Relief Society general presidency: ‘The gospel gives a sense of identity’

Aileen Hales Clyde is a woman many would consider a superior role model: she has an incisive mind, a deep-rooted, unwavering foundation in the gospel, and has nurtured a close-knit, loving family.

But for the newly called second counselor in the general Relief Society presidency, emulating a "role model" is something one should do with caution."I think it's wonderful to see diversity in people, and I really appreciate that in men and women," Sister Clyde explained in an interview with the Church News. "I think to choose one, and model after it, is to limit ourselves. So the only `role model' I've ever really chosen to have is Christ."

This single-minded, clear vision of her direction and purpose in life is characteristic of the 63-year-old former English instructor, whose "secret" in balancing her many responsibilities, she said, is "to get up early and go hard all day!"

Born and raised in Springville, Utah, a small community some five miles south of Provo, Aileen Hales met Hal M. Clyde while in high school. When she went to BYU to study English, he served in the Navy during World War II. Upon his return, they were married in the Salt Lake Temple by then-apostle Spencer W. Kimball.

"I was attracted to her, and wanted to get to know her better," recalled Brother Clyde, now a high councilor in the BYU 13th Stake. "She had a good mind."

Though Sister Clyde is older (by nine months), by the time she discovered the age difference, she said with a smile, "it was too late – I had already decided he was a very important person. And now it doesn't matter!"

Their relationship is one of mutual admiration. For her, "it brings me much of my energy – we learn from each other," and for him, "it's a very sharing relationship; I have high regard for her as a person, wife, mother, and partner. She's my best counselor."

The Clydes take walks together in the foothills by their home, enjoy gardening, are "avid readers," and have attended the symphony in Salt Lake City every season since 1950.

They moved to Salt Lake after she graduated from BYU, and while her husband studied for his civil engineering degree at the University of Utah, she worked for the dean of the School of Social Work. When they returned to Springville after his studies were completed, he joined the family business, Clyde Construction Company.

"Those first 17 years or so, I was away on work assignments about 60 percent of the time," recalled Brother Clyde. "My wife had the lion's share of responsibility with our three sons, and formed a very good, open relationship with them."

When the children were in school, Sister Clyde began to teach English literature at BYU – among her favorite authors are Chaucer (read in Middle English), Shakespeare and Milton. It seemed natural, then, that when the family spent time together, they read a great deal. A large source of their reading material was the scriptures.

"My parents introduced me to the scriptures when I was very young," explained Sister Clyde, "and they never once said, `You won't understand this.' They assumed we would understand it, so we did. And we did that with our sons."

Subsequently, all three sons – Michael, now a lawyer; Kevin, owner of a computer software company; and Jon Courtney, who soon starts residency as a surgeon – not only learned to love the scriptures, but also majored in English.

They became particularly good students of the Bible, she said, and when Kevin finished his mission in Ireland in 1972, the family went to pick him up, and then traveled on to the Holy Land. Later trips took them to Spain, Nepal, India, China, and to Thailand, where Jon Courtney served his mission.

Through all this traveling, Sister Clyde related, one of the most fascinating things has been her observance of women in a variety of cultures and nations.

"I've always had a particular interest in the roles of women, so I would always seek out what they were doing," she said. "I was astounded as I traveled to see certain commonalities, and yet some real differences."

But the gospel, Sister Clyde emphasized, acts as a common bond to lift women up and give them confidence in themselves.

"The gospel of Christ does give us a very different sense of our identity," she said, "and I think in some of those countries where a woman's role has never been considered important at all, it gives them a new sense of who they are. They become more willing to move forward and espouse something new."

One sister in Thailand, she said, was converted by her own reading of the Book of Mormon before it was even translated in her native tongue. The missionaries had come to her door and spoken in their halting Thai, and the woman suggested, much to the elders' delight, that they speak in English. When they gave her a Book of Mormon, she read it in a day or two.

"She said, `This answers so many of the questions I've had all my life,' " recounted Sister Clyde. "Now she is trying to nurture all LDS women in Thailand. Truly a most remarkable, spiritual woman."

It's not that women have a more innate spirituality than men, she said, but that "women survive on it. I've told my sons, you are lifted by the tide of the [LDST society in which you live – if you're good boys, you become deacons, teachers, priests, and you rise like this. And women who don't have those particular levels to go through . . . develop a spiritual sense of connection with the Lord, because if you don't, you don't have any spirituality."

More than just being concerned about the role of women in society, Sister Clyde participates in its study. As the chair of a state task force on gender bias for the past three years, she has been involved in holding public hearings throughout Utah, investigating the economic effects of divorce on women, and studying inappropriate gender-related behaviors or decisions in the judicial system of Utah, among other issues.

"Roles have been identified for men and for women, and we have certain conceptions – or misconceptions, perhaps – of what women will do in their lives and what men will do in their lives," she commented. "In the society I've grown up in, those roles have changed a great deal."

Asked how she acquired the background and interest to be such an effective spokesperson, Sister Clyde merely smiled and said, "I just read a lot. I've observed how important the legal implications are in our society, and I think women generally aren't enough informed. The most significant thing I learned from this gender bias study that applies to my life and my concerns, is that women, from a very early age, need to be helped to be decision-makers."

The gospel, she said, can help women acquire those skills.

"I believe, for instance, the Young Women values are very helpful if the young women will think them through and personalize them. We need to do more to help our Relief Society women, not just with lists of values but emphasizing using our own initiative and our own agency in righteousness to do what's good for ourselves and our families."

After being on the Institutional Council at Utah Valley Community College for three years, Sister Clyde was appointed last July to Utah's Education Board of Regents. This combined with her other responsibilities will certainly keep her occupied, but her first goal, she said, "is to be a good counselor."

"I am very concerned for women in the Church, whether they're single or married or divorced or widowed, and I'd like to contribute to our seeing ourselves as important divine people, regardless of those roles. In whatever circumstances we find ourselves, we have power. . . and we can be very effective servants to our Father in Heaven."

(additional information)

Sister Aileen H. Clyde

-Family: born May 18, 1926, a daughter of G. Ray and M. Lesley Grooms Hales; married Hal M. Clyde, three sons – Michael, Kevin and Jon Courtney; nine grandchildren.

-Education: graduated from Brigham Young University in 1948 with bachelor's degree in English.

-Profession/Community Service: instructor of English at BYU for 10 years; chair of Utah Task Force on Gender Bias; member, Utah Education Board of Regents.

-Previous Church service: Relief Society president, Stake Relief Society board member, general Young Women board member, Gospel Doctrine teacher, Primary teacher.