A book exploring the life and teachings of Russell M. Nelson, current President of the Mormon Church, underwent a last minute edit before its public release on April 8, 2019. The publisher, Deseret Book, became aware that the book contained a faith promoting story with material inaccuracies.The story was subsequently removed and the book reprinted in time for its scheduled release.
Excerpts from the book, titled Insights from a Prophet’s Life: President Russell M. Nelson, authored by Sheri Dew, were published in an article found in the March/April 2019 issue of LDS Living magazine.
One excerpt, titled, “You Didn’t Read it, Did You?”, tells the story of a young Nelson who was serving as a surgeon in Korea during the Korean War. While serving, he discussed the Book of Mormon with a nurse on staff, Beverly Ashcraft. He gave her copy of the book only for it to be returned a few days later by her husband, Derwin, a fellow surgeon at the base. Derwin did not express much interest in learning more about the book.
According to the story, Nelson pressed and convinced the Ashcrafts to read the entire book. The couple was eventually baptized by Nelson. Derwin died a few years later and Beverley remarried.
Apparently, sometime shortly after Nelson became an Apostle in 1984, he spoke at a Stake Conference in Tennessee. While at this Stake Conference, Nelson was drawn to a woman he saw in the crowd wearing a hat. While he was giving his talk from the pulpit he called her out in the crowd and asked how long she had been a member and who baptized her. She responded that he baptized her in 1951. The woman was Beverly.
The story goes on to describe how Nelson asked Beverly, ”How many people connected with you have come into the Church since I baptized you?” Astonished, she revealed a dream she had the night before in which someone at the conference asked her that very question. Because of the dream she came prepared with a piece of paper in her purse with the answer to the question.
According to Leslie and Katie McKenzie, daughter and granddaughter of Derwin and Beverley (whose name is spelled wrong in the LDS Living article), that is not what happened.
In a phone interview with the Truth & Transparency Foundation (TTF), Leslie and Katie, told the real story behind their mother and grandmother’s conversion, a conversion story that has been a source of pride in their family for nearly seven decades.
Leslie and Katie say that their family have always been proud that their first exposure to Mormonism was through Nelson, the man who would later become President of the Church. They saw him as a spiritual giant, great leader, and the man that changed the legacy of their family forever.
They were aware that Nelson occasionally used the story of Derwin and Beverley as a faith promoting example of missionary work. The story even appeared in a 1984 Ensign article and in Nelson’s biography on lds.org. However, in these versions, there is no mention of Korea, Beverley being a nurse, or a serendipitous encounter at a stake conference in Tennessee.
According to Leslie and Katie, Beverley was never a nurse, she never lived in Korea, and she didn’t know Nelson until her husband introduced her to him.
Derwin met Nelson when the two were working at Walter Reed Army Military Medical Center in Washington D.C.. They were both doctors performing research, Derwin a veterinarian and Nelson a medical doctor. They became friends and Nelson later met Beverley who worked in the same hospital as a transcriptionist. Nelson introduced them to the Mormon Church and baptized them.
There was an encounter in the 1980s at a stake conference. Shortly after Nelson was called to be an Apostle, he traveled to Knoxville to speak at the conference. Leslie and Katie were both living with Beverley in Knoxville at the time. When they heard Nelson was coming to town they made sure to attend.
They remember that Nelson was aware of who Beverley was and knew she was in attendance. He did call her up to the podium during his talk and told everyone about her baptism story and about how there are many members of the church today as a result of her conversion.
There was no dream the night before, there was not a prepared note in her purse, and there was no confusion on the part of Nelson as to who she was. Katie adds that her grandmother ”has never worn a hat to church and did not have a hat on that day.”
Katie was first made aware of this new version of the story in early March when a family member sent her a screenshot of the article. She showed it to her mother and, when she realized that it was part of an upcoming book, immediately reached out to Deseret Book and LDS Living. She sent both companies a document with annotations pointing out the incorrect information.
Katie was eventually contacted by a representative from Deseret Book and another from LDS Living. The representative from Deseret Book thanked her for bringing this to their attention and that since it was so close to the release date they would just remove the story entirely instead of trying to fix it. The representative told Katie that this would require a reprinting of at least some of the books as the final printing process had already begun.
The representative from LDS Living told Katie that portion of the article would not appear in the online version, but did not say whether or not a retraction would be printed in the next issue.
Requests for comment from both Deseret Book and LDS Living have gone unanswered.
When asked why she felt the need to take it upon herself to correct the record, Katie says that her “main concern was the fact that people were reading this account and believing it to be accurate when it isn't.” Her grandmother is still alive and she is worried about people in her ward reading the story and asking her about it, thus putting her in a position to have to lie or disparage Nelson, a man she loves and reveres.
Leslie and Katie also felt that the story, as it appeared in LDS Living, unfairly painted Derwin in a bad light, making it seem like he was dismissive of his wife and the Book of Mormon that was gifted by Nelson. He is not alive to defend himself and Katie felt it her duty to defend her grandfather from a false narrative.
Leslie and Katie harbor no ill will toward Nelson, nor do they think he owes them an apology. They hope that LDS Living prints a retraction and that better fact checking is done in the future before putting stories like this in books that are meant to be read by millions of people.
Update April 10, 2019: This article originally claimed that Nelson met the Ashcrafts at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. This has been corrected to the Walter Reed Army Military Medical Center in Washington D.C.. Additionally, the last name of Beverley and Derwin has been corrected from ‘Ashcroft’ to ‘Ashcraft’.