Enthusiastic “happy birthday” wishes echoed through the Conference Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as thousands gathered on Friday evening to celebrate the birthday of President Russell M. Nelson.
“He has more love for people than almost anyone I’ve ever been around in my life,” said President Henry B. Eyring in a video tribute. “He not only loves us, he sees the best in us.”
The celebration included performances by Donny Osmond, GENTRI, the Bonner Family, Jenny Oaks Baker and the Family Four and the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.
Nelson himself performed the piano solo “Prelude in C minor” by Frederic Chopin on a video recording.
Attendees also gave a standing ovation to the Bonner Family and Nathan Pacheco, who performed “Nessun Dorma,” or “None Shall Sleep,” a tenor aria from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot.
Other musical numbers ranged from melodies from “The Sound of Music” and “Quest for Camelot” to soft and rousing hymn arrangements.
“He’s such a good listener to people,” said President Dallin H. Oaks. “He’s good at understanding the impact of decisions on a variety of different people.”
Nelson has served as the church prophet since the death of former president Thomas S. Monson in January 2018.
Since his appointment, Nelson has championed for various recent changes in the faith, including encouraging members to use the full name of the church, reducing church meetings to two hours on Sunday, introducing new study materials for members and retiring home and visiting teaching in favor of ministering.
Nelson was born on Sept. 9, 1924, to Marion and Edna Anderson Nelson. His parents insisted he attended Sunday school classes even though they did not actively participate in the faith. Nelson and his siblings were baptized in the church when he was 16 years old.
He served in bishoprics and high councils during his church service and was called as the Bonneville Stake president from 1964 to June 1971. He was then called as general president of the Sunday School.
He was called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the church in April 1984. He had previously been serving as a regional representative assigned to the Kearns, Utah Region.
After the death of President Boyd K. Packer, he served as president of the Quorum of the Twelve in July 2015.
Nelson and his wife, Dantzel White, raised ten children before she passed away in February 2005. More than one year later, he remarried Wendy L. Watson.
In his professional life, Nelson studied and worked as a medical researcher and heart surgeon and helped create the first artificial heart-lung machine used during the first open-heart surgery in Utah.
He received an M.D. degree from the University of Utah in 1947 and served his residency in surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. In 1954, he earned a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota.