Updated: 10 Mar 16
T. Bowring Woodbury
I met T. Bowring Woodbury only once and for less than an hour, but he saved my professional career. Here is the story:
It was early February 1964 and I was in a near suicidal depression. We met for the first time as I was walking on a sidewalk towards his home in Salt Lake City at night with my best friend Cal with whom I was staying the night. The next morning I was scheduled to defend my doctoral dissertation in the University of Utah College of Engineering before a panel of eminent scientists, including world-renown chemist Henry B. Eyring, Sr., Dean of the graduate school.
I was in no shape for such an examination.
The depression had started precipitously a month earlier (on January 2 to be precise), while in discussion with top scientists at my first post doc job, at General Atomic Corporation in La Jolla, California. Although I had finished graduate school studies and research the previous summer and had been allowed to start working at GA early because of an urgent family matter (my fifth child was nearing birth), I had not yet defended my dissertation. So, to complete that requirement at the insistence of my new boss, I had flown to Salt Lake City to defend the dissertation. The day before that scheduled day I had attempted to do a "dry run" before the Physics Department at the invitation of my best friend, Calvin Wood, a physics professor at the university. He thought it would be good strategy to do this even though I had tried to tell him days before that I was in no shape to do it. He ignored my plea and shamed me into accepting his offer, against my better judgment. We were both soon to regret this.
My "dry run" was a disaster and my friend was mortified. I had a major case of stage fright and froze during the presentation. There was no way I could expect to survive a full fledged dissertation defense with such a performance. And so that evening as his overnight guest, I quietly wandered Cal's home in a state of despair and dread. Cal had felt humiliated (or so I thought then) for bringing me before his colleagues and I felt like a fool for even thinking I had something worthwhile to say. We avoided any kind of conversation that evening and I could not imagine how I could survive before the dissertation committee the next day.
As I wandered aimlessly through his home, an image flashed in my mind. It led me to recall once having heard T. Bowring Woodbury speak before an elder's quorum years earlier at a student ward in the U of U stake. I knew nothing about the man except that I was moved by what he said and believed he was a man of God. I turned to Cal and asked him to take me to see Woodbury.
Cal was aghast. "Does he know you?" He asked.
"No", I replied.
“Do you know him?”
“No”, I replied, again.
"I won't take you."
"OK, then I'll find him myself", I said and began walking out of his house into the night.
Seeing I was resolute, although it made no sense to him, Cal relented and asked if I knew where Woodbury lived. I didn't. So he looked in the Salt Lake phone book and found the address.
As Cal and I parked at the curb near Woodbury's home, Woodbury and wife were just leaving for the evening. We exited the car and approached the couple on their long sidewalk. As we got close, Woodbury took one look at me and asked, "You've come for a blessing?"
"Yes", I answered.
"Bubbles", he said to his wife, "we won't be long. Please wait for me in the car." Cal and I followed him back into his home. Once inside, Woodbury asked but one more question, which was simply my name. Cal then anointed my head from a vial of consecrated oil he generally carried for this purpose. Woodbury then placed his hands on my head along with Cal's to seal the anointing.
But then he stood in silence, obviously struggling to speak. After what seemed like a long time he finally began with words about my Slavic heritage, which I had not disclosed other than my name. He went on and on about it (none of which I remember), which seemed strange to me as well as remarkable. Suddenly his words shifted as he began to speak in a different voice. In clear, powerful tones and unequivocal words he declared, "A cordon of angels will surround you in your hour of need so that your mind will be released." He concluded in the name of the Lord and Cal and I left.
I felt mildly comforted.
The next morning Cal took me to the University. One of my professors, Sherman D. Brown, was there early and the three of us prayed together before Cal left. Prof. Brown then went into the committee room while I waited outside of it. During the hour that remained before the appointed examination time, I gradually began to become aware that the curtain which had blocked my mind had lifted! Not only that, but I discovered I now had total recall!! There was nothing I could not remember! Never before had I experienced such clarity! Confidence flooded me and I knew I could easily defend my dissertation. Not only that, but I was able expand all nine seed research ideas that graduate students in my department were required to prepare in addition to defending their theses. (Usually a doctoral candidate is asked to expand only two or three of nine previously submitted seed ideas, picked randomly by any of the examining professors.)
During the examination with my now clear mind, I was amazed at what I was experiencing! The committee was equally amazed! I even invented new equations while on my feet at the black board, while expanding all nine seed ideas, after having successfully defended my thesis and research findings.
I was asked to leave the room while the faculty discussed my performance without me.
In only a few minutes, my research director, Professor Ivan B. Cutler, came out, shook my hand and said, "Congratulations, DOCTOR Kovalenko! You were positively spectacular in there! I do not understand what is happening!" He was referring to the previous day, where he had been present during the physics department debacle and also had been as humiliated by my performance as Cal had been. There was only one change that Professor Cutler asked me to make and that was simply to omit one needless word in the title of my dissertation.
But that was yesterday. Today was a new day and I thought I was healed as I left the university. Alas, it was but a small window of grace! As I boarded the plane to return home, the depression hit again, this time worse than before. That is another story: it suddenly lifted three months later (in mid May, the night before I was informed of my father's death). In any case, I left Salt Lake that day having survived what had seemed like certain doom.
