'I see the mountain' - Winning battles with a positive attitude

Learning disabilities and cancer among challenges


Earlier this year, Gloria Schwab Richardson sat in her hospital bed in Provo, Utah. She gazed out her window at nearby "Y Mountain" as her doctor explained the cancer spreading in her body, what she called with a smile, "gloom and doom."

"I had him look out the window and there was this beautiful mountain. I said, 'Look at that mountain. What do you see?' He goes, 'I don't know what you're asking.' I said, 'Exactly, it's all in the perspective.' "

Gloria Schwab Richardson believes that outlook on life is a matter of personal perspective.
Gloria Schwab Richardson believes that outlook on life is a matter of personal perspective. | Photo by Julie Dockstader Heaps

She asked him how many times he drives by the mountain and doesn't notice the beauty. "I said, 'I see the mountain.' "

That night, the doctor later told her, "he had gone home and he looked at the mountain a little differently."

That's what happens to anyone who spends time with Sister Richardson, a member of the Silver Lake 3rd Ward, Eagle Mountain Utah East Stake. You come away with a different perspective on adversity.

In 1989, 27-year-old Gloria Schwab was a newly divorced single mother with no education beyond high school. She had learning disabilities, had no money and was paying the rent with her job at a grocery store. When she went for financial aid at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, she was first sent to the counseling center. There a psychologist tested her and said, "You'll be lucky to put cookies in a cookie jar."

She remembers walking out of the counseling center that cold November day 23 years ago to find that a plow had buried her car in snow. As she dug it out, she muttered through tears, "You're wrong. You're wrong. I can do more."

She certainly has done more. The now-50-year-old mother, grandmother, and wife has been an educator and principal to at-risk youth from throughout the nation. As principal of Provo (Utah) Canyon School from 2008-2011, she developed a plan for these at-risk students to work toward high school diplomas, sometimes via independent study courses, and coordinated career days and community service projects. Throughout her 15-year career, she has impacted the lives of countless middle- and high school-age students throughout Utah and California. Breast cancer, first diagnosed in 2003, forced her retirement last year.

On April 19, Sister Richardson was honored by the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department at Utah State University with the K-12 Alumni Administrator of the Year award. When she was introduced and her biography read, including her battles with learning disabilities and cancer, she was stunned to see people in the auditorium rise in ovation.

"It was pretty overwhelming," she said. "I just stood there and cried. I kept thinking, 'I can't believe this. Are you kidding me?' "

Sister Richardson has several favorite sayings or colloquialisms, but her favorite is "Yagottawanna."

"It's a positive attitude. It's a choice," she said, while sitting in her living room in Eagle Mountain, Utah, where she lives with her husband, Terry, whom she married in 2003 in the Bountiful Utah Temple just two weeks after her first cancer diagnosis.

In her bedroom is a painting of Christ holding a lamb and surrounded by sheep. At night, because of the angle of her bed, she sees that painting through its reflection in a mirror. "Some nights when I can't sleep, I just look at that picture of my Savior, and I know I'll be OK."

Her positive attitude began as a young woman growing up in Star Valley, Wyo., where she was reared with five brothers and sisters. A high school athlete, she graduated from Star Valley High School, and married soon after. Ten years later, her marriage ended, and she was determined to get an education — despite the psychologist's comment.

She moved into her grandparents' basement in Logan with her two daughters, Janell and Jenni, then 8 and 5 years old. She worked for the university's scholarship department and got tutors. An auditory learner with dyslexia, she said she would tape a lecture, "listen to it, go home, write notes from it, listen to it again and then listen to it on the way back to school again."

In 1996, she received a bachelor's degree in physical education, with a minor in geography. On that day, wearing her cap and gown, she approached the statue of the Aggie Bull on campus, reached up, took hold of the horns and shouted, "I grabbed that bull by the horns!"

In 2003, after teaching school in Vernal and Morgan, Utah, she received her master's degree. She also coached volleyball, softball and tennis. While teaching at Provo Canyon School, she earned her Principal Licensure Certificate (for administration).

And all through the years, the gospel has been the center of her home. Sister Richardson recalled when the temple in Vernal was dedicated in 1997. During the fall open house, she saw sister missionaries standing in the rain. "I made this humongous pot of chicken noodle soup and went to the sisters and said, 'OK, it's break time.' We had those sisters coming into our little apartment and it was just the neatest thing."

Sister Richardson surmises such experiences helped her little family spiritually. Janell and Jenni later married their husbands in the temple and, between them, have three children.

Despite the cancer, Brother and Sister Richardson look with faith to their future. She spoke of a priesthood blessing, where she and her husband were reminded, "Be still and know that I am God."

Soon after, two friends gave gifts, a journal and a plaque, with those same words. "It was a very special moment for my husband and me. We know Christ is real. He is here for us."

And, as she said, "I see the mountain."

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