Former heart surgeon set to become next Mormon president

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The man set to become the next Mormon church president is a 93-year-old former heart surgeon whose conservative track record on the religion’s leadership panel has led Mormon scholars to predict he won’t make any major changes.

Russell M. Nelson is likely to be formally named as Monson’s successor in the coming days under longstanding church protocol which typically gives the post to the longest-tenured member of the governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Nelson has been a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for three decades.

President Thomas S. Monson died Tuesday night at his home in Salt Lake City after leading the church for nearly a decade. He was 90.

Nelson would become the second-oldest person to be named president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Only Joseph Fielding Smith was older, by one month, when he became church president in 1970.

 

Presidents of the Utah-based faith are considered prophets who lead the church through revelations from God in collaboration with two top counselors and members of the Quorum of the Twelve.

Born in Salt Lake City in 1924, Nelson became a doctor by 22. He served a two-year Army medical tour of duty during the Korean War before resuming a medical career that included being director of thoracic surgery residency at the University of Utah.

In the spring of 1984, he was called to join the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and left behind his medical career.

Nelson still uses the precision mentality that made him a successful surgeon, said Richard Bushman, a Mormon historian and emeritus professor at Columbia University.

“He likes exactitude. He likes good order,” Bushman said. “I think we’ll see that.”

Nelson also has a soft side and loves his family, Bushman said. He and his first wife, Dantzel White, had 10 children together. After she died in 2005, Nelson remarried Wendy Watson in 2006.

Another factor in Nelson’s presidency will be his age, even though he is well-known for vibrant health that makes him look much younger.

Nelson is expected to be formally appointed as the 17th Mormon president during a private meeting of the apostles in the Salt Lake City temple, most likely sometime after a funeral is held for Monson on Jan. 12.