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What I learned writing a book with Gail Miller

My brow was sweaty and my palms sticky the first time I shook hands with Utah Jazz owner, billionaire and philanthropist Gail Miller, wife of the late Larry H. Miller. And why not? She’s wildly successful, wealthy beyond my comprehension and sits atop one of America’s largest privately held companies.

It was Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, and Gail and I met in a conference room at Vivint Arena. The meeting was Gail’s opportunity to meet me and determine if I might be a good fit to collaborate with her on a project for Deseret Book.

Several hours later, I had pages of sloppy notes about the manuscript we would soon create together. Near the bottom of the last page of my leather notebook I scribbled and underlined this prescient phrase: “Gail Miller is a humble daughter of God.”

Gail Miller and Jason Wright after one of their interviews at the Vivint Smart Home Arena on Feb. 27, 2017.
Gail Miller and Jason Wright after one of their interviews at the Vivint Smart Home Arena on Feb. 27, 2017.
Andrew Johnson

Over the next nine months, I interviewed Gail many times at her office, home, by phone and via Skype. I poured over hundreds of pages of my notes, her writings, speeches and transcripts of Q&A sessions she’d done with her team at the Larry H. Miller Group.

The result of our collaboration is her new book, “Courage to Be You: Inspiring Lessons from an Unexpected Journey” (Deseret Book, $16.99). Working with Gail was an honor that proved to be the highlight of my writing career. But what most impacted me were the stories, observations and spiritual impressions that didn’t make it to the printed page.

Reminiscing on our time together, three lessons rise above the rest.

Gail listens

By our second interview, I discovered that Gail has a deep desire to listen and an undeniable gift for it. The purpose of our project was for Gail to tell me stories and share her lessons learned during her unexpected journey. But every interview, no matter how tight her schedule, began by her asking about me and my family. I marveled at her keen interest in virtual strangers.

When the manuscript was done, my family flew to Utah and we had dinner with Gail and her husband, Kim Wilson. My children were thrilled to meet her, and she spent the evening asking sincere questions, listening to their stories and getting to know them. After we said goodbye, one of my sons said, “She’s cool. Is that how all billionaires are?”

Gail cares

During one of our early interviews, we discussed a friend of mine who was struggling with heartbreaking challenges of which Gail could relate. She felt a sweet kinship for my friend and her concern for this person, despite the distance and never meeting, was inspiring. She asked for updates often and became emotional when circumstances for this person became even more daunting.

During another interview, we discussed mental health and the stigma that’s still sometimes attached to those living with depression and anxiety. I mentioned my daughter Jadi’s five-year journey with anxiety, and Gail became personally invested. Once again, whenever we met and before ever talking about herself, Gail asked how my daughter was doing. With our interviews complete and Jadi beginning her college career at BYU some 2,000 miles from home, Gail continues to ask about her.

Gail loves the Lord

If there is one theme that emerged during every discussion and on every page of my notes, it is Gail’s unending love of the Lord. She credits life’s wins, losses, tremendous successes and every relationship to Jesus Christ. Every moment of her life invites a lesson on faith. Even her stories and experiences with no obvious spiritual tether easily found spiritual connections. Gail seems to embrace the Lord’s counsel in Doctrine and Covenants 29:34: “Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual ….”

Perhaps my favorite chapter in “Courage to Be You” is the very first. Gail calls it “Have a Little Faith: Finding It and Keeping It.” It’s rich with her deeply personal stories and observations on the Lord and his gospel. Every interview, no matter the scheduled topic of the day, wandered to her love of her Savior and gratitude for his ministry. Readers might be surprised to learn that Gail and Larry were not active churchgoers early in their marriage. But even during that season of their lives, Gail’s faith in Christ never wavered.

Indeed, Gail is a humble daughter of God. Even the process of writing a book with her image and name on the cover was humbling for her. Gail frequently mused about whether people would really find her experiences and lessons valuable.

Perhaps someday you’ll meet Gail in the store, on the street or at a Jazz game. You’ll introduce yourself, maybe take a photo and quickly see for yourself how this woman listens, cares and loves the Lord.

Then, when you walk away, you’ll ponder perhaps her most important trait: No matter the time, place or person, Gail Miller is more interested in telling the Lord’s story than her own.