Among his achievements in life, Elder Gerrit W. Gong was a Rhodes Scholar, worked in high-level positions at the U.S. State Department and for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and, for the past nine years, has been assistant to the president for planning and assessment at Brigham Young University.
With all that, his wife Susan’s overall assessment of him is: “He’s a nice guy.”
She said that, from the beginning of their relationship, “whenever we would go anywhere, he was so kind to the people we would interact with. Whether it was the post office, the library or the grocery store, he was so affirming and kind to everyone, as though he really understood them to be a son or daughter of Heavenly Father. That’s a quality that wears well over a long period of time. We’ve been married 30 years now, and we’re still getting to know things about each other we didn’t know from the start, and there’s more to know because we’ve had different experiences. But his kindness to everyone is one quality that’s been consistent in his character, that’s been a strength and blessing in my life. He’s a nice guy.”
Sustained to the First Quorum of the Seventy on April 3 during general conference, Elder Gong is known as a faithful man and a learned man. He appreciates the world and God’s children, wherever they live in it. He has traveled much of it. And his wife has been by his side.
“Susan is an extraordinary person,” Elder Gong said. “I think it’s fair to say that some of the opportunities that we’ve had are because of her and her being willing to go and try new things and meet new people. I’m grateful for that. She goes everywhere and does everything. People love her, and she loves them.”
Ancestors who left south China in the 19th century for work in the United States to support their families were a source of Elder Gong’s opportunities. His parents’ sensitivity to the message of the gospel was another source.
His mother, Jean, was converted while a teenager living in Hawaii. Her faith was strengthened while attending BYU when she stayed with the family of Gerrit de Jong Jr., the first dean of the school’s College of Fine Arts.
“[With the de Jongs,] she was able to understand more about the Church and really understand what a gospel family is like,” Elder Gong said of his mother.
It is also the reason, he noted with a smile, that he has a Dutch first name — after Brother de Jong; an American middle name — Walter, after his father; and a Chinese family name.
His mother went on to Stanford University where she met his father as they both furthered their education. Through “powerful personal experiences” — his father was a Christian, Elder Gong said — and “meeting my mother, he recognized there was even more in the restored gospel.”
So it was into that foundation of faith and learning Elder Gong was born.
He expanded on it by excelling in school himself, attending BYU on a Joseph Fielding Smith Scholarship and then Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. During his formal higher education, he served a mission to Taiwan.
Upon returning from Taiwan, he volunteered to give Sunday evening firesides at the Provo Missionary Training Center to acquaint new missionaries going to Taiwan with the people and culture there. One of the missionaries who attended was Sister Susan Lindsay from Taylorsville, Utah.
When they briefly met, “I had a feeling this was somebody I’d always know,” Elder Gong said. Shortly, she was off to Taiwan, and he eventually left for England to attend Oxford.
The summer after she returned from her mission, Elder Gong returned from England to spend some time with his family in Provo; his father was teaching at BYU at the time. His two-week stay extended to four weeks, and he and Sister Lindsay dated every day. Finally, he had to go to Hawaii for an internship.
“We felt the Spirit guiding us to bring us together,” Sister Gong said. “Basically, we got engaged over the telephone. He came home on Christmas, and we were married the first day the temple opened in the new year (1980). … Two weeks after we were married, we got on a plane and started a new life together in England.”
Sister Gong had been raised in a similar situation as her husband. Her father was Elder Richard P. Lindsay, who directed Church public affairs and served as a General Authority. He and her mother, Marian Bangerter Lindsay, nurtured a spirit of faith and education in their home.
Elder Gong said, “Both our families have been very mindful of the opportunities that come with education and have stressed that.”
Besides England, opportunities took the Gong family to Washington, D.C., and Beijing (where Elder Gong was special assistant to the U.S. ambassador) before they arrived at their current home in Provo.
As they have lived in various places and traveled with their four sons, they have seen firsthand that “everywhere in the world, Church members are terrific,” Elder Gong said.
Living in China was a great family experience, according to Sister Gong. “Living abroad with your children really brings the family closer together,” she said. “It makes those brother relationships very tight and important. You learn to rely on each other and rely on the Lord in a different way when you’re a little bit out of your comfort zone.”
Provo offered another special experience, Elder Gong said, as he served as president of a BYU student stake.
“We loved the young adults and the blessing and privilege it was to work with them,” he said. “When you see the young adults, you really feel like the rising generation is really special. They have some real challenges, but they have wonderful blessings ahead of them if they’ll keep the commandments and follow the prophet and do the things that they know they should do.”
He concluded that the gospel blesses all of God’s children who embrace it. “It makes us more of who we can be, who we should be. I think that’s the love of our Heavenly Father.”
Family: Age 56, born in Redwood City, Calif., to Walter A. and Jean C. Gong; married Susan Lindsay in January 1980 in the Salt Lake Temple. Parents of four sons — Abraham (Erin), Samuel, Christopher and Matthew.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in university studies and Asian studies from BYU, 1977; master’s degree and doctorate in international relations from Oxford University, 1979 and 1981.
Career: Special assistant to Undersecretary of State at the U.S. State Department, 1985; special assistant to the U.S. ambassador in Beijing, China, 1987; several positions for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., 1989-2001; currently, assistant to the president for planning and assessment at BYU.
Church service: Area Seventy, stake president, high councilor, stake mission president, stake Sunday School president, bishop and counselor, seminary teacher, high priest group leader and missionary in the Taiwan Mission, 1973-75.