunities that I
have been given where I believe him to be in complicity.

In the spring of 1989, BYU President Jeffrey R. Holland was
called to the Seventy and an announcement was made of his pending release from
BYU. Several weeks after general conference, I was in St. George with my family
at a medical meeting. On Friday afternoon, my then sixteen-year-old son, Scott,
reported that he had taken a phone message from a “Commissioner Cameron”
who wanted me to return his call. I didn’t recognize the name initially and
asked Scott who he was. He said he didn’t know, and I immediately began to
search my memory for various county commissioners, legislators, and other
public officials. I drew a blank. He then handed me the note with the return
phone number, and I saw that it had the 240 prefix, which, as you know, is for
Church headquarters.

I returned the call and realized I was speaking with Elliot
Cameron, then Commissioner of Church Education. He quickly said, “The
search committee for the next president of BYU has asked that you meet with
them Monday morning at 9:00 am in
Elder Marvin J. Ashton’s office. May I tell them you will be there?” I
said yes and arranged my affairs to do so.

I had also been close to Elder Ashton in both Church assignments
and while he served on the Utah State Board of Regents. I had no illusions that
I was a serious candidate and assumed that they might want my impressions on
other candidates that I might know in higher education circles.

When I arrived, seated next to Elder Ashton behind his desk
were Elder Maxwell on his right and Elder L. Tom Perry on his left. They were
gracious and friendly. Elder Ashton said, “Both Neal and I know you well.
We will have Elder Perry ask you some questions.” The first question from
Elder Perry was, “How do you think you would fit at BYU?” It was not
a question I anticipated, and my answer was, I’m sure, unsatisfactory. Elder Ashton
was trying to hide his grin, and Elder Maxwell, keeping his face impassive,
just winked at me. I said in response to Elder Perry, “I don’t know how I
would fit because I have never been a student or faculty member at BYU. I don’t
think they do what I do, and I don’t do what they do.” It only occurred to
me sometime later to hope they understood clearly that I was talking about my
professional activities in medicine and not my personal values or religious practices.

Quickly the conversation moved from my own situation to a discussion
of others. Soon the questions became more pointed because I was somewhat
acquainted with Rex Lee and they were very interested in any thoughts I had
about him, his academic reputation, and suitability for the job. Unfortunately,
I couldn’t add to anything they did not know, but I left the interview with the
distinct impression that Rex Lee was the man, and it was confirmed a few days
later with the public announcement. I have often thought that perhaps my very
undistinguished performance with the search committee saved me from an
interview for my current responsibilities. We don’t have time to share other
substantive efforts on Elder Maxwell’s part to help me, along with countless
others, have opportunities and experiences of significance.

Let me conclude with one last experience that I have
selected from so many because I believe it is absolutely germane to what must
be accomplished at the Maxwell Institute here at BYU. Although Elder Maxwell
was weakening in the spring of 2004, he approached his illness and work with
admirable clinical detachment and obviously was enduring well to the end. In
spite of his pain, weakness, and fatigue, his mind was always on others. By
then, I had been at BYU almost one year. One day at the Church Office Building,
I ran into Elder Maxwell and he invited me into his office. He was most
solicitous and anxious to know how I felt things at BYU were going. He then
asked if there was anything he could do to be helpful, all the while strictly
respecting my reporting lines to the Board of Trustees.

Knowing his love for BYU and particularly for its important
place in the work of the Kingdom, I ventured an invitation to have him come, if
he felt able, and speak to our President’s Leadership Council at its annual
meeting in the weeks ahead. He seemed genuinely pleased with the invitation
and, in fact, was able to come. He did a splendid job, as always, and this
turned out to be his last mortal visit to BYU.

Both publicly and privately he remarked that day on the
tremendous progress made at BYU in the over three decades since he was named as
Commissioner of Church Education. He paid especial tribute to the increased
quality of the faculty and expressed appreciation for what has been accomplished
and anticipation for what yet will be done. He titled his remarks that day “Blending
Research and Revelation.” Let me share a few paragraphs from his message
to the BYU President’s Leadership Council.

In a way LDS scholars at BYU and elsewhere are a little
bit like the builders of the temple in Nauvoo, who worked with a trowel in one
hand and a musket in the other. Today scholars building the temple of learning
must also pause on occasion to defend the Kingdom. I personally think [said
Elder Maxwell] this is one of the reasons the Lord established and maintains
this University. The dual role of builder and defender is unique and ongoing. I
am grateful we have scholars today who can handle, as it were, both trowels and

Our scholars’ work must be respectable, and it must be
effective over the long haul. In the revelations it is clear that the Lord is
concerned about the “rising generations.” So whatever is done today
in the Church is done in goodly measure for those who will follow. The rising
generation needs to be, in the words of Peter and Paul, “grounded,” “rooted,”
“established,” and “settled.” BYU and its scholars have a
role to play in this effort. Of course testimonies are a gift of the Spirit,
but the youth of the Church are blessed by what happens here.

Elder Maxwell continues:

I’ve thought several times in recent years: Who would
have ventured to say 30 years ago that BYU would become a focal point for work
on the Dead Sea Scrolls? And who would have guessed 30 years ago that we would
have a key role with regard to certain Islamic translations? Who would have
foreseen the extensive work we do on ancient texts?

I do not think anybody would have guessed that all that is
happening would happen so quickly and so demonstrably. The Lord’s hand is in
it. I do not presume to know in all its dimensions or implications, but it is
not accidental.

This description of what has happened during the last three
decades not only focuses in large part on what those who are part of the
Maxwell Institute, not existing during Elder Maxwell’s lifetime in its present
form, have accomplished. More importantly, it articulates what must yet be done
if we are to meet his challenge to be both builders and defenders. The
magnificent charge to those privileged to serve in and with the Maxwell
Institute is to be men and women of faith—and to produce others as
well—who have high levels of Christian devotion, expertise, and
accomplishment with both “trowels and muskets.”

Might we ever remember the man, the scholar, and disciple
Neal A. Maxwell with appreciation for both his contributions and the responsibility
we have to meet the potential he has seen for us.