Working the Divine Miracle
by Richard D. Poll
Stan Larson, editor

Man of Action

[p.162]“Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” These words of Thomas Carlyle, copied on the flyleaf of Henry D. Moyle’s 1953 pocket diary, epitomize his approach to church work as well as secular affairs. Convinced of the validity of Mormonism, he left the finer points of theology to others and concentrated on making the church an effective force for good in the lives of its members and in the world at large. Quick in sizing up situations and devising solutions, he did not always wait for consensus before going into action. Henry Moyle, Jr., tells of encountering his father soon after he had entered the First Presidency. He was delighted about the outcome of the morning’s meeting of the leadership group. Why? Because President McKay had described a project that needed top priority; everything else should be dropped until it was completed. President Moyle had then been “able to look him in the eye and say, ‘President McKay, I took care of that last month. It’s all done.’’’

The key to achievement for Henry Moyle was expressed in a 1960 letter to a grandson: “I become more and more convinced every day of my life that the difference between success and mediocrity is the difference between those who do their work with a lack of appreciation and those who develop within themselves real enthusiasm and appreciation for their opportunity and for the work at hand.”

Following this precept made Henry Moyle happy, successful, and rich. It also made him a mover and shaker among Latter-day Saint leaders of the twentieth century.

[p.163]He was not a workaholic, for he played with zest, too. His children remember his robust vocalizing of “Clementine” to his own two-fingered piano accompaniment. Hunting, fishing, golf, photography, chess, German opera, reading, TV watching, sports contest watching, and travel all engaged his attention sporadically but seriously. Participatory recreation like duck hunting, golf, and fishing were enjoyed in the early and middle years. Later an occasional swim and steam bath at one of Salt Lake City’s hot springs provided relaxation and a little exercise, but Henry never had time for systematic physical activity. Until his health prevented it, wood chopping was both diversion and therapy. Henry Jr. remembers the enormous chips and prodigious strokes of the axe; they had also impressed Alberta Moyle on her honeymoon.

As circumstances permitted, Henry Moyle took in big league baseball, college basketball and football, professional boxing, and other spectator sports. (He paid off at least one two-dollar bet after backing the wrong team.) Richard Moyle, who often accompanied him, remembers that he got excited, cheering for his team and commenting on the quality of officiating. Alberta once went with Henry to Denver to watch the Phillips Oilers win a semi-professional basketball tournament, but her preferences were for the theatrical and musical experiences in which her husband also delighted. He often quoted Brigham Young: “We don’t live to die.”

Henry Moyle’s love affair with the automobile began with the Nash purchased soon after his marriage and continued through cars of increasing fashionability to the Cadillacs that he and Alberta used after he became affluent.1 His driving style brought him a collection of legal citations and more than one expression of concern from his family. James H. Moyle wrote to one of Henry’s brothers in 1938: “Is there anything we can do to induce him to drive with safety and not take unnecessary chances. …?” Henry was never in a serious accident, but many years later his handling of a traffic ticket after a minor collision generated a brief scandal in Salt Lake City politics and some criticism of President Moyle himself.

Henry Moyle enjoyed money for the good he could do with it and the fun he could have with it. He liked buying clothes in fashionable New York and London haberdasheries, staying at deluxe hotels, and sitting in the best theater seats. He delighted in buying a grand piano for Alberta and the girls, providing ample spending money for their travels, and hav-[p.164]ing Tiffany send out jewelry for them on approval. The Highland Drive home was one of the first in Salt Lake Valley to sprout a television antenna and the appliances at Laurel Street were the most “up to date.” Henry’s extravagance upset his parents, who had ample means but also memories of frugal pioneer Utah. James H. Moyle wrote to his fifty-year-old son in 1939: “I do not complain of your indulging in an expensive home or anything else that will be of enduring value, but I do think it is a mistake to spend money so freely on that which administers only to your temporary generous impulses.”

