Admiral Hyman Rickover and the Apostle

I don’t know about you, but of all of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve, Richard G. Scott has always struck me as the sweetest and most patient. I have no personal experiences or special information to back this up. It is just my impression. I wonder if this is in part the lingering influence of Admiral Hyman Rickover.

Rickover is the man who invented nuclear powered submarines. By all acounts he was an engineering genius and a bureaucratic empire builder of the first order. He insisted that he have personal control over the training of all officers for nuclear powered submarines, and for several decades he presided over a personal navy within the navy. Ultimately, no one got to do anything with nuclear powered submarines without Rickover’s consent.

Rickover also seems to have been a first class SOB who delighted in torturing inferiors. For example, he personally interviewed potential captains of nuclear submarines and would go out of his way to shake officers up. He left them to wait for hours in broom closets. He made them sit on chairs with one leg shorter than the other. He told one interviewee, “try to piss me off.” He had other antics. He would deliberately visit submarine bases in civilian clothes and then refuse to show any identification. When the MPs or officers would then deny him access to submarines, he would chew them out. He once had a subordinate take a red-eye flight from Pearl Harbor to New York City for the sole purpose of giving him a personal dressing down. Part of this seems to have been a deliberate attempt to guage people by seeing how they reacted to tense and unexpected situations. However, a lot of it seems to have been simple sadism.

For twelve years from 1953 to 1965, Richard G. Scott was on Rickover’s personal staff. One can imagine what over a decade of work under a brilliant, demanding, and sadistic boss would do for someone. Hence, when Elder Scott delivers one of his ultra-sweet and patient talks on personal purity or repentence, I can’t help but wonder to what extent his persona is a reaction against Rickover’s antics.

44 comments for “Admiral Hyman Rickover and the Apostle

  1. September 24, 2004 at 9:51 am

    “…when Elder Scott delivers one of his ultra-sweet and patient talks on personal purity or repentance…”

    Nate, I’m not sure if this is allowed, but Richard G. Scott is probably my least favorite apostle, mostly due to his repentance material he repeats so frequently. I am intrigued by someone who finds him “ultra-sweet”. I’ve always been annoyed by his glaring, downward look as he says slowly, “don’t wait another minute… repent…” This may just be my perception, but it feels like he sneaks in his trademarked “request for repentance” in every talk. Each time I hear it, I look around the room to see if anyone else has been driven to feel guilty for *something*, but isn’t sure what to repent of… Being human?

  2. Nate Oman
    September 24, 2004 at 10:18 am

    Bob: I suspect that Elder Scott wants people to repent for their sins. This should hardly be a shocking bit of counsel from a prophet.

  3. September 24, 2004 at 10:28 am

    I’m with Bob. It’s not shocking that Elder Scott would want us to repent. I’m sure all the Brethren would. What is shocking (or at least unnerving) is his ability to seem so creepy about it. At least that’s how he seems to me.

    But I’m actually glad that he doesn’t come across that way to everyone

  4. September 24, 2004 at 10:31 am

    I might add, though, that this post is an interesting insight into Elder Scott’s life. Understanding it may help me put his talks into better perspective for me.

  5. Max Lybbert
    September 24, 2004 at 10:33 am

    I find Elder Scott interesting since he grew up in a part-member, less-active family, and was “sent” on his mission because of his girlfriend’s insitance. As a missionary to Brazil, several local members thought it was impossible for a non-Salt Lake member to become a general authority, but Elder Scott (who, incidentally, was responsible for the Church in Brazil) was a great counter-example.

    Please note, I don’t think we ought to set our sights on becoming a general authority. The GA talk seemed to be used as some kind of excuse (“I came from a bad background, how can I be all that righteous, the change is impossible for me”).

    I am glad to have received more insight into Elder Scott’s personality.

  6. Chris Grant
    September 24, 2004 at 10:49 am

    Elder Scott has “a glaring, downward look”? Doesn’t he look in the general direction of the camera just like most speakers? And as for having nothing to repent of but “[b]eing human”–Is that the gospel according to Human League?

  7. September 24, 2004 at 10:53 am

    “I suspect that Elder Scott wants people to repent for their sins.”

    Well, yeah! But as Logan hinted, Elder Scott makes you feel like you need to talk to the bishop for going over the speed limit. His talks make me feel like I need to hurry and dig up some nasty thing I’ve done. As I go down the list (WofW, check, Chastity, check, tithing, check, etc.) and can’t find anything, I feel like there must be something… based on the way Scott pierces through the T.V.

