On a cold, snowy December day in 1971, Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Henry B. Eyring, stood at the pulpit of the Hart Auditorium in Rexburg, Idaho, and accepted the charge to be the 10th president of Ricks College.
“What a day,” President Eyring, who serves as first counselor in the First Presidency, told the Church News of his inauguration. “My father [Henry Eyring] was the speaker and President Harold B. Lee presided. The man who gave the charge to the president was President Marion G. Romney, who is my father’s first cousin.”
At the time, the new president and his wife, Sister Kathleen Eyring, had recently packed their young family and moved from sunny Palo Alto, California — where he had been serving as bishop, had a comfortable life living near family and where he was a tenured professor — and moved to the then small town of Rexburg in Idaho.
“In my father’s journal, he records how it snowed all week,” Henry J. Eyring said. “On Tuesday, for instance, the journal entry begins with the word ‘Snow.’ The Wednesday entry begins with two words, ‘More snow.’ Thursday’s entry says, ‘Our family and inauguration guests arrived through the snow.’ And the Friday of that week … in December he wrote, ‘That was the day of the inauguration … the snow let up just long enough for the inauguration ceremonies. My brothers and father left immediately afterwards.’ ”
For the inauguration ceremony, Henry J. Eyring, the Eyrings’ oldest son — who was 8-years-old at the time — was sitting on the front row.
“I sat on the front row with my brother Stuart, my legs just barely touched the ground,” recalled Henry J. Eyring. “I remember it was a very long inauguration ceremony. … Even though I was a little fidgety during that nearly two-hour ceremony, I had fond memories of the people who participated in it.”
In addition to the speakers, both the father and son remember the powerful music — led by LaMar Barrus — that was played during the program.
“The dean of the Stanford Business School came up to Rexburg for my inauguration, and he was weeping when he left,” President Eyring said. “Not because of me, but because of the feeling he got as the choir was singing and just the feeling of the place. He felt something, and he said, ‘I can see why you came.’ ”
President Eyring served as president of Ricks College for six years, from 1971-77. During that time the Eyring family came to love the town and the people and students who live there.
“This university, like all universities in the Church, have always had both secular learning and spiritual learning equally yoked,” President Eyring said. “But in this institution, spirituality is at the heart of its future.”
On Sept. 19, that same young boy who was sitting on the front row of his father’s inauguration — who is now a grown man with a family of his own — will stand at a pulpit on the same campus while his father installs him as the 17th president of BYU-Idaho (formally Ricks College).
“I now get to speak at my son’s inauguration, and I will give him a similar charge as Marion G. Romney did for me,” President Henry B. Eyring said. “I won’t use the same words, but the same idea, to put the Lord at the center. In a way, I’m simply passing on the charge that I received.”
The two Presidents Eyring will share even more than their name; they will share the title of “President Eyring” and the responsibility of being a college president.
“It’s a sweet thing,” President Henry J. Eyring said. “We will be sitting just about 100 feet to the south of where he and I used to work out in the mornings in the field house. When we came to Rexburg he literally became my best friend in the sense that I spent more time with him than anybody else.”
Pointing out that he was not involved in choosing his son to be the school’s 17th president, President Henry B. Eyring said he is confident in his son’s abilities to lead the school.
“He understands it and loves it in a way that is only possible because he came there as a little boy,” he said. “He used to sit in my office at lunchtime. He would walk up from his school and have a little sandwich with me in my office. It was a lovely time. And it is a great school — he understands it and loves it for what it is.”
Although times have changed and different challenges have developed since President Henry B. Eyring was president of the school, he says it is the same charge he, along with the presidents who have followed him, received — to keep the Lord at the center of everything — that will help his son be successful.
“It’s a tough job,” President Henry B. Eyring said. “Whatever good I did was mostly what the Lord did. … If he keeps the Lord as his mentor he’ll be fine. And he will. He’s done that all his life. He’s strong, he’s very bright, but above all he’s humble enough to want the Lord to help him know what to do.”
His advice as a father to his son — “Carry on.”
“The Lord will be able to work with Henry; he’s that kind of a guy.”