Henry B. Eyring often receives compliments for his books and General Conference talks. But the Latter-day Saint leader’s desire has always been for Church members to look beyond him and see the Savior. Biographer Robert Eaton shows how President Eyring’s life, like that of the Prophet Joseph Smith, is a pattern for coming unto Christ.
How did Robert Eaton become involved in writing the biography of Henry Bennion Eyring?
I often asked myself that question, as did many of the people I interviewed. I’m still rather baffled that I was somehow blessed with this extraordinary opportunity. Henry J. Eyring and I became friends when we team taught a course at BYU-Idaho and then worked together in the administration. He also connected me with Elder Robert D. Hales, whom I assisted with Return.
After doing that, I told him that if he was ever able to do a biography of his father, I’d love to help. Then one day we were sitting in President’s Council and he handed me a note with a one-word question: “Co-author?” I’ve kept that note inside my copy of the book.
At the time, I was the associate academic vice president at BYU-Idaho with responsibility for overseeing Pathway and online learning. Both were in critical developmental stages and taxed me to my fullest. Still, I couldn’t pass up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work on this dream project.
It has been one of the highlights of my life.
Henry did the lion’s share of the writing. But in typical Eyring fashion, he insisted on putting his name second on the title. I was just thrilled to get to participate, especially to interview President Eyring, members of the Quorum of the Twelve, and others.
Why did President Eyring so faithfully keep a journal? How would this biography be different without it?
It was the prompting President Eyring described in his 2007 General Conference talk:
I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.“O Remember, Remember”
That came during his golden years living in Menlo Park, California, while he was teaching at Stanford. The fact that he faithfully heeded that prompting fundamentally shaped his biography, as did President Eyring’s generosity in granting access to the journals and permission to share from them freely.
Henry (and whenever I refer to “Henry,” I mean Henry J. Eyring) always had a vision of sharing freely from his father’s journals. In fact, I pushed back and argued that we should streamline those excerpts a bit, focusing more on highlights. But Henry explained that he wanted the readers to come with us into the vault, as it were, and be able to read as much of the original source as possible for themselves.
For what it’s worth, reading those journals was an extraordinary experience.
Every night or morning as I read from them and identified passages we might use in the biography, I could hardly believe that I had been given such access. President Eyring was able to be so generous because he had nothing to hide. His transparency was possible because of the integrity with which he approaches life.
To address your question more directly, I feel like the combination of journal entries and quotes from Conference talks was potent. For me, the journal entries added tremendous context and texture to the Conference talks, and the quotes from the Conference talks helped me learn the lessons he learned from his own experiences. Spotting connections between the two became a spiritually exhilarating exercise.
The biography is filled with quotations from his journal that provide insight into his thoughts. Could you share an example?
I love President Eyring’s journal entries about his exchanges with his home teacher in Rexburg, Idaho, a farmer named Craig Moore. I just love the faith of the home teacher and the fact that God used him as instrument to deliver a message President Eyring genuinely needed.
He was so task-oriented and had so much to do that Brother Moore needed to tell President Eyring not once but twice that the Spirit had prompted him to tell the young college president to get up more from behind his desk and walk the campus.
Even as President Eyring eventually hearkens to that counsel, you can see from his journal entries that this was a difficult change for him to make. He did as directed and sensed it was right, but the purpose of it was still unclear to him. And I’m sure he didn’t get as many items crossed of his to-do list that day as he roamed campus and talked to all kinds of employees.
But I believe that was one of the most important leadership lessons President Eyring received in life. I might just add that I was able to personally witness just how much President Eyring changed in this regard.
One day while interviewing him for this book, I snuck in one of my daughters to meet him. Feeling a bit sheepish about having done this, I was eager to have her leave, once they had been introduced and had chatted a bit. I hated to impose on his time. But President Eyring was remarkably gracious and kept asking her questions. When she left after 15 or 20 minutes, he seemed to read my thoughts. “I just wanted to see if there was anything I could help with,” he explained, even though she was not a troubled teen or otherwise in any obvious need of help.
And as the First Counselor in the First Presidency, he was one of the busiest people on the planet. But instead of extending a perfunctory greeting and getting on with our work as quickly as possible, he took the time to welcome and lift this unexpected guest.