    And Nate, a call for repentance of sins isn’t shocking, but someone assuming the whole world has extremely severe sins… that can be a little disconcerting (to clarify, I am assuming what I think Elder Scott is assuming in order to talk the way he does, but I could be way off base).

  8. Max Lybbert
    September 24, 2004 at 10:55 am

    For what it’s worth, as a missionary I heard second (or third, or fifteenth-hand) that Elder Scott also interviewed a local member when that member was called as a mission president. The story we heard was that Elder Scott simply sat in the room with the prospective mission president and his wife “for a long time” without saying anything. Eventually he told the member that he had been approved. I couldn’t tell if this was a tactic to put the member under stress to see if he confessed, or an unusual way to use the gift of discernment.

    I didn’t really believe this story until I heard it from the ex-mission president’s former bisop, and I ran across a talk by Elder Scott regarding ways he learned to listen to the spirit, including an example where he was sent somewhere to determine if a certain church official had committed a grevious sin. After some time there, Elder Scott was unable to say whether the official had done what he had been accused of, so — following inspiration — Elder Scott sat down with the man and began to read scriptures and ask the man to explain what they meant. He did this for something like half an hour, and was interrupted by a member needing an interview. When Elder Scott had finished the interview, the accused official handed him a written confession.

    Obviously it’s an unorthodox tactic, but it did make it easier (for me) to believe that Elder Scott would be willing to conduct an interview without actually asking questions. Of course, since this is “some returned missionary posted on the ‘net that he heard, …” you may not be able to use this in a talk (you may not even be willing to take it at face value). That’s OK with me.

  9. September 24, 2004 at 10:55 am

    “Doesn’t he look in the general direction of the camera just like most speakers?”

    Yes, Chris, you are right. But don’t put it past people to look at cameras in different ways.

  10. Chris Grant
    September 24, 2004 at 11:01 am

    Bob Caswell writes: “don’t put it past people to look at cameras in different ways.”

    But how does one of the shorter apostles manage to look in the camera in a “downward” way when the others don’t? Are the cameras repositioned just for him?

  11. September 24, 2004 at 11:12 am

    “But how does one of the shorter apostles manage to look in the camera in a “downwardâ€? way when the others don’t? Are the cameras repositioned just for him?”

    You know, Chris, rather than explain to you what I mean, I think I’ll just leave it as a mystery of the universe for you.

    Back to the real topic at hand, I do like some of Max’s thoughts as well as Nate’s original post. I think the more I understand the life and history of Elder Scott, the more I can come to terms with his unique methods.

  12. Frank McIntyre
    September 24, 2004 at 11:13 am


    I think you may be suffering from the fact that Elder Scott can only give one talk to the audience. This is a problem with General Conference and perhaps why we have other talks that are more local and specific. Elder Scott clearly feels that the best use of his time is to try to touch some of the sinners out there who really need to change. That makes you feel uncomfortable even though you are (presumably) not sinning grievously. Jacob spoke about this conundrum.

    “Wherefore, it burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained, because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to aadmonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds; and those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds.”

    Glad to hear you have a delicate mind!

  13. September 24, 2004 at 11:16 am


    You know, I don’t think you could have dealt with my issue in any better way. Thanks for taking the time to help me figure this out.

  14. Mark B
    September 24, 2004 at 11:24 am

    Actually, the cameras are “repositioned” for Elder Scott.

    Elder Scott memorizes his talks, and always looks directly into the camera while he speaks. When he turns, he turns and looks directly at another camera, and the director switches to that camera immediately. Thus, you never get a view of him from the side, as if he were speaking to an unseen audience. Instead, you always view him straight on, and he looks directly at the camera. (I have wondered whether the director has an advance copy of the talk, marked with the “turn” points, or if he simply is fast at changing the camera.)

    All that having been said, this whole discussion suffers from attempts to know the man from his television persona. I spent several hours with him over a two-day span several years ago (while he was serving in the presidency of the seventy), and found him to be as Nate suggests–kind, gentle, loving, encouraging, challenging (in a gentle way), deeply spiritual, understanding, forgiving.

    I haven’t heard the interview story, but the general thrust of the story makes sense, if some of the details are fuzzy. There is no substitute for listening, and there’s no better way to stop people from opening up, and receiving the blessing that comes from confessing one’s sins, than to speed through an interview as if you were double parked. That is particularly true if one is conducting an interview in a language that is not the first language of one of the parties to the interview.

    Characterizing the interview as “unorthodox” seems inappropriate–what is an “orthodox” interviewing method, anyway–and suggesting that it may have been a way to “stress” someone into confessing ignores the blessing that unburdening oneself from sin brings to a repentant sinner.

