Hugh B. Brown

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Hugh B. Brown, former member of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Hugh B. Brown was a General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving in the First Presidency under Prophet and President David O. McKay.

Early Life

Hugh B. (for Brown) Brown was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 24 October 1883, to Homer Manley and Lydia Jane Brown. His middle name was his mother's maiden name, which like his father's, was "Brown." When he was fifteen, his family moved to southern Alberta, Canada. His father had gone ahead, and Hugh managed the family farm in Utah until his father sent for the rest of the family. [1] After beginning his advanced education in Logan, Utah, at Brigham Young College, Brown served a mission in England from 1904 to 1906. In 1908 he married Zina Young Card (granddaughter of Church President Brigham Young and Relief Society General President Zina D. H. Young), and the couple eventually had eight children.

In 1912, Canadian leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked Brown to go to Calgary and take military training preliminary to organizing a Latter-day Saint contingent for the Canadian reserves. The reserve cavalry unit was established in 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War, and became part of the Thirteenth Overseas Mounted Rifles in 1915. By 1917, Brown had achieved the rank of major in the Canadian military. He would have attained a higher rank were it not for the prejudice that existed in the British Empire against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, he was told to his face and without apology that he was denied further promotion because he was a "Mormon." [2]

Brown wrote two beloved stories based on these experiences—"Father, Are You There?"[2] and "The Currant Bush." (See below.) Brown's Canadian vocations included stints as cowboy, farmer, soldier, businessman, lawyer, and head of the Lethbridge Stake of the Church. [3] He studied law at the Law Society of Alberta and apprenticed with Z. W. Jacobs, a Cardston barrister, for five years. He was admitted to the Canadian bar in 1921.

Vocational and Religious Service

Moving his family to Salt Lake City in 1927, Brown quickly became a successful lawyer and president of the Granite Stake. He also formed a lifelong allegiance with the Democratic party, which led to an unsuccessful run for political office and an unpleasant term of service as first chairman of Utah's Liquor Control Commission from 1935 to 1937. Hugh B. Brown held dual American and Canadian citizenship.

A call to head the LDS British Mission came soon, the first of many full-time church positions which brought him admiration and influence. As Latter-day Saint Servicemen's Coordinator from 1941 to 1945, he traveled extensively in North America and western Europe as de facto chief chaplain for the thousands of members of the Church in American, British, and Commonwealth uniforms; anecdotes born of this experience punctuated his sermons and writings thereafter. Early in 1944 he was given an additional appointment to reactivate the British Mission. [4]
Intervals as a professor of religion at Brigham Young University (1946–1949), and with an Alberta oil prospecting firm (1949–1953), preceded his call, at age seventy, to be one of the Church general authorities—an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve. Thereafter he became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1958, and then second counselor in the First Presidency in 1961, becoming first counselor in 1963. Following President David O. McKay's death in 1970, he served in the Quorum of the Twelve until his own death, two years after Zina's, on 2 December 1975. Elder Brown's declining health in old age necessitated a decrease in his church responsibilities, something which he found onerous.

Edwin B. Firmage, Brown's grandson, noted:

Possessed at once with a sense of humor that refused him permission to take himself too seriously, and a profound spirituality based on true humility before God, he moved thousands with a style of classic oratory that will be sorely missed. [5]

Quotes from Hugh B. Brown

The story of the Currant Bush is one of Hugh B. Brown's most memorable quotes. It follows in its entirety and speaks to the fact that though we each may have desires and goals, the Lord might have a different role in mind for us.