In my mind, that’s an apostolic transformation from the young college president who had to be told twice to get up from behind his desk to go meet people.
What career path did President Eyring initially pursue? Why did he change course?
Initially, President Eyring taught business at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. In fact, he became a tenured professor. Had he stayed on that path, at least one of his former colleagues assumed he would have become the dean of the business school and perhaps the president of Stanford.
Alternatively, he would have had undoubtedly received—in fact, he did receive—some extraordinary offers to become a leader in the business world.
The will of the Lord
I believe the reason he changed course was two-fold.
First, he sought to do what the Lord preferred, not just what he permitted. Of all the things President Eyring has written or taught, one that has influenced me most deeply was a short article he wrote in the “I Have a Question” section of the Ensign in 1977. He wrote:
I have no hope of acting wisely if my first and overriding objective is to make money [or, we might add, obtaining the honors of the world]. But if my main motive is to please God, I will be sensitive to the Spirit as it warns me away from what would displease him. Once I have decided I want eternal life more than business success, I will have crossed the great gulf between wanting to know what God would permit and trying to do what he would prefer.
Early in life, Hal Eyring decided that he wanted eternal life more than anything else. As he made important career decisions—like heeding his wife’s suggestion that he reach out to Commissioner Neal Maxwell—he always sought to know not just what God would permit, but what He would prefer.
The second reason that he changed course may be obvious, but it’s worth noting: God prompted him to do it. He didn’t abandon a career in academics or business to go work for the Church because everyone should. Indeed, as we look at the lives of all those called to serve as prophets, seers, and revelators, we see that they have walked a wide variety of career paths.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf made this point to me when I interviewed him and asked how President Eyring’s life experiences had prepared him for his role in the First Presidency. Embarrassingly, I hadn’t focused on just how different President Uchtdorf’s own path to the First Presidency had been. Yet both had totally been prepared, albeit in fundamentally different, even complementary ways.
Why did Kathy Erying ask her husband, “Couldn’t you do studies for Neal Maxwell”? How did that alter the course of their lives?
I think that President Eyring would be the first to acknowledge that in the process of seeking to know what God preferred, Sister Eyring was consistently a step ahead of him. That may be because, as Elder Maxwell himself once taught, even for “true believers, the tugs and pulls of the world—including its pleasures, power, praise, money, and preeminence—have always been there.”
My hunch is that having worked hard to earn his degrees and hone his craft, President Eyring felt those tugs and pulls more keenly than Kathy did. Clearly, she played a catalytic role in the revelatory process as he sought to know and do what the Lord preferred for him.
At the risk of sounding too dramatic, I don’t think President Eyring would be in the First Presidency today if he had not acted on his wife’s suggestions and hearkened to the subsequent promptings of the Spirit. Moving from Menlo Park to Rexburg may have been the most pivotal decision in his life.
What did President Dallin H. Oaks teach Hal Eyring about depersonalizing in the midst of strenuous debate?
Talking to President Eyring about how the First Presidency and Twelve counsel together was truly fascinating. I was especially intrigued, though, by the genuine respect that both he and then Elder Dallin H. Oaks had for each other.
President Eyring loved the fact that Elder Oaks’ only interest was in coming to the best solution possible. If someone presented facts or arguments he hadn’t previously considered that undermined the validity of a position he had taken, Elder Oaks gladly changed his position.
For his part, when I interviewed Elder Oaks, he talked about how much he loved it when Elder Eyring would articulate a contrary point of view. Given his background as a lawyer and judge, I had the sense that Elder Oaks delighted in using a very Christlike version of the adversarial process as a catalyst for receiving revelation.
What council did President Eyring give when his son was called as a bishop?
President Eyring told his son:
Your goal in giving counsel is to increase the likelihood that the listener will seek counsel directly from the Lord. That will mean giving less advice than either the listener or you might like at the time.
When I interviewed Elder D. Todd Christofferson, he shared a fascinating observation. He noted that their role as prophets, seers, and revelators was to connect others to the power of salvation—and “that’s not us.” In other words, they are not the source of salvation, but witnesses to that Source.
He said that President Eyring was always keenly aware of that. President Eyring is incredibly conscientious about leading others to the Lord and getting out of the way himself.