  15. john fowles
    September 24, 2004 at 11:56 am

    Mark B wrote Characterizing the interview as “unorthodox� seems inappropriate–what is an “orthodox� interviewing method, anyway–and suggesting that it may have been a way to “stress� someone into confessing ignores the blessing that unburdening oneself from sin brings to a repentant sinner.

    But at the same time, you must admit that it does seem rather Rickfover-esque (just minus the sadism part).

  16. john fowles
    September 24, 2004 at 11:57 am

    Rickover-esque, that is.

  17. Geoff B
    September 24, 2004 at 12:07 pm

    For what it’s worth, Elder Scott was extremely well-received at a regional conference in Rio de Janeiro when I went there about three years ago. Brazilians in general are pretty sensitive to judgmental Americans, but they loved his talk (delivered to several thousand people).

  18. September 24, 2004 at 12:08 pm

    I felt sad for Elder Scott when his wife passed away. They both spoke to the Guatemala missions a bunch of years ago and she spoke very well. I met her later again in a hallway at the MTC a year or so later (when I was working there) and again she came across as an extraordinary and wonderful person.

  19. KEN
    September 24, 2004 at 12:20 pm

    I had an opportunity last year to meet Elder Scott as part of a training meeting for two new stake presidencies. My impression matches that of Mark B.

    As a computer engineer, I especially enjoyed seeing Elder Scott show up with his notebook and projector. Part of his training included several powerpoint presentations he had prepared for the stake presidencies. When he finished with those, he instructed us to stand up, stretch and take a break while he burned the presentations on CDs to leave with us.

  20. Nathan Tolman
    September 24, 2004 at 12:25 pm

    When I was 16, my dad was called to be the the Stake President, and Elder Scott came to confirm him and he stayed in our house. He was rather soft spoken, but friendly. Overall it was a good experience (except he stayed in my room ; ) ). Needless to say, he did not call any of us to repentance.

    Why should it be strange that an Apostle should ask us to repent? After all, it is one of the most repeated exhortations in the scriptures. As for the way he does it, I think he is trying his best in a place where he has two audiences, one on TV/satellite and one in the Conference Center. I think him looking in the camera is “strange” just because most conference speakers cast their view at the Conference Center audience.

  21. john fowles
    September 24, 2004 at 12:33 pm

    I agree that Scott’s camera demeanor is worthy of eye-rolling, but wouldn’t go so far as to call it creepy or to disparage him his desire in having a righteous Church membership who are prepared through repentance for the Second Coming, should it happen tomorrow. (I know I certainly am not ready for it and feel guilty every time Scott gives his talks, but I know that I need it and should overcome myself and follow his exortations.)

  22. RS
    September 24, 2004 at 12:48 pm

    I read your board often, but don’t usually feel compelled to comment.

    While at BYU I unfortunately damaged one of Elder Scott’s cars – his son was driving it at the time. I did confess and own up to my mistake. To my surprise, I never heard a thing from the Scotts. I think they just let it pass. I was glad, as I didn’t have the cash to fix the damage. You can imagine how guilty I felt at the next General Conference.

    While this is a funny little experience, it also added to my testimony (in a simple way) of what is really important in life. I’ve tried to take the positives from the experience everytime one the Scouts damages my truck.

  23. Jim Richins
    September 24, 2004 at 12:49 pm

    The Rickover info is interesting. Makes me wish I knew more about the biographies of each of the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve.

    I love Elder Scott. I’ve never felt uncomfortable with his intensity on camera. I’ve never met the man, so I have no idea what he may be like in real life, but the gentle urgency he shows in calling me to repentance leaves me with the impression that – although he has never even heard my name – he loves me. I believe he truly feels a sense of urgency for repentance because he can see things from an eternal perspective that I can – at best – sense only vaguely.

    I unapologetically admit that I have favorites among the Apostles – I don’t know how “appropriate” that is, but it is true. I would not wish to carry my Apostle-preference to the point of compiling a ranked, “Top 15” list, but surely Elder Scott would fall in the top half for me.

  24. September 24, 2004 at 12:49 pm

    Huh. I guess this shows the problems with trying to communicate with a worldwide church all at once. I’ve never met Elder Scott, so my impressions of him come entirely from conference addresses, and to me he comes across as the gentlest, most caring, least confrontational of the brethren. I always feel that his calls to repentance, rather than being a condemnation of the sinner, are pleas for the sinner to come and be happy with the saints.

