Elder Neal A. Maxwell served as an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from July 1981 until his death in July 2004.In May 1945, on the island of Okinawa, eighteen-year-old Neal Maxwell hid in a foxhole. Japanese shells passed over him and his unit for several days, until one exploded between his foxhole and the foxhole of his friend. Neal was sure he wasn’t the only one praying for safety, but he promised that if God would spare his life, he would seek to serve God for the rest of his life. The shelling stopped, and Neal kept his promise.
Neal Ash Maxwell was born July 6, 1926, in Salt Lake City, Utah, the oldest of six children. He loved sports and animals and had a gift for writing. After his service during World War II, Neal served a Mormon mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, in eastern Canada. After his mission, he married Colleen Hinckley on November 22, 1950, in the Salt Lake Temple. Completely devoted to his wife, Elder Maxwell constantly admitted that he had “married up” spiritually and honored Colleen as a “more complete Christian” than he. They have four children, twenty-four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Elder Maxwell loved his children and grandchildren, and they loved him. His son, Cory, tells of a time that his dad pulled him aside to ask how he could be a better father. Elder Maxwell wrote many personal letters tailored to the specific needs of his children and loved sharing his knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them. Equally, he loved to hear his children share their knowledge with him.
Elder Maxwell earned his B.S. and M.S. in political science from the University of Utah. He served as a legislative assistant to Senator Wallace F. Bennett of Utah in Washington, D.C., until he accepted a position in the public relations department of the University of Utah. Later, he became the assistant to the president, dean of students, and the executive vice-president of the university. He also taught political science and was named a favorite teacher of the students at the University of Utah.
Known for his eloquence, he wrote thirty books and gave countless sermons. He was a master of language and yet acknowledged that without the Spirit of God, his words would mean nothing.
Likening the world’s answers to the world’s problems to “straightening deck chairs on the Titanic,” Elder Maxwell felt the only true solutions come from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Although he did not seek position within the Church, he served, among other callings, as a Mormon bishop, the Commissioner of Church Education, an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, as a president of the Quorum of the Seventy, and finally as an Apostle of Jesus Christ and member of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Devoted to the Savior, Elder Maxwell loved serving as the Master served, living as He lived, and loving as He loved. He especially loved to serve those who were suffering. He said, “How blessed I am to know special people in the midst of their suffering. It is I who draw strength from them.”
Central to Elder Maxwell’s teachings were the topics of discipleship and submission to the will of God. Understanding we do not understand God’s ways, Elder Maxwell nevertheless urged all trust in God and allow our wills to be swallowed up in the will of the Father, just as Jesus Christ had done. “The submission of one’s will,” he said, “is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s alter.” And, “the only true veneration of Jesus is emulation of Him.”
The promise Neal Maxwell made on Okinawa amidst the chaos of war was fulfilled on July 21, 2004, the twenty-third anniversary of his call to be an apostle, when an eight-year battle with leukemia ended with his death.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will not soon forget Elder Neal Ash Maxwell. His humble service and mastery of the English language inspired us all to become more like Jesus. We loved him and look forward to the day when we will be united with him in the resurrection.
At Elder Maxwell’s funeral, Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Mormon Church said, “His genius was a product of diligence. He was a perfectionist, determined to extract from each phrase and sentence every drop of nourishment that could be produced. Each talk was a masterpiece, each book a work of art worthy of repeated reading. I think we shall not see one like him again.”
Neal A. Maxwell, “Insights from My Life,” Ensign, Aug. 2000
“Elder Neal Ash Maxwell: A Promise Fulfilled,” Ensign, Sept. 2004
Henry B. Eyring, “Elder Neal A. Maxwell: Pursuing ‘A More Excellent Way,” Ensign, Jan. 1987