President Packer, 86, was assisting President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, who was presiding over the re-dedication of the Longfellow Park chapel, which was gutted by fire on May 17th, 2009, causing an estimated $1.9 million in damage. The cause of the fire was an electrical malfunction. President Packer was once president of the New England States Mission, and President Eyring attended church in that meetinghouse while he was working on his doctoral degree at Harvard. It is unusual for more than one General Authority to participate in the re-dedication of a chapel. The re-dedication took place about three weeks ahead of schedule; in February, it was projected for July 3rd.
President Packer is said to be in declining health, although specifics have not been provided through official Church channels. Nevertheless, his mind is still alert and fully functioning, and he can express himself well. He is frequently portrayed as an "iron-rodder" (hardliner) on the Quorum, although this reputation is exaggerated by those discomfited by his vigorous defense of traditional marriage and his fervent promotion of strict abstinence outside of marriage. One person posted a comment to the Deseret News story indicating that President Packer had a soft heart beneath that seemingly-gruff exterior:
Mike Richards | 7:00 p.m. June 19, 2011 South Jordan, Utah:
Elder Packer holds a special place in my heart. One of his first assignments after he was ordained an Apostle was to my mission in Belgium. He was a kind and influential man who helped us understand even more fully our duties.
When I was released from my mission, I flew to London and changed planes. Elder Packer was on the plane that I took from London to Salt Lake City, with one stop in between. He treated us four returning missionaries as royalty on that flight. When we learned that Salt Lake was fogged in and that we would be spending the night in Denver, Elder Packer took care of us as if we were his own sons. He had each of us call our families and report that we were safe and that we would be leaving Denver the next morning.
Because he had to be in Salt Lake as early as possible, he took the first available flight, but before leaving, he had arraigned our transportation to the airport and our flight.
There was nothing that he could have done that he did not do.