  25. September 24, 2004 at 1:35 pm

    I know it’s entirely subjective, but I have never found Elder Scott’s demeanor creepy or really anything else but sweet, intense, and concerned.

    As for Elder Scott’s interaction with Admiral Rickover, he tells a great story about him in a talk he gave in the June 1997 Ensign called “Do what is right.” I’d post the link, but it comes up as miles and miles of code.

    I post the relevant portion here:

    At one time I worked on the staff of Admiral Hyman Rickover, a hardworking, demanding, misunderstood man who became the father of the nuclear navy, which provided great protection for the United States at a critical time. I have great respect for him. After 11 years in his service, I received a call from the First Presidency to preside over a mission. I knew I would have to tell Admiral Rickover immediately. As I explained the call and that it would mean I would have to quit my job, he became rather excited. He said some unrepeatable things, broke the paper tray on his desk, and in the comments that followed clearly established two points:

    “Scott, what you are doing in this defense program is so vital that it will take a year to replace you, so you can’t go. Second, if you do go, you are a traitor to your country.�

    I said, “I can train my replacement in the two remaining months, and there won’t be any risk to the country.�

    There was more conversation, and he finally said: “I never will talk to you again. I don’t want to see you again. You are finished, not only here, but don’t ever plan to work in the nuclear field again.�

    I responded, “Admiral, you can bar me from the office but unless you prevent me, I am going to turn this assignment over to another individual.�

    He asked, “What’s the name of the man who wants you?�

    I told him, “President David O. McKay.�

    He responded, “If that’s the way Mormons act, I don’t want any of them working for me.�

    I knew he would try to call President McKay, who was ill, and that the conversation would benefit no one. I also knew that in the Idaho Falls area there were many members of the Church whose families depended upon working in our program. I didn’t want to cause them harm. I also knew that I had been called as a mission president by the Lord. I didn’t know what to do. Then, a hymn began to run through my mind: “Do what is right; let the consequence follow� (Hymns, no. 237).

    While I had never contacted a General Authority in my life, I had been interviewed by Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, so I had a feeling to call him. I explained that the admiral would try to call President McKay and would make some negative comments, but everything was all right. I would be able to accept my call. While doing that, my heart kept saying, “Is this going to turn out all right or will somebody be innocently hurt who depends on our program for livelihood?� The hymn would come back, “Do what is right; let the consequence follow.� True to his word, the admiral ceased to speak to me. When critical decisions had to be made, he would send a messenger or I would communicate through a third party. We accomplished the changeover.

    My last day in the office I asked for an appointment with him. His secretary gasped. I went with a copy of the Book of Mormon in my hand. He looked at me and said, “Sit down, Scott, what do you have? I have tried every way I can to force you to change. What is it you have?� There followed a very interesting, quiet conversation. There was more listening this time.

    He said he would read the Book of Mormon. Then something I never thought would occur happened. He added: “When you come back from the mission, I want you to call me. There will be a job for you.�

  26. Nate Oman
    September 24, 2004 at 1:47 pm

    That’s a great story. Thanks!

  27. D. Fletcher
    September 24, 2004 at 2:33 pm

    Mmm…wasn’t Elder Scott the one who had to re-tape a GC talk?

    If someone knows better, please correct me. A talk given by an apostle, I’m thinking Scott, was delivered in General Conference, probably concerning repentence, etc. But apparently it had some unofficial doctrinal words of wisdom, and the Brethren (this was in the 80s) decided to have Elder Scott go back into the Tabernacle, and RE-TAPE his talk, removing the offending passages, and this tape is the one that was sent out, etc.

    If apocryphal, it’s still interesting.

  28. September 24, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    Two Comments:

    Radio and television stations that broadcast conference sessions receive an advance copy of the talks. I worked for a radio station in Provo several years ago and enjoyed being able to get an advance look at the talks.

    Most GA’s aren’t so much looking at the audience in the conference center as they are looking at the teleprompters.

  29. SFW
    September 24, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    Elder Scott visited my mission many years ago. I remember sitting in the congregation, worrying about whether he would discern any sin for which I had not repented. I was more nervous than I’ve ever been as I went to personally meet him after the meeting. As we clasped hands, he looked me in the eyes, and I swear he could see my soul. What an experience! And two times each year during conference, I am mesmerized, nay, tormented by that same gaze.

