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Looking forward on 85th birthday

President Packer approaches his advancing years with wit and humor

Upon being congratulated on his 85th birthday, which was Sept. 10, President Boyd K. Packer gave a quick response typical of his sense of humor: "I had nothing to do with it. You just wait, and it happens."

President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he spent his milestone birthday in his office. Later, he and his wife, Sister Donna Packer, spent what he described as "a pleasant evening" with members of their family, which includes 10 children, 60 grandchildren and 63 great-grandchildren.

"We need every one of them," he said of their offspring. "They're very precious to us. We've had four marriages this summer. So it goes on and on."

President Packer said that a friend told him, "If you keep having birthdays, it's going to make you old."

In an interview with the Church News, President Packer said, "I don't feel old. I know my body is old, but I don't feel mentally old. I can feel a few things are wearing out a bit, but basically, my memory is sharp."

He pointed out that he was the 10th of 11 children in his family, and now with a large family of his own, he has "always lived in constant association with people."

Asked if he had ever envisioned reaching the age of 85, especially as he faced serious childhood illness and a bout with polio, he said, "No, I've been preoccupied with what is, what I was trying to do. I did as fine as I could with the work before me. In the course of it, I learned to work hard. I love to work, outside and in. I can't do much now, which I regret."

Much of the work he has enjoyed over the years has been on his home and property. President and Sister Packer have lived in the same home for about 50 years. He described the property as something no one seemed to have wanted back when they purchased it. Today, visitors can't help but admire their home and its surrounding grounds. President Packer pointed out, however, that the look of today came about through half a century of work, bit by bit.

They've planted trees, shrubs and gardens. Asked if he split the rails for the fence surrounding his yard, he replied, "Yes, and when I got through I had a new respect for Abraham Lincoln." (The American president was known as "the rail splitter.")

With his 85 years of experience, he was asked what advice would he give a young man if he had just a minute or two to counsel the youth.

President Packer was quick with his answer: "I would tell him to stay in harmony with the great plan of redemption, to live the gospel, to gain a testimony — not just an impression but a certain testimony — that the gospel is true and Jesus is the Christ, that the Atonement is a great healer. Spiritual development is really an individual effort. If you're conscious about that, you can ever be learning.

"I would tell him to keep a sense of humor. It's critically important. If you get wound up tight, you can't see the comical side of things. Like many other things, a sense of humor has to be cultivated.

"I would tell that young man to get the best education he could get — which does not always equate to the best schooling — to be always learning, to have a curiosity about him.

"I would tell him to develop a little courage. It would be sad to be afraid all the time. The doctrines of the gospel are powerful and sustaining principles so that you can live with assurance and without fear even in times of serious challenges.

"I would tell the young man, 'Don't be afraid of the future. Don't be afraid to marry, for instance. You can't have everything certain before you take that step. You take that step and everything works out.' "

He said that he would encourage the young man to move forward. "I've never been a very good veteran in looking back at things of the past. I've learned that you don't go back in life. You don't go back to the old town or the old way of life. The magic is gone, and you just move ahead."

And with that, President Packer is moving ahead. "I look forward to more birthdays," he said. "There are things I feel I've got to do in my life that are unfinished."

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