Passing his 97th birthday in 2003, Elder Haight became the oldest living apostle for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the oldest since the Church was organized in 1830. Very few 97-year-olds still donned a suit and tie, reported to an office and assumed considerable responsibility for the daily management in a 12- million member, worldwide church or any other walk of life.
Elder Haight served as a member of the governing body of the Church, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a position he accepted in 1976 at the age of 69, an age when most men consider retirement. His “calling” extended throughout his lifetime — an unusual pattern of service from a worldly perspective, but readily accepted in the parameters of the Church. Fellow apostle Neal A. Maxwell, before his own death, said “Instead of pulling off to the side in a rocking chair, David is actively and anxiously engaged in the ministry, and thus keeps himself from getting intellectual arthritis … He is thus provided with stimulation, the very process which creates its own form of adrenalin.”
Born 2 September 1906 in Oakley, Idaho to Hector Caleb and Clara Josephine Tuttle Haight, Elder Haight quickly acquired the skills of living in a rural community and implemented his mother’s motto, “People who don’t see the sunrise miss half their life.” Responsibilities for the youngster multiplied dramatically when his father unexpectedly passed away when he was only nine. In the following four years, four of his siblings also passed away.
Though he assumed family obligations beyond his years, Elder Haight found time to master the violin, enjoy the piano, participate in scouting and school sports. Awarded the first merit badge in Cassia County, Idaho, the energetic young man earned his scout uniform by winning the local “cleanest yard in town” contest.
Local appearances of the famed aviator Charles A. Lindbergh and United States President Warren G. Harding may have inspired the young Idahoan to look beyond his neighborhood for employment and educational opportunities. Determined to follow his older sister’s path following high school, he attended Albion State Normal School to obtain a teaching credential. While a student there, he discovered a 1923 copy of the newly created Time magazine and recognized the world beyond his Idaho neighborhood. “Capsulized in that magazine were events of the world.,” Elder Haight recalled. “I read about people and countries — about Turkey, Great Britain and Germany, about the functions and tussles of nations, and I became interested in world events, an interest that has continued unbroken.”
The student transferred to Utah State Agricultural College, then accepted employment in the retail industry in Salt Lake City. Hired as a clerk, Elder Haight quickly advanced to supervisor. As a supervisor, he was responsible to hire summer help. Of all the applicants interviewed, Elder Haight hired Ruby Olsen, a University of Utah student. He and Ruby eventually married on 4 September 1930 in the Salt Lake Temple and are the parents of three children, Bruce, Robert and Karen.
Following his marriage, Elder Haight took a position with Montgomery Ward in Berkeley, California. He worked many years in retail, with assignments in Utah and Illinois as well as California before he bought his own business in Palo Alto, California.
Elder Haight served as mayor of Palo Alto and was extensively involved in community affairs in the Bay Area. In addition, he left his family and business concerns to serve as a naval officer during World War II. Elder Haight describes a poignant moment associated with his military service. Leaving San Francisco on a midnight flight to Hawaii for a conference, he recalled, “I was assigned to a sleeping bag in the tail of the plane. I could see the starboard engine through the window. It was spewing so much flame that I thought the engine was on fire, which caused me great concern. I wondered about my family and whether I would ever see them again. As I lay awake I prayed … as I pondered that night, it seemed I hadn’t given it my all. I didn’t have my priorities in the proper order. I reappraised my life and recommitted myself to the Lord, not only to serve but to give my life gladly and do all in my power to build the kingdom.”
Making good on that wartime promise, Elder Haight resigned as mayor of Palo Alto to serve as mission president for the Church in Scotland, a three-year responsibility to supervise several hundred full-time missionaries. Stunned by the abrupt announcement, city government colleagues reluctantly accepted his resignation. One later confided in Elder Haight, “We gave you a rather bad time last night when you shocked us with your announcement. But I want you to know how proud we are of you for what you are doing.” Then rather emotionally, he continued, “I wish my life had been lived in such a way that someone would ask me to do something really important.”
Upon his return from Scotland, Elder Haight served briefly as an assistant to the president of Brigham Young University, then accepted a call to full-time Church service as an Assistant to the Twelve, 5 April 1970. His call to lifetime service came less than six years later.
Though actively involved in business, civic and Church affairs, Elder Haight considered his family a top priority. His daughter, Karen Haight Huntsman recalls, “I could always communicate with my father. He did not chit-chat, but he always gave good counsel. He was solid, had good judgement, was great on the basics. He never pretended to be something that he was not. Even though his work often took him away from home, I had the feeling he was always there. He was my security.”
The Haights purchased property in Oakley, Utah and built a family retreat there. During one summer vacation Elder Haight was invited to present awards at the community rodeo. Still clad in his business suit, he arrived as the rodeo grounds and was immediately invited to mount a horse for the procession. He recalled the startling experience, “I was innocently part of something I had not bargained for; I was in a suit and tie, my stirrups were too long and the horses took off. Those horses shot through the gates and into the arena like the Charge of the Light Brigade. The horse I was riding nearly jumped out from under me. Not only had we charged into the arena, but barrels were set out, and with no let-up in speed the horses raced around them. There were horses in front of me, horses behind me and to the side of me, and with my feel still unanchored I clung to the saddle horn and clutched at my horse’s mane and rein, in a desperate attempt to hold on.” In retrospect he laughed, “I really earned my spurs that day.
Recognized in many arenas for his lifetime of service, Elder Haight received the 1978 Distinguished Alumni Award from Utah State University as well as an honorary doctorate from Brigham Young University in 1998.
Though his college exposure to Time magazine introduced Elder Haight to the world beyond Oakley, Idaho, his years of business, civic and church experience provided him with a hands-on approach to the world.
William O. Nelson, former administrative assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, describes Elder Haight as the “consummate diplomat.” “I’ve observed,” Nelson explained, “that one of his great strengths is his ability to cause others to reflect on the issue at hand and take a different look — another perspective. He has a remarkable ability to pull differing views together.”