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Find something ‘you think about all the time’

President Henry B. Eyring will teach and learn in new calling


Find something ‘you think about all the time’

President Henry B. Eyring will teach and learn in new calling

As a college student, Henry B. Eyring often worked out physics problems with his father on a basement blackboard.

One day, his father, a world-renowned scientist, made a simple observation: "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?"

When the student answered no, the senior Henry Eyring offered advice: "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."

So, over the course of the next several years, the young man set to determine what occupied his thoughts. It was learning and teaching, he realized.

Years later, after teaching at Stanford University, serving as president of Ricks College and Commissioner of Church Education, and teaching the gospel as an apostle of the Lord, he would find himself in the position to learn and teach as few others: as a member of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sustained Oct. 6, 2007, as President Gordon B. Hinckley's second counselor, President Eyring will now dedicate his thoughts to the teaching, sharing and building of the restored Church of Jesus Christ.

Moments after the conference session in which he was sustained in his new calling, President Eyring was asked at a press conference if he had a message for the world:

"We are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Son of the living God, who is generous in every way,... he said. "There is a loving Heavenly Father and He hears prayers and He will reach out. When we go to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ, He hears us and we are blessed because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ in ways that are marvelous. We invite all to come and partake of those blessings."

Born in Princeton, N.J., May 31, 1933, to Henry and Mildred Bennion Eyring, President Eyring was raised by parents who valued education. His father was a chemistry professor at Princeton University and his mother had been a professor at the University of Utah and a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin when she met and married her husband.

The Eyring home was a learning laboratory — filled with discussion about "deep, serious things" — where President Eyring learned to cherish science and religion and to respect others. Once President Eyring asked his father why he asked the gas station attendants questions. "Dad said, 'I never met a man I couldn't learn something from."'

After earning a bachelor's degree in physics, serving two years in the Air Force, and entering the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, President Eyring met the woman who would be his wife, Kathleen Johnson, a daughter of Sid and LaPrele Johnson. The couple married in the Logan Utah Temple July 27, 1962; they have six children.

They moved to Palo Alto, Calif., where President Eyring worked for 10 years as a Stanford professor. Then one night Sister Eyring woke up her husband and asked, "Hal, are you sure you're doing the right thing with your life?"

Within a week, during which time the couple reflected on their goals, Elder Eyring was invited to be the president of Church-owned Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. The family moved to southeastern Idaho.

It was there that President Eyring "began to throw out" everything he had learned about business at Harvard and Stanford and saw a different approach to administration.

As president of Ricks, he attended his first meeting with the General Authorities — including the First Presidency. He approached the meeting with eyes trained by years of research on how decisions are made by groups of people in business and government. As he watched the meeting in Salt Lake he thought, "'This is the strangest conversation I have ever heard.' Here are the prophets of God and they are disagreeing with an openness that I had never seen in business," he recounted at the Church press conference, noting that in business people are careful about what they say and to whom they say it.

During the course of the meeting, however, the conversation began to converge upon what appeared to be a single opinion.

"I saw the most incredible thing. Here are these gifted people with different opinions and suddenly the opinions just began to line up. I thought, 'I have seen a miracle.' I had seen unity come out of a wonderful, open exchange that I had never seen in all my studies of government or business or anywhere else."

But President Eyring didn't know there "was another miracle coming."

Just as he expected President Harold B. Lee, who was conducting the meeting, to announce the unified decision, he was surprised again. Instead, President Lee said, "I think we will bring this matter up again some other time. I sense there is someone in the room who is not yet settled. And he went on the next item."

President Eyring was pondering the exchange when he witnessed a member of the Twelve walk past President Lee and say, "Thank you." President Eyring knew the person wanted more time to learn and ponder.

It was then that President Eyring realized that, in the Church, it is possible to have a "different, more effective approach to decisions in groups."

"This is what it claims to be," he said. "This is the true Church of Jesus Christ. Revelation is real... even in what you would call business kinds of settings. We can be open. We can be direct. We can talk about differences in a way that you can't anywhere else, because we are all just looking for the truth. We are not trying to win. We are not trying to make our argument dominant. We just want to find what is right."

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.

Sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve April 1, 1995, President Eyring has spent the past decade traveling the world, strengthening members and preaching powerful sermons.

From his new office in the Church Administration Building, President Eyring pondered his father's advice so many years ago, of the jobs he has held and loved, worked hard at, and thought about when he could have thought about anything. When you are "good at something, if you care about it, it doesn't seem like work," he said.

E-mail to: sarah@desnews.com

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