Thunder clapped and lightning flashed almost constantly outside the cabin window as Louisa Bingham Lee stood kneading a large batch of bread dough on the kitchen table. Beside her was her mother, who was knitting a pair of stockings, and three of Louisa’s children were playing about the room. The Lee children were always fascinated when a powerful thunderstorm rolled through their peaceful valley in Clifton, Idaho, so Louisa propped the front door open so that they could watch the great display of nature’s fireworks.
Louisa began to feel uneasy as she noticed how quickly the thunderclaps followed the lightning flashes—the lightning was striking very close! Six-year-old Harold was playing in the room in front of the open door. Suddenly Louisa dashed over to her son and gave him a vigorous push, sending him backward and onto the floor away from the doorway. An instant later a bolt of lightning flashed down the chimney, across the floor, and out the open doorway, where it split a large tree in front of the house from top to bottom. Had it not been for Louisa’s acting upon inner promptings, Harold B. Lee would not have lived to become the eleventh President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Louisa Bingham Lee was born on New Year’s Day in 1879. She and her sister Effie were the only ones of Perry and Rachel Bingham’s seven children who lived long enough to marry and have families of their own.
Because Louisa’s mother had very poor health and her father was away much of the time working in Montana, most of the responsibility of caring for her mother and the family fell to Louisa. She did the cooking, bathing, washing, ironing, and sewing, and she also learned how to plant crops, stack hay, shear sheep and care for the animals. And Louisa did all this while she was attending school! In fact, while the other children were out enjoying their games at noon recess, Louisa dashed home to feed her mother and brothers and sisters lunch. Then, when classes were over, Louisa again hurried home, this time to prepare the family’s evening meal, milk the cows, and care for her ailing mother.
All these skills and Louisa’s hard-working attitude came in handy when she married Samuel Lee, Jr., and began raising a family of her own. She and Samuel became the parents of six children, their second child being the future prophet.
President Lee often told another story of when his mother had saved him from serious injury: Louisa had been making soap one day and had a large pan of lye on a high shelf so that the younger children would not get into it. She asked Harold to help her get the pan down. Suddenly the pan slipped from their grip, and the burning lye spilled over Harold’s face, head, and arms. Louisa grabbed Harold so that he couldn’t run away, then kicked off the lid from a barrel of pickles that she had just made. Scooping up the vinegar in her hand, she washed the lye off her son. The vinegar helped neutralize the lye, thus saving Harold from being badly scarred.
Louisa knew that there were other ways to help her children besides keeping them from harm. One day while Harold was in high school, he attended a very important debate meet out of town, which he and his team won. When he called his mother to tell her the good news, she said, “I know all about it.” When Harold came home, she explained: “When I knew it was just time for [the debate] to start I went out among the willows by the creek side … and prayed God you would not fail.”
Louisa and her husband later moved to Salt Lake City. They were very proud when their son was ordained an Apostle of the Church, and they listened to him speak many times in general conference in the Tabernacle on Temple Square.
Louisa died in 1959 when she was eighty years old. President Lee once said that he was grateful to “have been blessed with … a grand and lovely mother.”