Henry D. Moyle always enjoyed giving. His church position opened up new possibilities even as his business success generated new capabilities. Tithing he always paid. And apparently he followed the counsel that he gave2 to those who asked: Follow your conscience; my conscience says to take it off the top.3 He once told his bishop, James Faust, “Bishop, this is a full tithing and a little bit more, because this is the way I have been blessed.”

How much he gave beyond the Lord’s tenth is probably not known even to the Internal Revenue Service. Much of his philanthropy was not tax-deductible. He had no “worthy causes” to which he routinely gave large sums, though he regularly remembered his alma maters and once served as the state chairman for the American Red Cross mobilization. Brigham Young University became a substantial beneficiary after he joined its Board of Trustees. Mostly Henry Moyle gave to people in need—scores of missionaries who lacked family support, European Mormons suffering in the aftermath of war or trying to get to America, students needing no-interest long-term loans to finish college, and ex-convicts needing money and help in finding jobs.

He was an impulse giver. Some of the episodes involving other general authorities have been noted earlier. Belle Spafford recalls the delight of an [p.165]elderly German woman to whom Elder Moyle had just given enough to take her to the Swiss temple. Glen Rudd4 remembers the night before he and his wife left for a church assignment in New Zealand. The doorbell rang at 10 p.m. It was Alberta and Henry Moyle, calling to wish them godspeed. Before he left, Elder Moyle quietly handed Rudd an envelope, saying: “Get something nice for your wife.” In the envelope was a hundred dollar bill.

Henry D. Moyle was no soft touch. People with money-making schemes were advised to see their local banker or to seek remunerative employment. But church-related projects were another matter. It was hard to participate in a ground breaking or help a congregation to start a building fund without making a contribution; a thousand dollars often seemed to him an appropriate sum. Early in 1952 he noted in his diary that “President Clark called me about a guardian for me in light of my $20,000 gift to the Swiss Temple.” He also recorded that he gave President David O. McKay his black Homburg to wear to the Eisenhower inauguration. Elder Faust recalls how impressed he was as a young bishop when he went to Henry Moyle for help on a ward project and was told: “Bishop, everything I have is yours in the name of the Lord.”

It has been suggested in earlier chapters that the operational style which inspired great loyalty and impressive results also generated problems. Henry D. Moyle was tough. The word occurs more frequently in characterizations of the man than any other. Friends and critics agree on it. They also agree that in a measure his accomplishments and in a greater measure his disappointments and failures stemmed from it.

A sampling of testimony illustrates the point. All of the witnesses5 acknowledge the strengths and positive contributions of Henry Moyle, and almost all of them loved him. To Glen Rudd, he was “fearless,” “overpowering,” “unafraid of criticism,” and “a poor loser.” Marion G. Romney, whose association was long and close, “never saw Henry Moyle back down.” To Frank Armstrong, who worked in Henry’s law firm, he was “one of the strongest personalities I have known.” As governor and then mayor, J. Bracken Lee developed a good relationship with Henry Moyle, but earlier he disliked him because of his “belligerence” in the court-[p.166]room. Judge R Henri Henriod recalls a shouting match between Henry and an opposing attorney; after which Henry’s plain-spoken law partner, Malan Wilson, asked Henry to explain the difference between the two kinds of “S.O.B.” mentioned in the exchange.

Gordon B. Hinckley; who helped President Moyle energize the missionary program, notes that he was “stubborn” and sometimes “went rough-shod over people.” Nathan Eldon Tanner, who moved into the First Presidency on the death of Henry Moyle, knew him to be sometimes “short of patience” and “abrupt”: he was a man of good business judgment and “he knew it.” Which observation recalls the partly facetious comment by Milton L. Weilenmann, his friend in the Democratic party organization: “There were no peers to Henry D. Moyle.”

