21st Century Book excerpts Latter-day Saint History

How Was Henry B. Eyring Called to the First Presidency?

With the touch of a wooden cane on each shoulder, the Prophet assured “Prince Hal” that he had come of age.

At the time, a few thoughtful observers saw Henry B. Eyring‘s assignment to speak at Mountain Meadows as a portent that he would be called to fill the vacancy in the First Presidency created in early August of that year by the death of President James E. Faust. Hal (President Eyring), though, was not among them. He had no such inkling, and certainly not a feeling strong enough to overcome the illogic of the idea.

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Learn more. This is an excerpt from I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring. Read the book for the rest of the story.

President Eyring’s biography includes a behind-the-scenes account of his call into the First Presidency.

I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring. Pages 457-463, © 2013 by Robert I. Eaton and Henry J. Eyring. Published under license from Deseret Book Company.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher.

A vacancy in the First Presidency

Though he was no longer the junior man in the Twelve, thanks to the addition of Elders Uchtdorf and Bednar, a tenth man was little more likely to be brought into the First Presidency than a twelfth. Nothing like that had occurred for more than forty years, when N. Eldon Tanner, then the eleventh member of the Twelve in seniority, was called as second counselor to David O. McKay.

By long-established tradition, counselors tended to be chosen from among the more senior members of the Quorum. That tradition had held in the forty-four years since President Tanner’s appointment. Presidents Hinckley, Monson, and Faust had been called into the First Presidency as, respectively, the fourth, second, and third most senior members.

Learn more about the councils President Eyring has participated in since first being called as a Counselor in the First Presidency in 2008.

Hal gave no thought to such a possibility because he revered and even idolized President Faust. The two had begun their full-time Church service at roughly the same time, in the early 1970s. Hal had several times hosted President Faust on visits to Ricks College. From the beginning, he had admired President Faust’s self-effacing but steady manner.

Hal’s friendship with President Faust grew especially close during a 1982 trip to the Holy Land, Egypt, and the lands of Paul’s travels. For two weeks they studied and taught the gospel together, joined by family members. In a general conference address he gave years later, Hal recalled a lesson about priesthood keys learned from President Faust on that trip:

I spoke in an ancient theater in Ephesus. Bright sunlight flooded the ground where the Apostle Paul had stood to preach. My topic was Paul, the Apostle called of God.

The audience was hundreds of Latter-day Saints. They were arranged on the rows of stone benches the Ephesians sat upon more than a millennium before. Among them were two living Apostles, Elder Mark E. Peterson and Elder James E. Faust.

As you can imagine, I had prepared carefully. I had read the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, those of both Paul and his fellow Apostles. I had read and pondered Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.

I tried my best to honor Paul and his office. After the talk, a number of people said kind things. Both of the living Apostles were generous in their comments. But later, Elder Faust took me aside, and, with a smile and with softness in his voice, said, “That was a good talk. But you left out the most important thing you could have said.”

I asked him what that was. Weeks later he consented to tell me. His answer has been teaching me ever since.

He said that I could have told the people that if the Saints who heard Paul had possessed a testimony of the value and the power of the keys he held, perhaps the Apostles would not have had to be taken from the earth.

“Faith and Keys,” Ensign, November 2004, 27.

President Faust continued to mentor Hal until his passing. Often, the teaching came by way of personal example. Hal appreciated his remarkable mix of apostolic boldness and humble ministration. Even after President Faust became Second Counselor to President Gordon B. Hinckley, in 1995, he continued to show special solicitude not only for Hal but also for Kathy and their family.

As Kathy’s mother, La Prele, entered her nineties and declined in health, President Faust regularly greeted Hal with the question, “How’s Grandma?”

President Faust held up a hand to stop him.

When La Prele passed away at age ninety-six, President Faust called with his condolences before Hal and Kathy had begun to communicate the news, which they had just received themselves. Somehow, he already knew.

