Growing up, Elder L. Whitney Clayton experienced the equivalent of a nightly family home evening in his California home. Each night, the Claytons would call a one or two-hour "time out" from their busy day, gather around the kitchen table, enjoy dinner and discuss anything and everything. No subject was off-limits. Everyone joined in.
"We would talk about anything that came up," said Elder Clayton, who was called March 30 to the First Quorum of the Seventy. "We talked about politics, what was happening at school, the neighborhood, the gospel and the Church. . . . It was a wonderful ingredient of growing up."
The lessons of those nightly family gatherings remain with Elder Clayton and his wife, Kathy. Like most LDS parents, Elder and Sister Clayton have worked to satisfy the demands of jobs, schooling, Church callings and other duties. Yet family dinner remains a top priority for the Claytons and their children still living at home.
It's the family's "coming together time," said Sister Clayton. That special period of the day when parents, sons and daughters can sit down as a unit, ask questions, share thoughts and be reminded of who they are and where they belong.
A great-great-grandson of Brigham Young and William Clayton (who penned "Come, Come, Ye Saints"), Elder Clayton was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and spent most of his boyhood in Whittier, Calif. At a young age, he learned to love family and work. His father, who is also named L. Whitney Clayton, believed in work projects and taught young Whitney and his three brothers the dignity of doing their part around the house and yard.
Every Saturday, Elder Clayton's father, a physician, would leave home to attend to his medical duties.
"But before my father left for the hospital to make his rounds, he would write on a large chalkboard in the hallway all the jobs to be done for the day," recalled Elder Clayton.
When Dr. Clayton returned, he would join his boys outside in the family orchard and work alongside them, shoulder-to-shoulder. Later, the family would sit under a large tree, enjoy lunch, sip lemonade and talk some more. Elder Clayton said he never resented his father's assignments. He appreciated learning a work ethic that remains with him today.
From his mother, Elizabeth Clayton, Elder Clayton and his brothers learned to talk to the Lord. "Every night, she would individually kneel with us in prayer," he said.
Sister Clayton grew up in a part-member family in Salt Lake City. Like her husband, Sister Clayton was taught to pursue excellence, fulfill commitments and find comfort in prayer. When she was 12 years old, she asked her non-LDS father, Carman Kipp, if she could be baptized. He consented without hesitation, encouraging her to accept the baptismal promise "with full purpose of heart."
After high school, Elder Clayton enrolled at the University of Utah. At the time he was unsure about serving a full-time mission. He became acquainted with a group of returned missionaries and was impressed by their example and Church devotion.
"As I looked at them, I recognized that there was something about the experience they had had [on missions] that made them the kind of man I wanted to be," Elder Clayton said.
Later, he bumped into Elder Marion D. Hanks of the Seventy at a downtown YMCA gym. The 19-year-old Whitney told Elder Hanks about his thoughts concerning a mission. He wondered how a two-year hiatus from college would affect his professional goals. Elder Hank's counsel and encouragement "really turned the corner for me," Elder Clayton said. He sent in his papers, served a full-time mission in Peru and further developed his testimony and a lifelong love for the Latin people.
Elder Clayton learned from many humble, devout Peruvians that money was not the primary ingredient of happiness.
"What makes people happy is living right, keeping the commandments, taking the time to have a wonderful family and building a life around that family," he said.
After his mission, Elder Clayton began dating Kathy Kipp, a fellow University of Utah student. Later, they married in the Salt Lake Temple and began a family.
The Claytons have strived to build a home where their children could develop personal relationships with the Lord. It's vital that parents arm their sons and daughters with principles of faith, testimony and a sensitivity to the Spirit, Sister Clayton said.
"Then they can take those principles and apply them to the experiences of their lives and make decisions that will make them happy," she said.
A business litigation attorney, Elder Clayton said his faith had never been a professional disadvantage, adding that gospel principles are, in fact, career assets. Anyone belonging to a profession soon learns he could give more time to his occupation. But Elder Clayton says he and his wife remember the lessons of their youth and the blessings of spending time with family.
"I'm convinced that when I die I'm not going to lie on my death bed and say, 'I wish I had billed a few more hours.' "