In this context it should be noted that Henry Moyle had a very traditional attitude toward stress and other psychological ills. For symptoms of depression, the remedy of choice was to work harder6 at something that would—or should—take the mind off its troubles. When Alberta showed signs of stress, he bore the loneliness patiently while she went somewhere for a rest. His own symptoms of stress were usually physical-fatigue, rising blood pressure, and heart pains, for which rest and medication were reluctantly accepted. Sometimes he blew up, then apologized to whomever was caught in the explosion and went ahead as if the expression of regret had made-or should have made-things right again. Such phrases as “momentarily lost my composure,” “upset,” “had a fuss,” and “lost my temper” are diary witnesses to this aspect of his personality.

Herbert B. Maw, victor over Henry in the bitter 1940 race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, said of his opponent’s attitude toward controversial questions: “If he believed it, it was right.” He tended, despite his courtroom experience, “to think of opponents as enemies.” This point was also repeatedly made by Henry’s father. After witnessing an argument between Henry and one of his brothers, James H. Moyle wrote in 1939:

In expressing yourself generally against those you oppose, there is a severity that does not become the charity; as I have said to you before, that should characterize your utterances and the fine standards which [p.167]you otherwise so splendidly uphold. If you go through a campaign for Governor you will probably learn more than you know now of the need for reconciliation and less antagonism.

Scores of people, including his wife, told Henry Moyle that he had this problem. And he knew it. Once in a meeting of the LDS general authorities he asked forgiveness for the sin of pride in a testimony so moving that at least one of his auditors wept. Yet he never gave a better explanation for preferring domination to diplomacy than what he once said to Rudd: “I don’t have time to explain everything.”

At 5’10” and 180 pounds, young Henry Moyle was an impressive figure in football regalia or U.S. Army uniform. His weight problem began while he was on his mission, however, and he fought the scales the rest of his life. He was a candy addict and that probably contributed to the many hours he spent in dental chairs. Henry Jr. remembers working hard to separate the milk from the cows and the cream from the milk, and then watching his father drink a pint of the rich cream without pause. Alberta Moyle was also a lover of epicurean food, so whether Henry traveled alone or with his partner, the best restaurants were visited and the most exotic dishes were tried. A visit to a New Orleans oyster bar provided a feast of oysters, gumbo soup, boiled shrimps, French pastry, and hot chocolate, plus the diary comment: “I sure got off my diet.” As health complications made weight loss imperative, Henry tried a variety of reducing systems; Gordon Hinckley witnessed him eating millet and milk from a fruit jar on a trip they took together. After conducting a losing campaign for half a century, Henry said to a friend in 1961: “I can tell you from experience that weight comes from eating. You’d better start dieting before you get too old, like I have.”

Weight complicated the problems of high blood pressure and heart trouble that appeared as Henry Moyle entered middle age. The hectic pace at which he worked also contributed. The result was a thirty-year history of intermittent severe colds, extreme fatigue, alarmingly high blood pressure, and chest pains. While organizing a California stake in November 1952, he recorded: “We instructed them until I almost passed out with fatigue—my heart bothered me for two hours before I could go to bed or lie down.” The ailments were particularly severe in the fall and winter of 1951-52, September and October 1955 (when shingles added to the misery), and the winter of 1962-63. Hospital check-ups and peri-[p.168]ods of hospital or home confinement interrupted Elder Moyle’s service as a general authority; while appointments with Dr. E. L. Skidmore and a number of other physicians are frequently noted in his diaries. Sister Moyle and others of his family pressed Henry to slow down, but his drive to make the time count would not be checked.

Henry D. Moyle was straightforward, sometimes dogmatic, in counsel. A lawyer’s respect for precedents may have reinforced his testimony-based disposition to follow authority in most church-related matters and to emphasize obedience in the replies he gave to those who sought his advice.