President Faust continued to teach Hal personalized, one-on-one lessons, like the one in Ephesus. Several weeks after his call to the Twelve, in the April general conference of 1995, Hal received an invitation to visit President Faust, who had been called into the First Presidency in the same conference.

They met in the Second Counselor’s office, a spacious, high-ceilinged corner room on the first floor of the Church Administration Building.

“Hal,” President Faust began. “I’ve been watching you. You’ve seemed sober lately.” He continued tenderly, “Has it happened yet? Are you doubting your worthiness to serve?”

In fact, Hal had been feeling overwhelmed with the weight of his new assignment, so much so that he had begun to doubt his worthiness. He was touched that his friend and mentor had noticed, and his hopes swelled at the prospect of confessing his doubts.

But as he leaned forward eagerly, President Faust held up a hand to stop him. pointing a finger toward the ceiling, he said, solemnly, “Don’t ask me if you’re worthy; ask Him.”

Lila Moore’s “Vibes”

The combination of his junior status and his deep respect for President Faust made it all but impossible for Hal to imagine succeeding him in the First Presidency.

Others, though, were more susceptible to spiritual impressions about the matter. One was Lila Moore, the widow of Craig Moore, the Eyrings’ faithful home teacher during their six years in Rexburg. Craig had died in 1994, and Lila had been living alone in their home for more than thirteen years.

By the fall of 2007, she was nearing age ninety and confined to a wheelchair. She passed her days watching and listening to sermons on the television and radio, taking special delight in talks by her favorite General Authority, Henry B. Eyring.

The prophet’s treatment of Hal had changed recently, but not in an encouraging way.

Though thirty years had passed since the Eyrings left Rexburg, her connection to Hal was still strong. He had returned to preside at Craig’s funeral, and he always stopped to see her on visits to BYU–Idaho, giving her special bragging rights among members of the ward.

Lila was also visited regularly by Hal’s eldest son, Henry, who had returned to work at the university. On the first Sunday of September in 2007, three weeks after President Faust’s passing, Lila ended Henry’s visit with a surprising declaration. “I’ve been having vibes about a new assignment for Elder Eyring.”

The word vibes, Henry knew, was Lila’s self-effacing shorthand for her spiritual impressions. Filling the many hours of daily isolation with contemplation and prayer for her loved ones, she often received words of comfort and guidance to offer them. Henry himself had been a beneficiary. But this particular “vibe” seemed beyond the pale of reason.

In fact, it took Henry several seconds to realize what she meant. When he overcame the shock, he began struggling for a gentle way to disabuse her of the notion.

“Lila,” he said, “it’s natural for you to admire Elder Eyring and feel that he’s qualified for any calling. But he’s a very junior Apostle. You’ve been blessed with a feeling of approval and love for your friend. But this calling will go to an equally good man who is more senior.”

“Hal,” she called. “It’s the phone for you.”

Lila hardened her gaze. In a low voice, with teeth slightly clenched, she said, “I know my vibes.

Lila didn’t let the matter drop. In the succeeding weeks she delivered the same message several times, with enough force that Henry finally felt obliged to convey it to his father. Hal responded with a rueful chuckle and said, “Well, Lila may know something, but President Hinckley doesn’t seem to.”

In fact, the prophet’s treatment of Hal had changed recently, but not in an encouraging way. Far from displaying the kind of personal approval that might have been inferred from the assignment to speak at Mountain Meadows, President Hinckley seemed more cool toward Hal than before.

Prince Hal

That uncertainty shaped Hal’s response to a phone call that came to the Eyring home on the Thursday evening before general conference. He had left the office a bit before five o’clock and driven home. After parking the car, he walked down the Eyrings’ steep driveway to retrieve an empty garbage can. He was wheeling the can up the driveway when Kathy stepped into the open garage with a portable phone.

“Hal,” she called, “it’s the phone for you.”

“Can you take a message?” he replied.

