Elaine Cannon was already a legend in my life when I was a young teenager. My introduction to Elaine’s vivacious personality came through one of her “Seminars for Sallies,” an annual fashion show she hosted and narrated in Salt Lake City. It was, however, more than a fashion show; her seminars made me want to stand up tall, to improve, to live with the kind of zest for life that she had. Since I lived in a neighboring stake, I heard her speak to youth groups several times. Elaine’s enthusiasm for the gospel was contagious, her ability to put words together mesmerizing. Then Elaine became co-editor of the Era for Youth, a section in the Improvement Era, the Church magazine that preceded the Ensign. I loved pouring over those creative, motivating pages. I wanted to be a writer like Elaine.
Elaine and writing merged for me when LaRene Gaunt and I co-authored Keepers of the Flame: Presidents of the Young Women. Elaine had served as the eighth general president of the Young Women from 1978 to 1984, and thus we needed to include a chapter on her in our book. Though it was the first time I had ever talked to her, our interview that spring afternoon, sitting on the white couches in her home, felt as if we had been friends for years. Elaine was gracious, friendly, funny, intimate, and articulate. LaRene and I laughed and cried with her as she shared many of her life’s experiences. I noted that even in conversation she was a master of words.
My last conversation with Elaine Cannon was at a Deseret Book dinner honoring those writers who had published the previous year. Elaine hugged me and said, “You girls are doing such a tremendous work. Thank you.”When Elaine died of cancer in 2003, I attended her funeral.
Elaine’s youngest daughter, Holly Cannon Metcalf—and very much her mother’s daughter as a gifted writer---has captured Elaine’s vibrancy, her considerable influence on the youth of the Church, her struggles with health and family situations, and her unwavering faith in the gospel with the publication of Love’s Banner: Memories of the Life of Elaine Cannon.
With her amazing ability to connect with youth, her convincing way with words, and her firm testimony, Elaine was in constant demand as a speaker from the 1950s until the year prior to her passing. She “gave several talks a month---often several talks a week,” according to Holly (95). Elaine didn’t just speak spontaneously; she worked to polish her addresses and to fit her message to the occasion and to her audience.
Elaine was fun, loved to be around people, and entertained with flair. She was, states Holly, “never an ‘all work, no play’ kind of woman. . . She played racquetball with friends two or three times each week, loved to work, in the garden, to hike, and to be outside… Elaine also had a way of creating enjoyment in everything she did” (including driving a bright red convertible).
“She was spiritual but hip, able to connect with the lofty and the simple, the fancy and the humble, the intellectual and the fashionable because she was a mix of all of those things herself. A self-righteous, plain Jane, church lady stereotype she was not. Instead she was a good blend of work and play, worldly and other worldly, and a friend to all” (130).
Elaine’s exuberant persona, along with her prolific publications (dozens of books and a multitude of articles), her calling as the general Young Women president, and her large and loving family might lead one to think that she had a near-perfect life. Holly writes: “The message of the book, Adversity, written in 1987, was turning burdens into blessings---when we experience adversity we should look for growth.
“Life’s hard lessons had brought growth to Elaine. In her youth, she and her family had survived the depression, then WWII. Family concerns and financial reversals were navigated, illnesses and afflictions stoically borne. Even tests associated with Church callings brought growth. Experiencing grief---with the loss of a few dear friends, a lovely daughter-in-law, and both of her parents---likewise brought wisdom.
“So, when Elaine wrote the book, Adversity, with all its wise counsel and knowing advice, it was helpful to so many.
“Then ironically, her graduate course (as Elder Maxwell described it) in adversity began” (246).Indeed, she likely received her Ph.D. in that department, but through it all, grew through those experiences, remained steadfast in her faith and earnestly desired that her posterity stay strong. She wrote to her family: “Oh, my darlings! Be valiant! Don’t just be casual about or dilly-dally with devotion to the Church. . . . Let us be a family who is valiant---who looks and behaves like true believers. My personal goal is to be an example of the believers” (265).
Elaine consented to Holly’s writing this book only “if it could be helpful to people.” Love’s Banner isn’t simply a review of Elaine’s remarkable life; it is a gospel lesson, a teaching tool, a testimony founded in faith, and an exemplary life of good works and words.A Cannon family tradition was to sing “God Be With You ‘Til We Meet Again,” with special emphasis on the phrase “Keep love’s banner floating o’er you.” Elaine desired that “love’s banner” would float over and around not only those close to her but also around all of us. One can feel that in this memoir.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said of Elaine at her memorial service: “Think about the people she has touched---thousands and thousands! The words she has printed---thousands and thousands! And then her private, buoyant expressions of encouragement.I particularly appreciate the role she has played in so many of our lives over so many years” (6).
Whether you knew Elaine personally or through her writing and callings or whether you are getting acquainted for the first time, reading Love’s Banner is a meeting you won’t want to miss. Love’s Banner: Memories of the Life of Elaine Cannon is available for $16.99 at www.elainecannon.com or through Amazon.com under the title or Holly C. Metcalf.
Photos courtesy of Holly C. Metcalf.