Sometimes he stressed obedience to gospel laws. In a talk, “Unto Every Kingdom a Law Is Given,” at a BYU student assembly in 1953, he developed the idea that “there is a law irrevocably decreed” upon which all blessings depend, including accomplishments in vocational, family; and personal life. “The laws by which we are governed make them both hard to obtain and very hard to retain. Thomas Paine said: ‘… Tyranny; like hell, is not easily conquered.’ And you might say the same about ignorance.” The goal of education is to master these laws, so that they may be freely observed. As President J. Reuben Clark often said: “Obedience is the foundation of progress.”

From the time when Henry Moyle told his father that he had “no choice” but to accept the 1928 call to be president of the Eastern States Mission, he frequently stressed obedience to church leaders. A small congregation in Kansas heard him say in 1948 that “a suggestion from a prophet of God is a command to those who are in good standing in the Church.” In response to a question about whether a church member with a personal problem should seek counsel from priesthood leaders or go directly to the Lord in prayer, he replied in 1946:

I do not believe that there is a problem which arises in our daily lives that we would not benefit were we to consult those with whom we are naturally bound together by the priesthood—our quorums, the stake president, the Twelve, the First Presidency: … We are entitled in so doing to the inspiration of our Heavenly Father, and when we are directed by the same spirit, a like inspiration will come to those of us who receive counsel and the witness will be given to us that the counsel is true.

On the other hand, Henry Moyle, Jr., was reminded while a missionary [p.169]that “we have never claimed infallibility.” The letter from his father continued: “You are safe in assuming … that that which is said by the Brethren during the General Conference is largely an expression of their own understanding of the Gospel.” Elder Moyle wrote in the same vein to a friend: “Sometimes we speak and that is final, and other times we speak and it isn’t final, and sometimes the only way you can determine which is which is by your perseverance.” A man who was habitually persistent once responded to the denial of a request by saying: “I think I’ll pray about that.” He described Henry Moyle as replying that “he didn’t think this was anything to pray about; that President Clark had one time said that matters of this kind we had to think out for ourselves … and he thought the Brethren had already decided.”

Leaders were frequently reminded of their responsibilities. Lethbridge Stake president Charles Ursenbach remembers being twice asked by Elder Moyle about the number of people in his stake and twice replying that there were about five thousand. Elder Moyle then said, “Those are members. How many people in this area!” Ursenbach replied, “Well, there’s about half a million.” The apostle then said: “As long as you are stake president, as far as these people are concerned you are their president.” Ursenbach added in his reminiscence about the interview: “That shook me.”

Henry Moyle had an acute rather than a reflective mind, and his expressed distrust of intellectualism made him something less than the most popular figure in academic communities—even the several that granted him honorary degrees. It was almost inevitable that he would give offense to people whom he may not have had in mind when he spoke of “pretended” intellectuals in these terms: “I feel sorry for them, because some of them have believed and wished it so long, that they might be wiser and smarter than everybody else, that they really come to the conclusion that they are.” He told a conference of missionaries that “a good way to become that kind of a man is to read books on your mission that do not pertain to the commission you have received. …” He said that such books were distracting, but he seemed also to be saying that they were dangerous.

There is some irony in this, for Elder Moyle read prodigiously during the first years of his apostleship. Volumes of doctrinal commentary, church history, biography, and sermons supplemented his study of the LDS scriptures. He also read books on secular themes like church-state [p.170]relations that impinged upon his new responsibilities. He did recreational reading, especially when homebound with illness, and some titles mentioned in his diaries are surprising—such as John Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilacs, described as “a treatise on education and training of a woman.” He read quickly and he read for information-for answers. As his apostolic duties multiplied, he acknowledged in a 1953 meeting of the Council of the Twelve: “There is beginning to come into my life a greater insight into the scriptures than I have ever had before. However, it is getting so I cannot get an hour to myself to study. Some things I understand and some I do not, but I never make part of me anything which is not clear to me. …”

