Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day - The Dick and Nellie Story

Hughie's Parents
Richard and Nell Blair

I know this is a long post, but so be it.  Hughie spoke on Father's Day at church last year. Interestingly, Hughie normally uses a lot of scripture and references from the prophets and other general authorities in his speaking - that's a good thing, of course, but rarely does he ever get so personal in his teaching. He felt very impressed to share the story of his parents, their backgrounds, and their progression in knowing and living the gospel of Jesus Christ. After the meeting, a number of people asked for a copy of his talk.  He's also made it into his Christmas 2012 contribution for our Family from Yosemite book. I usually post my annual story for the book early in the year, but here it is six months later; I'm posting my husbands presentation instead, on Father's Day.  I know there are others who would enjoy reading this - I received permission from my husband to share this personal piece of  family history. Hugh's parents have both passed on.  This presentation is a great tribute to them.   I call it, The Dick and Nellie Story:

In last April’s General Conference President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
“I was number 10 in a family of 11 children. So far as I know, neither my father nor my mother served in a prominent calling in the Church.
Our parents served faithfully in their most important calling—as parents. Our father led our home in righteousness, never with anger or fear. And the powerful example of our father was magnified by the tender counsel of our mother. The gospel is a powerful influence in the life of every one of us in the Packer family and to the next generation and the next generation and the next, as far as we have seen.
I hope to be judged as good a man as my father. Before I hear those words “well done” from my Heavenly Father, I hope to first hear them from my mortal father.
Many times I have puzzled over why I should be called as an Apostle and then as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve in spite of having come from a home where the father could be termed as less active. I am not the only member of the Twelve who fits that description.
Finally I could see and understand that it may have been because of that circumstance that I was called.” (Boyd K. Packer, “And a Little Child Shall Lead Them”, Ensign, May 2012)
In that same conference, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
“I was reared in a home with a faithful mother and a wonderful father. My mom was a descendant of pioneers who sacrificed everything for the Church and kingdom of God. My dad was not a member of our Church and, as a young man, had desired to become a Catholic priest. Ultimately, he elected not to attend theological seminary and instead pursued a career as a tool and die maker.
For much of his married life, my father attended meetings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with our family. In fact, many of the people in our ward had no idea that my dad was not a member of the Church. He played on and coached our ward softball team, helped with Scout activities, and supported my mother in her various callings and responsibilities.” (David A. Bednar, “The Powers of Heaven”, Ensign, May 2012)
Many faithful Latter-day Saints, including some members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, do not come from what some may consider to be the ideal Mormon home.  

Let me tell you a little bit about my mom and dad and the home I grew up in.  Some of what I am going to say may seem negative, but please understand that I do not say it with any anger, bitterness or embarrassment. What I am going to share is part of who I am.  I tell this story as an example of the power of Christ's Atonement and His Gospel to change lives and bless future generations.

My dad’s name is Richard Leo Blair.  He was the third son of Edward Beaman Blair and Eunice Mae Willette.  He was born and raised in Burlington, Vermont.  His parents were converts to the Church at a time when Mormon’s, were almost unheard of and not well accepted in the New England states.  He was baptized when he was eight years old and grew up attending church in a small branch in Burlington. Most of the members of the branch were Blair’s and other relatives and friends.  His dad, my grandfather, was excommunicated when my Dad was a boy.  My father joined the Navy near the end of World War II and left home and church as a Teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood.

My mother’s name is Fannie Nell Smith.  She was the first child of Houston Melvin Smith and Leona Mae Vaughn.  She was born and raised on a small farm in Kevil, Kentucky, which is near Paducah.  The family considered themselves Christian’s but were not active church goers.  Her mother died of cancer when she was twelve years old.  Her dad was overwhelmed working to provide for the family during the Depression and my mom had no choice but to step up and take on the responsibilities of the home and caring for her four younger brothers and sisters at the age of twelve.

Eventually her father brought his mother, Fannie, into the home to help, which only made things harder for my mom.  Her grandmother was no help and was just another person my mom had to look after.  The burden of caring for the other children and tending to her grandmother became overwhelming, now that she also had to protect her younger siblings from her abusive grandmother.  

As a young woman, my mom hated her Grandmother Fannie and the fact that she was named after her. My mom chose to go by her middle name, Nell, and did not use the name Fannie.  She never told me much about her grandmother, except to say, "She was mad and mad to hurt!”

My mom left home at eighteen and the only reason she stayed that long was to protect and help her younger brothers and sisters.  She left home with no desire for a husband or children. She would not marry until she was thirty years old.

My mom and dad were married on January 3, 1953.  Dad was twenty-four, had nothing to do with the Church and had a pack of Camel cigarettes rolled up in his shirt sleeve.  Mom was thirty, not a member of the church, and knew nothing about it. She was also two and a half months pregnant with me.  Most would look at this situation and the history of the couple and say this marriage didn’t have a chance to survive and heaven help any children.

I was born July 17, 1953. I was named Houston Edward.  My Mom dearly loved her Father and wanted to name me after him, so I was named Houston, after my Grandpa Smith and Edward, after my Grampy Blair.

My sister, Brenda, was born three years later.  Not long after my she was born my mom was diagnosed with cancer of the uterus. She survived, but endured much suffering in her later years as a result of the cobalt radiation therapy used to treat her cancer.

My mom joined the Church when I was five years old. I can still remember going to the old Lancaster Ward chapel on 10th Street West and Avenue J, for my mom’s baptism.  Even after my Mom's baptism we only went to church occasionally.  We never attended frequently enough that we felt comfortable there.  My Uncle Ed baptized both me and my sister because my dad was not worthy.

