M. Russell Ballard, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has lived a life of entrepreneurship, leadership, and prominence—even if he considers himself ordinary. In this interview, biographer Dr. Susan Easton Black says that the real theme of his life has not been innovation or business, but devotion to Jesus Christ.
Read Dr. Black’s biography of M. Russell Ballard.
What anecdotes from President Ballard’s biography show his personality and nature? Which did you enjoy most?
I really liked the stories from his boyhood. I liked learning how the Lord moved in mighty ways to bless his life, give him character building experiences, and put him in places where he could make a difference.
I like that he attended seminary and served a mission in his youth and built on the strong foundation of spirituality to become an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.
President Ballard had a unique experience—and recommendation—regarding college. What can young people learn from him in that regard?
Priorities in life change with the times and circumstances of life. President Ballard found his chosen vocation before completing his degree. As the years came and went, he lamented that he had not finished his college degree.
While in college, he met the love of his life—Barbara Bowen. Of Barbara, President Ballard said, “The single greatest accomplishment of my life was convincing her that I was the only true and living missionary among all those she was dating.”
President Ballard said:
I don’t think finishing my degree would have made a huge difference in my professional career, and I’m not aware of any opportunities, that were denied me as a result of not finishing my bachelor’s degree.
Then again, I don’t know what opportunities might have come my way during the last year of my college program. . . I allowed myself to be deterred from accomplishing that worthy goal by not staying focused on what I was trying to do.“Anxiously Engaged: A Biography of M. Russell Ballard,” page 73.
Why did a young M. Russell Ballard describe himself primarily as an entrepreneur?
An entrepreneur is “a person who attempts to make a profit by starting a company or by operating alone in the business world.” As a Church leader, President Ballard has been enterprising rather than entrepreneurial. He has always sought to do the will of the Lord.
How does President Ballard stay “ordinary” when he has a heritage of prominent Church leaders?
President Ballard’s heritage includes prophets and apostles. I don’t think he ever was “ordinary.” He is extraordinary. He has always been a standout, whether in business or in the Church. He is well-liked. He is a true leader. One of his great qualities is the ability to reach the “one.”
How does President M. Russell Ballard get up and serve everyday despite his numerous health challenges?
M. Russell Ballard has faced many health challenges in his life. Yet, he continues to serve. I think his determination to move forward when facing personal afflictions has becomes a hallmark of his faith and an example to millions of members throughout the world.
President Ballard has wide experience in Church matters—everything from Church curriculum and authoring books to welfare and humanitarian service in Ethiopia. Despite this, there are clear themes throughout his life.
What is the most prominent theme in M. Russell Ballard’s church service?
I would pick the theme of missionary work. President Ballard was an outstanding missionary in his youth. He has not relinquished the spirit of missionary work as an adult. He shares the message of the Restoration and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
President Dallin H. Oaks admires M. Russell Ballard’s willingness to speak hard truths in meetings with senior Church leaders. Did Susan Easton Black also see that quality?
President Ballard is not afraid to share his opinion. He is also not afraid to follow the Lord. He is a champion of truth and righteousness. He sets an example of goodness in all settings.
What M. Russell Ballard teaching means the most to Susan Easton Black?
For me it will always be President M. Russell Ballard’s testimony. He wrote:
My testimony that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and another testament of Jesus Christ has been borne to many nations of the earth because of the wonderful privilege that has been mine to serve as a General Authority of the Church. I have worked side by side with prophets and apostles at this, the last dispensation of time.
It is the will of our Father in Heaven, through His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, that this mighty work moves forward. This is His gospel. He stands at the head.
I love Him more deeply and powerfully than I can find words to express. He is my Lord, my Savior, and my friend.
What happened when then-Area President Jeffrey R. Holland was anxious about hosting M. Russell Ballard? What does it teach us?
Knowing that Elder Ballard would be coming to England and Jeffrey R. Holland had never met him before, Elder Holland was concerned and said, “I just needed to know that I could do what he wanted me to do, that I could do what was right and succeed as a new General Authority”
Elder Holland received an answer to his prayer:
What we can learn from this experience is that the Lord answers our prayers and that our apprehensions can give way to understanding and joy.
