Colleagues, friends pay tribute to Church News editor Gerry Avant

Friends, associates and news sources of Gerry Avant submitted the following comments on the occasion of her retirement as editor of the Church News.

President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: Gerry Avant has served as the editor of the Church News with an unsurpassed standard of dignity and excellence. I marvel at her remarkable accomplishments as a journalist and as a stalwart disciple of Jesus Christ. In faraway places, I have watched her juggle notebooks and camera in pursuit of a story. I have appreciated her journalistic standards, never allowing a deadline to take priority over accuracy. I have also observed her faith and fortitude as she faced danger and the real possibility of death.

Through it all, Gerry has always mustered courage to do what is right while serving the Lord whom she loves. Adversity has never penetrated her protective aura of composure and confidence. My tremendous appreciation for her cannot be adequately expressed. My life and the lives of many of our Heavenly Father’s children have been enriched because of Gerry’s quiet example of faith, righteousness, and excellence.

Elder William R. Walker, emeritus General Authority and former Temple Department executive director: She was very good at what she did. Her articles inspired and uplifted countless members of the Church.

I traveled all over North America and in many places of the world with her. When we’d have a temple dedication or groundbreaking or cultural celebration, she was always there early and stayed late.

President Thomas S. Monson liked her a lot and respected her. When President Monson would be with us — which was most of the time — he’d say to me, “Now you take care of Gerry and make sure she gets what she wants. If she needs an extra quote or something, bring her to me, and I’ll give it to her.” I always thought that was kind of sweet the way he looked out for her.

Mac Christensen, president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, 2000-2012: Gerry is a great lady who always followed through. We saw her so many times when the choir was out on tour. She worked night and day and did everything right.

Dell Van Orden, Church News editor, 1976-1999: When I retired as editor of the Church News, I was asked by my bosses at the Deseret News who I would recommend to succeed me. The answer was obvious — Gerry Avant. She had advanced through the ranks at the Church News, first as a reporter, then as assistant editor, then as associate editor. Since her appointment as editor, she has continued her excellent work at the paper. She has traveled the world and her well-written articles and superb photos have graced the pages of the Church News. She is an outstanding photojournalist, and as she moves into this new phase of her life, I congratulate her on her years of leadership at the helm of the Church News.

Sister Ardeth G. Kapp, Young Women general president, 1984-1992: “Forty years ago as a member of the Young Women general presidency, I was provided a rich experience in observing and learning impressive leadership skills from Gerry Avant. First, she was a great team builder with a dedicated staff facing significant responsibilities. Gerry’s office was a place of welcome and respect.

Gerry had vision, courage and high expectations for her staff but never more than she exhibited in her personal involvement in the office and in the field. On one or more occasions I accompanied Gerry on an assignment that took her into the field. I marveled at her attunement to the Spirit. She built relationships, had high expectations and genuine friendship for a cause greater than her own.

Her years of service will be marked on the pages of history as insightful and inspired. It was a significant time in the history of the Church. She increased opportunity for the membership of the Church to relate to current issues world wide.

To my knowledge, Gerry never exhibited discouragement in spite of various points of view, but always focused on the desired outcome with complete dedication whatever the price.

I witnessed the smooth transition when Gerry became the first woman editor and trust her example will pave the way for the editor who will follow her. Gerry will be missed and remembered.

Sheri Dew, president and CEO of Deseret Book Co.: Gerry Avant is a legend. No other word would do justice to her life’s work. She has traveled the globe for decades, won the confidence and trust of Church leaders, and in the process given us a bird’s-eye view into the growth and development of the Church. I was with her in Asia when President Hinckley visited Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines and then dedicated the Hong Kong Temple and saw firsthand the range of her skills and the intensity of her devotion. Gerry Avant is one of a kind, and we all owe her a debt of gratitude.

Rick Hall, former managing editor of the Deseret News: Gerry is a remarkable woman. Strong willed, yet tender-hearted. A tireless worker and an obedient disciple. Conscientiously shunning even a hint of applause, she quietly, almost protectively, reaches out to fill an otherwise unseen need.

