SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mormon leader Richard G. Scott died Tuesday at the age of 86 — leaving the religion with three openings on its top governing body for the first time in more than a century.
Scott died from natural causes at his home in Salt Lake City surrounded by his family, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement. Scott had been a member of a church governing body called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since 1988.
He is the third top member of the quorum to die this year, leaving three vacancies on the quorum for the first time since 1906, church officials said.
Quorum president Boyd K. Packer died in July from natural causes, and quorum member L. Tom Perry died in May from cancer. Replacements for the trio are expected to be named in the coming months, perhaps at the religion's twice-a-year conference on Oct. 3-4.
Six other members among the religion's top 15 leaders are also 80 or older, including church president Thomas S. Monson. He is 88 and is feeling the effects of his age, according to church officials. Russell M. Nelson, 91, is next in line to become church president based on being the longest-tenured member of the quorum.
Born in Pocatello, Idaho, Scott had a successful career as a nuclear engineer before being chosen in 1988 as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Modeled after Jesus Christ's apostles, the group serves under the church president and his two counselors in overseeing operations of the church and its business interests.
Scott's health began deteriorating earlier this year. He was hospitalized with gastrointestinal bleeding in April. He recovered from that, but church officials announced in May that Scott was experiencing fading memory that kept him from taking part in quorum meetings.
Scott kept a fairly low public profile, known mostly for his speeches at Mormon conferences where he managed a delicate balance of "preaching repentance without stridency," said Matthew Bowman, an associate professor of history at Henderson State University.
Mormon scholar Armand Mauss called Scott a "mild-mannered leader promoting self-improvement and compassion as important attributes for Latter-day Saints to acquire."
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert called Scott a kind and generous leader. "His unwavering faith and pursuit of lifelong learning was an example to each one of us," Herbert said in a statement.
Fellow quorum member D. Todd Christofferson said in a church news release that Scott delivered hope-filled messages that inspired others. He was credited with helping drive global church membership.
"I don't go anywhere, especially in Latin America, where he served for so long and in so many places — I don't go anywhere there that I don't see his footprints, where I don't meet somebody who hasn't been influenced by him in some way," Christofferson said in the news release.
Scott was born in Idaho, but he moved at the age of 5 to Washington, D.C., where his father, Kenneth Leroy, would become assistant secretary of agriculture. Scott graduated from George Washington University with a degree in mechanical engineering.
Throughout his life, he suffered intense personal losses. Two of his seven children died when they were young, and his wife, Jeanene, died of cancer in 1995. She was the daughter of U.S. Sen. Arthur Watkins. Scott never remarried.
Scott didn't speak at the last church general conference in April. His final address came in October 2014 when he spoke about the importance of prayer, scripture reading, family home nights and going to the temple.
"Each of us is intimately aware of our own struggles with temptation, pain and sadness," Scott said that day. "Despite all of the negative challenges we have in life, we must take time to actively exercise our faith."