SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mormon leader L. Tom Perry, a member of the faith’s highest governing body, has died from cancer. He was 92.
Perry died Saturday surrounded by his family at his Salt Lake City home, church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement.
Perry was diagnosed with cancer in late April after being hospitalized with breathing trouble. He began receiving radiation treatment and briefly returned to work as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a group modeled after Jesus Christ’s apostles that serves under the church president and his two counselors.
On May 29, church officials announced the cancer had spread aggressively, reaching Perry’s lungs.
Perry was the oldest member of the church’s top 15 leaders and was the quorum’s second-most senior member. He wrote a book in the mid-1990s titled “Living with Enthusiasm.”
Perry spoke regularly at church conferences and was one of four leaders to meet with President Barack Obama during his recent Utah trip.
“Elder Perry was a great man, a friend and a tremendous leader,” Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement. “His friendly smile and optimism always encouraged everyone he met, including me, to try a little harder, to stand a little taller and to be a little better.”
Perry was in attendance when Mormon leaders and state lawmakers introduced a landmark bill in March that bars discrimination against gay and transgender people while protecting the rights of religious groups and individuals.
Perry was greeted warmly by LGBT advocates that day. But he drew their rebuke in early April when he spoke at a semi-annual church gathering in Salt Lake City about the faith being a leading advocate for traditional families and opposing “counterfeit and alternative lifestyles.”
A replacement will be chosen by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Thomas S. Monson, considered the religion’s prophet. Members of the faith believe those decisions are guided by inspiration from God.
Some past quorum members have been moved up from another governing body, the Quorum of the Seventy, while others have come from leadership posts at church-run universities.
Perry was born Aug. 5, 1922, in the northern Utah city of Logan. After a Mormon mission, he served in the Marine Corps and went to Japan after World War II. He earned a degree in finance from Utah State University and went on to be a vice president and treasurer in retail businesses in Idaho, California, New York and Massachusetts before being chosen for the quorum in 1974.
Perry dealt with hardship during his midlife years: His first wife, with whom he had three children, died in 1974, and their daughter died in 1983. Perry remarried in 1976.
As a church leader, Perry became known for his affability and optimism and for being unpretentious, said Matthew Bowman, a history professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He asked that people call him Tom rather than “Elder Perry,” Bowman said.
One of his most well-known quotes came during the 1998 semi-annual church conference, when he said: “The almost universal gift everyone can develop is the creation of a pleasant disposition, an even temperament.”
Perry was a tall, athletic man who played sports as a youngster and was well-known for exercising and staying in shape throughout his life.
Richard Bushman, a Mormon historian and emeritus professor at Columbia University, recalled Perry as a jovial man with a big grin and booming voice. Bushman, who served under Perry when he was a regional church leader in Boston in the early 1970s, recalled how efficiently Perry ran meetings. He demanded that people bring not only problems, but solutions, and made quick and decisive decisions, Bushman said.
“I’ve never seen a person run a meeting as carefully and quickly as he did,” Bushman said.