In the April 2010 General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints I listened to a talk given by Elder L. Tom Perry about Mothers Teaching Children in the Home. This is the first time I can remember that I felt the Lord speaking directly to me through His servant during General Conference. I was so profoundly touched by his talk and for the personal assurance I received that homeschooling our children was exactly what the Lord wanted for our family. Ever since then I have felt a special love for Elder Perry and have paid a little bit more attention when he speaks.
I was extremely excited to be given the opportunity to read and review the first volume of his biography: L. Tom Perry, An Uncommon Life: Years of Preparation. I was looking forward to reading this so much that I wouldn’t let myself open it until I finished a few of the other books that I was reviewing. Reading it was to be my reward, and I was not disappointed.
Written by his son, Lee Tom Perry, An Uncommon Life begins with a brief history of a handful of his ancestors. I was amazed as I read about his ancestors. Even though we live in a very different time and place than those who lived so long ago, human nature and the struggles of raising a family transcend generational barriers. After leaving her family behind to build a life in the uncharted woods of Idaho, I couldn’t help but empathize with Elder Perry’s grandmother as she sobbed in her husbands arms, begging, “take me back where there’s singing and music and dancing; take me back to where there’s books and learning!” I’ve been there. I’ve felt that same loneliness.
After his family history we begin to read about L. Tom Perry himself. Born in 1922, he was raised by goodly parents who taught him the value of hard work and education. His mother and father both placed a premium on education, and as he mentioned in that 2010 General Conference talk:
I used to think some days as I ran home from school that I was through learning for the day, but this illusion was quickly destroyed when I saw my mother standing at the door waiting for me. When we were young, we each had a desk in the kitchen where we could continue to be taught by her as she performed household duties and prepared supper. She was a natural teacher and far more demanding of us than our teachers at school and church.
Given the emphasis his parents placed on education and the example of his two brilliant siblings, you can imagine why Elder Perry felt “as common as dirt”. In his own eyes he was not naturally gifted and had to work hard to achieve his desired results. While this might have been kind of a downer for most of us, Elder Perry was quite glad of it. He felt that his situation of being “common” was an “opportunity for self-expression and initiative”. Of his father the author said, “he was grateful he was not as naturally gifted as others. He felt fortunate that things didn’t come easily for him and that he was given only enough natural ability when he was conscientious and applied himself.” Not being naturally gifted in anything, my successes are almost always are preceded by epic failures so I can’t tell you how inspiring that concept is to me.
Elder Perry left to serve a mission just as the US was entering World War II. After his two years were up he touched ground in his native Utah for just a few months before heading off to war. My laughter carried throughout the house when I read that L. Tom Perry chose the Marines over the Navy because of the uniforms, and Matt grinned when I read him the passage. (Matt has mentioned more than once that his only regret in joining the Air Force is that the uniforms aren’t as sharp as the Navy’s.) Elder Perry later finished school, married, started a family, moved to several different states during his successful career, and eventually ended up in New England near my old (and current) stomping grounds. His service in the church and the experiences he had with following the spirit allowed him to have a very successful career, and his enthusiasm and love for life helped him gain lasting and meaningful friendships with those around him.
I enjoyed reading about his work after being called to serve as a general authority. Learning about how Elder Faust, Elder Holland and Elder Perry worked together as assistants to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reminded me of the relationship, love, and camaraderie between Captain Moroni, Pahoran and Teancum in the Book of Alma. You could tell these men were like brothers and loved each other and serving the Lord together.
His life was not without trials or sorrow. An Uncommon Life: Years of Preparation ends shortly after Elder Perry loses his beloved Virginia to cancer. I knew it was coming but that didn’t make it any easier to read. This book is written in a way that when I read about her passing I felt like I was loosing a dear friend instead of learning about a woman who died before I was even born. I greatly admired Elder Perry and he has been so close to my heart ever since that April 2010 General Conference. Having read about his life and family I have grown to love him. I eagerly anticipate the next volume of An Uncommon Life. Until then I will daydream about having him over for dinner with his family :)