A wife and mother first and foremost

Former national TV news anchor turns down offer; chooses home, family

The most pivotal decision of Jane Clayson Johnson's career in broadcast journalism came not while conducting a prominent interview or while anchoring a national television news program, but while visiting the grounds of the Salt Lake Temple.

Her now husband, Mark Johnson, proposed marriage. Twelve hours later her agent called with a lucrative, four-year contract offer from a major network, working on prime time television.

"It was so clear to me that the Lord was laying up two very distinct choices," she said. "It really could not have been more clear cut, it really could not have been more plain. It was a fork in the road."

She decided to walk away from her career, and choose a path that led to a family, to being a wife and a mother.

She told her agent three times to turn down the offer. He told her she had made the worst decision of her life.

"What are you going to do, move to Boston and teach Sunday School?" he asked her.

Ironically and happily, she did just about that. On Sept. 26, 2003, she married Mark Johnson in the Salt Lake Temple. She moved to Boston, where her husband runs a management consulting firm, and one week later accepted a calling as gospel doctrine teacher in her new ward.

Jane Clayson spent her teenage years in Sacramento, Calif., before graduating from BYU and finding her first job as a reporter/anchor with KSL Television, Salt Lake City's now-NBC affiliate.

From 1996-1999 she worked as a correspondent for ABC, reporting for "World News Tonight With Peter Jennings" and "Good Morning America."

She then spent three years as co-anchor with Bryant Gumbel on CBS's "The Early Show," before working as a correspondent for "48 Hours" and as an investigative reporter for "The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather."

On memorial program with Dan Rather, Jane Clayson co-hosts an anniversary special at Ground Zero in
On memorial program with Dan Rather, Jane Clayson co-hosts an anniversary special at Ground Zero in 2002. | Photo courtesy Jane Clayson Johnson

She interviewed presidents and first ladies, covered Sept. 11 events live and co-hosted a five-hour anniversary special at Ground Zero with Dan Rather a year later, traveled the world on assignments and answered fan mail.

Still, she contends, it was not the life she set out to live.

"I never set out to choose a career over motherhood. I always wanted to be, first and foremost, a wife and a mother."

So, she said, when the opportunity came she accepted the offer that really counted and started a new life with her husband in Boston. The first working day after her contract expired in December, Sister Johnson found out she was pregnant.

"The Lord sends us signs and confirmations in the most wonderful ways," she said. "The Lord asks us to do things and put choices before us to test us, to see how we will respond. I think sometimes He asks us to literally — in my case it was literally — to put our ambitions and our pride, and everything that may seem so important to us and to the world, on the altar of God and willingly walk away.

"It takes an extraordinary amount of faith to do that."

And in a career where many women seem willing to claw their way up the network ladder, Sister Johnson knows there is no turning back.

"I knew I was not putting my career on hold," she said. "I knew I was giving it up and I knew what I was giving it up for. There is so much pressure on women today to take their focus off what is really important."

That doesn't mean there aren't still mornings when she turns on the television and watches the news and wishes she was reporting the stories, watching them unfold.

But "there will always be another interview, there will always be another high profile assignment. I don't want to look back on my life in 15 years and point to a stack of tapes. . . and say that has been my life. It is not the most important thing in life," she said.

Among the interviews she conducted on national television was that of President George W. Bush.
Among the interviews she conducted on national television was that of President George W. Bush. | Photo courtesy Jane Clayson Johnson

"The Proclamation on the Family really means something. The most important and most prestigious job I will ever have is to be a wife and a mother."

And when people tell her she is crazy, Sister Johnson said she sits next to her husband in Church or kneels with him in family prayer, and knows she made the best decision of her life.

"I have never looked back," she said. "I left something that few people experience. For that experience I will be forever grateful. I hope I did some good. But I feel like it is time for me to do more important work within the walls of my own home."

E-mail to:

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed