From polygamy and document forgeries to the Equal Rights Amendment and blacks being ordained to the priesthood, there were many times Don LeFevre, a longtime spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, could have lost his cool when dealing with the news media.
Yet colleagues and reporters say LeFevre never did.
“Don always acted the same, whether it was a fun news story or a nasty one, a big story or a little one,” said Don Russell, who worked with LeFevre for more than two decades in the church’s public affairs department. “Don was unflappable.”
LeFevere died Wednesday of natural causes. He was 85.
A loyal Jordan High School “Beetdigger” and graduate of the University of Utah, LeFevre started his career as a reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune. Later, he work for David W. Evans and Associates, a Salt Lake City advertising and public relations firm, where, for 11 years, the church was his primary client.
In 1973, he officially joined the church’s public affairs department, working for 25 years in various positions, including news media spokesman and director of media relations. His tenure at the ad agency and the church spanned seven Latter-day Saint presidents and dozens of high-profile news stories.
Always calm, straightforward and impeccably dressed, LeFevre was a voice of the church when it famously excommunicated feminist firebrand Sonia Johnson for how she backed the ERA. He was the church contact after Mark Hofmann killed two people with pipe bombs and was caught forging early Mormon documents. And he was on hand in September 1993, when the church disciplined six Mormon scholars.
“He and I had some tense moments over the years — during the Mark Hofmann investigation, polygamy, booze and [vicarious] Holocaust victim baptisms, among other stories,” said Mike Carter, a former Tribune reporter who now works for The Seattle Times. “He always was a gentleman, even when you knew he was wearing thin.”
Not every day was dealing with pushy reporters, though. The “greatest single news event," said Russell, was the June 1978 lifting of the priesthood ban for black males. “That was the highlight."
There where other standout events in church history during LeFevre time, including the 1997 sesquicentennial of the Mormon pioneers’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. The celebration included a re-enactment of the historic trek.
Serving the church took LeFevre all over the country, where he did public relations for the Hill Cumorah Pageant in Palmyra, N.Y., and for world fairs in Texas and Washington. He traveled internationally to Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden and Israel, where he promoted the church’s Orson Hyde Memorial Garden on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
LeFevre also was a "sports fan[atic],” his family wrote in his obituary. From 1970 to 1993, he “moonlighted” as a sports reporter for The Associated Press, covering home basketball games for the Utah Stars and the Utah Jazz as well as the University of Utah home basketball and football games.
“We sat together at the scorer’s table at Utah Stars games — me for UPI [United Press International], him for the AP,” remembers former Tribune reporter John Keahey. “Lots of conversations and a nice professional relationship as competitors. I respected him immensely. He was a P.R. guy a reporter could trust — a rarity. He understood our role and respected it. I sensed he often argued our positions with his bosses on Temple Square."
Russell cited LeFevre’s sense of humor, specifically recalling a time when the Jazz had just moved to Salt Lake City and they had toured the arena with then-owner Sam Battistone.
“Don somehow had taken a piece of letterhead from Sam’s office and ghost-wrote a letter saying Sam wanted me to be the new Jazz P.R. director,” Russell said. “He had me going for about a half hour.”
Tribune editor Dan Harrie knew LeFevre while working for UPI in the mid-1980s and appreciated his sense of humor as well.
“I had the Sunday shift, and on LDS [General] Conference days that meant watching the main speeches on TV to make sure the speakers didn’t deviate from the advance transcripts [which happened occasionally in the old days],” Harrie said. “One such Sunday, Don came into the office. I had my feet up on the desk, a cigarette in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other.
"Don said: ‘Now that’s the way to watch conference.’”