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N. Eldon Tanner

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N. Eldon Tanner (first name, Nathan) was an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1962 until his death in 1982.

Early Years

N. Eldon Tanner was born May 8, 1898, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Nathan William Tanner and Sarah Edna Brown Tanner. Most of his life was spent in the Mormon colonies in Alberta, Canada. His parents' first home was a dugout—a one-room shelter cut out of the side of a hill and reinforced with logs—six miles south of Cardston. However, Eldon was not born there, as his mother had returned to Salt Lake City to be with her mother for the birth of her first child. Even as a youngster he assumed responsibility beyond his years. At one time when the entire family was ill with smallpox he was the only nurse. For two nights and three days he had no sleep as he attended the sick. None of the neighbors dared come in because of the dread disease. At an early age he learned the virtues of self-reliance and determination to accomplish a job that appeared too difficult. As a young boy he was driving a four-horse team, hauling grain to the elevators, often in those characteristic early snowstorms. He learned the value of hard work on the farm and has made it a rule throughout his life to devote his full attention to the job at hand. [1]

Eldon attended school in Calgary and, just a short time after graduation, became a teacher and principal of a three-room school in Hill Spring. To meet the needs of the idle youth as well as his students at school, he introduced boxing, wrestling, and basketball; organized a Scout troop, and trained the cadets. Gradually the reputation of the boys in that town improved until they were considered the most well-rounded and mannerly boys in the stake. He was an exacting disciplinarian, insisting that rules and regulations are for a purpose and that it was the teacher’s responsibility to enforce them.

In Hill Spring he met and married Sara Isabelle Merrill. In the years that followed, the Tanners became the parents of five daughters-Ruth, Sara Isabelle, Zola, Edna Beth and Helen.

Professional and Church Activities

These were depression years and schoolteachers were poorly paid, and the Eldon Tanners needed to supplement their meager income. So they sold their only possession, a fancy new Ford sedan. Using the money as a down payment, they purchased a small general store, which they operated while teaching school. A general store in those days carried anything from yardage to farm machinery, and the store prospered to the extent that he gave up his teaching job to run the store and the post office. He did his own freighting from Lethbridge and Cardston. [2]

President Tanner next took a position as high school teacher in Cardston and moved his family there. During his eight years in Cardston he was on the town council, principal of an elementary school, Scoutmaster, bishop’s counselor, and later bishop of Cardston First Ward.

Eldon Tanner was elected to the Alberta legislature and became the provincial minister of lands and mines. He remained in government service until 1952, when he became president of Merrill Petroleums of Canada. Later, as head of TransCanada Pipeline, Limited, he directed the building of the TransCanadian pipeline. He became nationally known in Canadian business and financial circles for the service he rendered to Canada. He became internationally known for his personal integrity and management skills. [3] Because of his leadership abilities he was given numerous and varied important responsibilities. New grazing regulations were introduced under his administration, and he spent eight years in establishing the Eastern Rockies Forest Conservation Board. He served as chairman of a postwar rehabilitation committee and as chairman of a research council for Alberta. He and Sister Tanner met their many social obligations and responsibilities with warm and gracious dignity and won many friends for themselves and for the Church.

They won the admiration and respect of many influential men and women of Canada and Great Britain. In England they were guests of the late Duke of Windsor at his invitation, and also met with Lord Beaverbrook and other high government officials. It was their pleasure to review the Scouts in southern Alberta with Princess Elizabeth. Later when she became Queen they dined with her and Prince Philip. They were guests of the government of Barbados, West Indies, for a month to assist in drafting their oil and gas legislation.

President and Sister Tanner planned and built their “dream home” in Calgary and had just settled into it when the call came for him to be an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve, and they moved to Utah.

President and Sister Tanner moved to Salt Lake City in early 1961. President Tanner was ordained an Apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on October 11, 1962, and he served as counselor to four presidents—David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, and Spencer W. Kimball. President Tanner served the Church, Salt Lake City and its citizens. His community service was recognized in 1978 when he was honored with the "A Giant in Our City" Award by the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.

President Tanner, at age 84, died November 27, 1982, at his home in Salt Lake City.

Apostle Marvin J. Ashton had this to say regarding N. Eldon Tanner:

President N. Eldon Tanner closely follows the 112th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verse ten: "Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers." We would serve ourselves and other well if we could humbly say, " I don't know why I've been called," or, if you please, " I don't know why I haven't been called, but I'm going to do the best I can." Brothers and sisters, students, leaders, do not let yourselves be concerned about your limitations or lack of talent; resolve positively with more vigor and determination tonight than ever before, "I may not be much; I may not have much going for me, but in his strength I can do all things." As I think of the life of this great man, I see that humility is not a weakness; humility is a strength. I have often heard President Tanner say, "God cannot answer our prayers unless we are humble."
President N. Eldon Tanner is known by his associates in and out of the Church as Mr. Integrity, a man of character, a man of quality, an advocate of self-discipline. Frequently in conference he has admonished, "Be honest. Don't be a hypocrite. Be what you should be." He is a man of few words and much performance. I have never heard him make a cheap or shabby remark. I have never seen him when he was not a gentleman, when he was not the personification of integrity. [4]

Quotes from N. Eldon Tanner

"Success Is Gauged By Self-Mastery" I should like to say a few words about self-discipline, self-control, or self-mastery which is so important to all of us if we are to accomplish what we set out to do and enjoy the blessings which we desire so much. First, I should like to quote some of the philosophers. Plato said: "The first and best victory is to conquer self; to be conquered by self is, of all things, the most shameful and vile." And da Vinci once said: "You will never have a greater or lesser dominion than that over yourself." Then he goes on to say that "the height of a man's success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment. . . . And this law is the expression of eternal justice. He who cannot establish dominion over himself will have no dominion over others." In other words,he cannot be a worthy father or leader. Solomon in all his wisdom made this meaningful statement: "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." (Proverbs 16:32) There are two important elements in self-mastery. The first is to determine your course or set the sails, so to speak, of moral standards; the other is the willpower, or the wind in the sails carrying one forward. As I said before, character is determined by the extent to which we can master ourselves toward good ends. It is difficult to say just what builds good character, but we know it when we see it. It always commands our admiration, and the absence of it our pity. But it is largely a matter of willpower.
It is easy to do things for our own families and loved ones, but to give of our substance for the stranger who is in need is the real test of our charity and love for our fellowmen. [5]


  1. Hugh B. Brown, “President N. Eldon Tanner: A Man of Integrity,” Ensign, Nov 1972, 13.
  2. Ibid.
  3. BYU Marriott School:N. Eldon Tanner
  4. Marvin J. Ashton, fireside address at Brigham Young University on 4 December 1977.

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