In his talk Sunday morning, Gordon Hinckley read from a journal his experience with the death of several apostles half a century ago.
In a three year period from August 8, 1950 to December 13, 1953, five members of the Quorum of the Twelve died: George F. Richards, Joseph F. Merrill, John A. Widtsoe, Albert Ernest Bowen, and Matthew Cowley. In addition, Church President George Albert Smith died on April 4, 1951 (his birthday), and Stephen L. Richards left the Quorum to serve as David O. McKay’s counselor. The dead took with them 448 years of life, 172 years as apostles, and also George Albert Smith’s almost 6 years as President of the Church. In six of eight consecutive General Conferences, the Church sustained new apostles: Delbert L. Stapley, Marion G. Romney, LeGrand Richards, Adam S. Bennion, Richard L. Evans, and George Q. Morris.
Unlike the once middle-aged Brother Hinckley, I have no personal acquaintance with any members of the Church’s presiding quorums. So I applied the impersonal spirit of probability to consider the coming three years. When the Church meets in April 2009 for its 179th Annual General Conference, the chances are:
Current members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve will all be alive, 1.8%;
one dead, 9.3%;
two dead, 20.8%;
three dead, 26.7%;
four dead, 22.0%;
five dead, 12.5%;
six dead, 5.1%; and
seven or more dead, 1.9%.
Not a lot can be said as to which of those fifteen men will have died. Gordon Hinckley has a one in three chance of living another three years; Joseph Wirthlin is slightly more likely than not to still be alive then; Tom Perry and James Faust each have a two-thirds chance of still being with us then; Jeff Holland and Dieter Uchtdorf have almost eight-ninths probability of both living another three years. Collectively, though, those fifteen will leave several vacancies. I haven’t run the numbers, but it appears that the membership of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve as it will be composed seven years from now will be little changed over the subsequent two decades.
[Probabilities were calculated using Table 5: Life table for white males, United States, 2002 on pages 15-16 of United States Life Tables, 2002, National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 53, No. 6, November 10, 2004 produced by the Center for Disease Control. Ages of the Church leaders were rounded to whole values. No other information was used in this analysis. Information concerning health was not used, only age and the statistical death rates for white males in the United States.]