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Eleanor Knowles Laney, first female vice president of Deseret Book, dies

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 3 2010 3:00 p.m. MDT

Eleanor Knowles Laney, 78, the first female vice president for Deseret Book, a former Deseret News writer and a prominent editor for publications of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died last month.

Seventeen years earlier, she told Deseret News reporter Dennis Lythgoe she would like her epitaph to say, "She loved language and enjoyed helping to shape the words of others to adequately communicate its beauties."

Laney died July 17, 2010, after a long illness.

In 1969, she joined the Deseret Book Co., where she was the first full-time editor and the company's first female vice president.

"There is no hyperbole in stating that Eleanor Knowles was a legend," said Sheri Dew, president and CEO of Deseret Book. "Her role in the editions of scriptures published in 1979 and 1981 was not only superbly important, but vital. One of the senior brethren told me recently that Eleanor 'was the glue that held that project together,' and I don't doubt it for a moment.

"If all she had done in her life was help complete that project, her contribution would have been extraordinary. But for several decades, Eleanor was the editorial guiding light in the publication of classic works for Latter-day Saints. It is not possible to measure or quantify the impact of her life's work."

Laney spent nine weeks with the typesetter company in Cambridge University Press in England in 1978-79 to complete the proofreading for the "Topical Guide to the Scriptures," which was released in September 1979.

In February 2007, she married Richard B. Laney, longtime friend and former Deseret News editorial page editor, in the Bountiful LDS Temple.

"She led a full life," Richard B. Laney said.

He also noted that she edited the biographies and manuscripts of many LDS general authorities over the years.

"They came to value her editing," he said.

She also wrote biographies of LDS Church President Howard W. Hunter and Elder William James Critchlow Jr. And she authored "Deseret Book Company: 125 Years of Inspiration, Information and Ideas," a history of the company, in 1991.

She also was a mentor to many authors and journalists.

Born in Ogden, she developed a strong interest in journalism and served as editor of school publications in elementary school, junior high and at Ogden High School.

She had attended the University of Utah her freshman year, boarding with and working for Elder John A. and Leah Widtsoe.

In 1952, she transferred to Utah State University, where she went on to become editor of the campus newspaper, Student Life.

After graduation from USU, she worked at the Deseret News from 1954-59.

She moved to New York City in 1959, where she was editor of Supervisory Management, magazine of the American Management Association. Next, she worked at Cornell University Medical School as executive director of the alumni association.

Laney returned to Utah in 1965 to work for LDS Church magazines.

She held many LDS Church callings during her life, including president of the Manhattan Stake Young Women, a member of the YWMIA General Board, and many ward and stake callings.

She retired from Deseret Book in 1994. She then volunteered at the Salt Lake City Public Library, where she spent two terms as president of Friends of the Library before her health declined.

She was laid to rest in the Salt Lake City Cemetery on July 22.

e-mail: lynn@desnews.com

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