This is such a focus for him that he is disappointed whenever someone focuses more on him more than what he teaches.
I’ll never forget President Eyring telling me about how disappointed he was when President Hinckley complimented him on a book he’d written by saying that it was “vintage Hal Eyring.” Most of us would accept that as high praise. Not President Eyring.
He must have spent 20 minutes trying to explain to me why that comment disappointed him and how he wanted people focusing on the book’s message, not him as the messenger, or something to that effect.
In everything he does, President Eyring seeks to connect people directly with the Lord and deflect any attention from himself.
What lessons did the apostle teach about gaining power to overcome trials when he spoke at his daughter’s high school commencement?
I feel like that address was prophetic for some trials that would lie ahead for Elder Eyring:
At some time and place, and perhaps more than once, the price you will be asked to pay to be faithful to your promises will be everything you have and are. That will come to you not because God is cruel nor far away, but because He has purposes for you.Henry B. Eyring
President Eyring genuinely sees God as the ultimate curriculum designer, customizing experiences to stretch us and help us reach our divine potential:
“Hard times will come on your journey. You will find yourself tested to be true to your promises, time and time again. Some tests will be easy. Some will be hard. Some will require that you sacrifice, or seem to sacrifice, all you have to keep your promises to others and to God. He will give you the power to be faithful in the great tests by giving you greater faith as you choose to be always faithful when the sacrifice is less. He has a greater purpose for you than smoothing your way. His purpose is to build your faith through allowing you the chance to test and provide it and in the process to know not only that He goes with you but that you are approved.”Henry B. Eyring
When I think of the unique load President Eyring has carried for so many years as a member of the First Presidency whose wife has not been well, I can’t help but see the fulfillment of these remarks in his own life.
Tell the story of Henry B. Eyring’s address to the descendents of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
I can’t really improve on what Henry has in the book. I’ll just add that this may have been the single most challenging assignment Elder Eyring undertook as a member of the Twelve. But the fact that he could address that group under such difficult circumstances and get the response he did is a testament to his compassion, countenance, and character.
He could not have faked the emotion that came through as he read the approved statement, and it was that genuine concern that must have softened people’s hearts.
Could you trace the evolution of President Eyring’s relationship with Gordon B. Hinckley?
As far as I can tell, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley and Hal Eyring first worked together when President Eyring was president of Ricks College. Elder Hinckley chaired the executive committee of the board of education for Ricks, so he would have paid close attention and provided guidance to the young college president. They continued working together in various capacities, particularly when Elder Eyring later served as Commissioner of Education.
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Of course, it was President Hinckley who called Elder Eyring to the Twelve. Remarkably, President Hinckley waited several years after Elder Eyring became an apostle to release him from his duties as commissioners. In that role, Elder Eyring spent extra time with the First Presidency and, undoubtedly, received extra tutoring from President Hinckley.
Finally, President Hinckley called Elder Eyring to the First Presidency, just two months before he passed away. Because there were only two more junior members of the Quorum of the Twelve at the time, such a call was highly unusual.
Perhaps President Monson would have called Elder Eyring into the First Presidency of his own accord, even if President Hinckley hadn’t. But I can’t help but think that it’s because President Hinckley was inspired to take that bold step in calling such a junior member of the Quorum into the First Presidency that we have been blessed to hear so many talks from President Eyring through the years.
And frankly, even more important than the talks—which is what the general membership of the Church tends to focus on when it comes to Church leaders—the Church has been blessed immensely by President Eyring’s influence behind the scenes.
And while President Eyring is always completely loyal to whomever the current president of the Church is, my impression is that the effects of President Hinckley’s mentoring influence President Eyring’s approach to leadership to this day.
The biography includes an experience shortly after Henry Eyring was called into the First Presidency in which he made a procedural mistake. What was going through his mind?
The very first time I met President Eyring, Henry had brought me into his office, and President Eyring was in the middle of telling this story to Henry’s son, who was already there. President Eyring greeted me, brought Henry and me up to speed on the story, and continued telling it, as if I were part of the family. I was amazed at his candor and graciousness in telling the story and at the integrity he manifested in the story.
Basically, shortly after President Monson became the Prophet, President Eyring extended a calling to a general officer of the Church. He had a mental lapse and set apart this sister, even though she hadn’t yet been sustained.