A miracle happened just before I turned twelve.  Mom and dad made the decision that we were going to start going to church.  We started going to church every week and we never stopped.  I am not aware of any specific event that changed their attitude about church attendance.  I suspect that there may have been some concern about me and Brenda and the hope that church would be a positive influence in our lives.

I remember being interviewed by the Bishop to receive the Aaronic Priesthood and be ordained a Deacon.  We had just started going to church and I didn't have a clue what he was talking about.  The Bishop asked some questions, I responded with what I thought were the right answers and the next thing I knew I was a Deacon, passing the Sacrament.  I am thankful for an inspired bishop that didn't hesitate to get a less active boy involved.

Looking back 47 years later, I am eternally grateful to my Heavenly Father for changing my parent's hearts.  I truly admire my mom and dad for the decision they made to become active members of the church.  The reality of their decision was much more than just a decision to start going to church.  They made a choice to humbly repent, change the direction of their lives, follow the Savior and endure to the end.  Their choice, to give heed to a prompting from the Holy Ghost changed their life, my life, my sister's life and the lives of our children, grandchildren and generations to come.

From what I saw during my teenage years the change of lifestyle was not easy for mom and dad but they were totally committed to the whole family being active and involved in church, and me and Brenda supported that commitment.  Even after becoming active in the church, family prayer was rare in our home.  Family home evening was sporadic at best.  I cannot remember ever having family scripture study except at an occasional home evening.  But as I was taught the gospel, my testimony came.  The restored gospel of Jesus Christ always seemed right to me.

The Family Proclamation states:

“Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.”
Even though my dad fell short in some aspects of his responsibilities, as a patriarch in the home, he truly magnified some of the most important.  He presided in love.  He was very forgiving.  He worked hard to provide the necessities of life.  He protected me and my sister from the evils of the world.  And he was especially all about wholesome recreational activities.

When I was fifteen I wanted a motorcycle.  My two best friends, that lived nearby, both had motorcycles.  The obstacle to my dreams of having a motorcycle was my mom.  She was vehemently opposed to the idea and made it crystal clear to both me and my dad how she felt about it.  I seem to recall her saying something about, “Over my dead body!”

I have no idea how he did it, but somehow dad got mom’s consent and he bought me a motorcycle and I know he did it because he loved me and wanted to do something special for me.  It is one of those fond memories I have of my dad.

My mom wasn’t very happy about it and she didn’t say much other than, “If I ever see you without a helmet or on the street, I’m selling the motorcycle!”  Well, both of those things happened and she didn’t sell the motorcycle. I got in trouble, but she loved me and knew how much the motorcycle meant to me.

We were active in the Church for over seven years before we went to the temple to be sealed as a family.  I will never forget kneeling at an alter in the House of the Lord with my mom, dad and sister and being sealed as a family by the power of the Priesthood.

I don’t know why it took so long?  As far as I know, mom and dad were worthy.  Perhaps, they just thought they weren’t ready.  All I know is that I had received a mission call and I was going to the temple to be endowed and mom and dad chose to go with me.  What a special and significant day in my life.

Alan Dustin and his family lived in the Lancaster Ward for many years.  He also worked with my dad at NASA.  He once told me that Dick Blair was a different man after he went to the temple.

I also testify that is true.

When Helaman named his sons, he chose to name one Nephi and the other Lehi.  We read in Chapter 5 of Helaman:

4 And it came to pass that Nephi had become weary because of their iniquity; and he yielded up the judgment-seat, and took it upon him to preach the word of God all the remainder of his days, and his brother Lehi also, all the remainder of his day;
5 For they remembered the words which their father Helaman spake unto them. And these are the words which he spake:
6 Behold, my sons, I desire that ye should remember to keep the commandments of God; and I would that ye should declare unto the people these words. Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good.
7 Therefore, my sons, I would that ye should do that which is good, that it may be said of you, and also written, even as it has been said and written of them.
Martha and I, named our first two sons after their grandfathers, not only to honor our fathers, but also with the same intent that Helaman named his sons, that when our sons remember their own names they will remember their grandfathers and their examples of faith and good works.  Rick is named Richard after Grampy Blair and Bill is named William after Poppy Reynders. I love and honor my dad and my father-in-law and hope that their good names will continue in our family for generations to come.

Fatherhood is, in a sense, an apprenticeship to godhood.  When I consider the process involved and the hope of becoming the father of an eternal family unit, I think of the voice of the Savior to the righteous, who were spared during the great destruction prior to Christ’s visit among the Nephites.  The voice of Christ was heard to say:

“O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?”
To all fathers and fathers to be, I pray that we will return to God, repent of our sins, be converted and be healed, that we may fulfill our sacred role as husbands and fathers in this life and in the eternities.  It took my dad a while to get where he needed to be, but the Lord changed his heart, he was converted and he was healed. The same is true for most of us.

We all expect and hope for the best effort from our father. However, we must also understand that our father is a mortal man and will not always measure up to what others may expect of him.  He will almost certainly fall short of what God requires of him, but I believe most faithful men are making a sincere and honest effort to be the husband and father the Lord has called them to be.

Please be patient with your father.  Pray for him.  Kindly encourage him.  Love him.  We are all a  work in progress.

“Christ changes men,
and changed men
can change the world.
Men changed for Christ
will be captained by Christ.
… Men captained by Christ
will be consumed in Christ.
… Their will is
swallowed up in His will.
They do always those things
that please the Lord.
Not only would they
die for the Lord,
but more important
they want to live for Him.”

President Ezra Taft Benson

1 comment:

  1. What a great story, and how wonderful to have it written down for future generations to know.