President M. Russell Ballard’s humanitarian service will always be remembered by his friends
Nov 13, 2023, 9:43 PM | Updated: 9:49 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — As Utahns reflect on the life and service of President M. Russell Ballard, who passed away Sunday night at the age of 95, his humanitarian service, and his efforts towards building interfaith relationships is something homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson says she’ll always cherish about her dear friend.
“I think for me, he epitomized the teachings of Jesus Christ, I honestly do,” said Atkinson. “And I think there are hundreds and thousands of people who learned from his example.”
Atkinson spoke on her special relationship with President Ballard and his wife Barbra Monday while reminiscing about their more than 25-year friendship.
“I’m really feeling kind of sad today, he was just such a good friend,” said Atkinson.
The first time Atkinson crossed paths with President Ballard she was at LDS Hospital visiting patients. Their paths then continued crossing over the years at various humanitarian events. Soon, the two found a friendship rooted in service and Christianity.
“He loved the work I was doing; it follows the mission of what they’re all doing in the Church of Jesus Christ,” said Atkinson. “He would often ask me about people with whom I was meeting and helping.”
Atkinson says President Ballard often called her to ask about the work she was doing with the homeless community. She says one time he asked to visit a homeless camp with her.
“He was so gentle and kind to my homeless friends,” said Atkinson. “He never ever came across as being above anybody else, he just came across as President Russell Ballard.”
As an elder in the Presbyterian faith, Atkinson enjoyed President Ballard openly sharing his faith with her. “What I loved about him was his ease of talking about his faith and about Jesus Christ, he was so up front and honest,” she said.
She even smiles and says President Ballard would have liked her to join the LDS Church. She says one of her fondest memories of President Ballard is when he recently called her to ask if she would like a blessing.
“At the end of June, I got a call from him, he knew I was going to have a total knee replacement, he said would you like me to give you a blessing? And I said, you know I really would, that would be lovely,” said Atkinson. ‘It was the most beautiful thing, I didn’t even think about different faiths at that point, I thought this is pure Christianity.”
Atkinson’s friendship with President Ballard extended to his wife Barbra, who she says was a close friend. She says President Ballard’s sense of humor was often on display as the two chatted away at social events.
“When Barbara came in and sat at the table I would aways go sit next to her and we would talk and talk and suddenly I would feel a hand on my shoulder and then hear President Ballard saying, “excuse me Pamela, do you have a chair to sit on somewhere?” And we would just laugh about it.”
While honoring Sister Ballard during her funeral services, Atkinson says she shared a moment of lightness with President Ballard that still brings her joy.
“I said oh, I listened to your talk this afternoon. He said what did you think of it? I said I thought it was quite Mormon-ish, and he let out this huge laugh and everybody was looking to see what he was laughing at!”
But it’s what happened after Sister Ballard’s service that Atkinson says embodies the man that President Ballard was.
“The Tuesday or Wednesday after that I got this letter from President Ballard, thanking me for my love for Barbara thanking me for going to the viewing and thanking me for being at the service,” she said. “I mean here is this man, this great leader of a worldwide church and he pens a letter to me because I was at the services for his beautiful wife Barbara, and he wanted to let me know that she loved me too.”