Elder Moyle was generally conservative on doctrinal questions that evoked controversy. “We believe that it is not in keeping with the nature of the Sabbath Day … to go to places of amusement,” he wrote to one member. “We do not believe that the earth was created in seven days of twenty-four hours,” he told another, but he advised a missionary who had encountered questions to “confine your answer to the testimony you have that God lives and He has revealed some things to men which demonstrate the fallacy there is in evolution.” He collected materials that supported the church policy on withholding priesthood from Negroes and sent them to questioners without additional argument. “This is done without any pretension that these matters when so portrayed will satisfy every inquiring mind, but rather in the hope that those who feel obliged to discuss the subject will not base their opinions and conclusions on false premises.” Regarding contraception: “We do not believe that we have the right to tamper with birth any more than with death. …” And to a woman who suggested that her husband’s poor sexual technique may have contributed to her own infidelity. he wrote: “When we marry we take each other for better or worse. … Whatever has been lacking is not of a serious nature, something which you can overlook and do without.”

Henry Moyle believed that happiness came from doing one’s duty with a clear conscience. “As bearers of the priesthood we are obligated to be happy,” he told a general conference audience in 1961. “If we are truly to enjoy our maximum potentialities in life, we must be at peace with ourselves—our neighbors—our God.” He declared that such peace is only attainable through repentance, and true repentance requires confessing and forsaking sin. Priesthood interviews should provide a young man opportunity to face up to transgressions and turn from them. “Having thus [p.171]honorably progressed through the various steps or grades of the priesthood, he will not take with him confirmed, sinful habits to be continued secretly while pretending deceitfully to be a missionary, or an elder, a husband, a father, a member of the church in good standing.”

If Elder Moyle was inclined to be dogmatic about sin, he was magnanimous toward repentant individuals. He was forgiving and encouraging toward missionaries who confessed transgressions that had been covered up in their pre-mission interviews. “So far as those things which happened,” he wrote, “you should immediately forget them and consider that you have an opportunity now to obtain a complete forgiveness through your activities in the mission field.” A woman who grieved that a previous sin was responsible for a stillbirth received the assurance that she “would receive from the Lord the most merciful treatment, and that in his loving kindness he would be most gracious in forgiving you of that mistake. …”

He could be very comforting. He wrote a moving apology to a woman who could not reconcile the loss of her son in the Korean War with a sermon in which Elder Moyle had spoken of a family whose sons had received blessings that they would return home if they kept the faith, and who did return. Remembering the remorse that attended the loss of his own infant son, he added this assurance: “It has never been a doctrine of the Church that death, whether in line of duty upon the battlefield, or at home, was any indication of transgression on the part of the deceased.” An elder, concerned that he was not receiving “spiritual manifestations,” was reminded that “all gifts are not given to all of us. … The fact that some other elder may have had some spiritual experience which it has not been your privilege to have does not in any way reflect upon your faith or faithfulness. …”

“I feel it incumbent upon us who have been more fortunate in regulating our lives to extend all the charity we can to those who have been less fortunate,” Elder Moyle wrote to the wife of a man who was being released from prison. For two years he spent time, advice, and money on the rehabilitation effort before coming ruefully to the conclusion that “to assist him further financially was neither wise nor was I able to continue to do so indefinitely. …”

This pragmatic side of Henry Moyle often affected his advice. He disliked zealots. When Millie Cornwall told about a sermon condemning the use of liquor flavoring, he said: “Rubbish! Have some rum toffee.” He [p.172]could adjust means to what he regarded as legitimate ends. Richard Moyle remembers being instructed to drive the wrong way on a one-way street in Germany in order to get to a meeting on time. And he had no inclination to equate righteousness with poverty. Henry Jr. received this vocational advice while he was in law school:

You will find that no matter what activity you engage in, you will have an opportunity to be charitable and to be generous, both with time and with your means. But neither a desire to be generous or kind should control your thinking as to the profession or business you desire to follow. You have to be cold-blooded about that and look upon it from a purely economic standpoint.

