Additional Resource

President Henry B. Eyring: A Legacy of Learning and Testimony

When anyone asks President Henry B. Eyring about his accomplishments as a scholar, educator and religious leader, this modern-day apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints typically leans back in his chair, smiles reminiscently and tells you about his parents – Henry and Mildred.

The senior Henry was an accomplished and internationally known scientist before his son was even born, winning many major awards in chemistry and coming close to the Nobel Prize.  Mildred was head of the women’s physical education department at the University of Utah and was pursuing a doctorate degree at the time they met. 

President Eyring remembers a home filled with ideas where there were black boards in the basement instead of ping pong tables.  “We’d talk about spiritual things, we’d talk world affairs, we’d talk about history,” he recalls, “So the dinner table was the most interesting place you’ve ever been in your life.  Here are these brilliant people talking, but not trying to be brilliant.”

It was in this laboratory of a home where President Eyring learned to cherish learning, and where his dad taught that science and religion were not mutually exclusive.

“He figured God was the Creator, his own science was just a poor approximation of trying to understand what the Lord did,” President Eyring says of his father. “He never found any conflict at all of any kind and we never felt any. ... Dad’s idea was if you live a decent life and have the Holy Ghost and you’re fairly intelligent, you’ll find the truth one way or another.”

The younger Henry, known to close associates as “Hal,” also learned humility and to treat others with respect.

“I grew up with the idea that you could be very, very good at what you did and not take it too seriously.  And so Dad never had any pretense, as friendly as could be, would meet ordinary people and treat them as if they were his equal, at least.  I can remember one time, I asked him, ‘Dad, why do you ask gas station attendants questions?’ And Dad said, ‘I never met a man I couldn’t learn something from.’”

It was a conversation with his father that changed Henry B. Eyring’s life. His father believed that the world his children would eventually live in would be a technical one where physics was the underlying science and mathematics was the language. 

It was during President Eyring’s study of physics at the University of Utah and his father was explaining a complex mathematical problem when he stopped and said, “Hal we did the same kind of problem as this a week ago and you’re no better now than you were then at this.  Isn’t this what you think about when you don’t have anything else to think about?”  When President Eyring said “no,” a very solemn moment followed.  His father then said, “Well then, Hal, you’d better get out because you’ll be competing with people where this is their life and they’ll be as bright as you are.  You better go find something that you think about when you don’t have to think about it, when it’s just a joy to you.”

President Eyring found that passion at the Harvard Graduate School of Business in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he completed master and doctoral degrees in business administration.  More than anything, he wanted to be an educator and soon became an assistant professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in Palo Alto, California.

While still in Boston, Henry Eyring met Kathleen Johnson, the woman he would eventually marry and who became another defining influence in his life.  “She has been a person who has always made me want to be the very best that I can be,” President Eyring said.  In turn, she describes him as “a wonderful husband and father,” and adds, “Steadiness – that is one of the best adjectives to describe him. One of the things I appreciate most about Hal is his sensitivity to the Spirit, which he brings into our home.”

The Eyrings soon had the opportunity to create a laboratory of learning in their own home, becoming parents to four sons and two daughters.  President Eyring would make a new visual aid every day for morning scripture study. He would dabble with his children in watercolors and in the kitchen baking bread.  He said, “I was trying to give them a feeling of their own capacity to do things and that the gospel was at the center of things.”

President Eyring’s oldest son, also named Henry, said his father was very much in tune with his needs especially during a difficult time on his mission in Japan. “I went there with great confidence and high expectations.”  But at the end of 10 months, the work was proving extremely difficult.  “I was really down, very discouraged” son Henry said.  And then came a short letter from the future apostle. The letter said that even though the people in Japan might reject him, God would never reject him – that Henry’s father was pleased with his son’s labors. “What made this so important to me,” Henry said, “was that at that moment, I felt that those were the very words God himself would have spoken to me had he written the letter.”                                                                                                                           

Being spiritually in tune led to a dramatic change in the lives of the Eyring family just when life seemed perfect. In the middle of night, Kathleen Eyring woke up her husband and said, “Hal, you sure you’re doing the right thing with your life?” She then asked if he shouldn’t be doing studies for Neal A. Maxwell, then the Commissioner of Education for the Church. President Eyring said, “Studies for Neal Maxwell at my stage of my career?”  Then there was a silence and she said, “Well, you pray about it.”  About a week later, the phone rang and Neal Maxwell offered President Eyring the leadership of Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho.

President Eyring was head of Ricks College – now Brigham Young University-Idaho - five years before being called to various Church leadership positions including Commissioner of Church Education.

Then on 1 April 1995, he was called as an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since then he has helped govern the worldwide Church of over 13 million members and traveled throughout the Church, strengthening members and preaching powerful sermons, which he always does with emotion.

Shortly after this lifelong appointment as an apostle he said, “I feel a greater and greater need each day for the Lord’s help as I strive to serve in this sacred position.”

Looking back, President Eyring said he always felt like he was nurtured in a remarkable way by his parents and his beloved wife; that he was always surrounded by good people who mentored him along the way.  “I view my life as a charmed life where Heavenly Father has walked me very gently along the way. ...I’ve always had the feeling that He kind of led me along through the tall grass, very kindly and always giving me better than I deserve, in terms of people and in terms of experiences.”

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