  30. September 24, 2004 at 2:40 pm

    I want to share a personal Richard G. Scott experience that taught me a lot about the kind of man he is. While I was young and foolish, and at BYU (not necessarily a connection there), I was coming home from a final on a winter night and saw a short man standing on the curb waiting to get into the HFAC parking lot (this is before they tore up the old Wilkinson center). It was Elder Scott. There was a break in the cars and he crossed into the parking lot. Feeling a surge of love and appreciation for him, and wonder at being the only one to realize that there was an apostle, I ran up behind him, shouting, “Elder Scott!” And gave him a big hug. I cannot imagine why I did such a spontaneous ill-advised, inappropriate thing, and I am embarrassed about it now. I startled him and must have frightened him–this big crazy guy grabbing him in a dark parking lot.
    I told him I appreciated his work and effrorts and that I loved him. After he got over his surprise, he was so gracious about it saying, “Thank you, thank you so much,” in that soft, gentle voice. He could have chewed me out for crossing the line and he would have been justified. He could have been irritable–but he wasn’t and that tells me a lot. I think I’ll always remember his eyes–gentle and kind, full of love.
    I hope I never have to be intervirewed by a GA for a transgression or something, but if I did, I would want it to be him.

  31. Chance Richardson
    September 24, 2004 at 3:04 pm

    Having read each comment here, I had to ask myself ‘What is the point of this post?’. I can see an underlying message, but it is being ignored and is turning more into a gossip-fest regarding an apostle.

    Here’s to hoping the GAs have not yet discovered the bloggernacle…


  32. D. Fletcher
    September 24, 2004 at 3:18 pm

    I’m informed that it wasn’t Elder Scott that had to re-tape his talk to an empty Tabernacle, it was Elder Poelman, a 70, back in the 80s.

    Sorry about that.

  33. Mark B
    September 24, 2004 at 3:21 pm


    Not an 80, back in the 70’s? :)

  34. David
    September 24, 2004 at 3:21 pm


    The two versions of Elder Poelman’s 1984 address regarding “The Gospel and the Church” are contrasted here

  35. September 24, 2004 at 4:26 pm


    I’m not sure what it is that bothers you. Are you annoyed that we are talking about an apostle or is it that we have strayed off topic? Or both?

  36. September 24, 2004 at 5:53 pm


    I’m with Braden. I don’t understand what it is that bothers you. In fact, it seems that almost every post on here talks about how great of a man he is, which I have found inspiring. There are a few comments that comment on the way he stares at the camera (not his position or authority or the truthfulness of his message). I’m not sure that’s gossip.

  37. Benjamin Huff
    September 24, 2004 at 7:39 pm

    I love the Rickover stories! I can just see Elder Scott working patiently month after month with his spitfire boss and making sure the important things get done. And Rickover loving him for it, in his cranky way.

  38. Chance
    September 24, 2004 at 7:39 pm

    Rusty and Braden, you’re right. I took that first post from Bob a little to seriously. I will never post at work again…


  39. Chad
    September 25, 2004 at 7:42 pm

    I have met Elder Scott and I found him to be quite layed back and informal in small groups. I was talking to a Stake President once and he said that he recieved a phone call from a man who was inspired to repent of something afted hearing one of Elder Scotts talks. This is what the gospel is all about. Repentance! He understands his role. Everyone has a diffrent personality, and for that reason many of us are going to favor certain peoples talks and “looks” to others. However, we should be able to look past that especially with the brethren and see that they are trying to bless the church.

  40. September 26, 2004 at 7:17 am

    This was an interesting series of posts to read and I really enjoyed it. Thanks.

  41. Dan Richards
    September 26, 2004 at 10:33 pm

    I’ve been looking for over an hour, but I’ve been unable to locate the article in which (if I remember correctly) Elder Scott was asked how he would react if his son or daughter came out as gay. My memory is that Elder Scott emphasized that he would try to convey his unconditional love to the child, while also making clear his hope that the child would keep the law of chastity. I’m not doing it justice here–it was a perfect answer to a difficult question.

  42. September 26, 2004 at 11:19 pm

    Well said. I can’t imagine what a difficult job they have and I am grateful they are willing to do it.

    I think a few of us also took the post seriously and were trying to respond by expressing appreciation and love for Elder Scott, however clumsily we may have done that.

  43. Chance Richardson
    September 27, 2004 at 8:05 am

    Braden, give it a rest. I already stated who my post was in reference to, and it was not to those who were expressing appreciation and love.

  44. September 27, 2004 at 10:18 am

    I’m sorry–I wasn’t trying to sound snarky or critical. Apparently I gave offense somehow because you sound irritated. I was just trying to follow up on your post, something I like to do when posts have my name in them. I actually meant what I said to sound friendly.

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