Reed Nixon graduated from the California Institute of Technology, served for two and a half years as a decoding officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II, then taught for two quarters at Brigham Young University (BYU). Reed met Joyce Johnson through mutual friends at BYU when they were both 20 years old—he was a math teacher and she was a student.
Get Married and Then Serve a Mission
In March 1947, Reed received a two-year mission call to the Western Canadian Mission. As Reed’s time at BYU was quickly winding down, he brought Joyce to meet his colleague and good Canadian friend, Hugh B. Brown (who later served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). Brother Brown recommended that they marry before Reed left to serve his mission, which was not uncommon at that time. Later that day, Reed proposed.
But it wasn’t that simple. After going through all the necessary interviews with their ecclesiastical leaders, a stake leader asked them to receive approval from a General Authority before a temple recommend could be issued. On a Monday night two weeks before Reed was to leave, Reed and Joyce ended up on a phone call with President David O. McKay, then the Second Counsellor in the First Presidency. Elder McKay listened to their concerns and gave them his blessing. Reed and Joyce sent a telegram to Reed’s stake president that read: “Marriage OK’d by President David O. McKay. Please send recommend.”
On March 27, 1947, Reed and Joyce were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple by then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball. Reed left for Canada 10 days later.
Five days short of a year from when Reed had left, Joyce received an unexpected mission call stating that she was also to report to the Western Canadian Mission seven days from the postdate on the letter. Her teachers at BYU allowed her to miss her final examinations.
Joyce and Reed were reunited just after Reed’s 21st birthday and just before he was called as a branch president in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
A Legacy of Love
Throughout the years, Reed and Joyce have served Church callings in Relief Society, elders quorum, Primary, and Cub Scouts. They also had six sons. During Reed’s work as a nuclear engineer, he helped design the reactor on the first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus. But their mission service at the onset of their marriage set the stage for the rest of their life together. Now at the age of 93, they have served an estimated 23 missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
After serving as senior missionaries in the West Indies during the early ’90s, Reed and Joyce Nixon were called to lead the Wisconsin Milwaukee Mission in 1992. While serving as a mission president, Reed was known to think of each stranger as someone with divine potential if that person were a member of the Church. When dining at a restaurant, it was common to hear Reed say, “Wouldn’t our server make a great Relief Society president?’” Reed would also be sure to give her a copy of the Book of Mormon and invite her to read it.
The Nixons had noticed the Milwaukee mission had a difficult time with retention of new members. Reed explained, “We didn’t want to just focus on baptisms because we wanted these new members to get to the temple. The temple should be the ultimate goal, and baptism is just one step toward the temple.” Consequently, at a baptismal service, President and Sister Nixon would have senior missionaries present each new member with a booklet made by the Nixons. The homemade booklet had five or six scrapbook-like pages to it with their baptismal date and their anticipated temple date listed.
At the baptism, the senior missionary couple would set up a future meeting time to begin temple preparation. They would ask the new converts to think of someone who had passed on that they would like to have the same experience through proxy baptisms that they had just experienced with their own baptism. These new members then participated in family history research to prepare relatives’ names for the temple. Additionally, the Nixons found success in having new converts meet with their bishop for a limited-use temple recommend a week after baptism. Reed and Joyce called their approach to missionary work the “legacy of love.”
And it worked. When the Nixons arrived in their mission, 25 percent of converts stayed active in the restored Church of Jesus Christ. Through the “legacy of love” approach, 80 percent of recent converts went to the temple and stayed in the Church.
Ongoing Missionary Service
The Nixons returned from Wisconsin in 1995, but Reed and Joyce continued serving as missionaries. They served some year-long family history or proselytizing missions in California, South Africa, the West Indies, England, New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, and three times in Germany. They also served several short missions teaching the “legacy of love” retention plan.
Joyce turned 80 years old while serving a mission in South Africa. After seeing many newborns wrapped in newspapers and wanting to do something about it, she knew, “it was time for a new mission.” She began making quilts.
Joyce pieces together quilts in her basement, where her sewing room is set up in an assembly-line style. Currently, she has approximately 200 quilts in the making and donates each one to the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City. As of July 1, 2019 Joyce has donated 2,697 humanitarian quilts.
One thing that has remained the same through it all, though, is how they have relied on each other. “We’ve always done things together,” Reed said, “Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?”