You sometimes wonder whether the Lord really knows what He ought to do with you. You sometimes wonder if you know better than He does about what you ought to do and ought to become. I am wondering if I may tell you a story. It has to do with an incident in my life when God showed me that He knew best.
I was living up in Canada. I had purchased a farm. It was run-down. I went out one morning and saw a currant bush. It had grown up over six feet high. It was going all to wood. There were no blossoms and no currants. I was raised on a fruit farm in Salt Lake before we went to Canada, and I knew what ought to happen to that currant bush. So I got some pruning shears and clipped it back until there was nothing left but stumps. It was just coming daylight, and I thought I saw on top of each of these little stumps what appeared to be a tear, and I thought the currant bush was crying. I was kind of simpleminded (and I haven’t entirely gotten over it), and I looked at it and smiled and said, “What are you crying about?” You know, I thought I heard that currant bush say this:
“How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. I was almost as big as the shade tree and the fruit tree that are inside the fence, and now you have cut me down. Every plant in the garden will look down on me because I didn’t make what I should have made. How could you do this to me? I thought you were the gardener here.”
That’s what I thought I heard the currant bush say, and I thought it so much that I answered. I said, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and someday, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down. Thank you, Mr. Gardener.’ ”
Years passed, and I found myself in England. I was in command of a cavalry unit in the Canadian Army. I held the rank of field officer in the British Canadian Army. I was proud of my position. And there was an opportunity for me to become a general. I had taken all the examinations. I had the seniority. The one man between me and the office of general in the British Army became a casualty, and I received a telegram from London. It said: “Be in my office tomorrow morning at 10:00,” signed by General Turner.
I went up to London. I walked smartly into the office of the general, and I saluted him smartly, and he gave me the same kind of a salute a senior officer usually gives—a sort of “Get out of the way, worm!” He said, “Sit down, Brown.” Then he said, “I’m sorry I cannot make the appointment. You are entitled to it. You have passed all the examinations. You have the seniority. You’ve been a good officer, but I can’t make the appointment. You are to return to Canada and become a training officer and a transport officer.” That for which I had been hoping and praying for 10 years suddenly slipped out of my fingers.
Then he went into the other room to answer the telephone, and on his desk, I saw my personal history sheet. Right across the bottom of it was written, “THIS MAN IS A MORMON.” We were not very well liked in those days. When I saw that, I knew why I had not been appointed. He came back and said, “That’s all, Brown.” I saluted him again, but not quite as smartly, and went out.
I got on the train and started back to my town, 120 miles away, with a broken heart, with bitterness in my soul. And every click of the wheels on the rails seemed to say, “You are a failure.” When I got to my tent, I was so bitter that I threw my cap on the cot. I clenched my fists, and I shook them at heaven. I said, “How could you do this to me, God? I have done everything I could do to measure up. There is nothing that I could have done—that I should have done—that I haven’t done. How could you do this to me?” I was as bitter as gall.
And then I heard a voice, and I recognized the tone of this voice. It was my own voice, and the voice said, “I am the gardener here. I know what I want you to do.” The bitterness went out of my soul, and I fell on my knees by the cot to ask forgiveness for my ungratefulness and my bitterness. While kneeling there I heard a song being sung in an adjoining tent. A number of Mormon boys met regularly every Tuesday night. I usually met with them. We would sit on the floor and have Mutual. As I was kneeling there, praying for forgiveness, I heard their singing:

“But if, by a still, small voice he calls To paths that I do not know, I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in thine: I’ll go where you want me to go.” (Hymns, no. 270)

I arose from my knees a humble man. And now, almost 50 years later, I look up to Him and say, “Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down, for loving me enough to hurt me.” I see now that it was wise that I should not become a general at that time, because if I had I would have been senior officer of all western Canada, with a lifelong, handsome salary, a place to live, and a pension, but I would have raised my six daughters and two sons in army barracks. They would no doubt have married out of the Church, and I think I would not have amounted to anything. I haven’t amounted to very much as it is, but I have done better than I would have done if the Lord had let me go the way I wanted to go.
Many of you are going to have very difficult experiences: disappointment, heartbreak, bereavement, defeat. You are going to be tested and tried. I just want you to know that if you don’t get what you think you ought to get, remember, God is the gardener here. He knows what He wants you to be. Submit yourselves to His will. Be worthy of His blessings, and you will get His blessings. [6]


  1. Wikipedia, "Hugh B. Brown"
  2. Wikipedia, "Hugh B. Brown"
  3. Utah History Encyclopedia: Hugh B. Brown [1]
  4. Ibid.
  5. Firmage, Edwin Brown, "Elder Hugh B. Brown, 1883–1975: In Memoriam," Ensign, January 1976, 86.
  6. Hugh B. Brown, "The Currant Bush," New Era, April, 2001, p. 12.

External Links

Books About Hugh B. Brown

  • Eugene E. Campbell and Richard D. Poll, Hugh B. Brown: His Life and Thought (1975)
  • Edwin B. Firmage, ed., An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown (1988).