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It was 1915 and 9-year-old David Haight watched in shocked silence as mourners filed past his father's body, laid out on a board in the living room of their home in Oakley, Idaho. The boy heard a gravedigger decline payment from his mother, who had nine children to clothe and feed for many more hard-scrabble years.

David, the second youngest, would grow up to be a successful businessman who traveled the globe, climbed to the top of the economic world, served as a mayor in California, presided over a close-knit family, and, at 69, launched a new career as an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, just as most men his age were settling into retirement.

Throughout it all, he expressed a special sensitivity to those who suffered deprivation and an untimely loss like his. He regularly combed the obituaries, noting its daily tragedies, often calling strangers - especially parents of missionaries or soldiers - to express his sorrow for them, his son once said.

The Haight family faced its own loss Saturday when David Bruce Haight died at home at 4:15 a.m. He was nearly 98, the oldest Mormon apostle or prophet in the history of the LDS Church.

His death came 10 days after the passing of fellow apostle Neal A. Maxwell, four days after being seated next to Maxwell's empty chair at the funeral and a few weeks after the two were mock-fencing with their canes during a weekly meeting of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in the LDS temple.

Haight's service to the LDS Church "has been long and dedicated," said the church's governing First Presidency - President Gordon B. Hinckley and his counselors, Thomas S. Monson and James E. Faust - in a news release. "He has stirred the hearts of people across the earth with his declaration of faith and his testimony of the living reality of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has borne that witness on many continents and has been influential in the church he loved."

Throughout his nearly century of living, Haight maintained his small-town values - sacrifice, fairness and integrity.

As a boy, Haight was no great athlete, say his children. He played on Oakley's first football team in a position he called "run-for-your-life." When the team faced Twin Falls High, it was defeated 106-6, and Oakley's touchdown actually was made by an opponent who ran into the wrong end zone.

After high school, Haight went on to earn a business degree from Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University). He got a job at ZCMI, the beginning of a long career in retailing. After the Utah store, Haight worked for Montgomery Ward, where he rose rapidly to become a regional manager in Chicago, overseeing 165 stores and more than 5,000 employees.

Haight then moved to Palo Alto, Calif., to manage the company's largest store in Oakland. At the same time, he jumped into civic life in the Bay Area.

Haight was campaign boss and blood-bank director for the Palo Alto Red Cross. He was director of the Stanford Area Boy Scout Council, president of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Merchants Association. In the late 1950s and early '60s, Haight served two terms as mayor of Palo Alto.

"He was able to direct his energy in several different directions at once without neglecting any one aspect,'' a daughter-in-law, Angela Haight, told The Salt Lake Tribune in 1995. "He devoted a lot of time to church and civic work without ignoring his family."

Haight met Ruby Olsen in the late 1920s when she applied for a job at ZCMI and he was the personnel director. They married soon after and began a love affair still in evidence at the time of his death. They have two sons, Bruce and Robert, and one daughter, Karen Haight Huntsman.

By all accounts, Ruby was a beauty. Strong-willed, organized and determined, "she made my father the man he is,'' Huntsman once remarked. "She molded him.''

Ruby Haight had a secret signal to help her husband avoid long-winded sermons - when she started coughing, he knew his time was up.

Haight loved quiet times in the Sierra Nevada with his family, backpacking, sitting in front of the fire and fishing, Huntsman recalled.

"He taught me the art of fly-fishing on our lawn in Palo Alto. The precise way to flick your wrist,'' said Huntsman, who met her husband Jon, the future industrialist and philanthropist, as a teenager in Palo Alto.

Later, after the family moved to Utah, Haight spent endless hours at the family cabin on the Weber River, with his children and grandchildren, who call him "Boompaa'' or simply "Boomps.''

To the end of his life, Haight called Huntsman every day with a simple message: "Hi, I love you. The church is true."

For many years in Palo Alto, though, Haight held no church-leadership position. Then, in 1951, he was asked to be a stake president, overseeing a handful of Mormon congregations.

The move surprised and humbled Haight, but with characteristic determination, he threw himself into the assignment. As in business, Haight moved up the church ladder, from stake president to mission president over Scotland in 1963 to assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1970.

On Jan. 8, 1976, then-President Spencer W. Kimball called Haight to be an apostle. At that moment, Jon Huntsman said in 1995, his father-in-law and mentor "put aside business interests forever and became focused on a single goal - to become more Christlike."

He had less interest in social issues than in fundamental Christian doctrines. And he was neither judgmental nor self-righteous, Jon Huntsman said. "Faithful, active church members, less-than-active members and non-Mormons are all equal in his eyes."

In 1989, Haight gave a memorable speech about a near-death experience he had after an aortic aneurysm. Struck with intense pain, Haight said he leaned over the tub while his wife called the doctor, praying to God for "a little more time to do his work."

As he lost consciousness, Haight said he had the sense of "being in a holy presence and atmosphere" where he witnessed "a panoramic view of [Christ's] earthly ministry: his baptism, his teaching, his healing the sick and lame, the mock trial, his Crucifixion, his Resurrection and Ascension."

Such a vision and faith gave the apostle strength and optimism to face the health problems of old age with dignity and humor.

In recent years, Haight was hard of hearing and nearly blind. Because he could no longer see the Teleprompter, he endeared himself to members of the 12 million-member LDS Church with his self-deprecating, off-the-cuff sermons.

"Elder Maxwell filled my brainy needs," wrote Julie M. Smith, author of Search, Ponder and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels on the Mormon Web site, "But Elder Haight filled my need to be comforted by a sweet old man who didn't seem to have a text, let alone stick to it."

David B. Haight

1906 - 2004

Saying goodbye

* Apostle David B. Haight's funeral will be held at the LDS Tabernacle on Temple Square on Thursday at noon. The public is invited.