In honor of his 90th birthday, President Eyring shares lessons he’s learned from his wife, Prophets and 38 years of Church service

Looking back over nine decades, President Eyring says every good thing in his life has come from serving the Lord

President Henry B. Eyring met his beloved wife while serving as a counselor in the Boston District presidency in 1960.

While representing the district presidency in a single adult devotional in Rindge, New Hampshire, President Eyring saw Kathy Johnson for the first time and thought, “That’s the best person I’ve ever seen.” 

The two were married July 27, 1962, in the Logan Utah Temple and are the parents of four sons and two daughters. 

During their life together, President Eyring worked as a professor at Stanford University, president of Ricks College and the deputy commissioner and commissioner of Church education before being called into the Presiding Bishopric in 1985. He was sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1995 and has served as a counselor in the First Presidency since 2007.

In reflecting on his deep reservoir of varied experiences, President Eyring noted that every good thing that’s come in his life — including meeting his wife — has been a byproduct of trying to serve the Lord. 

The second counselor in the First Presidency will turn 90 on May 31. During an interview in honor of his birthday, President Eyring sat down with the Church News to discuss lessons he’s learned in the past 90 years, including close to 40 years of full-time Church service.

‘Serve the Lord and things will work out’

After graduating from the University of Utah with his undergraduate degree in physics, President Eyring left home for the first time when his Air Force commission took him to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Upon reporting to Sandia Base, he was given “a terribly difficult assignment,” President Eyring recalled, “way beyond my own abilities. I thought, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’”

A feeling soon came of “Well, serve the Lord.” Soon after, he was called to be a district missionary. Every day he would grapple with the demands of his Air Force assignment, and every night he would go out and do missionary work. “And it all worked out.”

A similar thing happened after he was accepted to Harvard Business School. “I was a physics student. I didn’t know anything about business,” President Eyring said. 

But within a few weeks of arriving in Boston, Massachusetts, he was called to be a counselor in the district presidency. As other business students were studying on weekends or evenings, he was driving around New England on assignments for his calling. And somehow, “the Lord took care of it,” President Eyring recalled. He not only earned a Master of Business Administration but also a doctoral degree from Harvard University.

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Eventually he took a position as a teacher at Stanford University. “That was over my head,” President Eyring said. But then he was called to serve as bishop of the Stanford Ward. 

“Every time that I got a little nudge to do something the Lord would have me do, then He seemed to take care of everything that was over my capacity.” 

President Eyring said he’s had a lifetime of those feelings. “If things are tough, find out what the Lord wants, line yourself up with that. President [Gordon B.] Hinckley always used to say, ‘Hal, things will work out,’ and it was true.”

After he was appointed to be the new president of Ricks College, President Eyring attended his first meeting of the Church’s Board of Education. President Harold B. Lee told him, “Brother Eyring, we’d like to hear your acceptance speech.”

Younger President Eyring, dressed in graduation robes and regalia, speaks at a podium in this black and white photo.
Elder Henry B. Eyring speaks at his inauguration as Ricks College president in 1971. | Brigham Young University–Idaho

President Eyring stood up and said: “I don’t know anything about Ricks College. I don’t know anything about how to run a college. But I know this: It’s the Lord’s school. And I’ll find out where He wants to go, and I will line myself up with that, and I will not fail.”

President Lee said, “That’s the best acceptance speech I’ve ever heard.”

That was President Lee’s way of saying, “You’ve got it right,” President Eyring noted. If individuals can serve the Lord, line themselves up with His will and say, “I’ll do what You want me to do,” then they will not fail, President Eyring said. Again and again, “it’s happened in my life.” 

Lessons from Sister Eyring

President Eyring’s first date with Sister Eyring was to play tennis. He thought he’d show off and won the first set. As they changed sides, he tried to say something funny or witty, but she didn’t look up. “She just walked past me and went to the other end of the court and began to tap her racket,” he recalled.

Thinking she was irritated, he thought, “she’ll get worse.” Instead, she “just took me apart.” 

That was one of the first things he learned about her: “When things get tough, she gets better.”

President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Sister Kathy Johnson Eyring, on their wedding day July 27, 1962. | Henry B. Eyring Instagram

Soon after they were married, the two moved into the guest house on a hilltop on her parents’ property along the coast of California. President Eyring described it as “the nearest thing to heaven as you’ve ever seen.”

Ten years later, President Eyring received a phone call from Elder Neal A. Maxwell, who was then Church commissioner of education, asking him to be the next president of Ricks College. The family — which now included three young boys — moved from their idyllic house on the hill in warm, sunny California, to a single-wide trailer near the Rexburg, Idaho, campus. President Eyring remembered that the snow would blow under the door and across the floor of the trailer.

