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General Conference profile: President Henry B. Eyring

SHARE General Conference profile: President Henry B. Eyring

President Henry B. Eyring once asked his father

a simple question: "Why do you ask gas station attendants questions?" His

father's response was profound: "I never met a man I couldn't learn something

from," he told his son. Years later, President Eyring would describe his

childhood home as a laboratory where he learned to cherish science and religion

and to respect others.

Set apart Feb. 3, 2008, as first counselor to President Thomas S. Monson,

President Eyring credits his accomplishments as a scholar, educator and

religious leader to his parents.

Born in Princeton, N.J., May 31, 1933, to Henry and Mildred Bennion Eyring,

he was raised in a home filled with deep discussion. His father was a renowned

research scientist at Princeton, whose knowledge of intricate chemistry was

widely applied to a variety of scientific fields. His mother was head of the

women's Physical Education Department at the University of Utah and was pursuing

a doctorate at the time she met his father.

The family moved to Salt Lake City in the 1940s so their children could grow

up in an LDS environment, and Henry Eyring helped build the University of Utah

into a renowned research institution.

With characteristic concern that children feel, Elder Eyring told an audience

at Brigham Young University several years ago how he remembers the move to Utah.

"I can remember how my cousins helped me," telling him "the kids would stone me

with my New Jersey accent. I got rid of it quickly, out of fear. I remember

terror as I walked up to the junior high school on the first day.

"A few years later — I don't know how it happened — but after basketball

season I left high school and went without my high school classmates to the

University of Utah. I can remember those first days — the Physics Department and

the Mathematics Department didn't seem very friendly to me. I remember my


"I went from there to the United States Air Force and somehow decided that

physics would not be my life's work. I thought I needed something else for

education, so I tried a place I had heard of called the Harvard Graduate School

of Business. I was so naive I didn't know it might be hard to be admitted. I

know now that it was a miracle that I was accepted.

"I can remember parting from my father on a

street corner in New York City. For some reason he was there for scientific

meetings. I was on my way to the Harvard Business School in my Ivy League suit,

or so I thought. That suit was later borrowed by my roommate, who had been a

Harvard undergraduate. He wore it to a costume party as a gangster suit, which

offended me some. He wore a black shirt and a white tie with it.

"When I parted from dad in my new suit, it was one of those great moments in

life when I was going off to school. I looked back at him. Later he said to me

that I looked forlorn, but I remember feeling sorry for him. To him I was a

frightened student. I didn't know what a balance sheet was. I didn't know what a

pro-forma cash flow looked like. I was a physics student about to be lost in the

Harvard Business School."

After earning a bachelor's degree in physics, serving two years in the Air

Force, and entering the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration,

President Eyring met the woman who would share his love of learning. He married

Kathleen Johnson, a daughter of Sid and LaPrele Johnson, in the Logan Utah

Temple July 27, 1962; they have six children.

They moved to Palo Alto, Calif., where President Eyring worked for 10 years

as a Stanford professor. He recalled that "her first adventures in cooking for

us were to find some morning menu that I could keep down on my nervous stomach

as I went off to meet those apparently confident Stanford students. I wondered

how I could teach them, until I found out that they were scared, too."

While at Stanford, he held teaching and administrative assignments in

production management, operations and systems analysis, organizational behavior

and management of the total enterprise. He also served as a visiting fellow for

a year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was founder, director or

officer of at least two companies in Sunnyvale, Calif.

A consultant to a wide range of private and

public enterprises, President Eyring was called by the First Presidency to serve

as president of Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) in 1971, where he served for six

years before becoming deputy commissioner of Church Education. He was later

named commissioner, where he served until being sustained as first counselor in

the Presiding Bishopric in 1985, then a member of the First Quorum of the

Seventy in 1992, and then as an apostle on April 1, 1995, at age 61.

Recent messages from President Eyring have focused on the need to live the

gospel in the present, rather than procrastinating one's activity for the


Those who wait for "some day" to improve their spiritual lives flirt with

significant danger, he said during the April 2007 General Conference. "We may

discover that we have run out of time. The God who gives us each day as a

treasure will require an accounting. This day is a precious gift of God. The

thought that 'some day I will' can be a thief of the opportunities of time and

blessings of eternity."Living the gospel and avoiding the evils of today's

society have been recurrent themes for President Eyring.In a talk several years

ago, he warned of the flood of evil that "soon will be a torrent. It will become

a torrent of sounds, sights and sensations that invite temptation and offend the

spirit of God. ... Swimming back upstream to purity against tides of the world

was never easy. It is getting harder and may soon be frighteningly difficult. We

must raise our sights."

As an apostle, President Eyring represented the church in interfaces on

highly public issues that involved some controversy. In Cedar City, he was the

church spokesman in issuing an apology to descendants of those murdered 150

years ago in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Some 120 non-Mormon immigrants

traveling toward California were killed on the order of local church leaders who

commanded an LDS militia.

During a memorial service at the gravesite of

some of the victims, President Eyring read a prepared statement by the First

Presidency acknowledging that local leaders led and carried out the murder of

unarmed civilians. The statement expressed "profound regret" for the massacre,

which has long been a source of historical dispute and embarrassment to the


Then-Elder Eyring, along with Elder Russell M. Nelson, his fellow on the

Quorum of Twelve, also were assigned to visit with The Rev. Al Sharpton, who

made a public political comment aimed at presidential candidate Mitt Romney,

suggesting Latter-day Saints do not believe in God.

In a telephone conversation with the two apostles, Sharpton apologized. The

two church leaders accepted the apology and said the matter was closed.

After he was sustained as President Gordon B. Hinckley's second counselor on

Oct. 6, 2007, he was asked at a press conference whether he had a message for

the world:

"We are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Son of the living God, who

is generous in every way," he said.

At general conference last October, President Eyring said church members can

help avoid the conflicts that beset the world by unifying, even though the

worldwide church incorporates different cultures, backgrounds and languages.

"There is always more that the children of God have in common than differences,"

President Eyring said. "And even the differences can be seen as an opportunity.

God will help you see their differences not as a source of irritation but as a

contribution. In a moment, the Lord can help you see and value what the other

person contributes which you lack."Read excerpts from President Eyring’s talks in the 1980s.

Compiled from Deseret News and LDS Church News reports