Biographer reflects back on the life of President M. Russell Ballard

Nov 14, 2023, 6:42 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — A big loss and an amazing legacy, those are the words from the biographer of M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who passed away on Sunday night.

“I feel like I lost a dear friend,” said Dr. Susan Easton Black, who wrote President Ballard’s biography titled, “Anxiously Engaged.”

Black spent nearly 39 years teaching church history at Brigham Young University, and she has written close to 200 books. However, she considers “Anxiously Engaged” as one of her greatest accomplishments.

“I wrote a lot about president Ballard’s ancestors,” she said. “But suddenly to write about a living apostle that I had sustained for literally decades as a prophet, seer, and revelator, it was a choice experience, never to be forgotten,” she said.

Receiving the bad news

Black says she learned of President Ballard’s death early Monday morning. Even though he was 95 years old, she says it was still a shock and difficult to hear the news.

“Wow, that’s a big loss,” she said. “I lost someone that I very much admired.”

Writing his biography was a monumental task, Black says.  She poured over hundreds of pages of journals and interviewed dozens of people from church leaders to family and friends.

Dr. Susan Easton Black, who wrote President Ballard’s biography titled, “Anxiously Engaged.” She says she feels like she has lost a friend. (KSL TV)

“I just feel like he was somebody I knew that could see afar,” Black said. “And as I interviewed his friends and colleagues that was their most consistent response that he could see afar. Whereas I could see across the street, he could see the endgame. To me, he seemed fearless. He knew who he was.”One experience that changed President Ballard’s life forever, was when he traveled to Ethiopia to distribute money that had been raised for the poor and needy.

“Once he had been in Ethiopia and had seen that poverty and that sorrow,” Black said. “That had a huge impact on him that he wanted to make a difference.”

A life-changing experience

And one story about President Ballard that changed Black’s life occurred in Thailand. His watch had broken and those who were with him bargained with a woman at  a market to buy him another one.

“Here’s the watch and we have it down to this price [they said], and he said to the young woman, ‘how much were you originally asking for the watch?’ And when she indicated it, [President Ballard] said, ‘that’s the price I would like to pay.'” Black said. “That just really struck me. Sometimes when you think you are making a good deal, it’s not a good deal for the other person. I was very touched by that. It’s had a huge impact in my life.”

President Ballard is the great great grandson of Hyrum Smith, the brother of Church founder Joseph Smith. As a church history expert, that’s a tender connection for Black.

“We have lost not only a great prophet, seer, and revelator, but we’ve lost a connection back to the first prophets,” Black said. “I love church history and wow I think he was the link to the past.”

President M. Russell Ballard dies at age 95

Black says President Ballard’s legacy will live on as a man who truly was anxiously engaged in the Lords’ work.

“I just hope I can live my life that I can be worthy to see him again someday,” Black said.

President Ballard’s funeral services are scheduled for Friday at 11 a.m. at the Tabernacle on Temple Square.

You can watch it live on the KSL Plus App, and on the KSL Facebook Page.

He and his wife, who passed away five years ago, are survived by their seven children, 43 grandchildren and 105 great grandchildren.



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Biographer reflects back on the life of President M. Russell Ballard