Knowing that President Monson was a stickler for procedural detail, he agonized about what to do. After a somewhat sleepless night, he was awaiting President Monson when he arrived at the office the next day. President Eyring confessed his error and apologized profusely, and President Monson was gracious and forgiving.
Later in the day in a different meeting, President Monson told a story about a time when he was in charge of printing the Deseret News. The police called him in the middle of the night because they’d discovered thousands of copies of the newspaper—with a mistake on the front page—that had been dumped in the newspaper. When Brother Monson brought in the employee responsible, he asked him if he knew why he was getting fired. The man thought it was because he’d printed so many copies of the paper with a mistake. But Brother Monson let him know that it was because he had tried to cover up his error.
President Eyring didn’t say this when he told the story, but I suspect that was an important experience early in their time together in the First Presidency that established President Eyring’s trustworthiness in President Monson’s mind. He could not have had a more loyal counselor.
How has your study of the life of President Eyring made you a better disciple of Jesus Christ?
I can’t begin to do justice to that question here, so I’ll just highlight two of the many ways working on this project has helped me become a better disciple, I hope.
First, I have strived to seek to know in my own life not just what God permits, but what he would prefer.
Second, I’ve sensed that I need to make the same course correction Craig Moore helped President Eyring make. I’ve been busy since third grade, and that busyness, that sense of busyness, often gets in the way of offering the most important kind of service we can render—spontaneous service to those in need.
I’ve tried to pray for and become attuned to unplanned opportunities each day, despite the length of my to-do list. I’m still working on it, but thanks to President Eyring’s example, I’m making some progress.
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About the author
Robert I. Eaton is the author of the Henry B. Eyring biography, I Will Lead You Along. He is currently the associate academic vice president for instruction at BYU-Idaho.
Henry B. Eyring FAQ
When was Henry B. Eyring called an apostle?
Henry B. Eyring was called as an apostle in the April 1995 General Conference, and set apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on Thursday, April 6.
How long has Henry Eyring been in the First Presidency?
Henry Eyring was first called as a member of the First Presidency in 2007 by Gordon B. Hinckley. He was one of the most junior members of the Twelve Apostles at the time, making his calling very unusual in the history of the Church.
What did Henry Eyring study?
Henry B. Eyring studied physics as an undergraduate and business as a graduate student. Prior to his call as a General Authority, Eyring was a tenured professor in the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Who is Henry B. Eyring’s wife?
Henry B. Eyring married Kathleen Johnson in the Logan Temple on July 27, 1962. Biographer Robert Eaton states that the sealing was performed by Eyring’s uncle, Spencer W. Kimball.
How old is Henry Erying?
President Eyring is nearly 90 years old. He was born in 1933, the same year that the Church had an exhibit at the World’s Fair in Chicago.
Who was Henry Eyring’s father?
Henry B. Eyring’s father was the noted Latter-day Saint scientist Henry Eyring. Robert Bruce Lindsay is reported to have said that religious bigotry is the only reason Henry Eyring didn’t win a Nobel Price.
Are Henry J. Eyring and Henry B. Eyring related?
Yes, Henry J. Eyring is the son of President Henry B. Eyring. The younger Eyring serves as an Area Authority, serves as president of BYU-Idaho, and has written several books.
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Popular Henry B. Eyring talks
- The Faith to Ask and Then to Act
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President Eyring books
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Henry B. Eyring quotes
Revelation to act in God’s name
The power to speak and act in God’s name requires revelation.
The daily grind
You don’t need to be fearful, wondering how you will do in the test, if you just remember a single word: “Always.” That word “always” sounds hard if you focus only on the supreme moments of testing. But the power to pass the great tests is built into the daily grind. If we are faithful in the little things—always, day in and day out—we will be faithful in the great things.
When you do your part, the Lord adds His power to your efforts.
God not only loves the obedient—He enlightens them.
I hope you will go out today looking for opportunities to do as He did and to love as He loves. I can promise you the peace that you felt as a child will come to you often and it will linger with you.
Patient with others
Most people carrying heavy loads begin to doubt themselves & their own worth. We lighten their loads as we are patient with their weaknesses & celebrate whatever goodness we can see in them. The Lord does that.