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It was 1970, and the LDS Church was looking for a "mature" male secretary for its governing First Presidency — someone who had administrative experience and could take notes in shorthand.

Ever faithful, Francis Marion Gibbons, a successful lawyer and Mormon bishop on Salt Lake City's east side, answered the call (he had trained as a court recorder in his teens, his official church biography says, and continued to use that skill for decades in his education and work). He had to take a pay cut to do so.

But the secretary position was spiritual and intellectual gold for Gibbons, who died Saturday at home in his sleep at 95. It afforded him proximity to top leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 16 years, which continued when he was called to the faith's First and then later Second Quorum of the Seventy. He was named an emeritus LDS general authority in 1991.

Gibbons turned his considerable writing skills to biography, eventually producing one-volume examinations of the lives of the faith's first 14 presidents — from founder Joseph Smith through Howard W. Hunter. He didn't get around to writing about Gordon B. Hinckley or current President Thomas S. Monson, but he did branch out with books about LDS Church growth, Mormon conversations, spiritual dimensions of the United States and Mormon muckraker Jack Anderson. He also tried his hand at historical fiction, a novelized account of Mormon converts Martha McBride Knight and her husband, Vinson Knight.

Gibbons "was a great man, dedicated, astute, helpful," said John Boyden, also a lawyer, who served as an LDS bishop in the Bonneville Salt Lake Stake when Gibson was stake president for that region. "It was always a joy for me to hear him talk. His legal experience helped him be very organized in his speeches."

The young man, known as Frank, grew up in St. Johns, Ariz., and later Phoenix, the youngest of five children, according to his printed obituary. He served a Mormon mission to the Southern states from 1942 to 1944, then as an officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Gibbons married Helen Bay on June 7, 1945, in the Salt Lake LDS Temple, and they became the parents of four children — Suzanne, Mark, Ruth and Daniel. He earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Utah and studied law at Stanford University. He returned to the Beehive State, where he practiced law for 19 years with a Salt Lake City firm.

As a member of the Seventy, Gibbons spent three years in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he learned Portuguese. At 70, he was named a "patriarch at large" for the faith, the obituary reports, giving "blessings," or prayers aimed at specific individuals, to members who lived outside a congregation's boundaries.

Helen Gibbons, his wife of 70 years, died a year ago. He is survived by his four children, eight grandchildren and 42 great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held Saturday 11 a.m. at the Ensign LDS Stake Center, 135 A St., Salt Lake City.

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