President Russell M. Nelson: 5 Fun Facts

With the recent passing of President Boyd K. Packer, who will dearly be missed, President Russell M. Nelson was called to be president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In light of the recent calling of President Nelson, I thought it would be interesting to find out some fun facts that not everyone may know about him. I really enjoyed learning more about his life and some of the things he has experienced and accomplished.

  1. Oldest Living Apostle

President Russell M. Nelson, age 90, was born September 9, 1924, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was called to be an apostle by President Spencer W. Kimball on April 7, 1984, and was then ordained by President Gordon B. Hinckley on April 12, 1984. This makes him the second most senior apostle today, behind President Thomas S. Monson. Elder Dallin H. Oaks was also called to be an apostle at the same conference in April 1984. The two vacancies in the Quorum of the 12 were due to the deaths of Elders Legrand Richards and Mark E. Petersen. I was only ten years old when this occurred, so I don’t remember or didn’t pay close enough attention to that conference. However, I was talking to my dad about it and he immediately recalled Elder Nelson and Elder Oaks being called in the same conference over 30 years ago.

  1. Married 59 Years + 9 Years

Something that I did not realize was that President Nelson has been married to his current wife for only nine years. He was married to his first wife, Dantzel White, for 59 years until she passed away unexpectedly in 2005. Together, they had ten children, nine daughters and one son. President Nelson married Wendy L. Watson in 2006, which was her first marriage.

  1. Korean War Veteran

I was unaware that President Nelson served in the Korean War. He served a two-year term of medical duty in the U.S. Army. He was a Captain in the Army Medical Corps. He was stationed in Korea, Japan, and at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Due to fulfilling his military duty, he was unable to serve a mission. I appreciate his service in the military, and this knowledge has made him even more of an inspiration for my life. I have always had an extra sense of respect and admiration for our armed forces. One regret I have in my life has been not serving in the military. President Nelson’s experience in Asia, I believe, helped to prepare him for future assignments as an Apostle of the Lord.

4.  Fluent in Mandarin Chinese

When President Nelson was general president of the Sunday School, he attended a meeting in which President Spencer W. Kimball urged all those present to learn Chinese. President Nelson accepted the challenge and became fluent in Mandarin. His knowledge of the language helped develop ties with the medical community in China, and he made several trips there to train surgeons. In 1985, President Nelson was the first person to ever be made an honorary professor of Shandong Medical College. In 1995, President Nelson went to Beijing with Elder Neal A. Maxwell and other LDS Church leaders on an official invitation of Li Lanqing, the Vice Premier of China.  

5.  Internationally Renowned Cardiothoracic Surgeon

I remember hearing the story of President Nelson performing an open-heart surgery on Dr. Cowart, who was a family friend and our family practitioner. Dr. Cowart was also my patriarch when I was a youth, and he gave me  my patriarchal blessing. Elder Nelson worked on a research team responsible for developing the heart-lung machine that supported the first open-heart operation on a human being in 1951. He returned to Salt Lake City in 1955 and built his own heart-lung bypass machine which he employed to perform the first open-heart surgery in the state of Utah. In March 1956, he performed the first successful pediatric cardiac operation at the Salt Lake General Hospital on a four-year-old girl.  In addition, he performed a ground-breaking operation on President Spencer W. Kimball to replace his damaged aortic valve.  

As I have learned more about the life of President Nelson, I am amazed at his accomplishments and his dedication to his profession, to his family, and to his service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I sustain him as a prophet, seer, and revelator.  He is indeed a great example for me and I have a testimony that he is an Apostle of the Lord, Jesus Christ. I look forward to the opportunity to sustain him in General Conference this October as the new President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and to hear him share an inspiring message.

Kory Ashcraft is a financial advisor with Edward Jones. He grew up in Bay City, Texas, served a full-time mission for the Church in the Paraguay Asuncion mission from 1992-1994, and later graduated from Texas A&M University. He married Sandy Billings in 1996, and they are the proud parents of two beautiful children.


  1. Thank you so much, brother Ashcraft. This was great to read. I too sustain President Nelson as well as all those whom Father has chosen to help us get home. Thank you for being a good man serving honorably.

  2. For part of his medical training, he came to the great state of Minnesota! My foster parents remember him fondly.

  3. Surely the Lord guided him through his life and choices. His counsels are beyond reproach, his kindness radiates from his soul through his eyes, and we are so blessed to have him as President of the Quorum of the twelve Apostles.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this information on President Nelson. I love and sustain him as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles!

  5. Elder Nelson did open heart surgery on my mother (September 1967). It gave her seven wonderful years of feeling better. In December 1974, she was not doing well and decided to have surgery again. Sadly, she never woke up. I think it was her time to go. She had the best heart surgeon in the world!!!! Elder Nelson is awesome!!!