Melvin Russell Ballard

Lawrence R. Flake, Prophets and Apostles of the Last Dispensation (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2001), 539–42.

Melvin Russell Ballard portrait

Born: 8 October 1928, Salt Lake City, Utah

First Quorum of the Seventy: 3 April 1976

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: 6 October 1985 (age 56)

A little boy, Russell Ballard, sat in the darkened Rialto Theater, engrossed in a Walt Disney movie. Seated beside him was his grandfather Elder Melvin J. Ballard. The sixty-three-year-old apostle had taken time from his busy schedule to treat his grandson to a movie on this special day—his eighth birthday. While the young boy was enjoying the entertaining film, he was surprised to discover that his grandfather had fallen asleep.” I couldn’t understand that,” he recalled after becoming an apostle himself. “Now I understand better, because I think most General Authorities have a hard time staying awake when the lights go out, because their heavy work load exacts a lot from them.” [1]

As he grew up, Elder Ballard came to greatly appreciate the privilege he had of knowing his noble grandfather Ballard, who died just three years after their visit to the movie. Elder Ballard’s initial M stands for Melvin and links these two latter-day apostles. He did not have the opportunity of knowing his maternal grandfather, who died ten years before Elder Ballard was born. This grandfather, Hyrum Mack Smith, also served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve until his untimely death at the age of only forty-five. Hyrum was the son of President Joseph F. Smith and bore the name of his grandfather Hyrum Smith, the brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Of the noble heritage on both sides of his family, Elder M. Russell Ballard remarked, “Knowing I was born into a goodly family and realizing the sacrifices my forefathers made for the gospel gave me a greater desire to do what is right and accept callings.” [2]

Raised in Salt Lake City, Elder Ballard accepted a mission call at the age of nineteen to Great Britain. He served as a counselor to his mission president, Selvoy J. Boyer, and expected to complete his mission about the time his president was released, but the new mission president, Stayner Richards, asked him to stay on as his counselor, which he willingly did for five additional months.

After his return home, Elder Ballard enrolled at the University of Utah. Only four days later he met a student named Barbara Bowen. He recalls, “I had danced with her only two seconds at the ‘Hello Day’ dance, and I knew she was for me.” [3] They married in the Salt Lake Temple on 28 August 1951, and over the next two decades they became the parents of two sons and five daughters. Although Elder Ballard was heavily involved in business ventures and community activities, family leadership and Church service were his priorities. He served in many Church callings, including serving as bishop twice and as president of the Canada Toronto Mission. It was while serving in the latter position that he received the call to become a general authority. He was sustained a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy at the April 1976 general conference, but he was able to return to Toronto for a year to complete his service as mission president. He served nearly ten years in the First Quorum of the Seventy, more than half of which time he was in the presidency of that quorum. In October 1985 he was called to be an apostle.

Among Elder Ballard’s many interesting assignments and contributions while serving as a general authority was a trip to Ethiopia to help the First Presidency determine how to best use the six million dollars that had been raised by a special fast for the relief of that drought-stricken nation. He also served as the chairman of the Church’s pioneer sesquicentennial committee.

While the apostles are charged with the affairs of the Church worldwide, Elder Ballard’s love for and interest in the individual members was demonstrated by an invitation he extended in his October 1980 general conference address. He invited Church members to select a nonmember or less-active person to bring closer to the gospel. Then he offered to write, at the appropriate time, a personal letter of encouragement to the individual with whom they were working. He wrote more than six hundred such letters.

Elder Ballard has been a strong advocate about the role women must play in the councils of the Church, noting that women can make a crucial difference in every important setting—particularly in the family and in the Church. “I firmly believe that we need the wisdom and counsel of the righteous women of the Church if we are to accomplish all that Heavenly Father expects of us.” [4]

In his address delivered at general conference after being sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve, a calling that had been held by his grandfathers on his mother’s side of the family for three generations (Hyrum Smith, Joseph F. Smith, Hyrum Mack Smith) and by his paternal grandfather, Melvin J. Ballard, he expressed his feelings regarding his noble heritage in these words: “I would like also to bear witness that in my particular case the veil between here and the hereafter is sometimes rather thin. I acknowledge that it’s been a great blessing in my life to be born of goodly parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who have given everything they have been asked to give to the building of the kingdom of God on the earth.” [5]


[1] Kathleen Lubeck, “Elder M. Russell Ballard: True to the Faith,” Ensign, March 1986, 11.

[2] “Elder Melvin Russell Ballard, Jr., of the First Quorum of the Seventy,” Ensign, May 1976, 134–35.

[3] Jack E. Jarrard, “Serving a Mission Termed Top Work,” Church News, 24 April 1976, 7.

[4] Personal letter, 17 July 2001; see also BYU Women’s Conference, 3 May 2001, “Here Am I, Send Me.”

[5] See “Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” Ensign, November 1985, 99.