President M. Russell Ballard served as president of the Canadian Mission with his wife, Sister Barbara Ballard, and their family from 1974–1977, but to the friends who gathered from as far away as Alberta to see him at the Creditview Chapel in Brampton, Ontario, on Friday, May 4, it seemed like it was yesterday.
President Ballard, now Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, still remembered their names as he greeted them. He knew what they had accomplished in the Church since they had first met when President and Sister Ballard and their family arrived in Ontario 44 years ago.
When President Ballard saw Terry Kemp and David Cormack on May 4, he greeted them with “There’s my old converts from my mission” and gave them hugs. Both men had been high school classmates of President Ballard’s daughters, Tammy and Stacey Ballard, who accompanied their parents to the mission field.
Kemp said President Ballard taught them about God and religion and they were all profoundly influenced by his words. Later at a youth conference, he said President Ballard’s words were some of the most impactful he had ever heard. “It was life-changing. He called us to repentance. It was my first experience with the influence of the Spirit and a defining moment in my life,” said Kemp, who baptized two of the other young men in the group. All of them are serving as leaders in the Church today.
Priesthood leaders who had served at the same time and members who joined the Church during the Ballards’ mission waited with excitement to see their friend. A severe windstorm hit the Toronto area just when President Ballard’s plane was to arrive, and Pearson International Airport suspended operations for about two hours. Happily, the plane with President Ballard and Elder Robert C. Gay and Elder David P. Homer, both General Authority Seventies, was able to land just before the shutdown. They were able to drive through the fierce winds to get to the chapel in West Brampton for an evening with Elder Alain Allard, an Area Seventy, and old friends of the Ballards before a busy weekend of training meetings with stakes in the area.
The cultural hall overflowed with love as handshakes and hugs were exchanged with every person in the room.
Joseph Willmott, seated beside President Ballard, had served as his counselor in the mission presidency. They reminisced about 13-hour drives to district conferences in Northern Ontario and the hazards of winter driving and airplane travel. One of their favorite treats was the English trifle Sister Gladys Willmott often made them, and they were both delighted when Anna Willmott replicated her late mother-in-law’s memorable recipe for the evening’s dessert.
One of the joys of the evening for President Ballard was to have his grandson at the meeting, Elder Brigham Ballard, who serves as assistant to President Jeffrey L. Shields, president of the Canada Toronto Mission. Elder Ballard’s father, Craig, was a young boy when his parents served in Ontario.
When President Ballard spoke to the group, he talked about good times with old friends as well as about ministering and its message of joy and love. “Love is the key word. Be as close to the families around you as you are with your own family.”
Every family had a special memory of kindness and love to share. Julia Sookhoo and her husband joined the Church during the Ballards’ tenure, having recently immigrated from Guyana when the missionaries called on them. Within three weeks of the first discussion, all seven of their family were baptized—their descendants have served nine missions since.
Sookhoo said after she was baptized, if she didn’t come to church, President Ballard would phone her, ask how she was, and encourage her to come out the next week. Because they weren’t good at reading English, Joseph Willmott’s son Russell, who was serving as their bishop, came to their home every Monday night and read them the Book of Mormon and explained it to them.
Said Bishop Michael Finnigan: “Here we sit with the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, who has taken time out of his busy schedule to spend time with us. We rejoiced that he was here, but he talked about how wonderful it was to be with us and that he was proud of us. He mentioned us by name and what we had done. He was personal, warm, and kind. He has maintained relationships in an extraordinary way and is a natural minister. His decision to meet with his friends on such a busy weekend is an example of ministering.”
Lawrence Fuller added, “How much it meant to all of us to see him again and feel his love.”
Bruce and Dolina Smith recalled the outings their two families went on when the Ballards were in Ontario and the friendship that has continued over the years.
Bradley and Nancy Miller remembered President and Sister Ballard as wonderful examples who “took us to a new level of what we could be.”
Sister Ballard was a role model and inspiration who was kind, loving, and almost regal, said Nancy Miller. “She taught me how to be a mother. I wanted to be just like her,” she said.
Years after the Ballard family returned to Utah, Kenneth Shoesmith was serving as stake president when he was diagnosed with cancer. President Ballard was presiding at another stake conference in the area and asked that Shoesmith come for an interview. When he did, President Ballard said, “I hear you’ve got a problem,” and he gave him a blessing. Now, years later, Bishop Shoesmith serves as bishop of the downtown Hamilton Ward and is still inspired by the counsel he received from President Ballard.