“It’s the office of the First Presidency,” Kathy said with a not of urgency. I think you’d better take it.”

Hal grasped the phone in one hand, still holding the garbage can in the other. He heard the secretary to the First Presidency, Michael Watson, say, “President Hinckley would like to talk to you.”

After an uncomfortable silence on Hal’s end, President Hinckley came on and declared, without introduction, “I’d like to ask you to join President Monson and me in the First Presidency.”

“President Hinckley,” Hal blurted out, “are you sure you’re talking to the right person? This is Hal Eyring.”

At what otherwise might have been a moment of profound thoughts and feelings, Hal faced an analytical dilemma. President Hinckley hadn’t spoken his name, either first or last. Given the improbability of his being called to the First Presidency, he had to wonder whether Brother Watson had connected President Hinckley to the wrong man.

It had happened before. Each member of the Twelve has his own speed-dial key on the main phones in the office of the First Presidency. More than once, Hal had taken a call for someone else due to an inadvertent mistake in dialing. This, he thought, could be one of those things. It wasn’t a chance he could take.

“President Hinckley,” Hal blurted out, “are you sure you’re talking to the right person? This is Hal Eyring.”

“I know who this is!” President Hinckley replied. The ensuing conversation was short. Hal accepted the call, saying he would do anything President Hinckley asked and that it would be an honor to serve with him and President Monson.

President Hinckley bade Hal goodbye with no more explanation or expression of emotion than he had offered in calling him into the Twelve. Hal put the garbage can away and shared the news with Kathy.

Two days later, President Hinckley invited a sustaining vote of the new First Presidency and of Quentin L. Cook as a new member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He offered no verbal comment on Hal’s selection. But, after presenting all of the General Authorities and general officers of the Church, President Hinckley stopped on his way back to his seat. Raising the cane that he had used for several years, he ceremoniously touched Hal on each shoulder.

Photos of the gesture soon appeared on the internet. Many viewers saw the humor in “knighting,” but Hal appreciated its deeper significance.

President Hinckley was an amateur scholar of the words of William Shakespeare. More than once, he had challenged Hal, the physics student and business professor, to become familiar with great literature in general and Shakespeare’s work in particular. Hal had made only fitful attempts, and he was embarrassed when President Hinckley occasionally asked about his progress.

He knew just enough Shakespeare, though, to recognize the double meaning when President Hinckley referred to him as “Prince Hal.” he knew that title was a good-natured insult. Shakespeare’s Prince Hal, the future Henry V of England, was a young ne’er-do-well, a bright but irresponsible idler who conduct besmirched his father’s reputation and cast doubt on his own fitness to reign.

Hal, the self-doubting junior Apostle, could never fully convince himself that there wasn’t more than just good-natured ribbing in President Hinckley’s jovial use of the Prince Hal label.

His doubts had grown during the preceding weeks, when the President’s behavior toward him had been inexplicably cool. But now, President Hinckley’s symbolic knighting made the Shakespearean reference sweet: With the touch of a wooden cane on each shoulder, the Prophet assured “Prince Hal” that he had come of age.

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Book excerpt. From I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring by Robert I. Eaton and Henry J. Eyring. Copyright © 2013 by Robert I. Eaton and Henry J. Eyring. Published under license from Deseret Book Company. Minor style adjustments have been made for online reading, including defining the first use of “Hal” and modifying placement of the first header.

Further reading

Learn more about President Eyring and other Latter-day Saint prophets and apostles in these articles:

President Eyring’s First Presidency calling resources

  • I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring (Deseret Book)
  • Getting to Know President Eyring of the First Presidency (Church News)
  • President Eyring “Humbled” by Calling (Deseret News)
  • President Henry B. Eyring: New Leaders Voice Joy, Humility Over Callings (Deseret News)
  • President Eyring’s First General Conference Talk As a Member of the First Presidency (April 2008)

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