'Charity never faileth' scripture a foundation for new apostle's life

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth. - 1 Cor. 13: 4-8

These words of the apostle Paul touched the heart of young Henry B. Eyring during his childhood in Princeton, N.J. At the time, it was common for schoolteachers to have students read from the Bible. Time and again, when it was his turn to choose a scripture, he chose the epistle on charity.

"As a very small child, I had a spiritual experience that this particular scripture was true and that it had to do with me," Elder Eyring recalled. "I knew that someday I would have my own family - an odd thing for a little boy to think about. I had a feeling that this scripture was describing the feeling that I would have of love and of kindness and of peace that would be in my home."

That schoolboy was right. Paul's admonition seems to have followed Elder Henry B. Eyring as he has reared his family, followed an academic career and served in many leadership positions in the Church. A culminating moment came on April 1 as the soft-spoken, 6-foot-3-inch General Authority was sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve during the Saturday morning session of the 165th Annual General Conference. (Please see April 8 Church News for articles on Elder Eyring's calling and on his first conference address as an apostle.)

During an interview with the Church News, Elder Eyring, 61, sitting in his office in the Church Office Building where he serves as commissioner of education in the Church Educational Department, described his feelings about the gospel and the influence of his parents, wife, family, friends and associates in his life. Seated by his side was his wife, Kathleen.

With his voice breaking at times with emotion, the new apostle emphasized that profound and sensational moments aren't what truly shape one's life. "It's the little things that make the difference - the thing that you don't ever notice but that you do over and over," he said.

The "little things" that shaped Elder Eyring's goals and testimony began in New Jersey in the home of his parents, Henry and Mildred Bennion Eyring, during the years before and during World War II. Elder Eyring said in his boyhood home was a "rich atmosphere," not monetarily, but in warmth, spirit, unity and knowledge.

His father, a world-renowned chemist, was a professor at Princeton University at the time. His mother was also highly educated, having been a doctoral candidate and acting chairman of a department at the University of Utah when she met and married her husband. Education was a motivating force for the family; however, the foundation of the Eyring home was one of gospel standards and Church service.

"Mom and Dad were marvelous teachers. They didn't preach much, but they lived the gospel. They knew the gospel and they made it seem like we had everything we could ever ask for," Elder Eyring recalled.

One thing the senior Eyrings made sure their three sons had was plenty of opportunity to learn. "Our house was filled with sets of books, not individual books. We had the history of nations and Harvard classics. We saw Dad reading them and Mother reading and so we picked them up."

Elder Eyring's parents also made sure the family stayed together. When the elder Eyring taught for a few months at the University of Manchester in England, he took his family with him. At the time, young Henry was about 4 years old. "My horizons always seemed to be the world because of the influence of my parents," Elder Eyring explained.

After they returned to New Jersey, the Eyrings settled back into Princeton life. As often as possible, they sought association with other members of the Church. Elder Eyring vividly recalls one district conference when he was about 5 years old that left a definite impression on him. The final speaker of the conference was a tall, thin man. "I remember turning around somewhere near the end of the meeting as this person was speaking and seeing the light coming through a window. The light is not significant except I remember that much detail," Elder Eyring related. "I do not know what he was speaking about, but an absolutely powerful experience came to me that he was a servant of God and that he was speaking the truth."

As the years passed, and the 1940s began, Elder Eyring's "family" also came to include members of the Princeton Branch, created after World War II began. "During World War II, there was gas rationing, so you couldn't drive to New Brunswick, where that small branch met, which was 17 miles away. So we met in our little house in Princeton," Elder Eyring related. "A few people would come. There were some wonderful servicemen there, but there was never, that I remember, another family in the branch. I think you'd be probably pressing it to say there were ever more than 20 people."

The little branch crowded into the Eyring dining room, where members held Sunday School and sacrament meeting. The elder Eyring served as branch president and later as district president, while his wife served as pianist. "I don't think we had a chorister. Mother tapped her foot to give us the beat. She'd also tap her foot if the speakers went too long," Elder Eyring added with a smile.

Because of the distance between members' homes, Elder Eyring's older brother, Edward "Ted," the only Aaronic Priesthood holder in the branch, did home teaching in the living room after Church services. "To me the Aaronic Priesthood was my older brother, and so I looked up to him."

Elder Eyring - known as "Hal" to family and friends - also has a younger brother, Harden, who is admired for his kind nature.

The Princeton era for the Eyrings came to a close when young Henry was about 14. His father accepted a position at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Elder Eyring later graduated from East High School and entered the university, studying physics. It was during this time that the elder Eyring taught his son a valuable lesson.

"Dad had a blackboard in the basement. He was working some problems with me, and he said, `Wait a minute. We were working a problem just like this a week ago. You don't seem to understand it much better. Isn't this what you think about all the time?' "

His son answered, no. "Find something, Hal, to do that you think about all the time, that you enjoy so much that when you don't have to think about it, that's what you think about."