Woodbury's blessing had obviously been prophetic. I never saw him again, but have never forgotten his blessing nor the miraculous experience before the examining committee. Nor have I again had the experience of total recall.
Years later I learned (from D. Michael Quinn) that T. Bowring Woodbury was the mission president responsible for the notorious "Baseball baptism" campaign in the British mission.
She came as "Mike" and left as "Michelle". I will never forget those few evening hours in late October 1965 at "The Ranch of the Way" on
Road near the little town of . We had eaten fruit from the trees
outside: apples and pears; perhaps something else. An egg breakfast would be
coming in the morning, fresh laid offerings from resident hens, with fresh
drawn milk from goats. Ben Loman, California
David Arnold (a lapsed Episcopal priest) had brought
me to his ranch after we’d met earlier that evening at The Big Red Barn in the forest in Scott’s Valley, just north of Santa Cruz. I had sung extemporaneously at a folk song festival at the Barn
after the scheduled program had ended. Al and Patti di Ludovicco befriended me
and had shared their last $2 on something to eat when they learned I was hungry
and after hearing my impromptu performance. John David
was also in the audience and offered me a place to stay that night.
David and I arrived at the ranch, “Mike” had already
been there a day or two and was the only other person at the main house. She,
like I, had been invited to the ranch by John David to rest and be safe. She had
fled a professional burn-out situation just up from Big Sur Hot Springs (later
to be known as Esalen) to escape exhausting physical and spiritual work at the
Springs. She was noted for her talent and ability, but had to get away to
recharge her spirit. I knew nothing about her before that evening.
We three talked quietly into the night getting acquainted. They asked about my life and I told them I was new to the wilderness, having just two weeks earlier lost career, family, church, reputation, bank account and almost all my friends—virtually everything I had held dear. Suddenly I found myself without boundaries! I’m not sure, but I think I also sang a little at John David's suggestion.
Then I asked about Mike—what did she do. “I’m a masseuse”, she said as a matter-of-fact.
Innocently puzzled, I asked, “What’s that?”
“Take off your clothes and get on the table!” she commanded.
Shocked and surprised, I dared not disobey. I’d never had a massage nor even been intimately touched by a woman in my adulthood other than by my now estranged wife. Nervously, I crept into an adjacent bedroom to disrobe and wrap myself in a white towel found on a dresser. In the meantime she, too, had disrobed and had spread a white tablecloth on the big dinning room table. To her left there was a large jar of olive oil at the corner of the table in preparation for what appeared to be a ritual.
It was more than that.
Then she began talking to me, quietly whispering to me of things about myself I’d never told another. “You’ve been hurt”, she said. “Every cell in your body is screaming in pain for love. That is what I do. I pour love into bodies!” Hearing such evocative words, I began loosen. And with this tiny opening, new energy swept into her as well as me, as I then experienced a process that literally transformed me on that table! Physical changes began to course through my body as I gradually opened up to her powerful hands. All embarrassment vanished as I eagerly took in this new love, even including an erection. After the process ran its course, I sat up in wonder, marveling at the wondrous changes I was now feeling. She, too, now sitting at the foot of the table with widened eyes and looking into mine, had seemed to change from “Mike” into “Michele” to me during those magical moments. Both of us had experienced a radical, profound, if not miraculous transformation.
But then I began to feel awkward as I perceived she was feeling amorous and wanted me to bed her. It was too soon. The transformation was too new and I did not know how to graciously decline her obvious desire or to express my wonder and reluctance without hurting her feelings. I simply did not know how to respond in any way but awkward and so I inelegantly stumbled off to be alone in the bedroom where I had left my clothes.
The next morning I awoke and came in to sit at the kitchen table. John David was busily preparing a breakfast of eggs, fruit and milk. Michelle came in a little later, saying nothing and deliberately not once looking at me. Her whole demeanor evidenced disappointed and humiliation.
Alarmed by this, I began talking directly to John David, expressing my deep gratitude for what had happened that night. “Last night I felt loved like I’ve never before known”, I began. “It was a love that could only have been administered by a woman, like her who is sitting at this table, and I feel blessed and so very grateful.”
As I spoke I saw her eyes fill with forgiveness, understanding and acceptance. She then wordlessly arose to go outside to climb a nearby pear tree where she sat on a lower branch silently hugging its trunk. As John David and I watched her, he turned to me and said, “
After what seemed hours, Michelle came back into the house, walked confidently up to me and, taking both my hands in hers, softly said, “Thank you. I’ve never met a man before and will never forget you. Now I am going to
I never saw nor heard of Mike/Michelle again, but never will I forget the miracle of her God-given, powerful, loving and healing hands.
* * * *Such is the contrast of two anointing rituals, one formal, ecclesiastical and designed for healing; the other informal, spontaneous and transformative. I would be hard pressed to say which was more important. Both blessed my life at critical moments and both were clearly inspired.
On further reflection, in both these cases I believe angels were involved: in the first it was "a cordon of angels" at the moment of an apparently doomed dissertation defense; in the second it was Mike/Michelle herself, who I now realize was a transforming angel in disguise! :)