But Sister Eyring never complained. “Because the Lord had already told her, ‘Live so that when the call comes, you can walk away easily.’ So she knew she was on the Lord’s track, and it was OK.”

This 1971 file photo shows a younger President Henry B. Eyring, his wife, Kathleen, and family before his inauguration as president of Ricks College.
Credit: Deseret News Archives, 1971 Caption info: Dr. Henry B. Eyring and his wife, Kathleen, and family before his inauguration as president of Ricks College. Their sons are Matthew, front, Henry and Stuart. | Deseret News Archives

The year they spent in that trailer was “one of the sweetest times” for their family, President Eyring said, because they had received confirmation that it was where the Lord wanted them. 

Throughout their marriage, President Eyring said, he always got the feeling that his wife’s first priority was to try to do what the Lord wanted.

In recent years, Sister Eyring has experienced some serious health challenges. President Eyring said he sings and prays with her every morning and every night. He doesn’t do it because it’s a good thing to do. “It’s because I want to be there,” he said.

Although she can no longer speak, she sometimes will offer a smile, as if to say, “We’re still in this together,” he said.

President Henry B. Eyring and his wife Kathleen (right) leave after the first session of the 181st Annual General Conference Saturday, April 2, 2011 in the Conference Center. Sister Harriet Uchtdorf is at center back.
President Henry B. Eyring and his wife Kathleen (right) leave after the first session of the 181st Annual General Conference Saturday, April 2, 2011 in the Conference Center. Sister Harriet Uchtdorf is at center back. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Serving with prophets

In working and serving across the globe, President Eyring said he has realized two things. First, the faith of the average Latter-day Saint is amazing. Everywhere in the world — in poverty, in wartime, with health challenges and other kinds of troubles — “the faith and the goodness of Latter-day Saints is just remarkable.”

Second, prophets of God really do get revelation. “The Lord is leading His Church and in detail,” President Eyring said. Every time he comes out of the presence of one of the prophets, he thinks, “‘Oh, it happened again.’ You can just see the Lord is not telling them everything, but enough, that He is leading His Church through living prophets.”

President Eyring has served as a counselor in the First Presidency to three Prophets: President Gordon B. Hinckley, President Thomas S. Monson and now to President Russell M. Nelson. Each of them was unique, he said. “All of them had revelation, all of them had love, but they expressed it in personal ways.”

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, left, President Henry B. Eyring, center and President Thomas S. Monson raise their right hands to sustain President Monson as the prophet, seer, revelator and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the Solemn Assembly opening the Saturday morning session of the 178th Annual General Conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 5, 2008. | Jason Olson, Deseret News archive

President Eyring spoke of President Hinckley’s humor, President Monson’s care and concern for individuals, and what it’s like to serve with President Nelson. President Eyring said of President Nelson, “I’ve never known anyone who was more kindly and more able to see the good in people.”

In rubbing shoulders with Prophets, President Eyring said he has never doubted that they were prophets of God. His goal has been to listen to even their “littlest words” with the thought that “I may hear the voice of the Lord.”

In addition to learning to listen, he’s also learned to feel through them the Lord’s love. “Prophets have that gift,” President Eyring said. 

Anyone who is righteous can get information from the Lord, through the prophet.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, greet prior to a First Presidency meeting at the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Going forward

President Eyring testified that God is real. He answers prayers. “He talks through His prophets and the Holy Ghost. He is sending messages all the time. I bear my testimony to you that’s true.”

Jesus Christ is the Son of God and was resurrected. “He lives. He loves you, and He loves me,” President Eyring said.

Ordinary people in the world who think they don’t matter, “Oh, they matter,” he said. “God knows them and loves them. He weeps when they don’t do the right thing, because He knows He can’t bless them.”

President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, studies his scriptures in his office in Salt Lake City, Utah.
President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, studies his scriptures in his office in Salt Lake City, Utah. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

If President Eyring has one regret, it’s that he may have failed to recognize the wonderful blessings the Lord has given him. “Have I really appreciated it enough, being a child of Heavenly Father? Really have I appreciated it enough, am I grateful enough, for the Atonement and the service of the Lord Jesus Christ? Am I grateful enough for the times that the Holy Ghost has told me what to do or what truth was? I’m working on that.”

Many times, President Eyring said, the Lord has given him nudges or feelings about the future, little insights into people or events have been “sprinkled” throughout his life.

So instead of looking back on 90 years, “I’m looking forward,” President Eyring said. “There’s some things I haven’t done, and some things I’d like to do.”

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