Elder Eyring noted, "That was superb advice." He decided to finish a bachelor's degree in physics, and then, after two years in the Air Force, he began studying business administration at Harvard Graduate School of Business. What he thought about all the time, he realized, was learning and teaching, so he set his sights on becoming a professor.

It was during this time he came upon a major milestone in his life. In the summer of 1961, while he was studying at Harvard, he served as a counselor in the Boston District presidency. Presiding in a district sunrise service at the Cathedral of the Pines, an outdoor cathedral, in New Hampshire, he saw his future wife.

"I was coming out after the meeting, getting into my little red Volkswagen to drive back to Boston, and in the crowd coming out of the grove was a beautiful girl. I had a feeling that this was the finest person I had ever seen."

A week later, in a Church meeting, they met, and set up a tennis match. This led to a long-distance romance. The young woman, Kathleen Johnson, a daughter of Sid and LaPrele Johnson, was a student at the University of California at Berkeley, and was attending summer school at Harvard.

Throughout the next school year, they stayed in touch and visited as often as possible. They married in the Logan Temple July 27, 1962. Today, they have six children, two of whom are still living at home, and seven grandchildren.

Elder Eyring found in his wife deep spiritual support. She had received a powerful testimony of the Book of Mormon while a student and built upon that. "Everything I've done in the Church, my marriage to Hal, any call I've accepted, I have done with deep conviction that Joseph Smith is a prophet, the Church is true, the Church is led by prophets, and the priesthood is restored and is upon the earth," she told the Church News.

With only a dissertation to complete for his doctorate, Elder Eyring accepted a teaching position at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., where they lived next to her parents.

Elder and Sister Eyring settled into San Francisco Bay Area life for the next nine years. Then one day, much to Elder Eyring's surprise, his wife said, "Are you sure you are doing the right thing with your life?"

Within a few weeks, during which time they deeply reflected on their goals, Elder Eyring was named president of Church-owned Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. Thus, the family moved to southeastern Idaho.

This move, Elder Eyring related, "turned out to be the sweetest thing you can imagine." According to a July 7, 1985, Church News article, Elder Eyring's two eldest sons used to come to his office on campus every day for lunch. Later that afternoon, they would walk home together.

From Rexburg, the Eyrings moved to Salt Lake City, when Elder Eyring became deputy commissioner of education, and later, commissioner of education.

From Church employment, Elder Eyring moved into full-time Church service when he was called to the Presiding Bishopric in 1985 and then the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1992.

Despite becoming well-known in the Church, the Eyrings have remained a family that places importance on the "little things."

From the time the children were little, Elder Eyring has conducted personal interviews on the first Sunday of each month. In addition, not only are family nights sacred in this home, but also Saturday mornings, which are saved for family "projects," which can be anything from service to carving wood to building boats.

Reading through Eyring family journals reveals tender moments. An entry on Oct. 7, 1973, describes a Sunday evening in Rexburg with "warm feelings as our happy family gathered around us. Welcome, welcome, Sabbath morning, noon, and night."

One of the most heartwarming journal entries takes the reader back to Elder Eyring's feelings about Paul's epistle on charity. On April 25, 1976, he wrote concerning a Sunday School discussion about building self-esteem in children, yet teaching them humility. "This answer formed in my mind," he noted. "My children must see themselves as of infinite worth because they are, like every other person, a child of God. But they can't lift anyone else toward eternal life without humbling themselves beneath the person who needs the lift."

Today, Elder Eyring continues to lift others as he bears testimony of the gospel. "It's true," he solemnly said. "The only way to peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come is the Savior Jesus Christ, and to endure and be faithful. I pray that I will be."


Elder Henry B. Eyring

Family: Born in Princeton, N.J., May 31, 1933, to Henry and Mildred Bennion Eyring. Married Kathleen Johnson in the Logan Temple July 27, 1962. Parents of six children: Henry Johnson Eyring, Stuart Johnson Eyring, Matthew Johnson Eyring, John Bennion Eyring, Elizabeth Eyring, and Mary Kathleen Eyring; seven grandchildren.

Education: Bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Utah, master's degree and doctorate in business administration from the Harvard Graduate School of Business.

Military service: U.S. Air Force, stationed at Sandia Base, Albuquerque, N.M.

Employment: Commissioner of Church education, 1980-1985, 1992-present; deputy commissioner of Church education, 1977-1980; president of Ricks College, 1972-1977; faculty of Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, 1962-1971; Sloan Visiting Faculty Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1963 and 1964;

Church service: Member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, 1992-1995; first counselor in Presiding Bishopric, 1985-1992; former regional representative, member of the General Sunday School Board, district president's counselor, district missionary, and bishop.

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