Many who have spent so much time with the prophets and apostles would wear that association as a badge of self-assumed importance. Not Gerry. To Gerry, that sweet association is simply a blessing of doing her job. And, because she does her work so well, countless others hear the prophetic voices.

The Deseret News, the Church News — and I personally — are better because of our association with Gerry.

Heidi S. Swinton, author, screenwriter and historian: I have observed Gerry on tour with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and at temple dedications in the United States and abroad. She always found the story behind the story. She focused on people and the dynamics of spiritual experiences in the midst of events. She gathered information but most of all she wrote about how the scene felt, what people thought and experienced, what was said that was memorable and life-changing. She never wasted a word. She worked into the night and early into the morning; she wrote, took photographs, found angles that were new and inspiring, prized loyalty and good writing. She was the consummate journalist with a passion to tell the story and to never be the story. She kept confidences, never took advantage, showed respect for the people and places that were her focus. While some might grandstand because of access, she never did. She honored her writing assignments like they were callings and she honored those about whom she wrote because of their unique assignments.

When I was writing President Monson’s biography she shared priceless accounts that revealed the strength and preparation of this prophet of God. She had traveled extensively with him; she had seen sides of his ministry that needed to be told and she went back through her files looking for material I might use. Her institutional memory of the Church and its leaders is remarkable. She has no agenda other than to be helpful and make a difference. I love that quality in her.

I enjoy her candor and quips, her friendship is dear to me.

John L. Hart, former Church News associate editor and longtime staff member: Gerry’s rich childhood in a small rural town where her father kept a general store led to her becoming a master storyteller. … Her youth and young adulthood became episodic; hers was a Southern upbringing as classic in its own way as a Scarlett or a Savannah. An anomaly as a lone Mormon, she rose through her surroundings to achieve a Bible Belt college graduation and become an accomplished editor.

She came West as an English teacher who only happened on the Deseret News. Only the sheerest accident and pleadings lured her into the Church News. Ironically, she could spell better than the editor who hired her.

Here her abilities, modified by a rather stringent format, blossomed as she shared the ongoing, incessant progress throughout the world of the restored gospel. She saw not only through the eyes of the Church leaders but also viewed through the eyes of belief of members from many cultures and nationalities.

An accidental photographer at first, she went on to capture images still memorable: the gentle smile of Camilla Kimball in her garden hat, the surprise smile of President Hinckley beneath a cannon shot of confetti from the Chinese.

And a few ironies cropped up in our braided careers. Once Gerry, who spoke some French, traveled to Mexico City for the dedication of the Mexico City temple. I, who spoke some Spanish, flew off to cover an anniversary in French Polynesia. The Mexicans kindly showed her every consideration and translated for her. And though welcomed by legendary love of Tahitian Saints, I found French officials to have something less for my inability to speak their mother tongue.

Gerry’s Southern mannerisms railed at unfairness, and she more than once came to the defense of someone unjustly treated. She also gained the confidence of Church presidents and leaders, developed trusting friendships of which some others of us could only contemplate wistfully. Her departure will mark a nostalgic end to that old school.

Newspaper editors are not famous for kindness. I can categorically say that of all the bosses and editors for whom I worked in my nearly 40 years as a reporter for half a dozen newspapers, none was more considerate than Gerry. Despite the dictatorship of the deadline, she has a softness for understanding families’ situations that is appreciated by her staff.

Somehow, though it is difficult to put into words, Gerry is more than all this. Her steadiness to meet a deadline is equaled by her steadiness as a good human being. She stood by her friends, her staff, the Church News and the Church like a pillar of granite.

The more you know about Gerry, the better she is, and you can’t say that about everyone.

Best of all, Gerry is a friend, and I wish for her the genuine and deep satisfaction of a job well done and gratitude of the many she has served to be by her side, “memories of roses in November” throughout her retirement.

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