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Sarah Jane Weaver: After 50 years writing for the Church News, the former editor can say, ‘I told you so’

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President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, left, and Keith B. McMullin, president and CEO of Deseret Management Corp., right, honor Gerry Avant, retiring editor of the Church News, center, during Avant's retirement party at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 27, 2017.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News


It was raining as I drove away from the grounds of the Vancouver British Columbia Temple in May 2010. Then-Church News editor Gerry Avant and I were assigned to cover the new temple at its dedication by President Thomas S. Monson.

Springtime in Vancouver was beautiful; as I drove, I felt happy and confident.

Gerry told me I was driving too fast for the damp conditions.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf watches as President Thomas S. Monson applies mortar to the Vancouver B

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf watches as President Thomas S. Monson applies mortar to the Vancouver British Columbia Temple cornerstone May 2.

Gerry Avant, Church News

She had been my mentor and friend for 15 years. Still, I ignored her.

A few minutes later I was pulled over by a police officer. I will never forget what he said as I rolled down the window: “Ma’am, you are driving too fast for the conditions.”

I am pretty sure I know what Gerry was thinking as we drove away sometime later. But she never said, “I told you so.”

This month as we celebrate 175 years of the pioneers entering the Salt Lake Valley, I have turned my thoughts to those who paved the way for me.

Gerry is always at the top of my list.

Still coming to the office each week to help read Church News proofs after retiring as editor in 2017 — and working part-time writing a column until 2021 — Gerry will have been associated with the Church News 50 years next month. Beginning her career with the Deseret News on Aug. 30, 1972, Gerry was one of a select group of women in the newsroom in those days. She wrote her stories on a typewriter, and often while on assignments drove to airports to send film to Salt Lake City for deadlines, and sometimes dictated her stories over the telephone. In 1999, she became the first female editor of the Church News.

In the process she recorded the words and travels of seven presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She documented Church growth, temple construction, important announcements and significant events.

The Church reached its first million member mark in 1947. Gerry recorded the next milestones — 5 million in 1982, 10 million in 1997 and 15 million in 2013.

Church News podcast, episode 20: Former editor Gerry Avant shares memories of the Church News

Raised in Uvalda, Georgia, a town of 800, Gerry spent her youth attending a small branch in Hazlehurst.

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After dedicating the Hong Kong Temple May 26–27, 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley and his wife, Sister Marjorie Hinckley, visited Shenzhen, China, a “sister cultural center” to the Church’s Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii. A burst of confetti added to the festive welcome they received. It was the first time a Church President visited mainland China. Photo by Gerry Avant.

Gerry Avant, Church News

I have to wonder if those members could have known then that she would be present when the Church created its first stake deep in the Amazon in Manaus, Brazil; when the Church’s first temple in Africa was dedicated, in Johannesburg, South Africa; when President Gordon B. Hinckley and his wife, Sister Marjorie Pay Hinckley, entered mainland China; and when President Thomas S. Monson and his wife, Sister Frances J. Monson, met with the king and queen of Sweden.

She taught me about verb-noun agreement, to pack light and to wear sturdy shoes. Not long after I was pulled over in Vancouver, she insisted I learn how to parallel park — and personally taught me how to do that.

She tells a story of covering the ministry of President Spencer W. Kimball in Lakeland, Florida, in 1980. In her hotel she saw a man walking up and down the hallway — for more than an hour. She commented that he was getting his exercise. He explained that President Kimball had started the trip with a new pair of shoes that were hurting his feet. When it was too late to find a shoe stretcher, this man offered to personally break in the shoes.

Gerry reported the man’s sweet response: “How many people can say that they have walked in the Prophet’s shoes?”

During the past five decades, Gerry certainly can say she has followed in the Prophets’ footsteps. It is a journey that required faith in every footstep — coupled with a small dose of patience for those of us who would follow her.

She was laying a foundation that we continue to build upon — including a website, an app, social media channels, a podcast, video production and daily and weekly newsletters, as well as those same products translated into Spanish and Portuguese.

She believed in the Church News for one simple reason — she believes in the Church.

I am not sure there is anyone else who has written more about the Church for as long.

During her career, she has in every way documented “A Living Record of the Restoration.”

I can’t imagine she is surprised by either the growth or influence of the Church and its leaders.

In fact, if you asked her, she could most likely look back on all she has written and say, “I told you so.” 

But she probably won't.

— Sarah Jane Weaver is editor of the Church News.

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