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Opinion: What I learned from LaVell Edwards

One of his gifts was that he knew how to make people feel connected to him

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Becky Edwards.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Becky Edwards poses for a portrait after touring Encircle House on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Salt Lake City.
Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

The moment I met my father-in-law, we formed a special bond. He was the head coach of the BYU football team.

I came from a family of three sisters and knew nothing about football. But when we met he handed me a can of Diet Coke and said, “Here’s breakfast.” I knew then that we’d forever be friends.

That was one of LaVell Edwards’ gifts. He knew how to make people feel connected to him.

I first ran for office in 2008. I was new to politics and running against the incumbent in my district for a Utah House seat. LaVell asked how the race was going and I started complaining about the way I was being treated in the press, and about some of the cruel things people were saying about me. LaVell, in a patient, measured tone, said he could relate.

I told him there was no way he could relate, and continued my complaining. Then LaVell kindly reminded me that he had been in the public eye for a number of years, had often been ridiculed for the way he coached his team, and could indeed relate to having cruel and unfair things said about him in the media. Then he offered me some advice. “Just don’t read it. Don’t read the negative comments. Stay connected to the people who are most important to you. It’s always about relationships.”

Valuing relationships above all else was something I witnessed from LaVell over and over for as long as I knew him.

LaVell loved helping with my campaigns. One Saturday in 2010, he helped canvas the west side of my district. We met in Rose Park, handed out maps for our volunteers and gave them a quota for houses to reach.

A while later we all met back at the park. The volunteers took turns sharing their stories of the morning, some reporting that they had knocked on over 40 doors and placed more than 20 lawn signs. Then it was LaVell’s turn to report. “I think we had a great morning,” LaVell said. “We probably knocked on three or four houses.”

I was baffled. Had I not given him thorough instructions? Was his map off? How had every other volunteer covered so much ground and he’d only made it to three homes in two hours? I was wondering if there might have been some sort of medical incident, when LaVell added, “I think they’re all going to vote for you.”

Confused I said, “OK, why?” and he explained that he would knock on a door, and the families would immediately invite him in. Before he knew it, he was in their backyards, looking at their gardens and admiring their flowers. He was taking photos with the families, and the families were calling their relatives to come over to be in more photos. He spent all morning chatting with these few families, meeting their friends and extended relatives, and making lifelong friends. So while he wasn’t the most efficient campaign worker, he was the most effective.

LaVell passed away five years ago in December 2016. The day after he died, we were gathered in his home. He had a window that looked out over the stadium and we noticed the lights in the football field were on as though it were game day. We decided to investigate and, after getting bundled up for the cold winter evening, drove down to campus.

The gates to the stadium were open, and scattered all across the snowy benches and snowy walkways were young families and older fans. They were sharing stories of their favorite games, favorite plays and favorite coach. And every person there felt connected to Coach Edwards and his infamous scowl.

They weren’t there for football. They were there because they loved someone who loved everyone.

The lessons I learned from LaVell about the importance of relationships have been an anchor for me in my public service. For the 10 years I served in the Utah House I invited constituents into my home every Saturday to share their stories and express their concerns. Hundreds of people came to my home over the years. We’d sit and we’d reason together. Sometimes there were complaints, but we worked together to solve the problems these constituents were facing in their lives. Often, the stories they shared and the conversations we had turned into legislation I sponsored in the Legislature.

Now, I’m running for the United States Senate, and as much as I’d like to, I just don’t have the space to invite everyone in the state into my home. So instead, I’m taking a piece of my home around the state for my Yellow Couch Tour. Attendees and I sit on the couch and reason together. They share their stories and concerns with me.

And what they’re telling me is that they want to see productive and effective leadership. They want to see more leaders working together to find solutions.

I’m ready to bring better politics and better solutions to Washington. And more than anything, they want someone who will care about their individual lives and families. Someone who will spend the time truly understanding them and building relationships. I know I can find that understanding and build those relationships, because LaVell taught me how.

Becky Edwards is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.