The father acknowledged, however, that “it is always unfortunate for men to get into work which they do not enjoy. …”

Henry Moyle practiced directive rather than non-directive counseling, but he reminded people of their right and obligation to seek solutions through prayer. His advice was occasionally leavened with humor. To a friend trying unsuccessfully to quit smoking, he said: “Go ahead and smoke; it won’t keep you out of heaven and it may get you there sooner.” When he was asked for the source of a quotation just used in an elders conference, he replied: “I got it out of my Doctrine and Covenants.” Then he opened the book to show where a clipping was tucked inside the cover. An eleven-year-old convert in Illinois received a note of congratulations and this fatherly counsel: “You ask in your letter if it is al right for an eleven year old girl to like a fourteen year old boy. I see no objection to your liking a fourteen year old boy but I think that you had better wait until you are much older before you like any boy very much.”

Convinced, as he told Gordon B. Hinckley, that “the Holy Ghost can teach men things they cannot teach one another,” Henry Moyle became a strong advocate of prayer and fasting as an approach to problem solving. He was always willing to administer to the sick and many people felt these ministrations to be effective. Elder Marion D. Hanks remembers receiving from him “one of the sweetest and tenderest blessings” that he had ever experienced.

Elder Moyle liked to preach, and as he became more involved with the missionary program, a favorite text became the words of the Book of Mormon prophet Alma: “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with [p.173]the voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!” (Alma 29: 1). He was not a rhetorician and there were some—including his children—who thought he was more sensitive to long-windedness in the preaching of others than in his own. As for humor, he told more than one audience that Sister Moyle had suggested that he liven up his sermons with a little wit. But after she heard two or three of his efforts, she told him to forget about it.

He was aware that he lacked pulpit charisma. His diary notes with a touch of pride when President McKay; President Clark, or another of his colleagues commended one of his talks. He worked hard on gathering speech material, and some of his earliest addresses as a general authority were hardly more than a series of scriptures and other quotations illustrating his themes. In time he came to rely more on his own memory; on brief notes, and on inspiration.7 His most effective speeches were at stake and mission conferences where he addressed immediate situations with directness and a degree of spontaneity. The congregation at a Lansing Stake Conference has not forgotten one encounter with Henry Moyle. “Some of you say that Coca Cola is against the Word of Wisdom,” he stated. Then he took a glass and a bottle of the beverage from inside the pulpit, poured out a portion, drank it, and said: “I hope you understand the message.”

Elder Moyle was a hard man not to listen to. His talks were action-oriented, they were plain in the message if not always in the syntax, and they were driven home with a powerful testimony. He closed a sermon on “The Value of a Personal Testimony” to a BYU Leadership Week assembly with this witness:

… which has been born in upon me by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost and has given me to know that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ to the point where no vision, no revelation, no divine manifestation could … add to the assurance that I have in my being that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and that he and the Father appeared to Joseph Smith, and through divine manifestations of the servants of God, he received the keys of the Dispensation of the Fullness of Time.


1. Poll’s original typescript has “after he became an apostle.”—Ed.

2. The original typescript has “the counsel that he generally gave.”—Ed.

3. Ernest L. Wilkinson recorded in his diary: “I told Brother Moyle I thought it was very necessary for the Church that there be some authoritative definition of what constituted full tithing, particularly that it should be paid before the payment of taxes. He thoroughly agreed with my viewpoint, but said as long as President McKay and President Clark were in the First Presidency there was no chance to get any authoritative interpretation. He informed me also that President [Stephen L.] Richards, and he thought Bishop [Thorpe B.] Isaacson, only paid their tithing after the deduction of taxes and that there was not a chance at the present time to change that situation.” Wilkinson Diary, 11 May 1961.—Ed.

4. The original typescript has “Glen Rudd Henry’s protégé in the Welfare Program.”—Ed.

5. Poll refers to the people he interviewed for the Moyle biography project.—Ed.

6. The original typescript has “the remedy of choice was to pull up the sox and work harder.”—Ed.

7. He was also one of the first church leaders to rely on the teleprompter for his conference addresses.