Gerry Avant: ‘Stargazer’ Jayne B. Malan always cared for the lambs

“Jayne Malan is a stargazer.”

That’s the observation I made in the opening sentence of an article about her after she was sustained during the April 1986 general conference as a counselor in the Young Women general presidency. 

“Stargazer.” That was one of the best descriptions of Sister Malan. She habitually looked heavenward, and at the time I met her she was as intrigued by the constellations as she had been as a girl who spent summer vacations on a ranch near Evanston, Wyoming.

On that ranch, she developed a never-ending love for the outdoors and learned lessons she grew up to share with others. She learned many of those lessons from her parents, Sylvester and Josephine Broadbent Malan.

“Mother taught me to enjoy the world around me,” she said. “Since the ranch was just a summer situation they never bothered to put electricity in the cabin, so with no radio or television we had a lot of time. At night we played games and talked and looked at the stars that seemed so close in that crisp mountain air.”

Jayne spent many summer days riding a horse alongside her father, a successful livestock man who served as a bishop and mission president.

“He taught me as we rode together. A closeness built between us as he taught me that in the eternal scheme of things my personal relationship with my Father in Heaven was the most important relationship there is. He taught me that only two things were really important — the family and the Church.

“And he taught me about sheep. Ours was a sheep ranch, so it was easy for him to teach me about lambs that were lost, and that lambs must be fed and protected from coyotes that wait to pounce on those that are weak. I learned about the trouble lambs can get into when they blindly follow the leader without watching where they are going. He taught me the role of the shepherd, and that gates must be opened to let sheep back into the fold, and why fences must be built to keep them from wandering too far.

“I learned from experience what it was to love a lamb and then to lose it to a coyote. I felt the happiness of finding a lamb that had strayed.”

She continued to learn valuable lessons throughout her growing-up years and young adulthood. At the University of Utah, she started studying medical technology but graduated in drama.

“I got through four quarters of chemistry and loved it, but when I hit quantitative analysis I realized I was sadly lacking in math skills. My dad was responsible for the turning point in my life. He asked me what I would really like to do.

“I liked drama, but I couldn’t think of anything productive I could do with it. My father said, ‘If you are good at it, there will be a place for it. You can always serve in the Church.’ What a prophetic statement that was. I haven’t stopped using the skills I learned from drama.”

When she and her husband, Terry Malan, who was a professional golfer, settled in Wilmington, North Carolina, she worked in children’s theater. In 1959 they returned to Salt Lake City, where they reared their son and daughter. Still interested in children’s theater, she worked on weekly television shows with two other women and wrote musicals for Pioneer Memorial Theatre.

“It was during the time of doing volunteer work in the community that I began developing the skills I’ve been able to use professionally and in Church service,” she told me.

She served on Young Women general boards three times and twice on Relief Society general boards. She wrote or directed dramatic and multimedia presentations and satellite broadcasts.

She recalled what she termed “a turning point” in her service as a general board member.

“I had not been on the YWMIA general board very long when I was assigned to work on a June conference theme presentation committee. It was going to be in the Tabernacle. Eight people were on the committee; I was assigned to do most of the writing. We began working on it in October and had everything ready to go into production by the end of January. Suddenly we were told, ‘We have decided to not use the theme presentation.’

“I was devastated. I had put my heart and soul into it, had fasted and prayed, and had put off vacations. I had done everything I could. I tried to stay in control, but tears ran down my cheeks and I just wanted to get out of the room. I got home and thought the whole situation over. I realized that I was very wrong. I had taken too much to myself. At that point, I realized that it was not my work that I was doing — it was the Lord’s work and His glory. If it was right, it would be used and if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t.”

She savored things her parents taught her. “My mother had the greatest zest for living. She was such a fun person,” Sister Malan said. “She loved to play games, taught us to be competitive, and how to lose. We learned that the world didn’t end when we lost a game.”

I asked Sister Malan, the new counselor in the Young Women general presidency, what advice she would give young people. “I say to them, ‘Enjoy every minute of your life. Don’t be afraid to say no, to stand up for what you know is right, and take your friends along with you. Just be sure you’re not the one who turns somebody in the wrong direction. They could get lost, just like the lambs at the ranch.’ ” 

Jayne Broadbent Malan was born April 18, 1924; she died March 16, 2013.