Saturday, October 17, 2009

Elder John M. Madsen

Elder John M. Madsen was released as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy at the most recent General Conference, and "graduated" to Emeritus status.  It's hard for us to imagine that he's turned 70 years old!  Seems like yesterday when we were all younger.

There are a few people in your life whose influence spans a lifetime.  Elder John M. Madsen of the Seventy is just such a person for Patsy and me.

When we were teenagers attending East High School in Salt Lake City, John Madsen was a newly-minted Seminary teacher.  We both took classes from him at the Seminary building, along with hundreds, later thousands, of Seminary students.  He was one of the faculty advisors to the Seminary Council while I was president of the Seminary.  We all loved him.  A fabulous athlete, he played wide receiver at Washington State in his undergraduate days -- when we tossed the football around his good hands were still in evidence.

It wasn't long before he was teaching Institute at the University of Utah, where we both hooked up again with him as college students and sat at his feet to drink from his overflowing well of gospel knowledge and wisdom.

My next encounter with Brother Madsen was in England.  He was introducing the home study Seminary program in Great Britain.  Shortly before I departed for home, he called me and asked if he could take me to dinner.  That night in Manchester we discussed the deplorable condition of the world in general and the penetrating wickedness of Salt Lake City in particular.  He had a sense, as I did, that wicked conditions would surely usher in the Second Coming in short order. 

The year was 1968 -- the end of the much-ballyhoed Sixties.  He wondered with me if I would even have time to get home, get married and establish a family before the end of the world might come.  Of course, it was fanciful thinking and little more than pure speculation on our part, but the ensuing years have proven one thing -- God's patience with His children seems nearly inexhaustible.

A few months after that we met at a crossroads somewhere near Birmingham, where the Madsens presented my Mother with a gift of a Nottingham lace tablecloth she treasured until the day she died.  My parents were in England to pick me up and then we toured through Europe before returning home.

Life unfolded after that.  I married, we began our family, and I continued to take classes from Brother Madsen, now adult CES "Know Your Religion" classes being taught in our stake center.  On occasion he joined us for dinner before the classes.  I was always edified and inspired by his teaching.  He could teach the most profound and sublime doctrine with a smile on his face.  He always lifted and blessed everyone he taught.

He opened my eyes to the scriptures.  One example:  While teaching us from Alma 32 one night, he asked, "What is the word -- the one word in this chapter -- that the whole chapter revolves around?"  We all responded quickly and with assurance, having heard this lesson many times before.  In a near unison we shouted out, "FAITH."  Patiently he told us to look deeper for the one word that stood as a symbol in this chapter, the one word that was likened to the seed.  Then I saw it for the first time -- the word, the one word was the WORDThe word of God is likened to the seed, not faith as I had supposed.  The keyword "word" appears 17 times in the chapter!  I have never forgotten his skillful way in letting me make that discovery (and so many more) for myself, not merely slamming it home.  He was a master teacher I have tried to emulate.

Long after my days as a student at the University of Utah, I returned frequently for some one-on-one face time in his office in random moments when I was passing by.  He always welcomed me, and we discussed the gospel in depth.  He had a vast scripture card collection in his filing cabinet on which he had written and organized key passages and quotes from the Brethren.  He was the consummate student, which is why he became a teacher's teacher.  I loved those inpromptu meetings with him in his office so much! 

Many years ensued after that.  He was called as a General Authority.  He went to Mexico in his first Area Authority assignment with no knowledge of Spanish.  I always considered that an act of extreme faith.  Later he was in an area assignment in Australia where my dear friend Scott Strong served as a mission president in Adelaide.  How I envied Scott for the interactions he was having with Elder Madsen! 

Next we saw the Madsens after a concert at BYU while our daughter Melanie was a student there.  That night he wanted a rundown on every single one of our children (not a small endeavor), and wrote it all down in his little notebook.  I was amazed at his personalized and individualized attention to detail after so many years had transpired.  We picked up the conversation despite all the intervening years as if we were old friends who hadn't missed a beat.

Soon after that I called him to ask if he would perform a marriage for our oldest son Jeff and his bride, Kim.  He readily agreed and officiated at their ceremony in the Salt Lake Temple.  He gave marvelous counsel to the newlyweds, reviewing in detail the elements of the endowment, referring in that sacred setting to the specific covenants -- the "celestial circuit," he called it -- we must pursue during our mortal sojourn.  He was always so accommodating, so attentive and so generous with us.  He is the personification of Christ's love -- the best of the best of all that a General Authority is.

He and Diane can now take a well-deserved breather, but don't think for one moment his service to the Church might be over.  He will inevitably pop up again somewhere in a corner of the Kingdom of God on the earth, because that's who John Madsen is -- an untiring servant of the Lord.

I'm just glad I knew him, and I'll bet there are a myriad of folks who feel exactly the same way I do!


  1. Brother Goates, thanks for the post about Elder Madsen. I am a former missionary of Scott Strong from Adelaide and also had the privilege of learning at the feet of Elder Madsen. He is an amazing teacher, one of the only men I have held up with Pres. Strong. I love his animated stories and deep knowledge of the gospel. I believe my brother-in-law, Tom, emailed you already about any other writings you have put together. I would also love a copy of anything you have as well as the pdf version of "Power and Covenants." I look forward to reading your future posts.

  2. Brother Goates,
    Thanks for the post. It was my privilege to first be taught by Elder Madsen while I served as a missionary in Tampico, Mexico from 1993-1995. While serving in the Area Presidency, he visited our mission often. Fortunaltely, after my mission, I discovered that one of his nephews was a good friend of mine, and as such I had further opportunities to become acquainted with him. A few years back, my family and I visited him in his office, and he gave us a tour of the Church office building. Subsequently, in 2008, I took my then 8 year-old son to General Conference (the year Elder Madsen gave his 'Deacon's Bench' address). We had met with him in his office the day before he gave that address, and he showed us the statue and asked my recently baptized son what he saw, to which my son responded, "Missionaries!" During that visit, we also had the opportunity to meet many of the Apostles, which was an absolute treat for both of us. Anyway, thank you again for your post. It captured so well what I have experienced in my interactions with Elder Madsen. If you have any notes or other interesting writings you can forward from Elder Madsen, please share.