Latter-day Prophets: A Conversation with Mary Jane Woodger
Interview by Jonathon R. Owen
Q: You have cited David O. McKay as a great influence in your life. Which teachings of his have shaped who you are?
A: There is a lot about David O. McKay that has definitely shaped who I am. He was the subject of my dissertation, and I was really pleased to find that his attitudes toward education were much the same as mine. I just read an article written by someone who wanted a critique of it, and one of the things they were getting after President McKay about was being too idealistic. That is one of the things that I cherish about him—he put an ideal forward and said, here’s the ideal, and I’m not going to apologize. That’s the way it can be, and that’s what you work toward. That has definitely affected my life as a teacher, to say, here’s the ideal, and that’s what we’re going to work for.
And of course, President McKay was in such a key position. What he taught had so much to do with marriage and the family. Yet during his era, the real attack on the family had not hit yet. What he did for that generation was to prepare them to raise the next generation when the attack would come. It is an incredible testimony to me that the Lord knows exactly who he needs to have in place, and he does it every time.
Q: I understand that you are researching George Albert Smith and the trials he faced in his life. What are some of the insights you have gained as you have looked into his life?
A: He is interesting because when we look at the Brethren, we do not think they ever have big problems. We think that they just handle everything, that they are spiritual giants. The main thing I have discovered with George Albert Smith is that he suffered a nervous breakdown. He had an emotional collapse that was precipitated by great physical problems. The thing I find interesting about him is how he faced those problems and what brought him out of it, and it was definitely prayer. He got to the point where he did not think that he could go on. In fact, he was asking the Lord to release him. As he submitted to the Lord and then asked his wife for help also, that is when the great turning point came in his life.
The other thing that I like about George Albert Smith is that he was known for being the most pleasant, kind, Christlike individual, and no one knew except his close associates what he was really going through. But he knew his limits. There were times when he just went to bed. He fulfilled his positions, he fulfilled his responsibilities, but he knew his limits. He was only the prophet for six years, and he is one that we kind of skip over. There are so many Smiths that he gets lost in the mix. But he was brilliant and had great characteristics, great love and great kindness, and he came in right between Germany surrendering and Japan surrendering in World War II and bound up those wounds that people were suffering from after World War II. He did it in an amazing way, demonstrating great Christlike love.
Q: What do you hope your students will have learned by the time they leave your class?
A: My main desire for my students is to see the great hand of the Lord in the history of the Church and also in the lives of our current General Authorities. I hope they will transfer that to their own lives and realize that the Lord is directing them also. Of course, my greatest desire is for them to receive that witness that these men are who we say they are. I hope that as they leave they will have a great desire to continue to study their lives and their teachings. I hope especially in my living prophets class that the general conference we study that particular semester will be like none other, and that thereafter, conference will be a great hallmark in their lives.