In November of 2010, I traveled to Laie, Hawaii, for the rededication of the Laie Hawaii Temple. The days before the rededication were filled with colorful and vibrant celebrations as local Latter-day Saints welcomed visitors to BYU–Hawaii, the Polynesian Cultural Center and the temple.
As one very busy day was wrapping up, I sat down with my camera and notebook to catch my breath. I was tired. I had spent the previous hours documenting the celebrations but had not participated in them. I was surrounded by people, energy and commotion, yet I still felt alone.
Then as I scanned the continuing festivities, I caught the eye of Sister Kathleen Johnson Eyring, who had traveled to Hawaii with her husband, President Henry B. Eyring, and President Thomas S. Monson and his wife, Sister Frances Johnson Monson.
With intentionality, Sister Eyring looked at me and smiled.
She did not turn away. I knew she was acknowledging my efforts.
I felt her goodness.
Sister Eyring died on Oct. 15, 2023, after a lifetime of quiet service to her family and the Church and years of debilitating illness and struggle.
I do not remember ever speaking to her in person or quoting her in the Church News. I never shook her hand. And I cannot think of a single talk she gave.
Still, I have deeply mourned her passing.
I knew her the same way as millions of other Latter-day Saints.
Through her husband’s service and her smile.
For someone described as shy and intensely private, Sister Eyring’s influence was profound.
For example, in her youth she studied at Sorbonne University in the heart of Paris. Surrounded by history, culture and beauty, she developed a love for all things French: French music, French food, French art and the French language.
In May of 2017, I received the assignment to write about the dedication of the Paris France Temple by President Eyring. Sister Eyring, then dealing with the limits of age, was unable to make the trip.
After arriving in Paris, however, President Eyring drove through the city — visiting the places that were once meaningful to her.
As a student, Sister Eyring had found a home among the French Latter-day Saints and worshipped with them at 3 Rue de Lota, an old mansion that was owned by the Church and converted into a chapel. President Eyring said she returned to France with him after their marriage. They walked the streets of Paris and the gardens of Versailles and tasted the best croissants. As President Eyring experienced the love his wife had for the country and people, he grew to love them too.
That love was tangible when he dedicated the temple.
A few years ago I undertook a writing project, which allowed me to learn a little more about Sister Eyring. Then, unable to speak herself, I talked to President Eyring and to some of Sister Eyring’s friends. Each spoke of her love of motherhood and her no-nonsense style. She never gave false praise, they said. She enjoyed serving her neighbors and friends.
President Eyring said those friends returned that service to her in her final years — visiting her bedside and treasuring the opportunity to be with her.
While in Paris in 2017, President Eyring talked about Sister Eyring. He recalled, years earlier, walking through the temple with her and glimpsing a couple in front of them, thinking that it was the “happiest couple” he had ever seen. Then he realized they were looking in the mirror at their own reflection.
In September of 2018, President Eyring traveled to Langley, British Columbia, to address Latter-day Saints from the greater Vancouver area. He again spoke of Sister Eyring and her illness. “She can no longer comfort, mourn or serve as she always has,” he said. “But she is growing more powerful in bearing witness of the Savior.”
I instantly understood his sentiment because I had felt the Savior’s love amid those busy festivities in Laie, Hawaii, eight years earlier when Sister Eyring had seen me in a crowd and acknowledged my efforts. Her greeting was kind and unassuming.
Void of both words or fanfare, she had lifted my heart with a smile.