Serious health problems plagued Elder Kimball. In 1957 throat cancer threatened to rob him of his voice. He agonized, “Shall I ever speak at another temple dedication? Shall I ever preach again?” Following much prayer and fasting, however, the needed operation proved to be less radical than expected. Nevertheless, Elder Kimball lost most of his vocal cords. As he learned to speak again, he continued to ask himself, “Will my gruff fringe voice be an affront to the people?”4 It was not long, however, until the Saints came to respect and heed and love Elder Kimball’s “new voice.”
Then in 1972 a problem with his heart recurred, and he underwent a particularly complicated open-heart operation. With the faith of many people and through the outstanding skill of a devoted Latter-day Saint surgeon, Dr. Russell M. Nelson, Elder Kimball’s life once again was spared. Just prior to the surgery, the First Presidency blessed Dr. Nelson. “They blessed me that the operation would be performed without error, that all would go well, . . . for I had been raised up by the Lord to perform this operation.” It went flawlessly. As Elder Kimball’s heart resumed beating with power and vigor, Dr. Nelson recalled, “The Spirit told me that I had just operated upon a man who would become president of the Church.”5 Despite physical difficulties, Elder Kimball set a legendary example of long hours of selfless and devoted service in building up the kingdom of God. A motto prominently displayed on his desk proclaimed simply “Do It.” These experiences helped prepare Spencer W. Kimball to lead the Church when the call came.
5. Russell Marion Nelson, From Heart to Heart (Salt Lake City: Russell M. Nelson, 1979), pp. 164–65.