What did Susan Easton Black learn when President Ballard asked the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to use the Kirtland Temple?
The story is found on pages 223-225 of Anxiously Engaged: A Biography of M. Russell Ballard. In summary, Wallace B. Smith, president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was asked by Elder M. Russell Ballard if the Kirtland Temple could be used for a mission presidents’ training meeting.
President Smith replied, “I think that would be alright.”
Permission included the passing of the sacrament. On November 6, 1993, after the passing of the sacrament, Elder M. Russell Ballard called on some of the brethren to bear their testimonies of the Savior’s mission, the restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and sacred events that had occurred in that temple. Elder Ballard then recounted in detail the history of the construction of the Kirtland Temple.
As to what I learned from this event, it’s this: if you don’t ask, an opportunity may be missed.
How did writing the biography of M. Russell Ballard influence Susan Easton Black?
I had the rare privilege of being in the presence of President Ballard several times. I also met with several other General Authorities. These experiences are sacred to me and reinforced my conviction of their prophetic call.
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M. Russell Ballard FAQ
How old is M. Russell Ballard?
President Ballard passed away on November 12, 2023 at the age of 95. He was born in 1928, the same year that the Church bought the Hill Cumorah (as depicted in the T. C. Christensen film, The Fighting Preacher).
How is M. Russell Ballard related to Hyrum Smith?
President M. Russell Ballard was the great-grandson of Hyrum Smith. His ancestor was martyred in the Carthage Jail with his brother, the Prophet Joseph Smith, on June 27, 1844.
Is M. Russell Ballard related to Joseph Smith?
Yes, M. Russell Ballard’s great-grandfather is Hyrum Smith, the brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Who is M. Russell Ballard’s father?
President Ballard’s father is Melvin R. Ballard. He passed away on December 22, 1982, shortly after talking about his father, the apostle Melvin J. Ballard, according to Susan Easton Black.
What was M. Russell Ballard’s profession?
Elder Ballard was called to the apostleship following an entrepreneurial career that included car dealerships, entertainment services, and real estate.
Where did M. Russell Ballard serve his mission?
M. Russell Ballard served his mission in England. Biographer Susan Easton Black recounts that the young missionary was surprised when George Albert Smith, the President of the Church, sat next to him during his missionary farewell on April 11, 1948.
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M. Russell Ballard resources
- M. Russell Ballard Family Tree
- Getting to Know President M. Russell Ballard (Church News)
- Fun Facts about Elder Ballard (LDS Living)
- Elder Melvin Russell Ballard, Jr., of the First Quorum of the Seventy (1976 Ensign Profile)
- Elder M. Russell Ballard Addresses Historic Gathering of Smith Descendants (Deseret News)
- Our Search for Happiness, by M. Russell Ballard
M. Russell Ballard BYU Devotionals
- Questions and Answers
- Engaging Without Being Defensive
- Focus on What Matters Most
- Here Am I, Send Me
- What Came from Kirtland
M. Russell Ballard talks (General Conference)
- Hope in Christ
- Missionary Service Blessed My Life Forever
- Watch Ye Therefore, and Pray Always
- The Trek Continues!
- O Be Wise
- Hyrum Smith: ‘Firm As the Pillars of Heaven’
M. Russell Ballard quotes
All things in their proper balance
Remember, you can be exalted without a college degree. You can be exalted without being slender and beautiful. You can be exalted without having a successful career. You can be exalted if you are not rich and famous. So focus the best that you can on those things in life that will lead you back to the presence of God – keeping all things in their proper balance.
Stand for right and truth
“It may not always be easy, convenient or politically correct to stand for truth and right, but it is the right thing to do. Always. ”
There are conversations going on about the Church constantly. Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what our Church teaches… We are living in a world saturated with all kinds of voices. Perhaps now, more than ever, we have a major responsibility as Latter-day Saints to define ourselves, instead of letting others define us.
To innovate does not necessarily mean to expand; very often it means to simplify.
What matters most
What matters most is what lasts the longest and families are forever.