In January 1970 Harold B. Lee was called to serve as a counselor in the First Presidency while concurrently presiding over the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He was called to be president of the church when Joseph Fielding Smith died on 2 July 1972. After a long period of time when the church presidency had been relatively unseen due to age and illness, he changed things. He went immediately to area conferences in England, Mexico, and Germany. He circulated among the youth at conferences, thus helping to restore to young people the image of an active prophet. He was the first president of the Mormon Church to visit Palestine.
President Lee's impressive attainments resulted partly from his personal struggles. He had to overcome critics who were jealous of his "beyond his years" abilities; he learned to control a fiery temper and a quick, action-oriented disposition which early in his life offended some people. Especially in his later years, Lee was gentle in manner, compassionate, gracious, hospitable, and thoughtful of others. He was always a gentleman, impeccably dressed. At age seventy-four he served as though in the prime of life, with a rich, full voice and characteristic vigor. His sudden death on 26 December 1973 from cardiac and lung failure stunned the entire church.